*Please note that this is a sponsored post. While I may have received compensation or free product, my opinions are still my own.
I was lucky enough to have a free day while I was staying in Dublin, Ireland for my MFA program, and I just had to use that day to explore Northern Ireland. Because I only had one day, I searched to find a tour that spent the most time at the places I wanted to go. This meant that the tour I ended up choosing left at 6:30am! I chose this jam-packed trip from City Discovery: Giant’s Causeway Day Tour from Dublin.
Word got out of about my trip with some of the other students in my program so it ended up being seven us together on the tour. We arrived around 6:15am and the bus was already waiting for us. The bus pick up is right outside the front gate of Trinity College near the Molly Malone statue. It’s a very central location, the only thing to note is that there were tons of tour buses picking up tour groups so it is best to ask around which is the correct one if you aren’t sure. You don’t want to miss your bus!
After checking us off on a list, the bus driver let us board the bus. Our tour was fairly full, and left on time. Our tour guide/bus driver was very knowledgable and had a sarcastic sense of humor. We really enjoyed his jokes throughout the day.
The first stop in Northern Ireland was at a gas station with a convenient shop that had restrooms and hot and cold foods. After waiting in a long bathroom line (the joys of being a woman!), I ordered a bacon and egg sandwich and got back on the bus. This stop took about thirty minutes for everyone to use the restroom and pay for their food. I munched on my sandwich and lemonade while we headed to our first tour location.
While I am not a Game of Thrones fan, I can have respect for why people were excited about this location. Dark Hedges is a filming location for Game of Thrones called the King’s Road. My friend Rachel, an avid GoT watcher, advised me that this was the road that leads to the castle. While there isn’t actually a castle at the end, it was a beautiful road with really creepy trees. We had fun taking loads of pictures before getting back onto the bus. This stop was a quick one.
About thirty minutes later, we arrived at our first long stop. This stop included the famous Carrick-a-Rede bridge. Carrick-a-Rede is a rope bridge not for the faint of heart, or anyone scared of heights. I’m not one to be scared of heights but I don’t love the feeling of being “unstable,” per say, so this was a little tough for me. As we drove up to this location, in his sarcastic sense of humor, our tour guide kept telling us how no one has died here but that they have had to rescue people on the other side since once you get to the other side, the only way back is on the same bridge. I could have done without the “reassurance” but all was well in the end.
The walk toward the bridge was a bit of a hike. I was seriously wishing I hadn’t stopped Crossfit to do physical therapy because I was so out of shape and since we had just done a lot of walking the day before, this one burned my thighs! We all were panting a bit but then the trail changed to downhill once we got closer to the bridge and we had some steps to go down. The downside to this was it was uphill on the way back up. At least we burned some calories!
And did I mention the views? This place was incredible. I couldn’t believe that this was a real place. We snapped pictures as we walked, which helped to distract from the burn.
Once to the bridge, we had a slight wait as they only allow eight people on the bridge at a time. The bridge itself has a strip of wood going across to walk on with smaller pieces going the opposite way but the rest is entirely rope. It’s a bit daunting to walk. The first time across, I held on with both hands, walked as quickly as possible, and didn’t look down.
On the other side, we took a ton of pictures and enjoyed the gorgeous views. It was a little nerve-wracking watching some of the other tourists taking selfies near the edge of the cliffs. I felt like I was about to watch someone die. There were no safety railings so they could have easily fallen right off the edge. Luckily, this did not happen, but if you are going with kids, I’d probably suggest one of those leash backpacks. I know, you feel like a bad parent with them, but honestly wouldn’t you rather be able to keep your kid still than see them run off a cliff? Seriously. Scary stuff.
Once we were done with our own (away from the edge) selfies, we had to wait a bit to go back across. When we were finally able, I felt a bit more brave and used one hand to videotape the trip across. I even stopped in the middle and turned around for a picture. After one try, you feel like a pro!
By the time we walked back to the bus, we were all pretty hungry and ready for a short break. Luckily, we were shuttled to get lunch next. We stopped at a restaurant only a couple minutes from the Giant’s Causeway called The Giant’s Barn. I mean, look at this meal! It’s the perfect hearty lunch after lots of walking. And yes, it tasted just as delicious as it looks.
After about an hour at the restaurant, we took the five minute drive to The Giant’s Causeway. Our lovely driver and tour guide extrodinaire told us the legend behind the name and let us off at the beginning of the Causeway. He even gave us some tips as far as walking versus the shuttle. They do have a shuttle that goes from the entrance to the Causeway for only one pound each way. While Rachel and I walked down, we opted for the one pound to drive us back on the way back to the bus since we were pretty tired by the end.
As we walked down, there was an area that was a bit more swampy before the actual causeway formations. Since I was wearing rainboots and Rachel had pretty good shoes as well, we walked out towards the sea a bit and took some photos in this area. It was really cool to see the different colored rocks (some were yellow) and the green plants.
Once done with our selfies, we headed toward the mass of black basalt columns that make up The Giant’s Causeway. According to our tour guide, these were formed by molten rock being pushed up through the earth. It’s a pretty amazing natural phenomenon to see. This definitely should be high on everyone’s bucket list.
We spent the most time at the Giant’s Causeway which I was pretty happy about. We got some amazing pictures and sat on the rocks enjoying the view of the ocean. The waves crashed the rocks below us and I found myself again wondering how Europeans manage to have places like that with no preventative measures from people who may fall to their deaths. And again, we saw many the daring selfie-taker.
Once we had spent all of our allotted time at the Causeway, we headed back to the bus and onto our final stop: Belfast.
While Belfast was never high on my list of things to do, I am pretty bummed about this portion of the trip. While our tour guide did offer (for an extra fee) to arrange taxi tours, our group of seven opted out. To me, if this had been included in the price then I absolutely would have, but they weren’t explained very well and I wasn’t sure how much time outside of a taxi window I’d actually get to see the city so we declined the offer. In hind sight, I would have paid the extra money.
That being said, we arrived in Belfast and it was bright and sunny but Erin, Rachel and I really needed to use the bathroom. We searched a couple stores, found a restroom, went into a touristy shop and when we came back out, it was pouring rain and the sky was dark. What a bummer! I’m ashamed to say we ran into the Burger King, ate a burger quickly, and when we came back out it wasn’t much better.
I was able to snap one picture in the rain but I was pretty upset that we didn’t have time to actually explore since by the time we had used the restroom and ate, we had to get back on the bus. So basically all we saw of Belfast was the very center of town, about one block of it. This was the biggest disappointment of the whole tour. One hour was definitely not enough time!
Once back on the bus, we took one more bathroom stop right outside of Belfast then headed back to Dublin. Most of us passed out on the ride back, and it was much needed. Phew! What a long day. It was dinner time by the time we got back, around 6:30.
All in all, the trip was definitely worth the price. If you really want to see Belfast, this probably isn’t the tour for you, but if you want the highlights, do the taxi tour recommended by the driver. Otherwise, choose from one of CityDiscovery’s other tours. They have many other travel activities in a wide variety of destinations, like adventure tours, photo tours, culinary classes and shore excursions, can be purchased at CityDiscovery (www.city-discovery.com). It’s a great all-in-one resource for planning what to do on your next travel adventure.
Have you been to any of these places before? What were your experiences like? I’d love to hear below!