TRAVEL GUIDE: The outstanding natural beauty of Northern Ireland’s north coast

Benone Beach, multiple recipient of the European Blue Flag and Seaside Award, is a must-see when visiting the area. With seven miles of golden sand and a magnificent back drop of mountain and cliff scenery and stunning views across to Donegal, this is an attractive sightseeing environment along with the usual seaside activities including picnic spots, watersports, and fishing. The clean, firm, golden sands of Benone Strand are without rocks, shingle or seaweed and are preceded by the glorious natural formations of Benone's sand dunes. With a supervised playground, outdoor paddling pool and golf club, a fun filled day is guaranteed. It is a haven for nature lovers as the entire area is a paradise for the study of botany, entomology and shells.

That Northern Ireland ever became known for anything other than its outstanding natural beauty is a travesty.

Golden beaches, rolling countryside and quaint villages make the coastal route that takes you out of Belfast and up to the northern most tip of the country one of the most scenic drives in the United Kingdom.

The Gobbins Cliff Path - one of the must-see tourist spots on Northern Ireland's coastal route

It’s little wonder this part of the world was chosen as the setting for many of the epic Game of Thrones landscapes.

Whether flying into Ulster or making the trip across the Irish Sea from Cairnryan on the Stenaline HSS, it’s worth splitting a holiday so you get to experience the entertainment offered by Belfast city itself and the cultural, historical and geological significance of the north coast.

There are several good options for a family day out in the city, but the magnificent W5 stands out. It’s a science centre that educates kids and adults alike in many weird and wonderful ways, with theatre shows and enough interactive exhibits to capture the imagination of children of all ages.

Belfast Zoo boasts plenty of exciting members of the animal kingdom, but with its perfectly understandable policy of allowing the animals areas of privacy, it’s easy for younger visitors to come away frustrated at having not spotted every beast.

On the outskirts of the city is the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which is a vast site that you’ll do well to cover in one day. The ‘folk’ half of the museum is particularly impressive and lets you experience traditional Irish ways of living through costumed guides who demonstrate the way things were done in the past.

Further south lies Exploris, an aquarium in the small town of Portaferry, near the entrance to Strangford Lough. Passionate staff deliver talks and allow children to get hands on with some of the more ‘manageable’ sea creatures.

A 40 minute drive to the north of Belfast is The Gobbins, a cliff-face path in Islandmagee that can only be experienced on guided tours. Sadly it’s not suitable for younger children but for everyone else, thanks to the guides, it’s a real eye opener into the social and geological history of the region and the scenery is breathtaking.

To experience all that lies even further north of the capital city, Watertop Farm near Ballycastle is an ideal base for those looking to camp in a tent or caravan.

A working farm, it’s nestled away in the heart of the stunning Antrim Glens and boasts clean, more than adequate facilities and a host of activities for kids.

There’s plenty of chances to get up close and personal with the animals - some of which are regular, interested visitors to your ‘doorstep’ - and the farm staff are very welcoming to families, showing great patience despite incessant questioning from young, inquisitive minds.

And it’s not too much trouble to get to any of the main tourist attractions - in fact the drive from Watertop Farm to anywhere is a treat in itself.

The nearest port of call for supplies and ice cream is Ballycastle, a seaside town that boasts a truly beautiful beach and plenty free parking - a regular feature in the area that other regions would do well to adopt.

Most, if not all, who travel to this part of the country will take in the Giant’s Causeway and well they should, it’s incredible and has to be seen in the flesh at least once.

Dunluce Castle and Carrick-a-Rede Ropebridge pull in big numbers too but if you’re doing things on a budget there are few better days out than the area’s beaches.

Portstewart Strand and Whiterocks at Portrush are worth a visit and Benone Strand is a magnificent Blue Flag strip of sand that stretches for seven miles.

A little off the beaten track but close to Watertop Farm is the stunning Murlough Bay, with views of Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre.

For eating out, Ramore Restaurants in Portush are hugely popular - getting there before the doors open is advised and saving room for one of their obsence desserts is mandatory - and in Portstewart Morelli’s rules the roost for ice cream.

And you cannot leave ‘our wee country’ without being able to say you’ve eaten an Ulster Fry, stuck your teeth together with Yellow Man and had your breath taken away by a Bushmills whisky.

Stena Line sails from Cairnryan to Belfast offering a direct link from Scotland to Northern Ireland on the Stena Superfast VII and Stena Superfast VIII from as little as £79 single for car and driver. The crossing time is approximately 2 hrs 15 mins with a choice of up to six sailings a day.

Experience the various lounges and Taste restaurant onboard the ships as well as a kids play area, Teen Town and a POD Lounge with the very latest in video game technology plus internet surf stations and with FREE Wi-Fi you can stay connected throughout your journey. Customers can upgrade to the luxurious Stena Plus lounge from £16 per person single and indulge in a wide selection of complimentary snacks and beverages or indulge in the Pure Nordic Spa where you can make the most of the only Jacuzzi and sauna on the Irish Sea from £10 per person.

Those looking to book a Superfast Suite for their crossing can do so from £35 single.

To make a booking, click on www.stenaline.co.uk, call Stena Line on 08447 70 70 70, or visit your local travel agent.

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