Road Trip Itinerary for The Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland (Featuring Game of Thrones' Locations!)
The night before our scheduled Game of Thrones tour, I was checking my email in our Belfast Airbnb when I got the cancellation notice. Devastated, I tried looking up other, last-minute tours for our only day to explore this route along the Northern Irish coast, but they all required at least 24 hours' notice. We could chance it and just show up to one in the morning, or we could rent a car and try to navigate the tour on our own...
I had planned on doing our Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland since the finale aired in May, 2019, when Game of Thrones was on everyone's minds! Our 9-hour tour was booked months before we arrived in Belfast, and I was excited to be visiting many different filming locations in Northern Ireland. But when it was cancelled, and when we didn't want to chance not venturing into the countryside, or getting stuck in the city for our last day in Belfast, we decided to rent a car early the next morning and try to head out on our own: a self-driving Game of Thrones tour.
It turned out to be our best day in Ireland! All of these filming locations for Game of Thrones just happens to line up with all the major sites along the Causeway Coastal Route, a tourism and heritage route from Londonderry to Belfast.
The whole Causeway Coastal Route can be driven in about 4 hours, about 120 miles. We drove a portion of the Causeway coast adding to about 1.5 hours of driving, or 50 miles. We started around Dunlace Castle and ended our coastal drive at Carnlough.
So I'm here to tell you to not hesitate: rent a car and head out on your own! In my humble opinion, whether you're a Game of Thrones' fan or not, the highlights of Northern Ireland are found in the countryside, outside of the city, in the crumbling castles, sweeping green fields, and dramatic cliffs along the coast!
First Stop: The Dark Hedges
So there we were, up and at 'em at 7:00 am, walking from our Airbnb in Belfast to the Enterprise Rent-a-Car office to pick up our car rental. Jet was confident he could drive in Ireland, and I was thankful for that, because there was no way I was going to try my luck driving on the left on these tiny roads! But he did brilliantly, once we navigated our way out of the city center and onto the highway. We decided to start our trip in the north by driving up on the highways, and then slowly make our way back south along the coast.
We decided to check out the Dark Hedges as our first stop, first thing in the morning, so that we could get there before major crowds. Tour buses regularly ship tourists to this spot as part of their Game of Thrones tours. This was one stop of our "tour" I was happy to do on our own, because we were completely alone except for a few other minutes that another couple was there! Also the lighting is much more favorable early in the morning or late in the evening, as the sun is at an angle and not directly overhead. It gives the ancient beech trees more of a mystical quality!
If you don't recognize this from Game of Thrones, it was used as the Kingsroad on which Arya and the boys traveled via caravan to King's Landing!
Second Stop: Dunlace Castle
Our next stop was the magnificent Dunlace Castle. Dunlace castle is a 16th century ruin on which you are able to freely walk around and see the individual rooms and even fireplaces that remain standing in the ruins of this once prominent castle. The views of the ocean from this ruin are simply magical, and bonus views if you have a drone! (Sadly we did not bring our drone on this day trip.)
Dunlace Castle is also the castle used in Game of Thrones as Castle Greyjoy of the Iron Islands! You can see where the Iron Islands' imagery comes from with the castle perched on the edge of a steep cliff that falls into the ocean below.
Here is an awesome drone clip of the castle: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaCrBqSpmTE].
Also worth checking out nearby is Whiterocks Beach and Mussenden Temple. We checked out the beach here, used as the location for the Burning of the Seven in Season 2, but did not go to Mussenden Temple.