- For other places with the same name, see Antrim (disambiguation).
County Antrim is one of the six counties of Ulster in Northern Ireland. It's named for its former county town of Antrim (Irish Aontroim, lone ridge) but is no longer a unit of local government, being divided into five Districts. It has Northern Ireland's top visitor attractions, with the city of Belfast, the north coast with Giant's Causeway, and the scenic Nine Glens along its east coast. In 2011 its population was 618,108.
Cities and towns
- 1 Belfast is Northern Ireland's lively capital, rejuvenated after decades of conflict. It has a confident Victorian centre and University quarter, in-your-face history, and its eastern part (in County Down) is focused on its tragic ship Titanic.
- 2 Newtownabbey is a large residential area north of Belfast
- 3 Lisburn, named for a prehistoric gambling den, was birthplace of the Irish linen industry.
- 4 Antrim is on the shores of Lough Neagh: its castle burned down but the 17th century gardens remain.
- 5 Ballymena is the large market town at the centre of Ulster's "Bible Belt".
- 6 Carrickfergus has a fine Norman castle.
- 7 Larne is a drab ferry port, but nearby is Islandmagee and the southern Antrim glens.
- 8 Cushendall is a village close to the main group of Antrim glens.
- 9 Ballycastle has Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, cliff-top castles, and the great organ-pipe cliffs of Fair Head.
- 10 Ballymoney is a commuter town. 8 miles northeast are The Dark Hedges.
- 11 Bushmills has the well-known whiskey distillery and must-see Giant's Causeway.
- 12 Portrush is a beach resort. Nearby Dunluce Castle teeters on the coastal cliffs.
- 1 Rathlin Island, the province's only inhabited island, has sea cliffs and bird life.
- 2 Giant's Causeway is the imposing cascade of basalt columns on the north coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 3 Lough Neagh is the great lake at the heart of Northern Ireland. Ram's Island near its east shore has a ruined monastery with a Round Tower.
Some 60 million years ago, a great rift developed in the earth's surface that sundered Europe from America and formed the North Atlantic. Lava gushed up from fissures: it was fluid and spread out into vast fiery lakes, rather than heaping up into volcanoes. The lava cooled into a deep layer of basalt, the Thulian Plateau. The Atlantic widened and fractured the plateau into what is now the Scottish Hebrides, County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and maritime Canada. It's still widening and the lava continues to well up from time to time, most obviously in Iceland. The Antrim basalt crops out to the north as Rathlin Island, Giant's Causeway and Fair Head; to the south it forms the Belfast Hills, and in the middle is a plateau flanking the east coast, with nine glens radiating from it.
This part of Ireland thus began with a physical link to Scotland and has always had a cultural link. Finn McCool in legend created a causeway across the channel just to pick a fight with a giant on the other side. In 563 AD St Columba fled Ireland to christianise Scotland, and the cross-channel Kingdom of Dál Riata was formed. This merged into the larger territory of Ulaid - Ulster - to be overthrown by the Normans then the Gaelic Uí Néill dynasty. And when they in turn succumbed to the English Tudors, their domain of Ulster was sliced into the present-day counties and confiscated for "plantations" - colonies of Scots Protestants (especially in County Antrim) to prevent future disloyalty. This laid the seeds of Partition of Ireland, and of the late 20th century "Troubles". Throughout, family ties to the west of Scotland remained strong: folk travelled back and forth for weddings, funerals and Orange parades.
Belfast was badly scarred by the Troubles, but revived with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and with the rejuvenation of its docklands, birthplace of Titanic. The area relaunched itself for tourism, with major attractions along Antrim's north coast: Bushmills distillery, Giant's Causeway, and Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, interspersed by castles teetering on dramatic headlands. The "Nine Glens" of the east coast draw fewer international tourists but deserve to be better known. Inland are lowland towns such as Antrim and Ballymena, the "Bible Belt" of Ulster. The county itself is no longer a unit of local government, but roughly corresponds to five Districts.
- And see Belfast for rail, bus and road connections from Dublin.
- 1 Belfast International Airport (BFS IATA, aka Aldergrove) is 4 miles south of Antrim town. It's Northern Ireland's main airport, with flights across UK and Europe mostly by Easyjet. It has frequent buses to Belfast, and a bus to Lisburn and Antrim.
- 2 George Best Belfast City Airport (BHD IATA) has flights mostly from UK. It's only two miles east of the city, so by public transport it's better linked to the main bus and railway stations.
- Car ferries sail to Belfast from Birkenhead, from Cairnryan near Stranraer, and in summer from Douglas, Isle of Man.
- 3 Belfast ferry terminal is north side of the city so by car you get straight onto the motorway and avoid downtown.
- Car ferries also sail to Larne from Cairnryan.
- In summer a ferry for foot passengers runs from Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre to Ballycastle, then continues to Port Ellen on Islay in the Scottish Hebrides.
See Translink for bus and rail timetables and fares. Trains run hourly from Belfast (which has trains from Dublin) to Antrim town, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine (change for the branch line to Portrush) and Derry. Trains also run from Belfast to Carrickfergus and Larne, and from Bangor via Holywood to Belfast and Lisburn.
Buses link the main towns: they're comparatively slow but one you might take is the 402 / 172 from Coleraine via the major tourist sites on the north coast to Ballycastle.
If you don't have your own transport and limited time, consider taking an organised tour: these run daily from Belfast, and even make day-trips from Dublin.
A network of national cycleways crosses the county, though they're mostly on road.
- Belfast has a confident Victorian centre, the University quarter to the south, and the birthplace of Titanic on its east side.
- Carrickfergus Castle is a well-preserved Norman bastion.
- Giant's Causeway is very touristy, but the much-photographed central cascade is just part of a long line of basalt cliffs. The formations continue for miles and miles along the coast, as far as Fair Head beyond Ballycastle and the west cliffs of Rathlin Island.
- Carrrick-a-Rede Bridge is nowadays steel hawser not rope, but is still a dramatic site, spanning to an islet with a fisherman's hut perched on its far edge.
- The Nine Glens are on Antrim's east coast. Five are near Cushendall: Glenballyeamon, Glenaan, Glencorp, Glendum and (the most scenic) Glenariff. The northern two near Ballycastle are Glenshesk and Glentaisie. The southern two above Carnlough north of Larne are Glenarm and Glencloy. They are all traversed by through-roads, which for a couple are main roads, but you can escape the traffic on back lanes or hiking trails.
- The Gobbins south of Larne are Ulster's answer to the via ferrata, a metal walkway along the cliff face.
- Watch Gaelic games: The County GAA play Gaelic football and hurling, but their usual home ground of Casement Park in Belfast is closed. There are 50-some club teams across the county.
- Motorcycle racing is a major sport, with several on-road circuits. The premier event is the Ulster Grand Prix, held in August on the Dundrod Circuit west of Belfast towards Crumlin village. However the future of this event was already in doubt before Covid struck, and it isn't happening in 2021. The North West 200, held in May, is a triangle between Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush; and the Armoy Road Races are in late July south of Ballycastle.
- Look up your ancestors: there are some ten archives and resources to aid your search.
- Belfast has the greatest range of cuisine and prices. It's definitely worth a splurge to eat in the magnificent Great Room of the Merchant Hotel.
- A traditional Ulster fry-up breakfast might not leave you with much appetite for lunch or supper.
- Dulse and Yellowman are traditional delights at the Old Lammas Fair in Ballycastle. Just keep chewing, is the trick. The fair is in late August and you might still be chewing come September.
- For fine dining outside the city, top picks are Tullyglass Hotel and Galgorm, both near Ballymena.
- Belfast has dozens of brilliant pubs, pride of place going to Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian gem opposite Europa Hotel and bus terminal. It's probably a mercy that plans for a distillery in the former Crumlin Road Gaol have come to nothing.
- Bushmills Distillery produces a very distinctive range of whiskey and has tours. There were once five distilleries in this small village.
- Except for Bushmills, this county isn't much of a brewing and distilling area - a combination of land unsuited to barley, and "Bible Belt" ethos. Lisburn to the south however has a micro-brewery, and Moira just over the boundary in County Down distills vodka and gin.
Your main hazard is always road traffic. Stay sensible and don't wander around dodgy areas at night or make political statements in strange company, and you'll be just fine.
- County Down beyond Belfast has castles, abbeys and gardens around Strangford Lough, and the Mourne Mountains to the south.
- County Londonderry west has a scenic coastline, and the fascinating walled city of Derry.