Why you must see Ballintoy and the surrounding area with your own eyes.
You might not have heard of Ballintoy before. I really hadn’t heard of the village until I went there myself. While sifting through a Lonely Planet guidebook about Ireland’s best road trips, I came across a small blurb about Ballintoy Harbour along Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coastal Route. It sounded worthwhile, so I added it to my itinerary without too much thought. After all, it was between the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway, two sights I wanted to visit anyway.
Much like many of my personal favourites, some destinations are best left as a surprise before traveling there. While I didn’t anticipate falling in love, I’m glad that I left this one as a mystery.
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As we descended down a steep, winding mountain, Ballintoy Harbour slowly materialized. Needless to say, I was stunned by this spectacular scenery.
Ballintoy and other nearby peaceful villages belong on any bucket list. Moreover, Ballintoy Harbour is right in the middle of one of the most beautiful drives in the world, the Causeway Coastal Route. It’s on the way to the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and arguably Northern Ireland’s most famous natural attraction. Wedged perfectly between Belfast and Derry, Ballintoy is a worthy addition to your road trip plans.
With a population under 200, this sleepy fishing village became recognized mostly due to its appearance in the HBO series, Game of Thrones. If you’re a fan of the show, you might remember this scenery as the Kingdom of Pyke and the Iron Islands of Westeros.
It’s worth spending some time here, walking along the beach. The bay is very calm as it’s sheltered by nearby basalt islands. Even though it’s right on the Causeway Coastal Route, Ballintoy Harbour was very quiet. There weren’t many tourists there, and we mostly had it to ourselves.
BALLYCASTLE & URSA MINOR
The nearest small town is Ballycastle and I highly recommend stopping at a cafe there for lunch called Ursa Minor. Can I let you in on a little secret? I ate the very best sourdough bread of my life at Ursa Minor.
The menu changes on a weekly basis because their dishes depend on what’s fresh, in season, and available locally. As we arrived just before lunchtime, Ashley and I ordered freshly brewed coffees that were rich and flavourful.
I couldn’t decide on a meal, so I ordered two. Hey, I can do what I want when I’m on holidays! I wasn’t too ashamed as both were healthy with lots of fresh vegetables. One dish was a hummus salad bowl with fresh beets, and the other was a spicy soup with noodles, mushrooms, green onions, and cilantro. Both came with toasted sourdough bread, which I gobbled up pretty quickly.
The cafe itself was equally as delightful as the presentation and taste of the food. Decorated with bird cage lighting fixtures, sheaves of wheat, and collections of framed artwork, it felt like a quirky friend’s home as much as it did a restaurant. And with whimsical gifts, books, and preserves for sale, I couldn’t help but fixate on a mug with the Ursa Minor constellation on it as a souvenir to bring home.
While you’re at it, take a stroll around Ballycastle. The main downtown street is adorable, lined with shops and restaurants. As I wandered around these brightly painted buildings, I couldn’t help but smile and feel so content to be exploring Northern Ireland.
That’s our rental car, Esther, featured in the photo above. Want to learn how you could rent a car and drive all over Ireland, with helpful tips and tricks? Check out my advice for renting a car in Ireland.
Between Ballycastle and Ballintoy Harbour, stop to discover the ruins of Kinbane Castle. While there isn’t too much left of the castle itself, its magical surroundings are worth the trek.
You can hike up to the castle and the headland for sweeping views of the dramatic cliffs all around. It’s isolated, mountainous, and brilliant.
For more details, please check out my article about Kinbane Castle.
CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE
Just five minutes away from Ballintoy Harbour is the harrowing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Cross the bridge, but only if you dare!
Okay, it’s really not too scary to navigate, although the wooden bridge might sway in the breeze as you move to the other side. Fishermen made this crossing for over 350 years, and the quality of the bridge has drastically improved over time. Nowadays, tourists wander across to admire the dazzling views from Carrickarede Island.
To learn more about this stop along the Causeway Coastal Route, please read about my experiences crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
WHITE PARK BAY
At this point, I felt as though we were pulling over to the side of the road every two seconds. “Oh, look at this!”. “Wow, this view is beautiful! Let’s stop!”. But, isn’t that the whole point of a road trip? It’s venturing out into the unknown. Pull off the main road when you see a place you’d like to admire more closely. Venture down those paths where you aren’t quite sure where you’ll end up.
Just after Ballintoy Harbour, we stopped to check out a scenic view of White Park Bay. When I return in the future, and perhaps with more time on my side, I’d love to hike between Ballintoy Harbour and White Park Bay. There are hiking trails all along the Causeway Coastal Route. While a road trip allowed us to cover a lot of ground in a day, exploring the region more slowly would be a wonderful experience, too.
As we drove towards Giant’s Causeway, we stumbled upon another roadside stop. Near the tiny village of Dunseverick, Dunseverick Castle is a historic monument on top of an imposing peninsula. It’s recorded that Saint Patrick visited Dunseverick Castle in the 5th century.
While many royal families owned it over the centuries, this castle was destroyed by General Robert Munro in 1642. A residential tower stood tall until 1978, but it crumbled and plummeted down to the sea below. The ruins of the gate lodge are all that remain.
Would you like to see more photos of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route? Check out my travel photo album.
Ballintoy and the surrounding towns and attractions provide opportunities for reflection, adventure, and meeting great people over food and drink. In a way, it’s my impressions of Ireland summed up into one excellent day. There are alluring viewpoints, memorable journeys, and locals with their own stories to share within this region and throughout all of Ireland. It’s up to you to come here and explore it for yourself.
LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO STAY?
Make the most of visiting the Causeway Coastal Route in a day by travelling between Belfast and Derry. I spent a night in each place, while visiting Belfast one day and Derry for another half day. In Belfast, I checked in at the Clayton Hotel Belfast (read reviews). Then, in Derry, I stayed at the quaint and cozy Bridge Bed & Breakfast (read reviews).
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