The part of the Northern Irish coast to the west of the Giant’s Causeway is the province’s holiday playground. With white sand beaches, caravan parks and coastal towns, it is a great spot for a family break, but it also has history and stunning scenery to explore. So how could you spend a day or two in Northern Ireland’s northwest?
Dunluce is a ruined medieval castle, perched on a headland a few miles to the west of Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. A spectacularly scenic location, the castle is open to visitors until 6pm in summer (entry fee).
However, arrive after 6pm on a long summer’s evening and you can visit the outside of the castle for free. Enjoy the spectacular view points, and brave the steps down the cliff to explore the courtyard below the castle with its towering cliffs, scenic viewpoint and cave grotto.
Heading west along the Causeway Coastal Route from Dunluce Castle, don’t miss the turnoff at Magheracross car park for spectacular views along the coast as far as the Giant’s Causeway to the east and the mountains of Donegal to the west.
Continuing on west along the coat road you will reach Portrush, a popular seaside town with a pretty harbour at its heart. Portrush boasts a number of restaurants close to the harbour, and a fine harbour wall ideal for strolling. For children, there is a Blue Flag certified white sand beach in a sheltered bay, as well as traditional seaside amusements.
From Portrush you can either follow the road inland to the town of Coleraine, or continue along the coastal route to Portstewart. On the way, you will pass the Portstewart Golf Club where the Irish Open tournament is held every July. This spectacular course along the Atlantic shore is a great spot for a round! Continuing on along the coast, your next stop is Portstewart, a popular holiday resort for Victorian holidaymakers in the late 19th century. Just west of the town you will reach beautiful Portstewart Strand, a wide sandy beach with sand dunes to explore. Check out the sandcastle competitions in summer or fly a kite on a breezy winter’s day!
Downhill House and Mussenden Temple
Striking west from Portstewart, you will pass by the seaside town of Castlerock before arriving at the final destination, Mussenden Temple and the Downhill Demesne.
Perched on the clifftop overlooking the north coast, this is a fascinating place to wander. Approaching from the Bishops Gate, lush gardens lead you to an exposed hillside dotted with follies and temples. Downhill House was built in the 18th century and destroyed by fire a century later; apart from a brief requisitioning during World War II it has remained a ruin ever since. Visitors can wander through the remains of the house, admiring the stark shapes of the ruin and imagining what life was like in its heyday.
Passing through the house and heading out to the cliff edge, you reach Mussenden Temple. Despite the name, this was built as a library and is now used as a wedding venue and for occasional concerts, as well as being one of the most photographed spots in Ireland. The Temple was built in an Italian style and was originally much further back from the cliff edge, which has eroded over time. Nowadays it teeters on the clifftop, and structural work has been carried out to secure it for the future. You can go inside during opening hours.
The property belongs to the National Trust, and non-members can visit for a fee during the day. However, like many other locations along the coast, if you turn up after closing time (5pm in summer) you can visit for free, although you will not be able to go inside the temple.
If you have a few days in the area, you might want to explore further afield. Check out my posts on the Causeway Coast and the city of Derry/Londonderry for more to explore in the north of Northern Ireland, or venture into stunning Donegal or the Mourne Mountains for incredible scenery. There’s so much to do that you’ll never be short of ideas!