County Antrim is one of the six counties which make up Northern Ireland and is home to the capital city of Belfast. In addition to the countless cultural attractions the main city has to offer, County Antrim has some of the most stunning coastlines and hidden glens in all of Ireland.
Take your time and wind along the coastal drive, or plan an itinerary packed with swinging rope bridges, castles, and natural wonders. From the surreal columns of the Giant’s Causeway to the lively seaside entertainment in Portrush, here are the best things to do in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
1. Experience the Giant’s Causeway
One of the most legendary places in all of Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway should be at the top of your must-see list in County Antrim. The natural wonder is made up of 40,000 black basalt columns rising dramatically out of the sea. The unique rock formation was created by volcanic activity that occurred when the European and North American landmasses began to pull apart 60 million years ago. Most people choose to walk along the cliffs to take in the dazzling black stone columns but there is also a modern visitor’s center offering more information about the history and geology of the Giant’s Causeway. However, the myths behind the rocks might be the most entertaining of all: Irish folklore claims that the stone columns were put in place by homegrown giant Finn McCool. Finn picked a fight with a Scottish giant, Benandonner, and built the basalt bridge across the Irish Sea so they could meet and settle their battle once and for all.
2. Explore Belfast
From street art to castles, Belfast has got it going on. The capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast has a fascinating, if troubled, history and has plenty to offer visitors to County Antrim. To see the city through the eyes of a local and learn about the conflict which has left a visual mark on the streets, take a Black Cab Tour. A buzzing urban center, Belfast also has amazing pubs, restaurants, shopping and cultural experiences to discover. The recently opened Titanic Museum has quickly become one of the best things to do while exploring the city.
3. Tour the Bushmills Distillery
The small village of Bushmills in County Antrim has been home to one of Ireland’s most celebrated whiskeys for more than 400 years. The Bushmills Distillery is still in use and offers tours to visitors who want to learn more about the process behind one of the country’s favorite tipples. Small group tours are available to explain the entire process of distilling whiskey — and of course, there is a sampling at the end so you can taste the special Irish whiskey for yourself. (Note: children must be 8 years old or older to join the tour).
4. Relax on the Seaside in Portrush
The beach-front village of Portrush has been a Northern Ireland vacation destination since Victorian times thanks to its peaceful seaside setting. The pretty main street is bursting with pubs and restaurants, while the harbor offers bobbing boats and tranquil sunsets, but most people flock to Portrush for its gorgeous beaches. The long, white sand beaches are some of the best in Ireland and fill with sun seekers when the weather is warm. Kids of all ages will also love Barry’s – an iconic amusement park with arcades, rides and roller coasters. For a more refined game, the Dunluce Links Royal Portrush Championship Golf Course is a world famous spot for a round of golf.
5. Brave the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The most scenic spot for adrenaline junkies in County Antrim is the enchanting rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. Suspended 100 feet over the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the historic bridge connects mainland County Antrim with Carrick-a-Rede island. The tiny island was once a small but thriving fishery and the bridge allowed fishermen to leave their boats on the island to protect the vessels from being dashed against the rocks on the sheer cliffs of the mainland. The bridge has been restored but still offers plenty of exhilarating fun. Once on the island, visitors can explore the quiet pathways and windswept landscape and admire the old fishing cottage that still stands there.
6. Admire Dunluce Castle
The ruined remains of Dunluce Castle are quite literally crumbling into the sea. Legend has it that one evening a servant boy showed up to help the cook just in time to watch the entire kitchen slide off the cliff. The 16th-century castle was abandoned as it began to collapse, but its eerie outline proved too irresistible for modern travelers. The castle is now a major stop for County Antrim visitors, particularly those who are fans of the show “Game of Thrones,” which featured Dunluce as one its filming locations. There are small exhibits on display within the castle ruins, but the best way to visit is to walk along the cliff paths to admire the decaying fortress in all its glory.
7. Discover the Glens of Antrim
Ireland is famed for its lush countryside but no one can deny that the Glens of Antrim are particularly captivating. Known simply as “the Glens,” these immensely beautiful series of nine low-sloping valleys can all be found in northern County Antrim. The green landscapes are dotted with waterfalls and full of inviting trails. One of the best places to experience the incredible natural setting for yourself is inside Glenariff Forest Park, which is a protected area inside one of Antrim’s prettiest glens.
8. Learn About the History of Carrickfergus Castle
Belfast may be the larger and more famous city these days, but in Norman times, nearby Carrickfergus was the main settlement in Northern Ireland. The proof can be seen in the imposing stone structure known as Carrickfergus Castle. The castle is named for the legendary first king of Scotland, Fergus, who supposedly drowned here in the year 501 A.D. when his ship hit a dangerous outcropping of rocks as he approached the shore. However, construction on the castle didn’t start until 1178. In its over 900 years of history, the castle has been a fort, military prison, and even a World War II air raid shelter. These days, it is a public monument that is open every day for visits for those who want to walk along its ramparts and learn more about its long and fascinating history.
9. Enjoy the Scenery at Antrim Castle Gardens
The wild landscape of County Antrim is unforgettable, but there are also manicured gardens that will are perfect for romantic strolls. One of the best ornamental gardens can be found in the restored Antrim Castle Gardens, which was first built in the 17th century. The historic castle was sadly lost to a fire in 1922 but the beautiful water features and tree-covered avenues are now a part of a city park that is open to visitors.
10. Hunt for “Game of Thrones” Locations
The hugely popular “Game of Thrones” series may be pure fantasy, but many of its most beautiful locations are actually very real places — in County Antrim! If you are a fan of GoT or if you simply appreciate otherworldly settings when you see one, then Antrim has some incredible filming locations to explore. Start with the Dark Hedges, a road lined with beech trees in Ballymoney that is better known as the Kingsroad on the series. Then take in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Glenariff Forest Park, which was used as the Vale of Arryn during the GoT filming. Dunluce Castle is another recognizable show location — serving as the House of Greyjoy. Finally, remember when Melisandra gave birth to a Shadow? That was also filmed in County Antrim, at the Cushendun Caves near the village of Cushendun.