We start this tour in Belfast, a city in the midst of an immense transformation since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which finally established a detente in Northern Ireland. Tourism has steadily increased in this region over the last decade, but the crowds have yet to arrive en masse. If the best sites of the Antrim Coast were in County Cork or Kerry, they’d be overrun with tourists; as it is, you can still visit a spectacular setting such as the Giant’s Causeway and find yourself alone with nature. This tour then heads west to take in a couple of Sligo’s prehistoric sites and continues south for a visit to Achill Island, a peaceful retreat off the coast of County Mayo.
Days 1 & 2: Belfast
Northern Ireland’s capital—and the island of Ireland’s second largest city—is a historic, vibrant town. Start with a visit to the Ulster Museum and experience some of the city’s more recent past firsthand with a Black Taxi Tour. The new museums in the Titanic Quarter, such as the immense Titanic Belfast, provide a more high-tech dose of history; alternatively, you could immerse yourself in the city’s present by exploring its busy shopping districts. The Belfast Botanic Gardens & Palm House and Queen’s University are also worth a look. Round off the day with a pint at one of Belfast’s extraordinarily pretty pubs, like the Crown Liquor Saloon and a meal at one of the small but growing number of world-class restaurants.Day 3: Country Antrim
One of the North’s loveliest counties, Antrim is home to two gorgeous parks: the Castlewellan Forest Park, with formal gardens and gorgeous woodland walks, and the Silent Valley Mountain Park, with beautiful walks and even more incredible views. Alternatively, the Antrim Coast road is one of Ireland’s great coastal drives—and one of the least spoiled. Few tourists ever venture this far north; those who do will reap spectacular rewards. Start in Carrickfergus, with a brief stop to look around its medieval castle, before heading north along the coast road. For the best views take the Torr Head Scenic Road, located just after the village of Cushendun. It’s an alternative signposted road running parallel to the main route, best for those with a good head for heights. From up here on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. The Antrim Coast’s most remarkable attraction is the Giant’s Causeway, an uncanny natural rock formation comprised of thousands of tightly packed basalt columns. You could do the drive in about 2 hours, but you’ll want to allow considerably longer than that to give yourself time to stop along the way. There are places along the coast to spend the night, or you could go straight on into Derry. It’s about another hour on from the Giant’s Causeway.
Day 4: Derry to Sligo
Day 5: Country Sligo
Nestled within the gentle, verdant hills of this underrated county are some dramatic archaeological sites. Within a short drive from Sligo Town are two of the most incredible: Carrowkeel Passage Tomb Cemetery, packed with 14 cairns, dolmens, and stone circles, and the impossibly ancient Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. Here’s something to ponder while clambering around the latter: The innocuously named tomb 52A is thought to be 7,400 years old, making it the earliest known piece of freestanding stone architecture in the world.
Day 6: Sligo to Achill Island
Just off the coast of County Mayo, this is a wild and beautiful place of unspoiled beaches and spectacular scenery. But you’ll also find a handful of excellent little hotels and B&Bs, mostly in the vicinity of Keel, the island’s most attractive village. This is major outdoor sports territory as well, as the constant wind off the Atlantic Ocean is ideal for windsurfing, hang-gliding, and any other sport that depends on a breeze. One of the best (and least-known) discoveries on Achill Island is a deserted village on the slopes of Mount Slievemore. Not too many people venture up there, making it an even more extraordinary and moving place to visit.
Day 7: Achill Island to Shannon
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.