Glenariff Waterfall, County Antrim
From theme parks to waterfalls, the ever-charming County Antrim is full of big surprises and hidden gems at every turn.
Here’s our pick of the best of them.
Join in the craic at Johnny Joes
For the quintessential Irish pub experience, drop in to Johnny Joes (McCollams bar) in Cushendall. The traditional music scene is strong here and the atmosphere warm and welcoming. Have a meal at Upstairs at Joe’s or book in for a cookery lesson, then mingle downstairs as a session gets going. And if Cushendall Ruairi Ogs are in action (Liam Neeson’s favourite hurling team), be sure to go watch a game.
Visit the humble beginnings of a US president
Once you absorb the nearby Carrickfergus Castle, next on your list should be this quaint cottage with fabulous views over Belfast Lough. The Andrew Jackson Cottage and the US Rangers Centre is the ancestral home of seventh US President, Andrew ‘Old Hickory’ Jackson, and there are great stories behind it. A separate exhibit on the US Rangers, stationed in Carrickfergus during World War II, carries on the American theme.
Get back to nature
Take a tour through a series of distinguished gardens, both public and private, on the Antrim Garden Trail. There are 10 to choose from and a great place to start is the Antrim Castle Garden and Clotworthy House. This 400-year-old gem has been returned to its former glory in Northern Ireland’s largest ever garden restoration project. Or alternatively there's an array of indigenous and exotic plants to enjoy at the beautifully maintained Walled Garden at Glenarm Castle. It's stunning to walk around and perfect for working up an appetite, which can be satisfied with a lunch stop along the coast at Carnlough’s famous Londonderry Arms, once owned by Sir Winston Churchill.
Game of Thrones inspired High Tea
What Thrones fan could resist Dothraki trifle with mini dragon eggs or Kingslayer cupcakes? These, and more goodies, feature on the lush Game of Thrones-themed high tea menu at Ballygally Hotel, near to several filming locations from the iconic TV show. Eat, drink and be merry, before heading off to see if you can find the hotel’s resident ghost.
Glenariff Waterfall Walk
There are many memorable trails and routes through picture-perfect Glenariff Forest Park, but the most sublime is the Waterfall Walk which follows a series of boardwalk paths through the forest. The sights and sounds are ever-changing and as the sunlight catches the spray, fleeting rainbows appear in what can only be described as a magical display of nature.
Climb St Patrick’s mountain
To climb the peculiarly shaped Slemish Mountain is to follow in the footsteps of St Patrick, who was enslaved here as a boy. The ascent is steep, but for those who take on the challenge the reward is well worth it - with amazing views of the Glens of Antrim, the rugged Causeway Coast and even Scotland on a good day.
Go to Auld Lammas Fair
There’s no shortage of festivals to grab your attention in County Antrim, but the Auld Lammas Fair is special; an annual event every August dating back over 300 years in the town of Ballycastle. During the festival the entire town is bedecked with hundreds of stalls selling everything from livestock to local homemade specialities.
Have a pint in one of Ireland's Smallest Pubs
Don’t miss a visit to McBride’s, which is one of Ireland’s smallest pubs. It’s a traditional house pub in the beautiful seaside village Cushendun, named after its former landlady, Mary McBride. Full of old-style character, good craic and even its own ‘Door of Thrones’, there’s nowhere cosier to enjoy a pint of the black stuff.
Eat dulse and yellow man
You can’t leave County Antrim without checking out a farmer’s market for some traditional dulse and yellow man. Dulse, harvested from the Antrim coastline, is a salty, dried seaweed snack. Yellow man is like honeycomb, but even yummier.
Paddle board in Ballintoy Harbour
Peaceful Ballintoy Harbour provided the backdrop for the fictional Iron Islands in the HBO drama Game of Thrones, so as you can imagine it's an atmospheric place. The crashing waves, craggy shores and wind-ravaged grass banks set the scene perfectly for a seaside adventure - paddle boarding! There's a few local paddle-boarding schools to choose from, and the talented instructors will have you up and boarding in Ballintoy and other picturesque spots along the Antrim coast in no time.
Sunbathe with cows
Enjoy a picnic and a lazy beach day on the gorgeous stretch of sand at White Park Bay, and if it’s particularly balmy, expect a few cows to lie down next to you. They regularly roam the dunes on this National Trust site, with the job of keeping the grass short for the chough, a small bird that feeds in the grasses.
Ride the Big Dipper
Scare yourself silly on the Big Dipper, the Ghost Train or the Cyclone at Barry’s Amusements in the seaside resort of Portrush. As the largest theme park in Ireland, this much-loved funfair is bursting with thrills, excitement and candy floss. Afterwards, head for a beautiful meal at the Ramore Wine Bar or the Harbour Bistro in the town.
Sit in on a session
There are plenty of pubs and venues across County Antrim that host traditional Irish music sessions. In Ballycastle, the hotspots are House of McDonnell, O’Connor’s or the Central. In Cushendall, try Johnny Joes (McCollams bar) or Ballyeamon Barn, a well-known session house where locals gather for music, songs and storytelling.