Getting around Antrim, the Biggest County in Northern Ireland
Updated On: February 16, 2022
County Antrim is one of Northern Ireland’s most desirable and picturesque destinations. Some of its extravaganzas, The Causeway Coast and the Glens of Antrim, are both areas of unsurpassed beauty, a unique blend of heritage and magnificent scenery. Covering an area of just over 1,000 square miles, Antrim is home to some of Ireland’s best-loved myths and legends.
The Heart of Antrim
At its heart, the Glens of Antrim offer isolated rugged landscapes. The aforementioned Giant’s Causeway is one of the most striking landscapes on Earth. And is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bushmills produces legendary whiskey. Portrush is where mainly farmers go to party, with most heading for a better night out in Belfast. It is one of Ireland’s most fascinating counties. It is also home to the Ulster Grand Prix, set in the tiny village of Dundrod which is the world’s fastest motorcycle racing circuit.
The first 28 miles of the coast of Antrim were blasted out from the chalky cliffs in 1834. Soon after, when the road was opened right round to Ballycastle, all nine glens suddenly became accessible and the farmers could get to market. The road passes by the foot of each of the glens. Resisting the temptation to turn inland is possible, but staying instead with the road and the sea breezes is surely a wholesome experience because a splendid marine drive lies ahead.
Another remarkable thing is that each of the coastal villages has a distinctive character. The castle at Glenarm is the home of the Earls of Antrim, and Carnlough has a famous inn which was once owned by Winston Churchill. The red curfew tower in the middle of Cushendall was built in 1809 as ‘a place of confinement for idlers and rioters’, and the National Trust village of Cushendun has pretty Cornish cottages and a beautiful beach. The road runs under bridges and arches, passing bays, sandy beaches, harbours and strange rock formations. As you turn Ulster’s top right-hand corner, the green crescent of Murlough Bay comes into sight before the climb to the eerie tableland of Fair Head, and a bird’s eye view of Rathlin Island.
The Glens of Antrim
The Glens of Antrim stretch over some 80km of shoreline, encompassing grasslands, forests, peat bogs, mountain uplands, churches and castles. The Antrim Coast Road, built in the 1830s, winds its way between bays and high cliff lines for nearly 160km. There are nine glens in all.
The nine famous Glens, and the meaning behind their names, are as follows:
- Glenarm – Glen of the Army
- Glencloy – Glen of the Dykes
- Glenariff – Glen of the Plough
- Glenballyeamon – Edwardstown Glen
- Glanaan – Glen of the Little Fords
- Glencorp – Glen of the Dead
- Glendun – Brown Glen
- Glenshesk – Glen of the Sedges (Reeds)
- Glentaisie – Princess Taisie of Rathlin Island
Each Glen boasts its own unique charm, quirks and characteristics in both the surrounding landscape and its people.
Cities in County Antrim
The City of Belfast bridges the border of Antrim and Down. Other principal townships are Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Larne, Lisburn and Newtownabbey. The population of County Antrim is estimated at over half a million (approx. 563,000). The biggest annual event is the Oul’ Lammas Fair in Ballycastle. In the old days, it lasted a week when there was plenty of match-makings as well as horse-trading. Today, the fun is packed into two hectic days at the end of August.
Despite all that, Belfast is really just a bustling U.K. city, with high street shops, modern restaurants and a fair smattering of historical sites. Among them, the grand Baroque Revival City Hall building marks the centre of the city in Donegall Square.
While spreading to the north is the Cathedral Quarter, a booming cultural district centred on St. Anne’s Cathedral. The massive, Greek-inspired white Stormont Parliament Buildings in the far north part of the city are also well worth a look.
There is also the city of Lisburn that is located on the river Lagan. Lisburn is split between County Antrim and County Down. It has a nice square and a place that is great for shopping in Northern Ireland. The towns main shopping centre is Bow Street Mall that has over 70 different shops for you to check out.
Along with Newry, Lisburn received its Royal Charter as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations of 2002. One of the things that Lisburn is known for is it’s a large number of churches you will find here- 132 to be exact!
Another popular town in County Antrim is Ballycastle that is known as a small seaside resort. The name Ballycastle means the ‘Town of the Castle’ and roughly around 4,500 people live here. It has everything you would expect for a seaside town: a gorgeous beach, caravan and camping facilities, lovely sea views, golf course and more.
Next is the city of Carrickfergus which is located between Between Belfast and Larne. The city offers a mixture of culture, history and modernity. One of its main features is the historically Norman Castle that has been apart of the Carrickfergus landscapes since 1180. The town also has a great museum ‘ The Carrickfergus Museum’ where you can explore the medieval history that surrounds the town.
Most Popular Places in County Antrim
Whilst it is a bit of a stretch to describe the Giant’s Causeway itself as a beach, it just about qualifies to be one, and given its significance, we didn’t want to leave it out. The Causeway is named after the naturally formed interlocking hexagonal basalt columns that act as stepping stones down from the cliff to the sea. Legend has it these columns were placed here by local giant, Finn McCool, in an attempt to build a bridge to Scotland. Whatever the origin the Giant’s Causeway is one of Britain’s greatest natural wonders and Northern Ireland’s most visited attraction.
Located on the very edge of the north coast of Antrim, Dunluce Castle is certainly one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic ruins. Cited as the inspiration for CS Lewis’ description of Cair Paravel in the Narnia books. It also appears on the artwork of a Led Zeppelin album. Not forgetting Dunluce Castle is one of the prime locations for filming hit TV shows and films. It has survived over three hundred years of abandonment and solitude on its own. Its most relentless enemy remains the inevitable forces of the tides, eating away at the ground beneath it. Already, a portion of the castle has been claimed.
The castle is carved into a rocky promontory so that the cliffs around the castle drop off straight into the ocean. The sea-grass and rocks are slippery from the salt-mist and, in some places, the rocky surface has caved in and the crashing ocean is visible far beneath the surface opening.
Mostly these holes are indicated by helpful signs, but it’s still a good idea to watch your footing carefully. This dangerous setting made the castle a perfect defence against invaders, but a reckless place to carry out daily life. In the early 1600s the cliff-face supporting the castle kitchen crumbled into the ocean and plummeted all the people inside to their deaths. At least one seventeenth-century wife refused to set foot in the unpredictable structure.
Still, for the moment it remains a testament to a much more complicated time in Northern Ireland’s history.
Lough Neagh is the largest lake of fresh water in the islands of the UK/Ireland. The waterway is an integral part of the area’s economic development, providing income for the locals and recreational opportunities for visitors. The lake is 20 miles long and nine miles wide and mostly shallow, but reported to be as many as 80 feet deep in spots and encompasses an area of 153 square miles.
Lough Neagh receives its water from six rivers and empties into the Lower Bann, which carries the water out to the sea. It is the primary water source for Belfast. Furthermore, the lake is a prime fishing area, known for its eels. Other native fish include salmon, pollen, perch, dollagh, bream, and roach. It is also a habitat for a broad variety of bird life.
Glenarm is a thin, mostly pebble beach, stretching for about 300 meters from a small river mouth and the village harbour at the eastern end towards the end of the village to the west. Sitting at the foot of the Glens of Antrim the beach enjoys excellent views of the surrounding hills and headlands along the coast.
The beach is known to be a good spot for fishing, whilst boating trips from the harbour are popular. The Glens of Antrim offer excellent walking terrain.
County Antrim Attractions
One of the biggest tourist attractions in County Antrim and wider Northern Ireland is the famous Dark Hedges. The Dark Hedges is an avenue of uniquely shaped beech trees that have been made very popular by their appearance in the Game of Thrones TV series. It has now become the most photographed tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.
The Dark Hedges has brought people from all over the world to Northern Ireland… mainly fans of the well-acclaimed show. They are pretty incredible and beautiful. No picture could ever do them justice. That’s why you need to see the trees in person to really appreciate them and their significance.
Irish Linen Centre and Museum
Located in Lisburn, County Antrim is an award-winning Irish Linen Centre and Museum where you can explore the history of Irish Linen in Lisburn through a free guided tour. This is an opportunity for you to explore Ireland’s Industrial heritage and its award-winning exhibition. Traceback through time and learn about the history of linen production in Ulster. The linen industry played a huge role in the social and industrial heritage of Ulster and Northern Ireland.
A trip to County Antrim wouldn’t be complete without heading to Belfast to visit the award-winning Titanic Museum. It is the largest Titanic visitor experience in the world that dives into the fascinating story surrounding the Titanic in a new and exciting way.
Explore the story and history of the Titanic through nine interactive galleries. This includes special effects and full-scale reconstructions, a dark ride and more. You can also learn about the exciting industries in Belfast at the time that led to the creation of the Titanic.
When you are done visiting the Titanic Museum head to the SS Nomadic the last remaining white star vessel in the World, the Titanic’s sister- ship that is located in Belfast. You can climb aboard the ship and explore its decks and take a journey through time.
Crumlin Road Gaol
If you’re looking to explore history in Country Antrim, then there is no better place than Crumlin Road Gaol. It was originally used as a prison that dates back to the 18th century but eventually closed its doors as a working prison in 1996.
It is now used as a visitor’s attractions after going through a major renovation. Guided tours of the prison are now available where you get the unique opportunity to step back in time and explore its history. Hear stories about its time as a working prison and explore the different rooms from the cells, the execution cell, the courthouse and more.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Last but certainly not least it is one of the most popular places to visit in County Antrim and Northern Ireland. If you’re looking to explore some of the most beautiful scenic views in the county then this is the place. It is a famous bridge that links the mainland to a very small island known as carrick-a-rede. The bridge is 30 metres above the sea and 20 metres long that was first created by salmon fishermen over 350 years ago. You’ll be totally amazed by the views on offer.
The Old Bushmills Distillery
You can’t miss the opportunity to visit Ireland Oldest Licensed Distillery located in the village of Bushmills in County Antrim. Through guided tours, you can explore the place, learn about its history, see how they make the whiskey as well as trying some of the Irish whiskey produced here. It is still the only distillery in Ireland that is actually producing whiskey. The Distillery was one of the first places in the world to make both blended and malt whiskeys. An incredible history worth exploring.
Antrim Castle and Gardens
Another place worth visiting is the Antrim Castle Gardens which offers one of the most beautiful and historical gardens found in Northern Ireland. The gardens offer four centuries of heritage and culture. At the heart of the gardens is the visitor centre located in Clotworthy House. Check out the Garden Heritage Exhibition to learn about the garden’s colourful past and present. Check out all that Antrim Castle Gardens has to offer in the video below:
A Wonderful Time County Antrim
Antrim is a place of beauty, a place full of history and traditions and a place that is surely becoming a popular destination for many visitors coming to Northern Ireland. It offers you the best of both worlds with modern lively cities like Belfast where you’ll find a variety of attractions and culture. You’ll also discover smaller towns and villages that offer you a relaxing experience where history and traditions surround you.
There is so much to love about Antrim; one is that it offers some of the best coastal road trips in Northern Ireland. The county is inviting, with lots to explore and see you’ll soon be planning another visit to this wonderful place.
Have you ever been to County Antrim? Have you checked out any of the tourist attractions found there? We would love to hear about your experiences!
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