The Land of Whiskey and Giants – A Whistle-Stop Tour of Antrim and Armagh

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carrick-a-rede rope bridge

From the majestic Giant’s Causeway to a dizzying rope bridge, to ‘flights’ of whiskey and historical homes, a recent short trip to Northern Ireland produced these highlights.

Bushmills Distillery / Bushmills Inn

Bushmills Distillery is the world’s oldest distillery at four hundred years old. It has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, and the tours run seamlessly throughout the day. It is highly popular with American tourists, as is the charming Bushmills Inn, which is only feet away.

During a tour of the former, you can join one of their ‘whiskey educators’ to witness the craft of whiskey-making first-hand. In the latter, expect to stay in a cozy and well-run hotel with wooden beams and gracious service. The bar sells ‘flights’ of whiskey, allowing you to try three options at a time. If you’re lucky, as we were on this trip, you might witness a bride in her wedding dress and a groom in his best bib and tucker, dancing in the bar to Don McLean after eloping the day before from Chicago!

The Giant’s Causeway

Giants Causeway landscape as seen from a day trip
Giants Causeway

This majestic formation needs no introduction but seeing it firsthand is breathtaking. According to mythology, the giant’s causeway story was constructed by the formidable giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) to bridge the gap between Ireland and Scotland, setting the stage for a fierce encounter with his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner. On a more scientific note, — supported by fascinating the Giant’s Causeway facts — evidence points to this remarkable formation being the outcome of a primordial volcanic fissure eruption that occurred 50 to 60 million years ago. The intricate arrangement of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns emerged because of the gradual cooling and contracting of the molten lava.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

carrick-a-rede rope bridge photos

A perfect mid-point between The Giant’s Causeway and Ballycastle, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is a dazzling experience if you can cope (or barely cope!) with heights. It stretches out like something out of an adventure movie, hanging across a 20-meter gap between the sea cliffs and the island of Carrick-a-Rede. In our case, we decided to do it despite nerves, fooled by two tour guides promising that there was a small pub on the other side to settle our nerves (don’t be as naive as us—there is no such pub, and watch out for that deadpan northern humour!). The bridge today is a stronger and safer version of the original, which was hung every year by fishermen using nets to catch salmon.

Newforge House

Newforge House

Newforge House, a blue-book country house, offers warm hospitality, luxurious rooms, and delicious locally sourced seasonal food in tranquil surroundings. Set on the edge of the small village of Magheralin, Newforge is an oasis of calm. Owned by the charming John Mathers, who is also the head chef, the entire experience feels incredibly pampering. The five-course, locally produced menu is sublime, but try to save room for the Ulster Fry the next morning, which will keep you going all day—it includes potato cakes as well as pancakes! Newforge House is centrally located, only a 30-minute drive from Belfast, making it an ideal base for touring Northern Ireland.

Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle has been a grand family home and is now the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as well as a royal residence. Members of the Royal Family stay at Hillsborough when visiting Northern Ireland. It’s quite surreal wandering through the rooms

scattered with photographs of the entire royal family, including Harry and Meghan! The most moving space is the room where the peace process negotiations took place. The tour guides do a wonderful and engaging job of describing Mo Mowlam and company at the height of these moments. In 2014, Historic Royal Palaces took over the management of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens and began an ambitious project to restore the house and gardens to their former glory.

FAQ’s of Whistle-Stop Tour of Northern Ireland

FAQ 1: What are the must-visit attractions on a Whistle-Stop Tour of Northern Ireland?

From the awe-inspiring Giants Causeway, a geological marvel steeped in legend, to the vertigo-inducing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge suspended over pristine waters, Northern Ireland is a treasure trove of sights. The historic Bushmills Distillery, the oldest of its kind in the world, invites you to savor the art of whiskey-making, while Hillsborough Castle whispers tales of royalty and diplomacy. Each site is a unique facet of Northern Ireland’s heritage, offering a blend of natural wonders and cultural heritage that will leave you awestruck.

FAQ 2: What makes the accommodations stand out on this tour?

One of the highlights of this tour is the cozy embrace of the Bushmills Inn and the elegant retreat of Newforge House. The Bushmills Inn, located mere feet from the distillery, enchants with its traditional charm, wooden beams, and exceptional service. At Newforge House, owned by the gracious John Mathers, you’ll experience a tranquil haven in Magheralin village. Its luxurious rooms, locally sourced gourmet delights, and warm hospitality are sure to make your stay memorable.

FAQ 3: How convenient is the location for exploring Northern Ireland?

The central location of Newforge House, just a short 30-minute drive from Belfast, makes it an ideal starting point for a Northern Ireland exploration. From this charming base, you can effortlessly venture to the Giants Causeway, Hillsborough Castle, and beyond. Whether you’re tracing the footsteps of giants or diving into the history that shaped the region, Newforge House provides a peaceful oasis to return to after each day of exploration.

Embark on a Whistle-Stop Tour of Northern Ireland and immerse yourself in a realm where myth and history intertwine, where lush landscapes paint a vivid canvas, and where every step unearths a new wonder. This journey is your passport to a land that captivates the senses and leaves an indelible mark on your heart.

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