What's the best way to spend a sunny bank holiday weekend, you ask me? Go away with your friends, of course! This time, Hannah, Sarah, Lily and I jetted off to Northern Ireland, where Hannah's family owns a beautiful house, on the Antrim coast. We did everything you would expect girls to do in Ireland, from eating way too much cake to seeking out as many Game of Thrones filming locations as humanely possible and generally making the most of what the Emerald Isle had to offer.
And because I had such a great time doing so, I am now sharing what I hope will be the first of many travel guides on this blog. I have even included an interactive map, which does not only feature everything I think is worth checking out in the area, but also every major filming locations used in Game of Thrones so far.
It's going to be a long one, so grab yourself a cup of tea and let's get started, shall we?
WHERE TO STAY
As I mentioned earlier, we were lucky enough to be able to stay at Hannah's in Bushmills, a lovely little town by the coast. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city but if you're thinking of staying in the area yourself, you might want to rent a car or get the number of a local taxi company beforehand. On the plus side, Bushmills is full of hiking trails if you want to fit some exercise in and you can easily walk to a few landmarks, such as the Giants Causeway or the famous distillery.
WHAT TO SEE
THE GIANTS CAUSEWAY
44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills, Antrim BT57 8SU
Legend has it, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by Irish giant, Finn MacCool. As nice as the story is, the iconic hexagonal columns are, in fact, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask the guides about the legend. The volunteers working on site are all so passionate, they are probably much better at telling the story than I am so don't be shy and ask away.
THE DARK HEDGES
Bregagh Rd, Ballymoney BT53 8TP
This is one for the Game of Thrones fans who may remember the the Dark Hedges being used as the backdrop for Arya's journey north in the second season of the show. In reality, the stunning tree tunnel dates back to the 18th century and is one of the most photographed natural phenomenons in the world. Pictures really don't do it justice, so if you're ever in the area, make sure to stop by.
THE ANTRIM COAST
If you have access to a car, why not take a scenic drive along the Antrim Coast? We did and everywhere we stopped was incredible, with breathtaking views and typical Irish scenery (a.k.a. a lot of sheep and even more greenery), but a few places I would definitely recommend you pop onto your itinerary are Ballintoy Harbour, Dunseverick castle and Portbraddan. Surprise, surprise, Ballintoy Harbour is yet another Game of Thrones filming locations, but the little cake shop next door is the real star here. The selection of homemade cakes available there is one of the best I've ever seen and their lemon meringue pie will sure make for a nice break from all the driving.
87 Dunluce Rd, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8UY, £5
According to the legend, the kitchen of the Dunluce Castle collapsed into the sea and only one of the employees survived. Thankfully, you can now visit the remains without fearing for your life, so take a minute to enjoy the beautiful Medieval ruins and their breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
BELFAST'S BOTANIC GARDENS
College Park, Botanic Ave, Belfast BT7 1LP
With its wide selection of succulents, cacti and palm trees, it's hard to remember the Belfast's Botanic Gardens and its Palm House are indeed in the middle of the Northern Irish capital. The gardens are a strong favourite amongst locals and tourists alike, and it's easy to see why - it is the perfect place to relax, have a picnic or even study for those lucky few going to university next door.
MUSSENDEN TEMPLE AND DOWNHILL BEACH
Seacoast Rd, Coleraine BT51 4RH, £4.70
Northern Ireland is full of National Trust sites, each more beautiful than the other. Mussenden Temple is one of these so make sure to stop by and also check the view while you're there. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it is definitely something you need to see for yourself. It is well worth the £4.70 entry fee, in my opinion.
WHAT TO DO
Queens Rd, Belfast, County Antrim BT3 9EP, £17.50
We are all familiar with the Titanic's tragic story thanks to the many Hollywood films, but did you know it was originally built in Belfast? Well, this is just one of the many things you will learn at the Titanic Museum. The exhibition itself is very entertaining and interactive, with everything from Vegas-style slot machines delivering insightful facts about the ship to a full-on ride through the shipyard. On a more serious note, it also features some heartbreaking testimonies by the late survivors themselves which will leave you deeply moved by your visit. If you only have time to do one thing in Belfast, make it the Titanic Museum.
CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE
Ballycastle, Moyle BT54 6LS, £5.90
Not one for those afraid of heights, the Carrick-A-Rede rope Bridge offers some of the best views of the area. Be prepared to wait and pay a small fee before being able to fully enjoy the experience though.
OLD BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY
2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8XH, £7.50
The Old Bushmills distillery was the first of its kind and the fact it is still fully functioning today makes it an incredibly interesting place to visit - whether you like whiskey or not. I'm not a fan myself, but I personally loved learning about the process, as well as being introduced to the world of Irish whiskey and its main differences from its Scottish counterpart. And if whiskey is your tipple of choice, you will definitely enjoy the final stop of the visit, which is the distillery's very own bar in which you can try their distillery exclusive blend. It is definitely worth checking out if you're in the Bushmills area.
BARRY'S AMUSEMENT PARK
16 Eglinton St, Portrush, Antrim BT56 8DX
Barry's is an old school, seaside town amusement park which does exactly what it says on the tin, so get yourself some tokens and start queueing up for Barry's Big Dipper. It will (probably) not disappoint.
Botanic Gardens, Belfast, County Antrim BT9 5AB
If you like the British Museum in London, you will love The Ulster Museum. With traditional Irish art, as well as a wildlife and Ancient Egypt sections, it is a great stop if you want something a little bit different or if you are already in the area.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
THE COPPER KETTLE
61 Main St, Bushmills BT57 8QA
The Copper Kettle is the epitome of small town dinning. There is nothing overly fancy in this local joint, just a small selection of tried and trusted dishes. In true Irish fashion, the service is absolutely incredible and I can definitely see why this is a local favorite. Just don't go there expecting to find your usual avocado rose on gluten-free toast or your coconut milk cappuccino and try the soda bread breakfast sandwich instead, or like me, the mini fry-up. It may not be as Instagram-friendly as avocado on toast, but it is just as delicious.
WEE COTTAGE TEA AND COFFEE
Coleraine, Coleraine BT57 8UY
Northern Ireland seems to be full of these small coffee shops which specialise in homemade cakes. Think your grandmother's secret recipe, but even better. Sarah and I split a slice of their rose water and pistachio sponge cake, which was incredible but I hear Lily's coffee brownie was also worth a taste if you're not too keen on the former.
RAMORE WINE BAR
1 Harbour Road, Portrush, County Antrim BT56 8DF
The Ramore Wine Bar is the perfect place to grab dinner or a drink in Portrush. Not only is the food delicious and indulgent, their selection of gin-tails is pretty incredible too. And let's not forget about their dessert table, which is so decadent, you will not be able to decide which one you want - if you are still hungry after dinner, that is. There was a bit of a wait when we went, but nothing a margarita or two couldn't help with.
KAFFE O NORDIC COFFEE SHOP
411 Ormeau Rd, Belfast BT7 3GP
If you fancy a coffee and want something local, the Kaffe O Nordic coffee shop is for you. It will please any scandi lovers, as well as those who may be struggling with jet lag. You'll thank me later.
MAGGIE MAY'S CAFE
2 Malone Rd, Belfast, County Antrim BT9 5BN
Located in the student district, the Maggie May's café is the ultimate uni throwback with its juicy bacon baps, crispy chips and extravagant milkshakes. I opted for a (not so healthy) student favourite : cheesy chips. These were not only delicious, they were also cheap as chips at only £2.69, if you excuse the pun.
48 Causeway Rd, Bushmills, Moyle BT57 8SU
This traditional pub is located right next to the Giants Causeway, making it a great spot to grab some lunch if like us, you have spent the morning hiking and exploring the area. Those familiar with Irish pubs will appreciate the traditional atmosphere, while others will be transported by the typical British menu. Either way, it's a good one to check out if you don't mind getting charged 20p for a glass of water. Sorry, for the ice in the water.
22 Wellington Pl, Belfast BT1 6GE
HOME's promise is simple : good, healthy food that doesn't break the bank. And it sure delivers, with a vast array of vegan, gluten-free and overall delicious dishes ; HOME is a real treat. And the best thing? Most dishes are available in a starter and a main size, which makes them perfect for sharing shall you want to. I had the pumpkin ravioli with the kale pesto and its toasted pine nuts, which was both hearty and moorish, but I hear Hannah's asparagus and pea risotto and Lily's baked chili tofu were also incredible. At less than £10 for a main and a drink, this is one you don't want to miss out.
And finally, as promised, here is my very own interactive map of Northern Ireland and its many Game of Throne locations. If you're not a fan of the show and would rather not see these, you can simply untick the category in the map's menu and voilà.
I hope you liked this travel guide. I am already planning a few more of these, so don't forget to follow ELLE yeah on Bloglovin' if you want to know exactly when the next one goes up.
Have you ever been to Northern Ireland? If so, what was your favourite thing to see or do there?
- Elodie x