FROM NORTHERN IRELAND TO SCOTLAND BY MOTORBIKE – HIGHLANDS AND HIGHLIGHTS

Last updated on February 13, 2024

Many roads lead the motorcyclist to Scotland. A very good, but often overlooked option, is the route via Northern Ireland. Although, at the narrowest point, Northern Ireland and Scotland are barely 20 kilometres apart….

Intro

The ferry between Larne in Northern Ireland and Stranraer in Scotland has a few more kilometres to cover. But it does so easily in a journey time of little more than an hour. With docking and disembarking, it is then about two hours ferry time in total. There are several ferries a day and for motorcyclists the connection is also very inexpensive.

This opens up unimagined possibilities in the truest sense of the word: With a rental motorbike, you can easily make a combined Ireland-Northern Ireland-Scotland tour from Ireland!

Motorbike in the Highlands
Motorbike in the Highlands (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg

In this episode, I present a combination of a Northern Ireland round trip with a varied tour through Scotland: You will experience the beautiful and historic cities of Edinburgh and Stirling, drive through the beautiful Cairngorms National Park and then drive through the beautiful West Highlands.

I know the islands very well myself from my own motorbike trips. My family and I are from Germany, but have lived in Ireland (second home) for several years. In the summer months we run our motorbike rental business at our location south of Dublin (www.easycruiser.tours) and also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).

Map: Google Maps

The highlights of this tour

1) Londonderry / Derry
2) The Causeway Coastal Route
3) The North Antrim Coastal Route
4) Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle
5) Stirling and Stirling Castle
6) Braemar Castle and Balmoral Castle
7) Cairngorms National Park
8) Inverness
9) Applecross Pass
10) Isle of Skye and Trotternish Loop
11) Eilean Donan Castle
12) Glencoe
13) Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
14) Belfast with the Titanic Belfast Exhibition

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1) Londonderry / Derry

From our motorbike rental in Ireland, a day’s drive is up to Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
Londonderry, as the British call it, or Derry as the Irish call it, has one of the best preserved historic city walls in Europe. 

The wall almost completely encloses the old city centre and you can walk around the old town in about two hours, walking on the wall.
In more recent history, Londonderry also played an important role in the Northern Ireland conflict of the 1970s and 1980s. Today it is a popular tourist city with many attractions.

2) The Causeway Coastal Route

You may have heard of the Giants Causeway, a geological feature on the north coast of Ireland. There, some 40,000 basalt columns rise from the ground to form bizarre steps.

According to legend, the Irish giant Fionn built a dam here out of boulders in order to reach Scotland and challenge his adversary, the giant Benandonner, to battle.

Guitar player on the wall of Londonderry / Derry
Guitar player on the wall of Londonderry / Derry (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Or maybe the columns were formed by a volcanic eruption about 60 million years ago – who knows, anything is possible on the Irish island.

In any case, the Causeway Coastal Route is named after the Giants Causeway and runs along almost the entire north coast.

On the north coast you will also find the mighty ruins of Dunluce Castle. The castle ruins stand directly on the rugged cliff. In fact, part of the cliff broke off and took a piece of the castle with it into the foaming sea. According to legend – yes, another legend – the entire kitchen and kitchen staff disappeared into the sea.

Another highlight, only a few kilometres away, is Carrick a Reede, a long suspension bridge leading to a small island.

Map: Google Maps



3) The North Antrim Coastal Route

This beautiful stretch of coastline is particularly scenic and wonderful to ride by motorbike. It is much less busy than the Causeway and the small coastal road often runs right along the water.

Torr Head is particularly impressive. From there, in good weather, you can see the Scottish coast, which is only about 20 kilometres away at this point.

North Antrim Coast
North Antrim Coast (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg


4) Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle

The ferry takes you from Larne to Cairnryan in Scotland in barely two hours. From there, it’s best to drive on country roads through hilly Galloway County to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is really something special. It is not for nothing that the author Joanne K. Rowling was inspired by the small old streets for her Harry Potter series of books. Despite the many tourists, it is highly recommended that you walk extensively through the old town. 

Edinburgh Castle, towering high above the city, is also well worth a visit. The mighty Edinburgh Castle was the seat of the Scottish kings for a long time and today you can see the Scottish throne jewels there.

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5) Stirling and Stirling Castle

Much smaller than Edinburgh, but also really beautiful, is the small old town around Stirling Castle. The medieval castle is still very well preserved and I definitely recommend a visit. There are also many nice places to stay in Stirling. 

The distances are manageable and you can combine all the sightseeing with a nice walk in light street clothes. There is even a large hotel almost right next to the castle.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)


6) Braemar Castle and Balmoral Castle

Braemar is a small town in the Eastern Highlands. It is famous for the annual Highland Games, where modern Highlanders compete in all sorts of ancient strength sports under the eyes of the royal family.

A little further out is the pretty 16th century Braemar Castle. The pretty hunting lodge is currently undergoing extensive restoration and will soon be available for tours again.

A little further on you will find the magnificent Balmoral Castle. It is the summer residence of the British royal family and the spacious gardens can be visited.

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7) The Cairngorms National Park

You have been driving through the Cairngorms National Park for a while now. Here you will find 5 of the 6 highest mountains in Scotland and also 55 Munros, which are mountains over 914 metres high. The mountainous landscape is perfect for motorbike travellers and there are many nice little villages and hidden pretty corners to discover.

Map: Google Maps


8) Inverness

Inverness is the capital of the Northern Highlands. It has many hotels and B&Bs, but is also well frequented. It is therefore advisable to book your accommodation well in advance.
An evening stroll through the historic city centre and to Inverness Castle is very nice and there are also all kinds of restaurants and pubs to end a nice day of motorcycling.

9) The Applecross Pass

The small road from Tornapress to Applecross leads over the famous Applecross Pass, or “Bealach na Ba” as it is called in Gaelic. It is considered Scotland’s and Britain’s most dangerous pass. 

The small road is partly single-lane and you have to swerve to avoid oncoming traffic. The road surface is not always good and there are a few tighter hairpin bends at the top. But if you take it slowly and drive with foresight, you will have no problems with the pass and can really enjoy the magnificent view from the lookout point at 626 metres above sea level. 

On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Isle of Skye! And that’s where the journey continues.

Mountains in Glencoe
Mountains in Glencoe (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)


10) The Isle of Skye and the Trotternish Loop

The Isle of Skye is very popular in summer – and rightly so, because it is really beautiful. You can reach it easily via a small bridge.

The loop around the Trotternish peninsula in the north-east of the island is particularly beautiful. There you will see, among other things, the strange rock formations around the “Old Man of Storr”, a high rock needle that stands out clearly against the steep slopes.

But also the further course of the tour around the Trotternish Peninsula offers wonderful views of mountains and sea in all directions”. Just follow the coast.

11) Eilean Donan Castle

At the junction of Loch Duich and Loch Alsh lies Eilean Donan Castle. A long stone arch bridge leads to the castle, which is perched on a rock.

The fantastic castle has often been used as a film set, including for the films Braveheart, Highlander, Rob Roy and James Bond’s “2The World is Not Enough”. The castle is one of the most photographed landmarks in Scotland and can be visited.

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle


12) Glencoe

The Glencoe valley is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Highlands. After a while you will see a striking mountain formation on the right, the “Three Sisters”. Take your time and stop often for photo stops. Look back too, the valley is picturesque in both directions!

13) Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

From Crianlarich follow the A82 south. The small road runs beautifully along the western shore of Loch Lomond.
After a while, the road gets bigger and the traffic heavier and you come to Alexandria. 

You cross the River Clyde and drive past Glasgow, following the coast to the ferry port in Cairnryan.
There you can either take the P&O ferry to Larne, or go directly to Belfast with Stenaline.

Highland Cattle in the Scottish Highlands
Highland Cattle in the Scottish Highlands (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)



14) Belfast and the Titanic Belfast Exhibition

Belfast is a rather modern city that offers many places to stay, including in the harbour area. There you will also find the very interesting Titanic exhibition.

Belfast was an important trading port for a long time. Many large ships were built in the shipyards, including the famous Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic. The multimedia exhibition tells of this time and also of the Titanic and its tragic sinking.

Another short drive, perhaps a break at Trim Castle, a huge Norman castle, and you will return to our rental station.

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Tour information

Route length and duration

This route has a total length of about 2400 kilometres. You can expect to cover around 250-300 kilometres per day on most of this route. On the northwest coast of Scotland, between John O`Groats and Applecross, I would reckon with about 200-250 kilometres per day.

So you can allow at least 9-10 days for this tour. If you have less time, you can shorten the route a little in Northern Ireland or Scotland, and if you have more time, you can also extend the route according to your wishes.

The historic cities of Edinburgh and Stirling are great places to stop for a day of sightseeing, Londonderry has historic and modern elements and the more modern cities of Belfast and Glasgow offer plenty of opportunities for a break day.

So depending on your preferences, you can easily make this tour a 12 or 14 day trip.

Motorbikers in the Highlands
Motorbikers in the Highlands (Photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg


General travel information

Northern Ireland and Scotland are part of the United Kingdom. You will need a passport to enter the country and the currency is the pound.
The Republic of Ireland is completely independent and a member of the EU. For EU members, an identity card is sufficient for entry and the currency is the euro.

On all islands you drive on the left. In Ireland the speed is in kilometres per hour, in the UK it is miles per hour.
As a motorcyclist, you get used to driving on the left very quickly, as the controls on the motorbike are in the usual place, whereas in a car the steering wheel is on the right and the gears are changed with the left hand. Also, the often quite narrow country roads are less frightening for the motorcyclist than for the car driver.

Map: Google Maps

Ferries

The ferry service from Larne to Cairnryan is operated by P&O Ferries. The journey time is just under two hours. Check their website for departure times and prices: www.poferries.com.
The route from Belfast to Cairnryan is operated by Stenaline. The journey time is just over 2 hours. All dates can be found at: www.stenaline.de.

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Conclusion

There are many wonderful possibilities to combine a motorbike tour in Ireland or Northern Ireland with a tour in Scotland.

In this tour 2 you have the opportunity to do quite a lot of sightseeing and experience city culture, but you are also on the road in the fantastic landscapes of the Middle Highlands and the Isle of Skye. For this, the ride does not go quite as far north.

If motorcycling in beautiful landscapes is more important to you and you want a little less sightseeing and culture, then you can alternatively ride Tour 1. The route in Northern Ireland is the same. In Scotland, you ride to the northernmost end of the Highlands and follow the famous North Coast 500 Route. Mountains, sea and solitude – what more does a motorbike traveller need?

More interesting articles for you

THE BEST MOUNTAIN ROADS AND PASSES FOR MOTORCYCLISTS IN IRELAND – PART 1: OVERVIEW & THE SOUTH EAST


THE 13 MOST BEAUTIFUL MOTORBIKE TOURS ON THE IRISH ISLAND


IRELAND MOTORBIKE TOUR – 24 BEAUTIFUL BEACHES ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY

MOTORBIKE HOLIDAYS IN IRELAND – THE 14 MOST BEAUTIFUL CLIFFS ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY



Photo credits cover photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tours, www.the-view-accommodation.ie, www.irland-insider.de, www.ireland-insider.com)

Picture credits maps: Google Maps.

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg