Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast can steal a gal’s heart. It wooed me with promises of giant-sized steps, soaring headlands, Neolithic sites and castle ruins, then seduced me with forested glens, craggy cliffs, walled gardens and birdsong. I came armed with a laundry list of must-sees and must-dos, which included soaking up the Irish craic and sipping pints of Smitty’s, but as soon as I departed Belfast, heading north on the A2, I tossed my plans aside and let serendipity rule.
I couldn’t resist stopping, if only briefly, to admire Carrickfergus Castle, a 12th-century Norman fortress in County Antrim’s oldest city. I savored the view of the waterfront castle along with mighty tasty fish and chips, purchased from a dive-ish takeout facing the water. Thoroughly satiated, I continued north on the Antrim Coast Road, which threads between coast and cliffs. A 19th-century engineering masterpiece, it funnels through the Black Arch, a tunnel cut through a headland, before arriving in the first of the nine Glens of Antrim.
Legend and lore permeate the Glens, volcano-cast and glacier-sculpted valleys comprising woodlands and grasslands, peat bogs and sand beaches, cliff-edged mountains and rock-bound headlands. Ancient ruins and historic sites are folded into the landscape among the bleating sheep and bellowing cows. Locals say giants and wee fairy folk reside in the mist-shrouded woodland caves and coastal crags.
Signs promising a tearoom and walled garden lured me into Glenarm. Its castle, one of Northern Ireland’s oldest estates, has been home to the McDonnell family, earls of Antrim, since the 17th century. After indulging in tea and scones, I explored the 18th-century garden. It wasn’t hard to imagine that fairies had engaged in a paintball battle within the walls, splashing vibrant reds, pinks, oranges and yellows amid the greenery.
I detoured again in Glenariff, Queen of the Glens, a U-shaped valley that begins in woodlands and widens through stonewall- and hedge-stitched farmlands to a long sand beach. The Glenariff and Inver rivers tumble through the dense, century-old oak, ash, willow and hazel trees of Glenariff Forest Park. Trails edge the flows, crossing bridges over gurgling stepped falls and passing through mossy-walled gorges where plunging cascades mist the air with the damp, strangely life-affirming scents of decay and new growth. Had I lingered any longer, I might have attained enlightenment; not the lights-flashing, God-appearing, Hallelujah! type, but a subtle, restorative, all’s-right-with-the-world kind.
After returning to the coast through Glenballyeamon, I passed through the Red Arch and the village of Cushendall. A2 cuts inland here, but I didn’t. I looped through Glennann, home to Ossian’s tomb, a megalithic court cairn reputed to be the final resting place of the Celtic warrior poet, and returned via Glendun, which revealed glimpses of Glendun Viaduct, a 19th-century marvel of engineering over the river Dun, then continued to Cushendun. This Cornish-style coastal fishing village, now owned by the National Trust, was designed for Lord Cushendun by Clough Williams-Ellis, famed for designing the lavish, Italianate-style Portmeirion in Wales.
While the glens whisper their secrets, the coast shouts. Torr Road, a sinewy, white-knuckle drive, wraps around the shoreline northwestward from Cushendun. It soars and plunges, snakes around farmlands, edges windswept headlands that drop to crashing surf and delivers stunning vistas around nearly every twist and turn. A rugged path leads out to the ruins of a lookout station on Torr Head, and it’s worth the effort for the views to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s most northerly point. I sensed that if I could just get to that distant island, the universe would reveal its secrets.
Despite tossing my list, I wanted to visit Antrim’s most famous sights, Carrick-a-Rede and Giant’s Causeway. The rope-and-slat Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, originally used by salmon fishermen to access their nets, spans a 66-foot-wide, 75-foot-deep chasm separating Carrick Island from the mainland. Walking the roughly one-mile trail to the bridge is the easy part. Crossing it isn’t for the faint of heart or the fearful of heights. I rewarded myself with lunch at the site’s teahouse and café.
According to legend, Irish giant Finn McCool built the nearby Giant’s Causeway so he could walk across the sea to battle Scottish giant Benandonner, and the polygonal basalt columns do appear as if placed for a giant to happen along and climb up and out of the frigid blue waters that froth at their base. Maybe years ago, before the hype and the tour buses, the visitor center and the endless parking lots, this UNESCO World Heritage site was a marvel to stumble upon, but I found it depressingly overcrowded. Perhaps if I had visited first thing in the morning or escaped the throngs on the two-mile Runkerry Head trail, I might have enjoyed it more.
Over a dram at Bushmills, which has been distilling whiskey for more than 400 years, my thoughts kept returning to Rathlin Island. Unable to resist its siren song, I backtracked to Ballycastle and booked ferry passage to the L-shaped island six miles distant across the Sea of Moyle. Way back in 1306, when driven from Scotland by England’s Edward I, Robert the Bruce took refuge on Rathlin. Locals say that watching a spider succeed after trying repeatedly to bridge a hole in its web inspired him to gather new forces and return home to fight for his kingdom.
These days, sparsely populated Rathlin is best known as the site of Northern Ireland’s biggest seabird colony. In early summer, nomadic seabirds flock to the basalt cliffs and sea stacks punctuating the island’s western end. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds maintains a reserve and staffs a visitor center in the upside-down West Lighthouse, built midway up a 300-foot cliff. Since my time was limited, I rode the Puffin Bus, which meets the ferry and carries those who don’t have the time or inclination to walk the four miles to the reserve. The one-lane road led to a lofty headland, from which a marked path descends toward the lighthouse before giving way to 89 (count ‘em) steps to the viewing deck.
I watched mesmerized as tens of thousands of seabirds — fulmars, guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills — performed avian antics, swirling around the cliffs and stacks. Their cacophony drowned out the waves dashing the rocks far below. When I finally tore myself away, I knew that if there is royalty among Northern Ireland’s fairies and wee people, they most assuredly reside in this spectacular spot.
Situated on the River Avon, Bristol represents a city steeped in history. While many of its sites inviting us to look back at its past, the city encourages visitors and locals to look ahead with some new and exciting openings and events coming this year.
Whether you prefer a villa on the beach or an ultra-luxe suite downtown, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in Los Cabos.
It’s time to start dreaming of your next trip. Here’s some destination inspiration for you. Take a visual journey through Montreal, Canada, with us.
With the reopening of Vietnam’s borders after a decline in COVID-19 cases, Marriott International moves to expand its portfolio in Vietnam. Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, currently operates 10 properties in Vietnam, comprising a total of 3,294 rooms.
ISN’T IT TIME? It's time to treat yourself to the vacation you deserve, and Celebrity Cruises® offers the perfect escapes. With an award-winning fleet of ships that sail to more than 300 destinations around the world, Celebrity will take you almost anywhere you want to go in style. Enjoy stunning staterooms and suites, culinary experiences imagined by Michelin-starred chefs and intuitive service. Celebrity makes sure your vacation is effortless from the start, which is why drinks, WiFi and tips are Always IncludedSM on every sailing.
There’s no better time to plan the vacation you’ve been missing. Step aboard with your better half, your friends or the whole family and reconnect, reunite and rejoice with 25 percent off cruise fares for all guests. We’ll also help everyone get there with 25 percent off airfare from 20 major gateways across the country or $100 savings per person on flights from all other gateways when you book your air travel using Flights by Celebrity.*
Granted, its name may be a little bit misleading, but Greenland’s dramatic landscape stands as a top contender for bucket list travel. Remote and exotic, the country particularly appeals to adventure enthusiasts looking for unique nature experiences. Though you won’t find any highways, a transportation network operated by multiple tour outfitters utilizing boats, helicopters and small planes links the country’s small towns and remote settlements.