The Causeway Coast Way is a low-lying walk that stretches along the north-eastern tip of Ireland.
Running between the popular tourist towns of Ballycastle and Portstewart, the route is just over 50 kilometres in length and can be walked in either direction.
One of the best things about the route is that it passes some of the major tourist attractions of Northern Ireland – namely the Giant’s Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption and is known locally as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of TripAdvisor’s 10 most dramatic landscapes on the planet. You might even recognise it from various scenes in the Game of Thrones television series.
The route also passes through more of the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and several Areas of Special Scientific Interest.
Over the course of three days hikers are treated to views of, and visits to, wide bays, sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and off-shore rocks. At every turn you are met with spectacular views.
This tip of the island is pretty much a walker’s paradise, with the ferocious Atlantic foaming below, abundant flora and fauna, and stunning panoramas that look out onto the Scottish island of Islay, Rathlin Island’s chalky-white cliffs and the Mull of Kintyre at the tip of the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland
The Causeway Coast Way is also a subsection of the Ulster Way, a 1,070 kilometre circular trail in Northern Ireland.
- Listed by the Guardian as one of the Top 10 UK walks.
- Some of the finest cliff scenery in Europe.
- A manageable, easy gradient.
- Interact with local hikers and hosts, with the Irish renowned for being extremely warm, friendly and hospitable.
Whether you choose to walk the entire Causeway Coast Way from Ballycastle to Portstewart or vice-versa, or just one day’s section, you can get there from Belfast or Dublin by bus and train, or rent a car.
Based on starting the hike at Ballycastle, the best option is to come via Belfast. There is an international airport here as well as a major train hub with connections running all over the country at regular intervals.
There are services departing from Belfast Bridge Street and arriving at Ballycastle Marine Corner via Ballymena. Including transfers, the journey takes two and a half to three hours.
If you purchase a Translink card on arrival, you can opt in to unlimited travel across all Translink bus and rail services in Northern Ireland.
If you fancy a little boat ride, Belfast also has a port with ferries running to Cairnryan (Wales) and Liverpool (England).
Not planning to do the whole route? Not an issue.
Once you’ve arrived, there is a bus route that runs along the entire trail, so you can easily hop on and off on the sections of your choice.
Getting to Portstewart is just as easy and can be accessed via the Translink train to Coleraine, from where you’ll need to switch onto the bus to Portstewart.
Many people choose to base themselves in one of Portstewart or Ballycastle and use this as a base then busing to the section you want to hike every day.
The Causeway Coast Way spans 52 kilometres, so it is by no means a short stroll.
It is possible to do it in shorter parts, as it can be easily broken down into sections that range between two and five hours.
There are plenty of public transport options available along the trail, making it accessible from the start and end of each main section.
We would recommend taking a little longer (up to three full days) to complete this hike in its entirety, allowing you time to really soak up the landscape and beauty that surrounds you.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
In terms of long-distance trails, the Causeway Coast Way is relatively easy.
It is often described as a moderate difficulty trail but this is primarily down to its extensive length.
Over its entire length you can expect to gain 1,360 metres of elevation but split over 52 kilometres, this is completely manageable.
Anyone of a decent level of fitness that has done a little bit of walking could complete the route. As always, be aware of your own abilities and walk at a pace that is comfortable for you.
No real experience is needed to take on the Causeway Coast Way, as there are no technical sections, scrambling or climbing.
It is a family-friendly trail thanks to the easy-going nature of the paths and the availability of nearby services, shops and public transport.
Elevation gains aren’t strenuous, so it is a great long-distance hike to start off with if you’re building up to other longer trails.
No permits are needed to hike the Causeway Coast Way in Ireland.
Guided or Self-Guided
Most people choose to hike self-guided and there are plenty of online resources to help you do so.
For anyone doing a sub-section that lasts a day or less, there is no need to fork out for a guide or group tour.
Those who are walking the entire trail may choose to go with an organised group for the sole reason that it is easier, requires less planning and your baggage is usually ferried from one overnight stop to the next.
This service can also be arranged privately, and we would highly recommend ditching your luggage to get the most out of your walk.
As with any walk in Britain, the best conditions will be between May and October. The summer period offers the warmest temperatures and potential for low cloud and rain, but is also the most popular.
Nailing your timing will make this climb more enjoyable. July through August is best avoided as the school holidays will guarantee you a greater level of crowds – particularly in the Giant’s Causeway area – and potentially a less enjoyable experience.
Below we discuss the trail as walked from east to west, i.e. from Ballycastle to Portstewart, but it could just as easily be tackled in the other direction.
First and foremost, we would recommend that the stretch between Ballycastle and White Park Beach should be omitted from your itinerary, but it is personal choice.
This is because it is along winding roads, largely without pavements and it is not safe – particularly if you have children or dogs with you.
As mentioned above, public transport runs along the entire Causeway Coast Way so you can easily leave out this stage by hopping on and off the bus.
Below we have broken the route down into six key stages, which can be walked over the course of two to three days.
Ballycastle to Ballintoy
Distance: 11.5km | Ascent: 200m | Walking time: 3hr 20mins
- The Causeway Coast Way starts at ‘The Diamond’ in the heart of Ballycastle, following the main shopping thoroughfare for almost a kilometre down to the seafront.
- Fantastic vistas quickly open up to Fair Head and beyond to the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.
- The trail turns left and starts the steep climb up North Street, passing a right turn for the main harbour area.
- Passing the caravan parks, the climb levels off and the trail leaves the main road to the right, down a small lane, then back to the main Coast Road.
- The route follows alongside major and minor roads and is well signposted the whole way down towards Ballintoy, providing great views towards it’s iconic whitewashed church and the headlands.
- Coming down into the town is the Weighbridge Tearooms, followed by the Rope Bridge to Carrick-a-Rede. You do have to pay a small fee for this but it is well worth it.
- Spend the night in Ballintoy village and head down to the harbour to get a few photos.
Ballintoy to Dunseverick Castle
Distance: 7km | Ascent: 50m | Walking time: 2hrs 15mins
- Another day of moderate walking starts at Ballintoy Parish Church, past the picturesque Ballintoy Harbour, and out onto a shoreline walk.
- After passing the ‘Elephant Rock’ sea stack, there is a narrow pass along the base of the cliffs to get onto White Park Bay. Note that this section may not be passable during extra high tides.
- Following the beach route past the cliffs to reach Portbraddan, the trail passes a row of cottages.
- The next section follows along the base of some cliffs and then through the hole of a sea arch at Gid Point.
- About 10 minutes later the trail arrives at Dunseverick Harbour.
- Grab some lunch and a drink then get ready to press on to the most impressive section.
Dunseverick Castle to the Giant’s Causeway
Distance: 9km | Ascent: 200m | Walking time: 2hrs 45mins
- This off-road section is wonderfully isolated. On leaving Dunseverick Castle, the next sign of a public road isn’t for almost 10 kilometres at the Giant’s Causeway.
- The trail follows a grassy path that curves around each headland and gradually ascends all the way to Bengore Head.
- When it levels out here, you can pat yourself on the back as this is the highest point on the Causeway Coast Way.
- On passing Benbane Head, the Causeway Coast Way crosses the boundary into the UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosts the infamous Giant’s Causeway.
- After passing various points of historical interest (including a shipwreck, more stacks, an amphitheatre of vertical basalt columns and beaches), you’ll arrive at Port Noffer.
- From here the main Causeway area can be seen below, accessed via steps.
- Once finished at the Grand Causeway, a road curves around Port Granny and begins to steeply to the Visitor’s Centre.
- Spend the night at one of the nearby hotels or guesthouses, ready for your last full day of walking.
The Giant’s Causeway to Portballintrae
Distance: 5km | Ascent: 50m | Walking time: 1hr 20mins
- Note that this section follows the coastline. There is also the option of taking the Train Line Route, which is slightly shorter and takes about half the amount of time to walk but is much less scenic.
- Start on the path behind the Causeway Hotel and continue to the north-west along the edge of the cliff-top.
- Follow the cliffs around the corner and facing into the small inlet of Portcoon.
- Climb the steps to Runkerry Point then down towards the shoreline at the old Blackrock salmon fishery.
- Cross the small footbridge over the Runkerry Burn to meet the train line.
- After 600 metres break off onto the path for the Bush River. The following 10 minutes or so includes a wooden gangway along the course of river and a footbridge to reach the edge of Portballintrae.
Portballintrae to Portrush
Distance: 8km | Ascent: 50m | Walking time: 2hr 15mins
- From Portballintrae you’ll head inland a little.
- Leaving the front of the Bay View Hotel in town, the trail heads west briefly before turning left into an estate of holiday homes.
- Head straight then take the second turn right into Gortnee Drive. Follow the road for 150 metres to find a path behind the row of houses to the right.
- Continue up into the field and onwards for about 300 metres to meet the main road.
- The Causeway Coast Way turns right to continue on a footpath along the side of the road, working its way back towards the sea.
- Follow the trail towards Portrush, with an optional detour via a quiet lane to reach Dunluce Castle and café.
- The final stretch is along the sandy beaches of Curran Strand and the East Strand into Portrush.
- Depending on your schedule, spend the afternoon perusing Portrush and rest up for the night or push onwards to Portstewart. Note that there is plenty to do in Portrush, so extra time spent here is in no way time wasted.
Portrush to Portstewart
Distance: 10.5km | Ascent: 50m | Walking time: 3hrs
- This section from Portrush Harbour to the official end at Saint Patrick’s Well, Portstewart is one of the longer stages but it’s fairly easy.
- The Causeway Coast Way follows the promenade along the West Strand (a popular surf beach), before climbing up a small hill beside a cycle lane.
- At Ballyreagh Road turn right along the footpath for 250 metres before turning immediately after the last house on the right. Just look out for the sign denoting the boundary crossing into County Londonderry.
- The next four or so kilometres is referred to (aptly) as the Port Path – passing coves called the Devil’s Port, Holywell Port, Stoney Port and finally leading into Portstewart.
- Following the cliffs to Ringaree Point, it is around two kilometres of walking before reaching the promenade leading into Portstewart.
If you plan to hike the entire trail, you can start in Ballycastle or Portstewart and base yourself there then reach the section you want to hike each day by taking the bus.
There are hotels, inns, B&Bs, campsites and caravan parks around both areas – so whatever your budget there will be something to suit.
The rule of camping in Northern Ireland is a little bit of a grey area but if you set up your camp late in the evening, pack up early and follow the leave-no-trace rules you won’t run into any issues in the more secluded areas along the trail.
Just don’t decide to set up camp on the edge of the Giant’s Causeway.
The other option is to stay the night at various towns along the way. Once again there are plenty of hotels and guesthouses scattered along the Causeway Coastal Route.
Definitely spend a night in Ballycastle before you set off. The Salthouse Hotel has impressive views from the restaurant, bar and spa that might leave you wanting to stay a bit longer than just the one night.
For those on a budget, the Castle Hostel is a popular well-equipped option too.
For your second night, a good stop off would be in Ballintoy or White Park Bay.
The Castle Bed and Breakfast in Ballintoy is a home away from home with a shared lounge, garden and a full English/Irish breakfast to get you fuelled up.
Whitepark House B&B is an incredible experience that comes highly recommended (just read the reviews to understand why), otherwise White Park Bay Youth Hostel offers good value for money.
If you’re going to splash the cash anywhere, it should be on your third night to stay at the Causeway Hotel.
Located on prime real estate, staying here gives you the Giant’s Causeway (almost) all to yourself first thing in the morning and at sunset. Without the crowds, you’ll see a whole new side of this magical and unique site.
For anyone choosing to break up the final stretch, spend a night in Portrush at either the Portrush Atlantic Hotel – if you want something a little fancy – or the Portrush Holiday Hostel.
The main downside of staying at points along the linear route is that you will need to carry your backpack.
If you don’t want to be weighed down, take a self-guided tour with a local company who will transfer your luggage every day, or organise your own luggage transfers with an agency.
There is no shortage of things to do all along the trail. Whether you’re a foodie, a seasoned hiker, a wildlife watcher or a historian, there are plenty of stop-offs that will peak your interest.
The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge near Ballintoy links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede.
Spanning 20 metres, with views down to the floor 30 metres below, this is a fun stopping point that is well worth the small National Trust fee.
En route from Giant’s Causeway to Portrush, you can take a small detour to the famous Dunluce Castle also known as House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.
The little café – called the Wee Cottage – is a popular spot to warm up with a tea or coffee and slice of cake.
From here you can head towards Portrush, which boasts three beaches with the coveted blue-flag designation. Its name comes from the Irish Port Rois, which translates to “promontory port” – an indication of what an idyllic town Portrush is.
Portrush is a true seaside town with charming shops, restaurants/pubs, galleries and arcades, and a beachfront that will capture your heart.
If you’re visiting in summer then you can’t pass up the opportunity to take a dip at West Strand beach, a stunning curve of shoreline that is a popular swimming and sunbathing spot and also features a promenade for walkers and cyclists.
For something a bit more adrenaline-fuelled, check out Barry’s Amusements. Located above the West Strand, the amusement park has been in operation for over 90 years, hosting 15 attractions that include two rollercoasters, a carousel and a water slide.
If you want to take a break from walking, why not book on to a tour? The Game of Thrones tour will take you to some of the beautiful filming locations of the acclaimed TV series, whilst the Derry Bloody Sunday walking tour touches on some of Ireland’s rich history and discovers the famous Bogside Murals.
If you’re more of the culinary sort then check out the Bushmills food and whisky tour and tasting – the perfect way to discover more of the region local products.
|Starts at||Ballycastle, UK|
|Finishes at||Ballintoy, Ballycastle, UK|
|Length of route||51 Km|
|Average time to complete||2 - 3 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||140 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||Northern Ireland, UK|