If there is one part of Ireland that I wish I’d spent more time exploring, it would definitely be Northern Ireland. The North holds a unique beauty, heritage and history all of its own, and it took my breath away from the very first moment I saw it.
However, if you’re short on time like I was, it is possible to experience the major highlights of Northern Ireland in one day from Dublin through Paddywagon Tours. My friend, Matt, a Canadian expat in Dublin, was able to escape work for the day to accompany me on this adventure, so the two of us made our way to Dublin City Centre at 7:30am on a Saturday to begin our jam-packed journey.
Unlike my experience on the Ring Of Kerry tour, this time we were on a partner coach instead of a big green Paddywagon. That was no problem, though – the coach was still perfectly comfortable, with free WiFi (within Ireland), air conditioning, a friendly Paddywagon Tour Guide named Bailey and a very capable driver.
We left Dublin and headed North while Bailey provided us with a brief history of Northern Ireland, including folklore and very true stories about the hard times during The Troubles. It’s hard to believe that a place so beautiful experienced so much turmoil only a relatively short time ago.
The Dark Hedges
Our first stop for the day was at The Dark Hedges, a lane of tall, tangled trees that are famous for their appearance in episodes of Game Of Thrones. We had a bit of time to stroll along the trees and snap a few photos, and then it was on to our next stop, the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
If I’m being completely honest, I think I had set my expectations too high for the rope bridge. In photos, it looks like this incredible, adrenaline-fuelled wonder, but the reality was much different. We went on a beautiful, but very busy day, so we were standing in line for about 15-20 minutes to cross the bridge both ways. It also was not as long or as high as I expected, which I was perfectly fine with – heights aren’t my favourite – but I did feel that photos over-sold it a bit. We eventually made our way across the bridge and had 15 minutes to explore the island before it was time to head back. It was definitely beautiful – just be prepared for lines and plenty of crowds!
We made our way back to the bus and it was time for our lunch stop at a nearby pub that seemed to also have a bit of a Game Of Thrones theme going on. They had a wide variety of selections for all kinds of tastes, and they were able to accommodate all of the dietary needs of our large group. After lunch, we headed for the main event of the day – the magnificent Giant’s Causeway.
I don’t want to say too much and spoil the Giant’s Causeway for you, because it truly is an absolute natural wonder to witness with your own two eyes. Over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns tower and tumble into the sparkling blue sea, creating the most surreal landscape that I have ever seen in my life. We had a full 90 minutes to explore the Causeway, and we definitely took it. Be prepared to take a lot of photos – and wear good, durable shoes for this part of the tour! A few of the rocks weren’t quite as sturdy as they looked, and on a rainy day, I’m sure there would be a major slipping hazard.
Once we were finished at The Giant’s Causeway,we made a quick photo stop at the ruins of Dunce Castle, and then it was time to make our way to our final stop of the tour, Belfast City. I have to say – I was pleasantly surprised by Belfast. It is a beautiful, clean, lively and very British-looking city that I wish I had more time to explore. The tour allows for an hour, so it’s really just enough time to take a quick walk around, and perhaps explore city hall a little or take in a panoramic view of the city from The Dome in Victoria Square. Before we knew it, we were back on the bus bound for Dublin, and we arrived shortly after 8:30, exhausted but extremely satisfied after a full 13 hour day.
Of course, if you have the time, I would encourage you to spend a few days exploring the wonders of Northern Ireland at a relaxed and indulgent pace. But if you’re short on time, or just want to see the highlights, I can’t recommend Paddywagon Tours enough. The value for money on this tour is the best I could find in Dublin, and you will be well taken care of with true Irish hospitality!
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*Disclaimer: I was given this tour complementary from Paddywagon Tours in exchange for writing this review, but, as always, all opinions are my own.*