California’s storied Pacific Coast Highway, Switzerland’s dangerous Furka Pass and Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route are bucket list drives.
The latter, which is known as one of the world’s great road journeys, stretches between the two vibrant cities of Belfast and Derry-Londonderry.
The winding 120-mile route offers a kaleidoscopic journey of natural wonders such as pristine beaches and majestic cliffs of limestone, covered in basalt from ancient volcanoes. There are also clifftop castles as well as a few can’t-miss filming locations.
Find yourself in Westeros
The dark, romantic rows of serpentine beech trees along the majestic Northern Ireland coast screamed for years to be part of a film or television production. The Dark Hedges, an avenue of intertwined beech trees, remains a magnificent sight, becoming one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.
The folks behind “Game of Thrones” wisely used this atmospheric stretch of road for their wildly popular series, depicted as the King’s Road. Take your own walk down the Dark Hedges to feel like a real-life stroll through Westeros.
A natural wonder
But “Game of Thrones” is not what made the Causeway Coastal Route famous. Farther along are a number of must-see sites on the coast, and Giant’s Causeway is one of those destinations.
A Unesco World Heritage Site and a National Nature Reserve, the Causeway is comprised of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Truly sized for a land of giants, the Causeway’s surreal beauty is like a piece of an entirely different world somehow landed in ours.
Hope you like heights
The iconic ruins of Dunluce Castle make for an entirely different experience. The majestic structure on the dramatic coastal cliffs of North County Antrim, which was built by the McQuillan family around 1500, has a spooky and storied history.
There are the tales of a banshee and how the castle’s kitchen fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. Visitors can also explore the findings of archaeological digs within the cobbled streets and stone merchant’s homes, making Dunluce Castle a unique historical attraction along the Causeway Coastal Route.
You’ll have to get over your fear of heights to experience Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Every year, nearly a quarter of a million visitors cross the suspension bridge — 66 feet long and hanging 98 feet in the air. If you’ve got the stomach for it, the view at the midpoint of Rathlin Island and Scotland is stunning.
Stop for a tipple
Those who make the journey deserve a drink. Even if you had no problem with the jaunt over the bridge, a trip to Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest working whiskey distillery, will be worth your while.
Bushmills’ triple-distilled Irish whiskey is smooth and mellow, like the folks you’ll meet along the countryside. The distillery, which opened in 1784, uses water drawn from the Saint Columb’s Rill, which helps account for the unique, rich flavor. Be sure to stop by for a tour and tasting experience.
There are also a number of bucket list golf courses in Northern Ireland, and Royal Portrush Golf Club is right at the top.
The course, which will host the 2019 Open, juts out over the Atlantic for views that are just magnificent. The fairways are nestled in natural valleys between towering sand dunes and the small greens blend perfectly in the landscape. The fifth hole is stunning as it’s right off the shore.
As you can imagine, the course isn’t easy. If your ball lands in Big Nellie, which is one of the biggest bunkers in Ireland, good luck. Between the natural hazards and wind, the course is a challenge.
However, if you have a particularly rough day on the links (or even if you don’t), feel free to return to the Old Bushmills Distillery, where it’s always welcoming. For that matter, so is the rest of the striking causeway coast.