Engines ready, flags poised: the world’s top motorcycle racers are revving up for Ireland’s largest outdoor sporting event, the annual International North West 200 Race Week Festival.

Around 100 riders and more than 85,000 spectators are set to descend on the stunning Causeway Coastal Route from May 11 to 18, and whether you’re a petrol head or a racing rookie, there’s no better year to come and watch, with the race celebrating its 90th anniversary.

The main attraction

The NW200, which originated in 1929, has got bigger and bigger over the years.  In contrast to other closed racing circuits, which can be segregated and corporate in feel, the NW200 paddock allows onlookers to get as close as possible to the action while also enjoying the beautiful coastal setting.

Over the course of the week, the spectacular festival of speed will attract the finest international road racers, hitting max speeds of up to 209 miles per hour on an 8.9 mile circuit linking Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine.

This year, star names are set to include Glenn Irwin, Alastair Seeley, Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison.

The main race days are Thursday night and all-day Saturday, with eight races in four classes (Supersport, Supertwin, Superstock and Superbike) on closed public roads. There are also timed practice sessions on Tuesday and Thursday for people to come and enjoy.

To make sure you don’t miss any of the action, pre-tuned radio earpieces can also be purchased from the ticket office on site.

Festival events

In addition to the races and practice sessions, this year’s NW200 festival has something for all the family with an exciting line-up of entertainment, exhibitions, concerts and fireworks.

Vintage enthusiasts can enjoy a family fun day at the Ballymoney Museum on Saturday 11th, which will also host an exhibition with motorbikes and vintage photographs.

Festivalgoers can enjoy a veteran, vintage and classic vehicle display and cavalcade display on Monday 13th, and a NW Vintage Motorcycle Club display and cavalcade on Friday 17th.

There are plenty of opportunities to meet top racers, too. There’s an audience with motorcycle stars on Monday night, an evening with 4-time World Superbike Champion and Northern Irish star Jonathan Rea and Eugene Laverty on Wednesday, and a Meet the Riders event and chatshow with past winners on Friday.

Live entertainment is well covered, with music concerts through the week and a wrap up party on Saturday night.

Explore the area

Attending the NW200 is the perfect opportunity to explore the surrounding Causeway Coastal Route.

Giant's Causeway

Of course, no trip to the area would be complete without an excursion to the unmissable Giant’s Causeway. This geological phenomenon, with its tens of thousands of ancient basalt columns, is also home to rich legend and folklore. Here, you’ll learn all about how giant Finn McCool is said to have played a part in the Causeway’s formation.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Adrenaline junkies should check out the bracing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede (on which the only building is a small fisherman’s cottage). Don’t look down, though; the bridge is suspended 100ft above sea level.

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle was a medieval castle on the dramatic cliffs of County Antrim, built by the MacQuillan family around 1500. Today, its striking ruins remain. A visitor experience explains its fascinating history – which includes tales of a banshee, and the story of how the castle’s kitchen fell into the sea during a storm in 1639.

Mussenden Temple

Game of Thrones® fans should pay a visit to Downhill and Mussenden Temple in County Londonderry, which doubled as Dragonstone in the hit TV series. Mussenden Temple, built back in the 18th century as a summer library, teeters close to the cliff edge, high above Downhill Beach.  Find out more about Game of Thrones® including details of filming locations, the Doors of Thrones and local exhibitions here.

Bushmills Distillery

Finally, after working up a thirst at the NW200, visit the Old Bushmills Distillery in the village of Bushmills. Its delicious whiskey dates back to 1608, and a tour of the distillery covers the brewing and bottling process.

Where to eat and stay

The Bayview Hotel in the delightful seaside village of Portballintrae enjoys breath-taking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Relax beside a cosy peat fire in the Porthole Bar, or unwind with an indulgent spa treatment.

In Coleraine, the Lodge Hotel is just five minutes from the centre of town. Coming to the NW200 as a family? The Lodge Hotel includes a selection of bespoke family bunk bedrooms, which sleep two adults and two children.

Elsewhere, the Portrush Atlantic Hotel is centrally located on Main Street, and a great base for exploring and enjoying the festival.

Food-wise, you’re spoilt for choice along the NW200 route. The Atlantic Hotel’s Port Kitchen and Bar has a menu of mouth-watering dishes. Also in Portrush, Tides Restaurant serves up delicious international cuisine (try the Tides Burger) and great sea views.

In Portstewart, check out the award-winning Anchor Bar, a highly popular pub and restaurant. Enjoy a cool beer in the traditional bar, or savour some Strangford Mussels or a speciality steak.

We hope you enjoy your time at the International North West 200 Race Week.  Tell us about your time here at #DiscoverNI