County Antrim and County Derry, Northern Ireland: My Happy Place!

My dad always says that when he wins the loto, he will buy his second home in The Isle of Palms in South Carolina. Can’t say I blame him- it’s a beautiful part of the world. This weekend, I found my ‘loto home’ location. It’s in Portballintrae, Co Antrim!

This place, as well as Northern Ireland in general, is STUN-NING! When we visited Slovenia a couple of months ago, I thought, “This is it! Nothing can beat the beauty of this country.” Who knew that I would be proven wrong by a corner of my own home country! County Antrim and County Derry were spectacular. It helped that we had good weather for our four nights there and our Airbnb was fabulous. Here is the view from our living room window. The Giant’s Causeway is behind that cliff.

The view of the back was quite lovely too.

And when I lay on the couch after putting the kids to bed, the view from the skylight was fab!

Here are some of the highlights from the Northern Irish portion of our trip.

The Giant’s Causeway

Let’s start with the obvious one. I was not expecting much from The Giant’s Causeway as I had heard many times that it was overrated. Along with our talented drama teacher I have taught my Seattle class a play about the story of The Giant’s Causeway for over ten years, but had never been there myself. So with our house five minutes away, the kids and I got up relatively early on the first day and hit for Antrim’s main attraction.

…..and I LOVED it!! We spent two hours there. As expected, it was busy enough when we got there at 9.30am. It was heaving with people when we left.

I had told the kids the story of Oonagh, Finn McCool and Benandonner on the way down to the causeway and they were fairly certain they had found Finn’s big toe in this next photo.

Money saving tip for The Giant’s Causeway: The National Trust would have you believe with their signage that there is an entrance fee for the attraction. It is actually free to walk down to The Giant’s Causeway. The fee is for the visitor center and parking at the center. Instead we saved a bucketload by parking at the railway station three minutes away, paying 6 pounds to park the car for the day, and strolling down through the tunnel to the volcanic formation.

Who knew rocks could be so much fun!

Portballintrae Beach

The North really has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world! There is one tiny shop at Portballintrae Beach and, as I had promised my kids some buckets and spades, we took a wander in to buy some. There was no prices on anything and when I got to the counter and the lady charged me 10 pounds sterling for two crappy, plastic buckets and spades, I was fuming. I was thinking What A Rip Off! the whole way down to the beach….that was until the kids spent three glorious hours having a whale of a time digging and playing. Best 15 bucks (when you currency convert!) I ever spent!!

Dunluce Castle

We finished our first evening by taking the five minute spin out to the Medieval ruins of Dunluce Castle. These haunting ruins have a dramatic effect on the rugged Antrim coastline. It’s a really cool, unique sight that smacks you right in the eyeballs as you round an unassuming corner in your car.

Ballintoy Harbor

The next day we hopped in the car, headed west and saw where the day took us. This is where my Game of Thrones obsession continues. Last month in Croatia I visited many of the GOT filming locations. Little did I know that Northern Ireland has just as many, if not more, GOT locations. (For the non- GOT fans, sorry for making you trawl through my slight addiction! There’s lots more to come…..) Ballintoy was the setting for the Port of Pyke which hosted Theon’s return to his sister Yara and the Iron Islands.

The kids had a blast climbing up on the rocky dunes and looking for fish in the rock pools.

Kinbane Castle

Next up was the small but stunning Kinbane ruins. This is one of the unknown, quiet castles in the area sitting on a little headland jutting out into North Channel. We counted 135 steep steps down to the ruins…..which meant 135 steeeep steps back up the cliff! I thought this was an amazing gem to find- the kids, not so much!

Ballycastle Forest and Loughareema.

We stopped off briefly at Ballycastle Forest as it makes a cameo in GOT as the whitewalker forest.

Loughameera is five minutes up the road from the forest and is known as The Dissapearing Lake. Once a year, the lake completely disappears. We just so happened to be there during its vanishing time. Apparently this is because of an underground sinkhole but the myths and folklore surrounding it are much better. At this point, the kids were exhausted from the Kinbane climb and wouldn’t even get out of the car for me!

Next time I am hoping to get a picture of a full lake!

Cushendun

This is a small fishing village right in the heart of The Nine Glens of Antrim. It is home to Glenmona House and Church with a lovely beach across the road.

The kids met Eireen The Goat and fell in love!

Ok, ok….I’m not going to lie. The real reason we visited Cushendon is because this is home to the caves that Melissandre gave birth to a demon on Game of Thrones. They are called The Red Caves and are pretty small and not all that awe inspiring. BUT…..we found out that the GOT crew had been there the day before filming!! You can see the equipment in the cave photos. The guy that worked there seemed to think the death of a major character would happen at this location. Hmmmmmm.

The Dark Hedges

On the morning of Day Three, we headed straight for The Dark Hedges on Bregagh Road. This road was iconic long before GOT featured it, and last year was voted one of the most beautiful places in the world so I knew it was going to be busy! It is basically an enchanting avenue of beech trees planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family. Their manor is opposite the most photographed attraction in Northern Ireland.

On their own, the singular beech tree isn’t anything special, but a street of them and you have something visually stunning. The ghost of Lady Grey is said to make an appearance around dusk on some evenings.

And in keeping with the theme of this post, here is the scene GOT used The Dark Hedges.

Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple

This was one of my favorites to visit. The Demesne takes about an hour to walk around and is made up of the grand ruins of The Downhill Mansion, The Mussenden Temple, and The Belvedere Temple along with a walled garden.

The view of Downhill Strand Beach from the Mussenden Temple is spectacular.

This was the final GOT filming location we visited- Stanis and Melissandre burned the old Gods on Dragonstone here. (Couldn’t find a picture of this.)

After rambling around for an hour on the demesne, we headed down to the strand for some beach fun! Always a favorite for my two littles!

The Walls Of Derry.

The Walking Tour of Derry is voted the number one attraction on Trip Advisor so I had to see for myself. It costs 4 pounds and was so much value for money. Growing up in the South, there was something about The Troubles and the bombs on the telly nearly every night! In fact, when I asked my mom how come they had never taken us to Antrim and Derry before (my folks ‘dragged’ us all around Ireland every summer in a trailer tent when we were kids) she said, “Well it wasn’t exactly the safest place to come with kids!” Duh! Amazing how two decades of peace can kind of make you forget. This tour gave personal insights in to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, as well as the general history of Derry. Our tour guide Tony was excellent and I learned a lot!

We saw The Peace Walls of Derry…..

….the second most bombed building during The Troubles (bombed 12 times)…..

…..the parking lot outside the second most bombed building where the English army had a massive base!!…..

….The Bogside and the iconic murals of The Bogside…..

……and The Apprenticeboys building peering down on The Bogside.

An excellent tour well worth doing. Long may peace last!

Bushmills

On our last morning we took a stroll around the historic town of Bushmills. I am not a whiskey connoisseur so had little interest in the Bushmills whiskey tour, but I heard it’s supposed to be very good. Now if there had been a famous winery tour……

Northern Ireland, you have blown my socks off! We will absolutely be back next year. And then we will do some of the things we missed this time- like the Carrick a Rede bridge, The Gobbins cliff experience and Rathlin Island. Next up- County Louth!

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