The Causeway Coast stretches around the top of Northern Ireland from Belfast in the east to Derry/Londonderry in the west. Along its 120-mile reach it takes in some of the country’s biggest tourist attractions (including the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Glens of Antrim) as well as golden beaches, rugged cliffs, fishing villages and castles. Tear your eyes away from the views, however, and you’ll also discover craft breweries, third-wave coffee joints and street-food pop-ups on one of Ireland’s best foodie road trips.
The Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills
Fondly dubbed the “eighth natural wonder of the world” by loyal locals, this ancient rock formation is composed of a series of interlocking basalt columns rising from the sea. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland, and the guided audio tour (which mixes legend with fact) and visitor exhibition are well worth exploring. The Giant’s Causeway also makes a perfect Instagram shot but be careful on those slippery rocks!
Just outside the town of Bushmills, literally steps away from the Giant’s Causeway, Maegden is a cute 1950s caravan that, for our money, serves the best grilled cheese sandwiches on the island. The mix of local sourdough, regional farmhouse cheeses and charcuterie, homemade pickles and cleverly sourced extras (think truffled mushrooms, honeyed walnuts and red onion confit) is magic. It also serves a killer Bonfire Hot Chocolate (with extra salted caramel and marshmallow fluff) and cookie sandwiches filled with Draynes Farm ice cream. Maegden’s season runs from March to October and it’s usually open from around 11am until 5pm (every day except Tuesday). There are a couple of benches nearby if you want to take your time.
Maegden serves killer cookie sandwiches filled with Draynes Farm ice cream
Ursa Minor, Ballycastle
Bread, pastries and cakes are fabulously fresh at Ursa Minor, in Ballycastle. Owned by a local husband-and-wife duo, this bakery is all about respecting traditional methods, baking by hand and producing small-batch viennoisserie. The couple added a cafe to their set-up three years ago, and it’s become a popular pit-stop on any given afternoon. Stop by for tea and one of their legendary buttery croissants, fluffy friands or the pear and almond Danish. Or go for the weekly-changing lunch menu, which offers a tempting line-up of sandwiches and bowls made with local produce.
Ocho Tapas, Portrush
Run by head chef Trudy Brolly and her husband, Sean, this Iberian-inspired tapas restaurant, in the pretty town of Portrush, is serendipitously located on the same street where the pair grew up. Though Spanish in menu and interior, 80-90% of the dishes at Ocho Tapas use local produce, with some necessary spices and ingredients sourced direct from Spain. Unfussy yet elegantly plated, the seafood dishes are the best shout, given the restaurant’s close proximity to the coast. Try Strangford Lough mussels in a white wine and garlic cream sauce, or hot-smoked trout from nearby Northcoast Smokehouse, served with saffron mayonnaise and manzanilla sherry. There are plenty of innovative vegetarian options, too – try roast padron peppers, local goats’ cheese croquettes with beetroot panna cotta and cherry sour cream, or fried aubergine with butterscotch miso and figs with truffled balsamic. Sean’s wine list (especially the six Spanish house wines) is also worth diving into while you’re there.
Unfussy yet elegantly plated, the seafood dishes are the best shout
Blackrock House, Dhu Varren
Blackrock House is one of the best B&Bs in Northern Ireland. It’s set near the railway halt of Dhu Varren, overlooking the town of Portrush, with clear views of the Giant’s Causeway and West Bay. Inside, it’s plush, pretty and tranquil, with four bedrooms that take inspiration from the seaside – think natural ‘beachy’ colours and elegant arrangements of pebbles and driftwood. There are also three guest lounges to relax in (with prime wave-watching seats) and an excellent breakfast cooked to order from a menu that really shouts about local produce. Don’t miss owner Nicola’s homemade Guinness soda bread.
Blackrock House is one of the best B&Bs in Northern Ireland
Harry’s Shack, Portstewart
This may be, literally, a shack on a beach but Harry’s Shack is also one of the best spots in Northern Ireland for seafood. Set on The National Trust’s Portstewart Strand, the shack is literally seconds from where the local boats land fish. Soak up glorious sea views while you tuck into steaming bowls of Mulroy Bay mussels with white wine and ham hock, chunks of fresh, battered fish, or a speciality of whole fish on-the-bone (such as lemon sole or plaice) served with capers, cauliflower, mussels, puffed wild rice and baby boiled potatoes. An imaginative drinks list champions local brews and expertly matches grape to fish. Try a pint of the shack’s own Shacked Beach pale ale, made in association with Lacada Brewery in Portrush.
Harry’s Shack is also one of the best spots in Northern Ireland for seafood
Pyke ’n’ Pommes, Derry/Londonderry
Derry/Londonderry deserves far more attention than it gets, not least from food-minded visitors. Explore Derry City Walls and the resplendent Guildhall, then grab a beer and a bowl of sticky ribs at the Walled City Brewery, homemade scones at Primrose on the Quay or a pint and live music at The Blackbird. Best of all, though, is Pyke ’n’ Pommes. A pop-up turned permanent restaurant with two sites in the city – a converted bus and shipping container by the quayside and a more traditional dining space on Strand Road – it does a brisk trade in burgers. Try the ‘Vegenderry – a brioche version stacked with a chickpea and corn spiced patty, crispy slaw, pickled onion, lime mayo and coriander.
Broughgammon Farm, Ballycastle
Set just outside the coastal town of Ballycastle, Broughgammon Farm is a family-run farm that specialises in cabrito goat meat (kid goat meat). While still a working farm, the Cole family open up the farm shop and café to visitors on Fridays and Saturday afternoons (head to the café for a Billy Burger – it’s served in a floury bap with Broughgammon polytunnel pickles, tzatziki, sweet chilli, cheese and salad, with a side of rosemary-sprinkled wedges). The farm also hosts events, farm-to-fork guided tours and butchery classes.
For coffee, there are few better spots along this beautiful coastal drive than Babushka, in Portrush. Located right on the town’s pier, in a beautifully converted old boathouse, George Nelson’s café is a shrine to great coffee. Guest beans feature but the café mostly uses those sourced from Swedish roastery Koppi, in Helsingborg, having discovered the company and admired its considered approach to coffee. There are sweet treats to try (look out for a special of carrot pancakes with lemon ricotta and blueberry compote), and a small savoury menu at breakfast and lunch. Expand your coffee horizons by ordering whichever barista filter choice is available on the day (those in the know ask for off-menu guest beans to brew in a V60; if there are some available the team will happily supply them).
One brand name is synonymous with eating out around this coastline, and that’s Ramore. A family-owned operation with no fewer than seven different locations across the small town of Portrush, the business offers everything from a wine bar to a no-frills casual Spanish tapas place. Best of all is The Harbour Bar, a historic pub in two parts – head downstairs to the tiny front room for a pint of the black stuff and a desperate jostle for space, or step upstairs to choose from a globe-trotting gin menu (including a dozen Irish gins – look out for Shortcross Gin from the Rademon Estate, Jawbox Gin from the Ards Peninsula or Copeland Gin, distilled in an old cinema in Donaghadee, on the outskirts of Belfast) and live music.
Words by Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford
Images by Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford and Carlo Morucchio/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
The GastroGays are an Irish blogging duo who write about food and travel and create their own recipes. Follow them on social media @GastroGays or listen to their podcast, Chew The Fat.