Skip to content Skip to footer

Northern Ireland Itinerary – A 2-Day Road Trip With Car Rental

This loop itinerary starts and finishes in Belfast, with a night in Coleraine. It is the itinerary I followed when I visited the region, and I feel it is a great introduction to what Northern Ireland has to offer if you only have a couple of days.

Contents show

The Map

You can open the map legend by clicking the icon before the map title.

Day 1 – Belfast to Coleraine [153 km / 95 mi]

This first day is dedicated to exploring a portion of the Causeway Coastal Route, one of the most scenic roads in the world! For sure, it should be included in any Northern Ireland itinerary.

Belfast → Cushendun

  • Driving: 85 km (52.6 mi), 1.15 hour

To save a bit of time (and arrive on time at the Giant’s Causeway for sunset without rushing), you can choose to go straight to Cushendun via the M2 motorway. However, if you really want to drive along the coast, it is totally possible but you can add 30-40 mins of driving time.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Cushendun

Enjoy the view of the coast and the countryside from the road near Cushendun (1 panorama).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Cushendun → Torr Head

  • Driving: 11 km (6.7 mi), 20 mins

From Cushendun you are only about 20 mins away from Torr Head, introducing you to the wonderful landscapes of the Causeway Coastal Route, with all its greenery and its rugged shoreline.


Explore the snaky road to Torr Head (1 panorama).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Torr Head → Fair Head

  • Driving: 10 km (6.1 mi), 17 mins

Next, drive for about 17 mins to arrive at the small parking area of Fair Head. Do take the time to do the small hike to the impressive cliffs, reaching an elevation of 196 meters.

This well-preserved set of cliffs is considered a major rock-climbing spot in the whole of Ireland and no less than 400 climbing routes on the cliffs are currently listed.

Reaching the cliffs of Fair Head involves a pleasant walk through the countryside, crossing fields where the cows and sheep watch you hike with a mix of fear and curiosity. You walk past a pretty lake called Lough na Cranagh, then follow the path up to the edge of the cliffs.

A walk in the countryside is far from an uncommon experience, you’ll tell me. Nevertheless, I still felt like I experienced something rare and unusual at Fair Head.

The rare experience I am referring to is an acoustic experience. My most striking memory about Fair Head is about sounds, or more precisely the lack of sounds.

How many times in your life have you experienced silence? I am talking about the real, total, absolute silence. Not a single sound. No wind, no bird, no distant car engine, no plane, no flowing water, absolutely nothing. You need to actually experience it to realize how rare this is. Even for a guy like me who regularly goes to the countryside or wild areas. Even if it’s very quiet, there is ALWAYS the sound of something. At least, 99% of the time.

While walking in the countryside of Fair Head on the way to the cliffs, you can actually stop and listen and hear NOTHING. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s an amazing and surprising experience. The last time I had encountered this silence was after a solar eclipse in the countryside, the whole of nature was disoriented and everything felt suspended in the air.

Apart from these auditory considerations, the cliffs may not have the grandeur of the cliffs of Moher in Ireland, but they are well worth the visit and are a nice stop along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route.


Explore the countryside and the spectacular cliffs of Fair Head (5 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Fair Head cliffs

Fair Head → Ballycastle

  • Driving: 8.5 km (5.3 mi), 15 mins

By now you should be starving! Luckily, you are not far from the town of Ballycastle, where you will be able to find a nice and inexpensive local restaurant for lunch. You will also be able to relax by driving on the beach or around the harbor.

Ballycastle → Carrick-a-Rede

  • Driving; 7.5 km (4.6 mi), 10 mins

But it’s time to get back in the car and continue along the Causeway Coastal Route. The next stop is a quite famous and popular attraction, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. From Ballycaslte, it should only take 10 mins and it is a fun way to discover the cliffs of the Antrim Coast.

Carrick-a-Rede is not only about this simple bridge, there is a stunning coastal path along the wild cliffs to follow until you actually reach the bridge. This walk alone is well worth the visit!

Carrick-a-Rede is actually the name of the small island that the bridge is linking to the mainland. And unlike what we may think, it has a long history and at first, it was not at all made to be a touristic attraction.

By the way, what does this strange name mean? It comes from the Scottish Gaelic language, and its translation would be “The Rock In The Road”. And this name is linked to the history of this place.

The first rope bridge was erected here as early as 1755 by Atlantic salmon fishermen, in order to easily reach the Carrick-a-Rede Island without having to go for an inconvenient and dangerous boat ride. The name “Rock In The Road” illustrates the fact that this island represents an obstacle for the salmons in their migration, as they intend to enter a river mouth in order to reproduce.

These fishermen had a very hard life and dangerous work. Over the decades, the environmental conditions have seriously declined and so have the salmons. They are not fished anymore since 2002.

However, the rope bridge remained and was opened as a tourist attraction, enabling increasingly more visitors to get a close-up view of this magnificent cliff environment, and the thrill of walking over the ocean.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Walk along the cliffs and cross the surprising Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (5 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Carrick a rede

Carrick-a-Rede → White Park Bay

  • Driving: 5.6 km (3.5 mi), 10 mins

Another 10 min drive will take you to the big and wild beach of White Park Bay.

Follow the snaky road towards the beach, and you will find the parking area. White Park Bay is a large beach lined with beautiful sand dunes, and you can expect to take a good breath of fresh air!

I don’t know if they are always there, but I found a whole bunch of cows on the beach enjoying themselves on the sand. I am more used to seeing them in the middle of a grassy field in the countryside. A surprising and funny encounter, for unusual picture opportunities.

VIRTUAL TOUR – White Park Bay

Go say hello to the cows on the beach at White Park Bay (2 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

White Park Bay → Giant’s Causeway

  • Driving: 9 km (5.6 mi),15 mins

Last but not least, the last stop of the day is the world-famous and stunning Giant’s Causeway. It is only about 15 mins from White Park Bay. Depending on the time of the year and how much time you took at the previous stops, you may arrive around sunset time. It was the case for me.

The Giant’s Causeway is probably the most famous natural site in Northern Ireland. On this stretch of coast, 50 or 60 million years ago, lava flows brutally met the sea. Layer after layer, as it cooled down, the basalt took the shape of 40,000 amazing hexagonal columns that we can still see today. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, and 300,000 curious tourists wander its shores annually.

One can only be enchanted by this strange geometrical phenomenon, and it’s awesome that you can climb on the stone pillars and explore them all you want.

This site is truly surprising and beautiful, and I would say that it would be worth skipping something else in order to see it if you had no choice because you are running late. However, if you couldn’t make it on time, don’t worry! You will have a chance to easily include it in the next day’s itinerary 🙂

VIRTUAL TOUR – Giant’s Causeway

Visit the amazing Giant’s Causeway at sunset (4 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway → Coleraine

  • Driving: 20 km (12.4 mi), 27 mins

It is now the end of the day, and after seeing so much and driving all that distance, you will be happy to find your hotel. I had personally found the Premier Inn Hotel in the city of Coleraine.

If you happen to finish your visits a little late (like it often occurs during free & easy road trips!), I can at least tell you that there is a Mcdonald’s next to this hotel that is open 24 hours if you haven’t had dinner. Always useful to know! Alternatively, you can of course find a hotel closer to the coast like in Bushmills for example, or even Portrush.

Day 2 – Coleraine to Belfast [124 km / 77 mi]

It is already the second and last day of this small road trip, and today’s itinerary will lead you back to Belfast.

Coleraine → Portrush

  • Driving: 12.5 km (7.8 mi), 20 mins

Assuming you slept in Coleraine, you will first need to drive back towards the coast, to the town of Portrush about 20 mins away.

Portrush → White Rocks Beach

  • Driving: 4 km (2.5 mi), 7 mins

From Portrush, you will explore a new small portion of the coast, starting with a very pretty wild beach called White Rocks Beach, very close to Portrush. It is yet another great example of Northern Ireland’s spectacular shoreline!

And you guessed it, what makes this beach special is the white color of the cliffs and rocks. Surprisingly, the cliffs are made of white rock, whereas the big stones sticking out of the sand on the beach is black! A part of the beach is also lined with a big sand dune covered with thin grass. I totally recommend having a nice walk on that beach and exploring the wild shores.

VIRTUAL TOUR – White Rocks Beach

Explore White Rocks Beach and its beautiful sand dune (6 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

White Rocks Beach

White Rocks Beach → Dunluce Castle

  • Driving: 2.7 km (1.7 mi), 5 mins

Then, just drive for 5 mins and you will come across the Dunluce Castle. Built on top of a precipice and nested in tormented cliffs, the ruins of the Dunluce Castle are a fascinating sight.

There is a small path that you can take, that will lead you among the cliffs and down near a small rocky beach, allowing you to get a unique perspective of the ruins from below. But it is from the road level that the sight is the most impressive. The ruins overlooking the ocean make a perfect postcard image. You can also enter and visit the castle itself after paying an entrance fee.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Dunluce Castle

Enjoy a beautiful viewpoint to Dunluce Castle and the surrounding greenery (1 panorama).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

OPTIONAL: Second chance for the Giant’s Causeway

  • Driving: 10 mins

At this point, you have a second possibility to visit the Giant’s Causeway, if you couldn’t reach it on time the day before, or if you feel like visiting it a second time! You will only need 10 mins to drive there, following the coastal road in the same direction.

Dunluce Castle → The Dark Hedges

  • Driving: 20 km (12.7 mi), 25 mins

If you are ready, it is now time to get away from the coast and slowly go back south towards Belfast. The next stop is a very pretty countryside road, made famous by the huge beech trees that were planted on each side, and which make really awesome photo opportunities. This place is called The Dark Hedges. The driving time to reach it is about 25 minutes.

Somewhere in the countryside of Ballymoney, centuries-old beech trees dot the small Bregagh Road. Their massive tortured branches and their foliage create a an interesting play of light and shade, and a unique strange atmosphere.

Over the years, this lost corner of the countryside has received a lot of attention and more and more stunned visitors go wander under these trees every year. Depending on the time you want to take to stroll on the road and take pictures, you might not stay more than 15 or 20 mins, but it will leave you with very nice memories.

As it is a simple countryside road, the particularly picturesque trees can be enjoyed without paying any entrance fee.

VIRTUAL TOUR – The Dark Hedges

Walk along the small road at the Dark Hedges, and take a closer look at these exceptional trees and this special atmosphere (3 panoramas).

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

dark hedges

The Dark Hedges → Antrim

  • Driving: 50 km (32 mi), 40 mins

Once you had fun walking on this picturesque road and shooting tons of pictures, you can continue towards the south to the city of Antrim. I suggest you visit the Antrim Castle Gardens. I would consider this stop optional, but it is a nice opportunity to have a little break from the driving and walk in a nice garden. Driving from the Dark Hedges to Antrim takes around 40 mins.

Antrim → Belfast

Driving: 30 km (19.5 mi), 30 mins

This was the last stop before Belfast, and it is time to drive the last stretch of road to close the loop! It should take around 30 mins via the M2 motorway. You can now enjoy a nice evening in Belfast with all the wonderful images of the Causeway Coastal Route in your head!

Last Thoughts About This Itinerary

This itinerary may or may not suit exactly your interests and your traveling pace, but it can be a good source of inspiration to create your own in order to visit this part of the United Kingdom. This itinerary was planned with an attempt to reach the Giant’s Causeway for the sunset, but if you feel that the first day is too packed, it is very easy to include the Giant’s Causeway on the second day instead. With 3 days instead of 2, you can probably make this loop go all the way to Londonderry, or take a day to explore Rathlin Island by taking a ferry in Ballycastle.


  • Muryan
    Posted September 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    For someone who loves roadtrips, this post is useful! Good mix of places to hit, and I especially like that the driving per day is only 3 hours max! 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted September 17, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Thank you! Indeed it’s always nicer to have less driving and more time to actually explore the places 🙂

  • Rocio
    Posted September 16, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Never been in Ireland, but your itinerary has many details to follow. how is the weather and what’s the best period?

    • Post Author
      Posted September 17, 2017 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for your comment! The weather is often humid and rarely hot, but in summer (about June to August) you are more likely to have a pleasant weather.

  • Aleah | SolitaryWanderer
    Posted September 16, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    What a very helpful guide! I’ve never been to Northern Ireland but I really want to go. Hopefully, plans will push through sometime next year.

    • Post Author
      Posted September 17, 2017 at 11:58 am

      Glad you find it helpful! Northern Ireland is defintely worth a trip, with lots of things to see and great scenery.

  • Sreekar
    Posted September 17, 2017 at 6:31 am

    Seems a pretty doable circuit. The decision-making process in Ireland is due to the sheer number of options available. Thanks for narrowing them down a little!

    • Post Author
      Posted September 17, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Thanks Sreekar, indeed there is so much to see in Northern Ireland, not always easy to choose where to stop. This itinerary is just an option among many others.

  • Claudia
    Posted September 17, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Well this is a handy dandy driving itinerary to explore quite a bit of Northern Ireland. While I’ve never visited, your options look quite excellent to me. There’s so much history here.

    • Post Author
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:32 am

      Thanks for your comment Claudia, I wish you to visit Northern Ireland in a near future!

  • Fiona Maclean
    Posted September 17, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    I’ve been to Northern Ireland recently and I can endorse your itinerary! It’s so much easier to drive round than I expected. And, I loved Dark Hedges

    • Post Author
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:31 am

      Yes car rental is definitely the way to go! Dark Hedges is a real hidden gem (but less and less hidden as more tourists now know about it)

  • Anna Johnston
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Love me a good roadtrip and your itinerary is a great inspiration to know where to stop and check places out when checking out Northern Ireland. So many things to see in Ireland, a place that I do want to see one day too.

    • Post Author
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:27 am

      Thanks Anna, it’s true that it’s difficult to choose where to stop, the places I show here are probably the must-sees.

  • Karla
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    I just came from northern Ireland and I really loved Belfast. I enjoyed Giant’s causeway bay too. I wish I could have stayed longer. I would have visited more places.

    • Post Author
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      I understand you! I also liked Belfast a lot. Like for most places in the world it’s very frustrating to decide to skip stuff because we have no time!

  • Kayley
    Posted September 20, 2017 at 2:57 am

    What a beautiful reminder of our trip t Northern Ireland in May. We had three nights so explored the area a little more leisurely! I absolutely agree with your recommendation for Rathlin Island – we sailed there and then spent the night on the boat!! Ballycastle is the cutest little town!

    • Post Author
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Yes Rathlin Island is definitely what I would add to this itinerary with one more day, I hope to do that next time!

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    Posted September 20, 2017 at 5:31 am

    A road trip by itself is a wonderful experience. And if it is a road trip inthe wonderful landscapes of Ireland, the experience goes to an altogether different level. Nice suggest ion for a great itinerary to tour this wonderful land.

    • Post Author
      Posted September 20, 2017 at 7:45 pm

      I can only agree, road trip are awesome! And Northern Ireland in one of the best places in the world to do one!


Leave a Comment