Welcome back to my travel series! Today is exciting for me as I am writing all about our tour of Belfast and the Antrim Coast in N. Ireland.
Arriving in Belfast we didn’t have any set in stone plans, but knew we didn’t want to waste our time sleeping off the jet lag in our AirBnb, although, boy was that tempting! Before we left Canada, my parents gave us a very generous gift, which allowed us a little more freedom in our experience planning. We decided hiring a private car for a tour would be a luxurious way to spend a day! This also sounded great because we had no plans of renting a car or driving ourselves in N. Ireland. (If you’ve never driven on the wrong side of the road, I would not suggest doing so for the first time while jet lagged…. or in Belfast. They drive balls to the wall in that city!)
A quick google search brought up Paddy Campbell’s Famous Black Cab Tours. We made arrangements for an all day tour to see Belfast and drive up the coast to see the Giants Causeway! I think the full day was somewhere around £200 or £250… converted to Canadian dollars I think we dropped over $400! It felt like a lot of money, but I’m SO happy we didn’t run at the first instance of sticker shock! It was worth EVERY SINGLE……penny! (or nickel, for everyone reading in Canada, where pennies are no longer a thing).
Our tour began the moment Ciaran, our driver, picked us up at our AirBnb in the morning and lasted until 5pm when he dropped us off. A full day of touring was such an incredible way to see the city and the countryside. To be honest, I didn’t know much at all about the “troubles” in Belfast, and Ciaran answered all of my questions from his perspective as a Catholic kid growing up in what was essentially a war zone. This feels like a great spot to make a note, that the Nortern Ireland accent is SO MUCH HARDER to understand than the accent we heard in the Republic, and let me tell you, it only gets worse the more passionate they become! But that really didn’t take away at all from the experience here! I totally understand why so many families choose to “World/Road School” I learned more in a 9 hour tour than I ever would reading about it in a book!
After seeing many colourful murals, some we saw on our walk the day prior, and learning the history of Belfast, we headed north! The only other request we made was to see the Giant’s Causeway, everything else we left up to Ciaran to decide and he did not disappoint! Our first stop out of the city was at Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The views were spectacular, very much similar to the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia! We opted not to cross the bridge, no regrets there, but I’m glad we were able to see it!
Next we were off to see the first, of two, filming locations for the show Game of Thrones. Although Taylor has seen a few episodes, I never have, so while this didn’t hold a lot of significance for me, the locations were beautiful, and I can see why they were chosen! The first was the stunning harbour in Ballintoy. Apparently if you are here at the right time you can spot some sea lions! We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife at all unfortunately. After a little while spent exploring the beautiful harbour. we hopped back in the cab and continued on!
Next on our trip along the coast, we saw beautiful sights while listening to stories all about growing up in N. Ireland, and learning plenty of its history. Taylor was in his element! We skipped lunch, eating snacks out of my purse as to not waste any time, after dropping that much dough, we were determined to get our moneys worth! Our next stop, was the Giants Causeway! Ireland’s only World Heritage Site, the pillars of rock were formed by volcanic eruption, but folklore talks of Giants placing the strange towers of rock as a path to Scotland.
There was no cost to access the site if you don’t enter through the small visitor centre and gift shop, to ride the bus (recommended) from the gift shop to the site itself was around £2 a person, so this was over all a very inexpensive additional cost to our tour. I really enjoyed climbing the rocks, I think Arthur would have a lot of fun here too. While I’m glad we stopped, to say I’ve been, I wouldn’t spend any more $$ and we were ready to leave after maybe 25-30 minutes of looking around. There are hiking trails that would be worth while if you had more time to dedicate in each place. It was also one of the only “crowded with tourist” spots and that really does take away from the experience. Perhaps in the off season this would be more of a hit!
We saw beautiful beaches and coast lines, but in May at around 20º not very many swimmers! It was such a stunning drive. We made a quick stop at Dunluce Castle, and learned about the tragic night the kitchen collapsed and fell into the ocean, killing the kitchen staff. What Ciaran may have taught us, was really only second to knowing the Irish Rovers song about that night, it is kind of cool to put the two together, listening to the song as a child and seeing the site in person!
One of our last stops on our tour was the “Dark Hedges” near Stanocum, the second GoT’s filming location on our tour. The road and trees were beautiful, but my memory here was of another tourist (it really wasn’t too busy) shouting “Go Jets Go” from down the road! It was the play offs, and on Game Day, Taylor and I each wore our jerseys! We just so happened to bump into a family from Winnipeg traveling with their teenage children! The son ran up to us, asked for a photo and then scurried off! I think anyone else looking on was just plain confused… but we were in the playoffs baby!
We ended our tour with a quick 20 minute stop at Carrickfergus Castle. Prior to our trip, I tried to familiarize myself with some of the landmarks in Northern Ireland, and happened to watch a documentary on this particular castle! Taylor was quite excited to see it as well, (I’m sure the Netflix show had something to do with this too!) Again this was a landmark we would have loved taking an afternoon to enjoy, but our busy tour schedule just didn’t allow for that. We did meet and chat with the VERY friendly museum staff, and if I find myself back in Carrickfergus, I will likely prioritize an hour or two at the castle! It looks to be quite kid friendly as well!
To say this was a memorable day is an understatement! It was truly the day I fell in love with Northern Ireland. It was absolutely a highlight of our trip (and trust me, this trip has many highlights!). After thinking that N. Ireland was going to be my least favourite spot on the trip, I was blown away by how wrong I was. It was beautiful, the people were so friendly, the food and sights were breath taking. If you are planning a trip to Ireland, do not skip Belfast, and certainly don’t skip the Antrim Coast! If there is any way you can take one of these tours, I say they are well worth the money and the perfect way to see and learn all about Northern Ireland!
Let me know what part of our tour you think you’d enjoy the most! Do you watch Game of Thrones? Do these scenes look familiar?