Fancy a proper day trip? Of course you do! Explore some beautiful places off the beaten track with a tour of Antrim’s prettiest towns.
The landscapes of a region do a lot to define local ways of life, something which can definitely be said of Antrim’s glens and coast. But to truly understand the people and their character, you need to explore the towns. Letting you dip into history, it’s a fantastic chance to see how industry and maritime life have all left their mark. Get to really know the region by heading off the beaten track and exploring the towns and villages that have all helped to shape and define Antrim throughout its history.
Start your day in Larne, a seaside town whose strategically-placed harbour has long served the busy ferry routes between Scotland and Northern Ireland. With plenty of cafés and bakeries there’s no shortage of options for an amazing breakfast – you’ll definitely need to stock up on some energy for the sightseeing to come. As you explore the centre, keep your eyes peeled for the quirky town hall, notable for its ornate Gothic styling. Stroll along the seafront and you’ll eventually come across the town’s principal landmark: the Chaine Memorial. Lovingly known as the “Pencil” by locals, this replica Irish round tower stands guard at the entrance to Larne Lough and was built in tribute to a local MP, James Chaine, who did much to develop the ferry links between Larne and Scotland. The funding for the memorial was a proper community effort, with contributions coming in from every part of the local populace regardless of their faith or political creed. The perfect place to snap some great photographs and enjoy those sea views!
It’s time to head away from the coast for just a little bit as we now head to Ballymena. For a proper introduction to the history of region, head to the Braid, a museum with exhibitions that document the story of Antrim all the way back to the Stone Age. You’ll discover the influences left behind by Vikings and Normans, and how the small community of Gracehill managed to revolutionise the local linen industry. The Braid isn’t just home to history though. On-site you’ll also find an arts centre where local comedians, musicians and actors demonstrate their talents on the regular – be sure to check their programme to see which events are coming up!
Guru tip: Ballymena is situated right in the heart of Antrim. So if you’re thinking of spreading your adventure out across two or more days and want to be close to all the action, the town will serve as a fantastic base. One hotel I can really recommend is the Galgorm Resort & Spa, a breathtaking retreat by the River Maine set in over 160 acres of pristine forest and parkland. After a busy day of exploring the region, you can relax and unwind in the superb spa facilities on offer. Hot tubs by the river, saunas and steam rooms – I’d say that’s the perfect treat!
It’s time to head back to Antrim’s breathtaking coastlines. Our first stop along the way is Carnlough, nestled in one of Antrim’s nine glens – the drive here will take you through rolling fields and windswept hills as you descend down to the seafront. The village features a sleepy harbour, where you can charter your own boats, book a sea angling trip or even head out to observe local marine life such as seals and dolphins. Should you fancy stretching your legs a bit after the drive down, I can definitely recommend heading up to Cranny Falls. It takes about 30 – 45 minutes each way but it’s dead easy to do; just follow Waterfall Road uphill and walking along the paths through the Gortin Quarry. It’s not a boring walk by any means though. The higher up you go, the more spectacular the views of the glen become.
Follow the coastal road just a little bit down towards the south and you’ll wind up at Glenarm. Another village which enjoys a sheltered location amidst the hills, there’s history at every turn. Glenarm has been the seat of the powerful McDonnell family for centuries, so as you’d expect they’ve quite a serious gaff to show for it. Glenarm Castle, built in 1646, is widely considered one of the most beautiful castles in Northern Ireland. While it’s not open to the public all of the time, the residence will open its doors for big events such as the Dalriada Festival. And if you’re into your gardening, the Walled Garden is a must! It’s the largest in Ireland and features a wide range of orchards, vegetable gardens, flowers and borders. The annual Tulip Festival marks the beginning of the open season – over 8,500 tulips will be in full bloom and it’s a great way to welcome the warmer weather that’s surely on its way.
Once you’ve soaked up the show of colour in Glenarm’s walled gardens, follow the breathtaking Antrim Coastal Road to Whitehead, a prime example of your typical Victorian seaside resort. The biggest draw here by far is the Whitehead Railway Museum, home to the largest and best preserved collection of steam trains in Ireland. A proper day out for both young and old, you’ll be able to see the mechanics hard at work repairing and restoring the vintage locomotives – on Saturday you might even be allowed to go for a ride on one of them! A visit to the Edwardian team room is a must while in Whitehead as well – you can’t beat a proper cream tea.
Your tour of Antrim’s towns and villages finishes in Carrickfergus, one of the oldest settlements in Ireland. The harbour is dominated by the sturdy walls of Carrickfergus Castle, built by the Normans in the 12th Century. From the top of the looking tower you’ll be greeted with sweeping views of Belfast Lough, and you can stroll through the chambers and winding passageways of the keep. It’s even possible to explore Carrickfergus’ links with America – Andrew Jackson, the 7th US President, can trace his heritage back to the city and you can visit a replica of the traditional 18th Century farmhouse his parents lived in. As your day draws to a close, you can toast to your proper day out with a well-deserved drink down at the Dobbins Inn Hotel.
Plan the perfect day out in Antrim
Being able to head off the beaten path and enjoy some proper hidden gems is always one of the best feelings going! Whether you decide to do this as a little day trip or as part of a larger adventure in the region, you’ll soon get to know and appreciate the history that’s waiting for you at every turn. Shapedbyseaandstone.comhas loads of extra information regarding things to do, where to stay and even suggested itineraries to help you plan the perfect getaway.
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