If you’re paying a visit to Northern Ireland, it’s practically obligatory that you take a drive along the Causeway Coastal Route at some point during your holiday. Stretching 130 miles from Derry to Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route is easily one of the world’s most scenic drives. Rugged, emerald cliffs, breathtaking sea views, and the iconic Giant’s Causeway combined with man-made stunners like Dunluce Castle ensure you’ll find no shortage of scenic places to stop along the way.
While following a guide (like this one) is a great way to get started along the Causeway Coastal Route, leaving yourself enough time for unscheduled stop-offs is essential. As you’re driving along, it’s pretty well guaranteed several places will catch your eye that weren’t listed on any guide. And if you’re anything like us, these accidental discoveries will end up being your most favorite stops along the drive. At least that was the case for us with Kinbane Castle, anyway.
History of Kinbane Castle
Built in the 1500’s by the MacDonnell clan on a dramatic limestone headland projecting off the County Antrim coast, Kinbane Castle was once a striking two-story castle. Named after the land it sits on (Kinbane means White Head in English), the castle, like many others from the same time period, suffered damage over the years during repeated sieges by English forces, but it was always rebuilt afterwards.
Unfortunately, somewhere around the 18th century, the castle was abandoned and over the following centuries, it fell to ruins. The only pieces remaining today are a portion of the castle tower and an exterior wall.
Since so little of the castle still stands, if you decide to make stopping at Kinbane Castle a priority on your Causeway Coastal Route to-see list, you won’t necessarily be doing it for the castle itself. Instead, the thing that makes coming out here worth it is the view.
How to Get to Kinbane Castle
Located three miles west of the town of Ballycastle, if you’re headed towards Ballycastle from the Giant’s Causeway, you’ll see a small sign labeled ‘Kinbane Castle’ along the road about five minutes after passing the turn-off for Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. You’ll make a left turn here and follow a narrow, dirt road until you reach a parking lot at the edge of the cliffs. (Google Maps directions here.)
Parking in this lot is free, as is entrance into the Kinbane Castle site.
After you’ve parked, it’s a short hike down to the castle via a gravel path with steps in some of the steeper parts. While you can manage getting up and down to the castle wearing pretty much any sort of footwear, if you plan to walk out to the end of the headland, I definitely suggest wearing tennis shoes or hiking boots as it gets a little precarious in some spots. (More on that below.)
Why Visit Kinbane Castle?
Besides the wild, unspoiled beauty of the headland itself, Kinbane Castle is also perfectly situated so as to offer impressive views both looking back toward the cliffs along the mainland and out to Rathlin Island and beyond in the North Atlantic Ocean. In other words, if you’re looking to capture landscape photos that embody the dramatic scenery Northern Island is known for, you won’t want to skip this one.
Because it’s often passed over by travelers down the Causeway Coastal Route that don’t even know of its existence, Kinbane Castle feels delightfully isolated. If you’d like to escape the crowds that tend to overwhelm some of Northern Ireland’s more popular destinations, this is a great place to come at mid-day when those places are at their busiest.
With little more than seabirds to keep us company during the hour we spent exploring the castle ruins and the headland, Kinbane Castle was by far the most relaxing spot we visited along the coast.
Be Careful Walking Along the Headland
Kinbane Castle is situated fairly close to the mainland where the headland is a bit wider, so as long as you stay on the path, you’ll be safe. If you decide to venture past the castle, however, the headland (and the path on it) narrows considerably and you’ll definitely want to be wearing that proper footwear I mentioned earlier to keep from slipping, which would be a disaster as there is literally nothing to catch you if you fall.
Having walked across Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge the day before, I had already hit my quota of doing scary things on vacation for this trip, so we didn’t walk all the way out to the end of the headland. Instead, we stopped just short of where the path narrows to what looks like tightrope walker-level width and were perfectly happy with the views we had from where we were. I think this probably goes without saying, but if it’s a wet or windy day, don’t take any risks out here!
It was a beautiful, sunny day when we visited, so we plopped down in the soft grass and made flower crowns out of the wildflowers blooming all over the headland and basked in the sunshine for a while on what felt like our own private piece of the Irish coast. Two years later, the simple, quiet moments we spent out here are still some of my favorite travel memories.
If you’re driving the Causeway Coastal Route and have enough time to spare, definitely give Kinbane Castle a look. I’d be surprised if it didn’t become one of your favorite spots in Northern Ireland, too.
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