We’re still in Belfast, but that’s not where we spent our day today. Instead, we took a fabulous day trip that took us to several great places:
- Giant’s Causeway – a UNESCO Heritage site, this amazing basalt rock formation next to the ocean is said to have been created by two giants.
- Dunluce Castle – once home to the family of Sorley Boy McDonnell, it was abandoned by the family when the kitchen (and nine chefs) fell into the sea in 1639. This was just a photo opp, so we didn’t get to explore.
- Bushmills Distillery – this is where we had lunch, but Scott and I chose to eat elsewhere, so we didn’t do much here!
- Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – this bridge was originally built by salmon fishermen in 1755 and is also right next to the ocean, providing some excellent views.
- Carrickfergus Castle – this castle was built in the late 1100s and continued to play an important military role until the early 20th century. This was another photo opp, so no real spent time looking around.
So did we drive ourselves around these various destinations?! Of course not! This was another solid find from Viator, which we’ve used for numerous day trips in the past. As always, Viator doesn’t actually lead the tour, but rather, you book through them and they in turn book you through a local tour company, which in this case was Irish Tour Tickets. We were in a nice, mostly comfortable bus (not a lot of leg room and the AC could have been turned up higher at times) and our driver/guide, Stephen, seemed very knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor, though he laughed at his own jokes once or twice too often. The bus wasn’t too far (a little over half-full, based on what Stephen told us), which was nice as it allowed me and Scott to sit across the aisle from each other and to not feel super cramped (especially nice since we spent a fair amount of the day on the bus). Price-wise, it was about $45 USD each, which felt like really good value for money. Overall, another solid day trip from Viator!
Let’s get a little bit of unpleasantness out of the way first – weather. After a glorious day yesterday, today’s weather was a bit more iffy and ended up causing us to not be able to cross the Carrick-a-Rede bridge. Being a rope bridge, it’s closed when winds exceed 35 MPH and because it’s right on the coast, completely exposed to the elements, it’s not unusual for winds to reach those speeds, even if it’s not that windy slightly more inland. And when we first reached Giant’s Causeway, it started to rain (it had already been cloudy, but wasn’t yet raining), which was a downer. That said though, the rain stopped just as we were getting off the bus at the causeway and IT DIDN’T COME BACK ALL DAY!! So yes, we did have a lot of wind at times, but the actual air temperature was really nice and we had at least some sun for most of the day. It was a bummer that we didn’t get to cross the rope bridge, but on the plus side, we still got to visit it and take lots of pictures, the scenery was BEAUTIFUL, and as a nice bonus, we got a couple of little consolation prizes (a coaster and a magnet – apparently they hand them out to visitors who can’t cross the bridge due to closure) and we also found out we would get a partial refund, since our day trip cost included entry to the bridge (and I already contacted Viator and they have already issued the refund). Considering what the weather was like here on Wednesday (and Stephen confirmed the rain and wind we experienced in the city paled in comparison to what the group on this same tour on Wednesday had to deal with), I think we were really lucky to get the relatively good weather we had today. So I’m not complaining!
With the (slightly) negative stuff out of the way, let’s talk about all the good stuff. First up, Giant’s Causeway was really spectacular. Depending on which story you believe, the hexagonal stacks of basalt rock were either created by natural volcanic activity millions of years ago or by two giants (one Irish, one Scottish) having a fight. It’s up to you decide what you believe, but either way, the end result we can see today is outstanding. As mentioned above, I was worried about the rain that started literally the moment we arrived in town, but the weather gods smiled on us again and shut off the waterworks, while leaving us with the wind and sun (okay, maybe it was more of a compromise with them, but it still worked in our favor). We had a bit of a walk to get to the causeway from where the bus dropped us off, but there were so many great views that it didn’t matter. I honestly thought that today would be a lighter day for steps, but it wasn’t at all. So glad we started our day with this stop!
My photos may not be gigantic, but the views were!
After an amazing first stop, we were primed for a great rest of the day. And our next stop, albeit brief, continued that trend. As mentioned above, Dunluce Castle is in ruins (but as we know, I love ruins), but it’s perched on a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean and the sun was shining on it, allowing us to get some great photos. Do any of my readers watch Game of Thrones? Neither of us do (which may be a little shocking for anyone who knows me – I’ve just never watched it), but this is one of the show’s well-known location filming locations, so if that gives you one more reason to visit, more power to you. You can visit the ruins up close, but that wasn’t part of this tour, which was a little sad, but I was happy to get the chance to snap a few photos from the side of the road.
Hopefully these photos do the castle justice!
From the castle, we moved on to Bushmills Distillery, where they make Irish whiskey. As we established in Edinburgh, neither of us drinks whisky (or whiskey, though we’re happy to learn about it), so this wasn’t exactly an important stop for us. Thankfully though (for us), our day trip didn’t include a tour of or samples from the distillery (though you could choose to buy whiskey samples from bar, if you so desired), but it was our lunch stop either way. We were originally going to eat in the distillery’s cafe, but there was a long line and the food didn’t seem to be anything special, so we opted to pick up something quick from the market across the street. That was also not fancy or special, but the sausage rolls and jambons (which are like savory turnovers) we got were really tasty. Since we still had time after that, we were going to walk through the town of Bushmills, but it started to rain, so we just went back to the distillery and relaxed for a bit before boarding the bus for our next destination.
I took SO MANY photos from this stop. Or not.
After the distillery, it was time for our other big stop, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This is exactly what it sounds like – a rope bridge that crosses over the water and leads to a lookout point. It was originally built as a way for fishermen to drop their nets and easily catch salmon as they were spawning, but Stephen told us the last time a fish was caught there was in 2002, so today it’s just a tourist attraction. As mentioned above, we didn’t get to actually walk across the bridge due to the high winds, but as with the causeway, we had a nice, leisurely (and windy) walk from the bus to the bridge with more amazing scenery, so not getting to actually cross the bridge didn’t feel like a huge loss. Yes, it’s just a rope bridge and yes, it would have been nice to have done it to say we’ve done it, but I don’t think we missed out on a whole lot. We were told there are some days where the winds are bad enough that visitors aren’t even allowed to walk up as close as we did, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case today!
Once again, it was hard to capture the beauty around us, but hopefully some of it is represented below.
That island is called Sheep Island.
Our last stop of the day was at Carrickfergus Castle. It’s been besieged many times over the centuries, but apparently remains one of the best-preserved medieval structures in the area. Its position over the water made it an important building for centuries, right up until World War II, when it was used as an air raid shelter. Today, you can tour it like so many other castles, but alas, we were only able to spend a short time there to take photos. Honestly, as castles go, it didn’t look particularly interesting (though reading up on it online, it sounds like it’s a good place to explore), but I was still happy to have one more thing to add to my list of things I’ve seen.
One last (small) batch of photos comin’ your way.
Statue of William the Orange outside the castle.
Carrickfergus isn’t too far from Belfast, so before we knew it, we were back at our hotel again (the bus conveniently had a stop very close by). We didn’t have anything else planned tonight, so we shared an appetizer in the hotel restaurant, caught up on a little TV from back home, and got mostly packed up as we’re moving on again tomorrow, this time to Galway. We’re traveling by bus to Dublin and from there to Galway (and a few days later, we’ll take the bus back to Dublin for the final few days of the trip). Today’s excursion really was a great one and I can’t recommend it enough the next time you’re in Belfast.
On to Galway! Read about our first (half) day here.