21 Dec 2 Days in Northern Ireland
We made this epic tour of Northern Ireland with Aidan’s sister Maddy on our way to the West of Ireland from Dublin, but you can also loop back to Dublin from Derry by adding in one night in central Ireland in between. This tour requires a lot of driving (shout out to Aidan) and the Torr Road is the tiniest, windiest cliffside adventure, only suited for someone who loves challenging driving. We did this trip in mid-June and highly recommend spring or summer for this because you’re most likely to catch a sunny day, the yellow heather is in full bloom along the roadside, and you’ll have plenty of daylight to make all of the stops between Belfast and Derry.
Place: Northern Ireland
Best time to go: Spring or Summer (May – September)
Day 1: Drive to Belfast
We didn’t land in Dublin and get our rental car until early afternoon, then drove straight to Belfast. If we could have left earlier and done a black taxi tour in the afternoon, we’ve heard from trusted Irish sources that they’re an incredible way to see Belfast and learn about the brutal history of The Troubles from a local, likely one who lived through it all.
After checking in at our hostel in Belfast, we walked around the Titanic museum and took the little train tour that stops at the outdoor site where the ship was built, then takes you around the shipyards and fills you in on the history of industry in Belfast.
The Cathedral Quarter is the perfect area for dinner and a Belfast bar hop. We were blessed with a beautiful summer evening and kicked off with pints on the rooftop at The Dirty Onion, followed by The Perch, The Crown Liquor Saloon, and John Hewitt Bar.
Day 2: Epic Coastal Adventure
Around 9 am, we set off a bit red-eyed and bushy-tailed on one of the most epic day trips of our lives. Start by driving along the coast all the way from Belfast, passing through the adorable town of Carnlough:
Then take the tiny Torr Road to your first stop, Torr Head, where you walk up the hill for these stunning views:
Then it’s off to Fairhead View, where you’ll galavant through a sheep-filled field to suddenly find yourself on the edge of insane cliffs.
It was around this time that we got back on the road and vintage MINI Coopers started flying by us every few minutes on the Torr Road. When you see it for yourself, you’ll laugh aloud at this being considered a two-lane road, let alone at the prospect of being passed by racing vehicles. There were a few photographers and small crowds staked out along the road, so we pulled over to ask one what was going on. All we gathered was that yes, it was a race and yes, we were in the way.
Our next destination was Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the only stop where we had to wait in any kind of line. You do have to pay a small fee, but it’s worth it for the rickety bridge (#cheapthrills) and the views on the other side.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, swing over to Ballintoy Harbour next, also known as the Iron Islands:
We had lunch here at the Ballintoy Harbour, then headed to yet another natural wonder: the Giant’s Causeway. You do have to buy a ticket at the Giant’s Causeway, but it’s worth it. You can easily spend an hour or more wandering around the columns, mouth agape, trying to understand how this exists:
Just a couple of minutes away, we stumbled upon Dunluce Castle purely by accident and swerved off the road to check it out. In Ireland, castles tend to just appear, no big deal.
The last stop on our day tour was also the key to solving the Racing MINI Cooper Mystery. The Dark Hedges, AKA the King’s Road in Game of Thrones, is straight out of a fairytale. You would normally be able to take moody photos of the empty road, but in our case, there were rally car races happening all over the premises, with a small crowd of devoted fans along both sides of the road.
So, mystery solved, we were simply in a rally car race along the Torr Road by accident that ended with more events at the Dark Hedges. Safe to say we came in last in the competition, but we deserve an award for staying on the road. Note: this whole day totaled four and a half hours of driving, so be prepared for that!
From the Hedges, it’s another hour and fifteen to Derry, where we landed buzzing with adventure adrenaline, ready for dinner and a pint. We Googled the best pubs in Derry on our way into town and Peadar O’Donnells was at the top of every list.
We got a bit turned around finding our (lovely) B&B, which was holding us back from getting to Peadar’s, so we asked an adorable Irish man walking along the road for directions and he hopped in our car to guide us, saying we could drop him off where he was headed on the way. We asked him if he’d heard of “Peter O’Donnells” and he thought long and hard, but said he’d never heard of it. He encouraged us to stop by the pub we were dropping him at, though, saying it was the best in town. His son was even a bartender there. We pulled over to drop him off at… Peadar O’Donnells. Pronounced “Padder O’Donnells” and apparently “Peter O’Donnells” was too far off to ring any bells 😂. It’s such a solid local pub, we were happy spending the whole night there for the trad sessions and the vicious craic.
Day 3: Mozy on West or Back to Dublin
We had a scrumptious full Irish breakfast included at Abbey B&B in the morning, then headed southwest toward our destination: County Mayo for Aidan and Maddy’s nephew’s christening. Rookie tip: when eating Irish breakfast, don’t wonder too hard about the roundish black and white things you’ve never seen before (pictured bottom left). Just eat them. They’re good for you.
If you’re doing this tour as part of a longer vacation, you can head from Derry over to beautiful Donegal, or if it’s a weekend getaway just loop back toward Dublin. Either way, may you encounter sunny days, a million sheep (inevitable), and plenty of rally car racing on your tour of Northern Ireland.