Antrim Coast Road, Northern Ireland, UK
We’ve driven Route One in the USA and it’s stunning. The Antrim Coast Road in Northern Ireland maybe somewhat shorter but it more than matches the Californian route when it comes to scenery. It’s also rather more local for those of you living in the UK.
The only problem is that Northern Ireland isn’t known for its weather and, on one of its many rainy days, you’ll miss that wonderful scenery. So watch the weather forecast carefully and get ready to book a ferry to Belfast or Larne when it looks like you’ll get some sunshine.
Completed in 1842, at a cost of £37,140, to open up the previously inaccessible Glens of Antrim to trade, the road was an incredible feat of engineering, running for much of its length between the rocky Irish Sea coastline and tall limestone and basalt cliffs. By the Sixties, part of the route was blocked by rockfalls and was closed for three years while a new section was built.
Today, thankfully, the Antrim Coast Road is fully open and a joy to drive. Traffic is usually light (although it pays to avoid summer weekends) with just a few tourist coaches getting in the way. Although single-carriageway, there are opportunities for overtaking, while the numerous sweeping bends and tight corners pose a challenge to any 911 driver.
If you’re starting in Belfast, take the A2 through Carrickfergus to enjoy views over Belfast Lough and check out some stunning waterfront houses for the city’s rich commuters. You’ll then reach the port of Larne, which is the starting point for many visitors from Great Britain.
From there on, the road just keeps getting better, with views of headland after headland opening up before you, with steep cliffs to the left. On the right, on a clear day you’ll see Scotland.
The route passes through a number of small towns and ports, including Ballygally with its picturesque harbour. Further on, Glenariff boasts an attractive bay and here, if you’ve time, it’s worth taking a detour inland to explore Glenariff Forest Park with its glacial valley epitomising what the Glens of Antrim are all about.
Back on route, the A2 itself goes inland at Cushendun, although there is a scenic route which follows the coast, and this is the one to take, as it takes in the ragged and wild Torr Head. Then you do have to head inland to rejoin the A2 just before the busy little town of Ballycastle.
There, you can again leave the A2 and take the scenic route to the beautiful Ballintoy Harbour. Like much of the area, this is now a tourist attraction but it’s easy to imagine how isolated and lonely it would have been back when it was a simple fishing port.
Indeed, a little further on, this point is driven home at Portbradden, which boasts Ireland’s smallest church – you’d struggle to fit more than six people in it, standing up.
It’s then back onto the A2 for a few miles before heading north to the basalt columns that are the Giant’s Causeway – which is truly one of the world’s great natural wonders and a must-visit.
Nearby Bushmills is also worth investigating, as home of the world-famous Irish whiskey, and you can take a tour of the brewery with an all-important tasting session included (for your lucky passenger, of course).
Once suitably sobered up, continue west and you’ll spot Dunluce Castle precariously perched atop the cliffs. If you have time, stop and explore this before reaching the faded seaside town of Portrush with its famous golf club.
Portrush is a good place to complete your coastal journey, or you could continue to Coleraine and Londonderry, then head over the border to explore the remote delights of Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, but that’s another story…