Last updated on November 24, 2023
Many motorcyclists never get as far as the north of the island of Ireland – and that’s a shame.
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They may have planned an ambitious trip to Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way, started in the south and by the time they get to Galway, the holiday week is already over and they have to drive back to Dublin to catch the booked plane or ferry.
Yes, travel speeds are not high on the small country roads and so the small island can then become a surprisingly large island after all!
The good news? You can come back next time and do a northern tour! In the north of Ireland there is less tourism, less sightseeing, but many very unspoilt and wild landscapes to discover.
Northern Ireland is again more visited, but has beautiful coastlines and towns worth seeing – so why not combine the two?
Northern Ireland or the North of Ireland – what is the difference?
Yes, that sounds confusing at first. The island of Ireland is home to two independent states.
The Republic of Ireland makes up about 80% of the island and is a member of the EU and also completely independent from the Republic of Northern Ireland.
The 8 counties of Northern Ireland decided at the time of Ireland’s declaration of independence that they wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom and they still do after Brexit.
The completely open green border between the two is barely visible, but it is an external EU border. Ireland’s north is in the north-west, in County Donegal. Northern Ireland has the greater part of the north coast and the north-east coast. You can cross from one to the other without any problem.
How do I know that? I run a motorbike rental company in Ireland in the summer months (www.easycruiser.tours) and have travelled a lot by motorbike in Ireland and Northern Ireland. By the way, we also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
Donegal is the main town of the county of the same name. It virtually marks the entrance to the northwest. The small town is quite nice and a good starting point for the “Expedition North”.
Glenveagh National Park
Glenveagh National Park is located north of the small town of Donegal in the interior of the county. It is mainly mountainous, high and exudes a somewhat rugged charm. The high moorland hilltops are overgrown with heather, sheep graze on the slopes and further down in the gorges of the torrents you will find forests.
Motorcyclists will find a beautiful area here that is worth exploring in every direction. In the middle is the Park Authority with Glenveagh Castle, beautifully situated on the long Lough Beagh.
To the west is Mount Errigal, the highest mountain in the National Park. It is almost conical and pointed – an exception among the more rounded peaks. On its flanks you can see grey scree slopes from afar.
The Cliffs of Slieve League
The Cliffs of Slieve League are less well known than the Cliffs of Moher, but they are actually even higher. They rise 601 metres above sea level. The most beautiful viewpoint is called Bunglass Point and is located near the village of Teelin.
The Silver Strand
Accessible only by the smallest of roads, Silver Beach near Malin Beg is almost an insider’s tip. The crescent-shaped bay with white sand is a welcome change along the rugged and rocky coastline.
Glencolumbkille and the Folk Village
You have to go here! The small village has an incredible location: framed by wild cliffs, rocks and mountains in the background – you probably can’t live more wildly romantic.
But neither could it be more remote – there was no sewerage and no electricity in this area until the 1960s. Fishing provided a small but dangerous income on the wild coast. Farming was extremely arduous on the rocky soils.
The small but beautiful Folk Village still bears witness to these times. It is a museum village with several nicely built cottages showing the life of simple people in the last centuries.
Maghera Beach and Maghera Caves
If you follow the coast, look out for this place. There are several caves in the rock on a very beautiful beach. You can only visit them at low tide. The tidal currents are dangerously strong here and swimming is not recommended.
Nearby is the Assaranca Waterfall. It can be reached via a small access road and is a nice place to visit.
The Col or Pass Glengesh is a little further south of Assaranca, on the R230 from Glenkolumbkille to Ardara. The road is nice for motorcyclists and the pass is worth seeing.
A special place is Burtonport on the west coast. It consists mainly of a harbour where many fishing boats are moored. A small ferry goes to the offshore islands, which are still inhabited by some people – but only in good weather. The coast of Burtonport Bay is nice to drive (R259 south).
From Burtonport to Gweedore
Via the R259 and then the N56 you can continue to Gweedore. This small road is great fun on a motorbike as it winds very curvaceously through the rocky hills.
Fanad Head and the Fanad Peninsula
Almost to the north of Donegal you will find the Fanad Peninsula with the Fanad Lighthouse. This beautiful lighthouse sits absolutely picturesque on the rocks – definitely worth seeing! The peninsula also offers several very beautiful coastal roads directly on the water, e.g. the coastal road at Ballymastoker Beach.
The Malin Head Loop
The next peninsula, Malin Head is the northernmost tip of the Irish island. You can drive over to it from Fanad Head, or you can spend two nights in Londonderry/Derry and use one of these days for a round trip around the Malin Head Loop.
Yes, what is it called? The Irish say Derry, the (English-born) Northern Irish say Londonderry – it is an eternal point of contention. In general, the disagreements in Northern Ireland have by no means been overcome.
But the Northern Ireland conflict is a long time ago and as a tourist you don’t need to worry. The city has a very intact, perfectly round city wall, which is one of the longest in Europe! You can walk around the old town on it. It is lively and offers plenty of food and drink in the evening.
The Causeway Coastal Route
The north coast of Northern Ireland, also known as the Causeway, is heavily promoted to tourists. It is also beautiful, but in the summer months it can get very crowded. English tourists in particular like to come here then. Sights on the Causeway are the Mussenden Temple, the ruins of Dunluce Castle, the Dark Hedges, the rope bridge of Carrick-a-Reede, Ballintoy Harbour and, of course, the basalt columns of the Giant`s Causeway.
Torr Head and the North Antrim Coastal Drive
If the hustle and bustle of the Causeway is too much for you, just drive on to Torr Head on the north-east coast. From there, in reasonably good weather, you can see all the way to Scotland. The two islands are only about 20km apart.
Then follow the very small roads along the coast south to about Larne. This is the North Antrim (the name of the county) Coastal Route. For me, it is one of the most beautiful roads in Northern Ireland, because you always drive right next to the water.
On the way you pass through nice places like Glenarriff.The hills and valleys in the hinterland are also particularly beautiful.
When you think of Belfast, you probably think of the Titanic Experience. And rightly so, because the exhibition in the modern building at the harbour is absolutely worth a visit.
By the way, the filming of “Game of Thrones” took place here in the harbour. There is now also a Game of Thrones Experience in a small former studio south of Belfast – a must for fans of the cult series – just google it.
Belfast also has many other beautiful places, such as the botanical gardens and the Palm House behind Queens University.
Strangford Lough and Mount Stewart
South-east of Belfast is a beautiful lake that connects with the sea, Strangford Lough. On its shore is Mount Stewart, a really beautiful old manor house with an “enchanted” garden – if you can call the spacious park that.
A few kilometres further on, you can take a small ferry from Portaferry to Strangford and continue along the coast.
The Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough
The coastal road via Ardglass, Newcastle and Kilkeel is beautiful to drive again.
In the background you can see the Mourne Mountains. It’s worth making a detour up to Vartry Reservoir. The view is just great!
A little further south you come to Carlingford Lough. The long bay is beautiful to drive around and the small village of Carlingford is very pretty and special and is a good place to spend the night.
A final word
Is there more to see in the north of the Irish island? Yes!
But you should explore that yourself on your next tour!
Where else is the joy of discovery?
I wish you a wonderful trip – and if you need a motorbike for it: We have a motorbike rental in Ireland: www.easycruiser.tours!