The great thing about travelling in Ireland is that it is easy to travel around the country. In fact, it only takes 2 hours to get from Dublin to Belfast. So with a 2 hour drive, you are technically in another country, even if you never leave the island of Ireland. The problem comes in when you don’t own a car. Some of the best spots along the coastline, are not easily accessible if you don’t have wheels to get there. While I am not against hiking, or walking, sometimes it is just easier to drive to your destination. It also means that you can see more than one place in a day.
We found a great Groupon deal to take a bus tour up to Northern Ireland from Dublin. In one day, you get to stop at several stops, learn a bit of Irish history and see beautiful coastlines as you sit comfortably in a bus.
I wasn’t sure if we were going to enjoy the bus trip. As you all know, we are not conventional tourist type, in fact, I make it my mission to avoid crowds and tourist traps wherever we go. But this day trip was a great way to get out town over the long weekend – and get a taste for Northern Ireland. At best I thought we would snap a few pics, and have a fun day out. I have to say that the tour guide we had on the bus was super informative, she made it feel like she wasn’t just reading a script – she cracked a few jokes, told us some interesting facts, and pointed out things we would have missed had we driven there by ourselves. All in all, I have to say that if you are looking to see parts of Ireland that require a car, then taking a bus tour should be your first choice – and I highly recommend taking Finn McCools bus tour – since it is affordable and well worth it (also out for Groupon deals to make even more budget friendly!).Tips on how to make the most out of your @Finn_tours of Northern Ireland. #discoverireland Click To Tweet
The day starts out quite early. We had to be at the pick up spot at 6:45am. Because it was too early to take public transport, we walked to a bike station, rented bikes and cycled up to the pick up spot just off O’Connell street.
The bus left on time, and we headed out of the city on the motorway. They stop at a petrol station just outside Northern Ireland, as a last chance to buy any snacks or beverages for the day.
*Tip: Rob and I made sandwiches and packed a picnic of snacks we brought from home. Bringing your own will save you money, as buying snacks at the petrol station, or at the tourists spots is bound to be overpriced.
The first official stop is in Belfast City. We arrived in Belfast at 9am, on a Sunday, which meant it was pretty quiet. Most of the shops only open at 1pm on a Sunday! You get a little over an hour to walk around. The nice part was that it was quiet, so we got to take pics, without tons of crowds. We took the time to draw some money, and walked around city hall.
*Tip: Keep in mind that Northern Ireland does not work in EURO’s, so you would need to have pounds to spend at any of the stops. This stop is also the only chance you get to draw some pounds, which you could need if you want to do any of the add-ons during the trip.
The next stop is at the Dark Hedges. This is one for the Game of Thrones fans. It is a strip of road that has these unique trees on either side. It was used in a scene in GoT, but obviously looks a bit different without all the special effects. To be honest this stop is overcrowded, there are people and cars/buses trying to access this road (as it is not cut off from the public, people still try use this road to drive through), so it is difficult to get a “perfect” pic.
Tip: You only get 10 minutes or so, so get out the bus quick and try get ahead of the crowd to take a pic before it gets too crowded.
A quick stop to take a pic of Dunluce Castle is the next stop. It was pretty windy, and because the castle is a little farther away, my cellphone pic just didn’t do it justice.
The main stop for the day is Giant’s Causeway. Our tour guide, Tara, gave us the “full Irish story” of this UNESCO world heritage site, and 8th wonder of the world as we were driving there. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that it involves a giant named Finn McCool. We stopped here for a good hour and half, and had our picnic lunch with a view of Giant’s Causeway.
Tip: It is a unique spot, but I recommend if you have time to walk down towards it, and then loop back going up the stairs and walking along the cliffs. It gives you a nice view of the Causeway from above.
The next stop is at the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. You have a little over an hour to explore, and if you would like, you can walk across the rope bridge for £7. Unfortunately, the rope bridge was closed when we went, due to extremely high winds. It is however, a beautiful stop – we walked along the cliffs on both sides of the car park, and really will have to go back to brave the rope bridge!
Tip: Finn McCool’s offers a discount if you buy your rope bridge ticket from the bus driver – but you need to pay in cash, and they only accept pounds!
From here, we drove to Cushendun, and did a quick stop here to see another famous GoT scene, as well as Ireland’s most famous goat! On a clear day, you can get sight of Scotland, but we didn’t get to see it on the day we went. Still, it is a quaint little village, with beautiful views.
On the way, back to our last stop, our tour bus had to detour due to a car crash that diverted traffic. In usual circumstances, you would expect the bus driver and tour guide to get a bit flustered, however this did not slow them down one bit. They cracked a few jokes about getting us lost in the Glens, and we ended up seeing a bit more than we thought we would. Even with the detour we still got home in time, and I loved how well it was handled.
The last stop is back in Belfast. This time we managed to walk down a few side allies and find some great street art while we were there. I definitely think it gives you a nice flavour for the city, but not nearly enough time to properly explore Belfast – so we are keen to head back and really stay a few days. I see that Finn McCools have added a new tour that gives you more time to explore Belfast, so perhaps that may be a good option for us too.
Let me know in the comments: Have you done a bus tour? How did you find it?
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