We explore Northern Ireland, from the Giant's Causeway to Bushmills Distillery. From Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge to the cosy Nook Pub. Certainly a place to visit, that's for sure!
On my first trip to Northern Ireland, I must admit that I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had heard that the people were exceptionally welcoming and that the countryside was just as lovely.
Well, the people weren’t lying. I can say without a doubt that the Irish people are the most genuine and friendly people that I have ever come across in my travels. They really go out of their way to help you, and to put a smile on your face.
The spirit of Northern Ireland can hardly be captured in a few words; there is an indescribable untamed beauty about it. At the same time it is incredibly serene, and really seems to calm your soul.
Ryanair offers really reasonable flights from London Stansted to Belfast City Airport. Once you are in Belfast, a great way to see the countryside en route to Northern Ireland is with the Ulsterbus, which charges a reasonable £10 for a three hour coastal bus ride. You’ll get your money’s worth, trust me! The countryside varies from intense green, sheep dotted hills to sheer, dramatic chalky cliffs and blue turbulent waters.
The best way to get around Northern Ireland is to hire a car, especially in the winter months. The distances between tourist attractions and restaurants are considerably far and the local buses not very regular. Watch out for the narrow country roads though!
What to do
One of the most famous and fascinating tourist spots in the world, the Giant’s Causeway (www.giantscausewaycentre.com) is definitely something that you have to see once in your lifetime. The causeway is a group of curious looking hexagonal rock formations. They were formed by the cooling of molten lava from a volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago.
Legend has it that the causeway was really created by the Irish Giant Finn MacCool, who wanted to fight with his Scottish rival Benandonner. Finn could not find a big enough boat to carry him across the sea to Benandonner, and so he built the causeway to get across. Which story do you believe?
It’s a 20 minute walk from the visitors centre to the main causeway formations, although you might find yourself catching the shuttle bus on the way back if you’re not in the mood for the steep uphill climb!
I really would suggest that you take your walking shoes and explore the many walking tours that the area has to offer, the infinite ocean views are worth it. Just be careful on the windy cliff tops – we almost got blown away!
A wee two miles from the Giant’s Causeway is another famous attraction, and certainly no trip to Northern Ireland would be complete without a visit to the Bushmills Distillery (www.bushmills.com). Our tour guide Seamus was charming and humorous, and took us on an informative tour of the distillery. We found it really fascinating to see the great big vats that the whiskey is distilled in. Of course, at the end you are rewarded with a glass of the finished product. Incidentally, it may be that I am the only person on the planet that didn’t know the difference between whisky and whiskey. Well, whisky is Scotch and whiskey is Irish and they evidently both involve very different processes. So there you go.
Upon suggestion from our hostess at the guesthouse, we headed down to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The views along the walkway are fantastic, and if you are brave enough you can cross over the rope bridge and watch the crashing waves far below. Once you have taken a leisurely stroll around the country paths here, stop in at the onsite Tea Room which serves up some mean tea and scones. After that, take a stroll through the nearby idyllic village of Ballintoy.
There are several interesting castles in the area that are also definitely worth a visit such as Dunseverick (whose history is probably more interesting than what remains) and breathtaking Dunluce Castle.
Where to stay
I can honestly say that Ardtrabane House B&B is the best B&B that I have ever stayed in. The rooms are fresh, light and tastefully decorated. I’m still battling to find a full English breakfast quite like the one that guesthouse owner Maureen made. Scrumptious!
The guesthouse offers incredible views of the surrounding green fields, dotted with sheep and typical Irish country houses.
Where to eat
If you are looking for a cosy little Irish pub to have a delicious dinner, then The Nook Pub (Causeway Road, 028 2073 2993) next to the Giant’s Causeway Centre will really appeal to you. Get there early to grab your spot next to the crackling fireplace. Their food is great, and they have a dinnertime special of £10 for a starter and main, or main and dessert.
While you’re there, remember to have your obligatory pint of Guinness. Ok maybe half a pint, but I promise you’ll be craving one as soon as you walk through the door!
The Causeway Hotel (Causeway Road, 028 2073 1226) is reasonably priced and the portions are large, although it really lacks atmosphere during the quiet winter months.
So, one piece of advice I can offer is: don’t go to Northern Ireland if you are a party animal and are in search of late nights and drunken debauchery. No, this is the place you come to when you want some quiet time. You come here to take in the wild beauty of the place and to be at one with it all. I think you’ll find it quite hard to beat.