UK escapes: what to do in Northern Ireland's County Antrim

With natural drama and world-famous whiskey, this coastal county is Northern Ireland at its rugged best.

By Pat Riddell
Published 28 Oct 2019, 06:00 GMT
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Photograph by Getty Images

Why go: Stretching from Belfast to the north coast, County Antrim is home to many of Northern Ireland’s best-known attractions, including Dunluce Castle, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Rathlin Island. This is a wild frontier of coastal paths, thrashing waves and lush, green glens — it’s no surprise that the county’s dramatic scenery served as a backdrop for much of Game of Thrones.

What to do: Winding from Belfast to Derry, the 120-mile Causeway Coastal Route is one of the world’s great drives. There are majestic cliff views, places where myths and legends were born and more wild, windswept stereotypes you can shake a stick at. But the highlight is the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular natural wonder of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns.

Don’t miss: The most dramatic walk in Europe? It’s a bold claim but The Gobbins — a cliff-face path that runs across bridges, past caves and through a tunnel — might be just that. It was originally opened in 1902, and a £7.5m investment brought it back to life in 2015. It’s not for the faint-hearted: the two-and-a-half-hour guided walk follows rugged staircases as the North Channel crashes below.

Where to eat: There’s a choice of restaurants at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort but the River Room — headed up by chef Chris Rees — is the one to go for. It’s one of just four restaurants in Northern Ireland to have been awarded three AA Rosettes.

We like: The Old Bushmills Distillery, within spitting distance of the Giant’s Causeway, offers a guided tour complete with whiskey tastings. Dating back to 1608, Bushmills is one of the world’s best-known whiskies and its triple-distilled single malts are some of the best you’ll ever try.

Where to stay: Set within 163 acres of parkland on the River Maine, Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort is one of Northern Ireland’s top hotels. There are 122 rooms in the original 18th-century manor building, plus a handful of well-equipped cottages and lodges. Don’t miss the Thermal Village and Spa with its riverside hot tubs and indoor and outdoor pools.

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