Portrush to Castlerock: Discover Northern Ireland’s northwest coast

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 Castle

northern irelands northwest
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.

northern ireland's northwest
Stunning Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim

Magheracross viewpoint

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.

northern ireland's northwest
Spectacular views from Magheracross

Portrush

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.

Portstewart

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

northern ireland's northwest
The evocative ruins of Downhill House, Co. Londonderry

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.

northern ireland's northwest
Inside the ruins of Downhill House

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.

northern ireland's northwest
Mussenden Temple perches above the cliff edge

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.

northern ireland's northwest
Spectacular views to the east across Castlerock and the north coast

Other activities

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!


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northern ireland's northwest

12 Comments

  1. I’m from Belfast and I’ve been to all of these places! They really are gems in Northern Ireland! Great post

  2. Oh wow, it’s lovely to see these locations from a different perspective as I recently visited most of these sites. I loved this post, your photographs are really nice. x

  3. Beautiful images! Thanks for the advice to go after closing for free. I usually just want to take in the views – and what better time than during the golden hour as the sun is low in the sky 🙂

  4. Northern Ireland looks wonderful! The colour of the sea is unreal – it’s very high up on my bucket list! What would you suggest is a g good amount to spend there?

    1. Your budget can be whatever you want it to be, really! A mid-range hotel will cost you maybe £80 per night, more in Belfast, less if you stay in a B&B/guest house. Expect to pay £25pp for dinner including a glass of wine. After that it’s up to you: as I mentioned, many sites will charge you for entry during the day (around £8-£10) but are free after hours if you don’t mind skipping the visitor’s centre. It’s all well worth it, though!

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