From Ballycastle to Portrush, Antrim's famous coastline is truly spectacular. But while the Causeway Coast might get the crowds, there's plenty more to see in this stunning county, from the nine wooded Glens of Antrim to a 12th-century Norman castle in Carrickfergus.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout County Antrim.
Why you should go This medieval castle ruin is perched on top of a dramatic cliffside overlooking the glorious Causeway Coast. With steep drops on either side, the remains of Dunluce Castle are straight from a fantasy epic; it was the filming location of the Greyjoys’ dilapidated Pyke Castle in Game of Thrones. A narrow bridge leads from the former guest lodgings and stables on the mainland across a dizzying gap to the main part of the fortress. Below the castle, a path leads down from the gatehouse to the Mermaid's Cave. The castle lies between Portballintrae and Portrush and can be reached by Portrush along a 5km coastal path. It’s a six-minute drive to Old Bushmills Distillery. History: facts and legends There is evidence of settlements on this outcrop from the first millennium, presumably helped by its very defensible position. The ruins left there now date from the 16th and 17th century when the castle became the seat of Clan McDonnell, who displaced their rivals the McQuillans. The McDonnells had ties to Scotland’s Stewart kings and later pledged allegiance to England’s Queen Elizabeth I. In the early 17th century, a town was built adjacent to the castle. It was destroyed by fire more than 50 years later but, upon its rediscovery in 2011, is thought to be one of the most advanced towns of its time, even featuring indoor toilets. The McDonnells’ fortunes dissipated after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and the castle began to fall into disrepair. At some point in the 18th century, the north wall of the castle collapsed into the sea. The site continued to be passed down throughout the centuries however, eventually coming into the part-ownership of Winston Churchill through marriage. He signed his share over to the Northern Ireland government in 1928 and since then the site has been maintained and conserved by the state. The scene of several tumultuous feuds, there are plenty of ghost stories associated with the castle. It is even said to have its own resident banshee, the ghost of Maeve Roe, daughter of Lord McQuillan. She refused to marry her father’s choice of husband because she was in love with another man and was locked into the eastern tower as punishment. Rescued by her true love on a stormy night, the pair escaped to a small boat stored in Mermaid’s Cave but drowned in the wild waves. Her body was never recovered but local legend says her cries can be heard on similarly stormy nights and her ghost can be seen in the tower looking out to sea. Tickets and other practicalities Open seven days a week, the entrance fee of £5.50 per adult (£3.50 per child) gets you some spectacular views of the castle and plenty of historical exhibits inside detailing the long and fascinating history of the site. Some of the castle interiors are not wheelchair accessible and there are cobblestones to navigate in some areas.
This spectacular rock formation – Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage site – is one of Ireland's most impressive and atmospheric landscape features, a vast expanse of regular, closely packed, hexagonal stone columns looking for all the world like the handiwork of giants. The phenomenon is explained in the Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience, housed in a state-of-the-art ecofriendly building half-hidden in the hillside above the sea.
This 20m-long, 1m-wide bridge of wire rope spans the chasm between the sea cliffs and the little island of Carrick-a-Rede, swaying 30m above the rock-strewn water. Crossing the bridge is perfectly safe, but frightening if you don't have a head for heights, especially if it's breezy (in high winds the bridge is closed). From the island, views take in Rathlin Island and Fair Head to the east. There's a small National Trust information centre and cafe at the car park.
Bushmills is the world's oldest licensed distillery, having been given permission to produce whiskey by King James I in 1608. The whiskey is made with Irish barley and water from St Columb's Rill, a tributary of the River Bush, and matured in oak barrels. During ageing, the alcohol content drops from around 60% to 40%; the spirit lost through evaporation is known as 'the angels' share'. After the tour, you can try a free sample of your choice from Bushmills' range.
This Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) centre offers spectacular views of a thriving seabird colony, where every summer thousands of puffins can be seen. It's located at Rathlin's upside-down west lighthouse (the lamp is at the building's base). Built into the cliff face, the lighthouse was a feat of engineering when it was completed in 1919. The lighthouse tower now contains exhibits on Rathlin's marine life and history.
Planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century as the formal entrance to their property, these shadowy, gnarled, entwined beech trees are now among Northern Ireland's most photographed sights after doubling as the Kingsroad in Game of Thrones. Coach tours stop here and getting a photo without crowds isn't easy. The Dark Hedges are 14km southwest of Ballycastle via the A44 and Ballykenver Rd. Bregagh Rd is closed to traffic; parking is available at the Hedges Hotel (signed).
The central keep of Ireland's first and finest Norman fortress was built by John de Courcy soon after his 1177 invasion of Ulster. The massive walls of the outer ward were completed in 1242, while the red-brick gun ports were added in the 16th century. Inside, the keep is set up to recreate the days of de Courcy, and the site is dotted with life-size figures illustrating the castle's history. Guided tours run roughly every hour.
Ireland's oldest independent brewing company, dating from 1981, produces superior brews including caramel-malt Twisted Hop, Buck's Head double IPA, Barney's Brew wheat beer with coriander and golden Belfast Blonde pale ale. Tours lasting 45 minutes show you how they're made and include a tasting. In mid-August, Hilden hosts a two-day beer festival. Take the train from Belfast's Great Victoria St station to Hilden station, from where it's a 300m walk.
Since 1750, Glenarm has been the family seat of the McDonnell family, earls of Antrim; it's currently the home of Lord and Lady Dunluce. The castle itself is closed to the public – except during the Tulip Festival on the May bank-holiday weekend, and during the Dalriada Festival in July – but you can visit the lovely walled garden and take a walk around the estate along the castle trail. Admission is free for children under 12.