Named for the legendary Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the coastal road in Northern Ireland takes in some of the most stunning scenery in all of the U.K. From lonely grassy valleys to towering seaside escarpments, it’s easy to see why the region is frequently used as a filming location for Game of Thrones.
As you follow the road from Belfast, the first stop is the nine Glens of Antrim, a cluster of quiet villages tucked between a dramatic sequence of sawtooth fjords. Each glen has its own name and fairy-tale legend, not to mention several charming shops, cafés, and B&Bs.
Game of Thrones fans should pause at Steensons (TheSteensons.com) in Glenarm to check out the original jewelry used in the HBO hit. Not to be missed are the Lannister lion pendants, the Daenerys dragon brooches, and the “Hand of the King.”
The winding glens straighten out as the sea cliffs climb higher near Giant’s Causeway. Built by the gargantuan hero Finn MacCool to battle the Scottish giant Benandonner (according to local lore), the collection of hexagonal stone is a testament to the intense volcanic activity that rocked the region more than 50 million years ago. Follow the Shepherd’s Steps up along the cliff’s edge for a bird’s-eye perspective of these curious geological formations (including a boulder shaped oddly like a mammoth shoe).
Portstewart, farther beyond the realm of basalt stone, is the perfect reward after the trek through the surrounding rock ledges. During the summer, the town has a pleasant vacation vibe, its long spread of peach-toned sand stretching below the main seaside street.
Head down to the beach via the public access point to find Harry’s Shack, a bustling lunchtime joint framed in light wooden boards and scattered with picnic table seating. Voted one of the best eats in all of the U.K. by the National Restaurant Awards, Harry’s makes no attempt to distinguish itself with its decor, but instead focuses completely on the food. The juicy megrim falls right off the bone, and the fish and chips are unfailingly soft and flaky.
Leave room for dessert at Morelli’s (MorellisOfPortstewart.co.uk) in the center of town. A local institution opened by Italian immigrants before World War I, it seems the much-loved ice cream shop hasn’t changed its Formica styling since the day it opened. Scoops of Honeycomb and Sea Salty Caramel are the biggest hits.
Follow the interior highway back to Belfast and reward yourself with a Pimm’s Cup at The Merchant Hotel’s cocktail bar (TheMerchantHotel.com). Situated in an old bank, the bar retains much of the original elegance, with Baccarat chandeliers and lounge chairs upholstered with sumptuous fabrics. The bar menu is so long that the managers have bound and printed its contents as a book, which is available for purchase and comes with a slew of recipes inside for DIY drinking.