My appetite for meat and potatoes knows no bounds. Ditto bread and butter. So when I find an abundance of all four and more while road-tripping around Northern Ireland, I am beside myself with delight—and I’m not the only one: food tourism is trending here. When food is such a big part of the culture, it’s part of the journey.
“More and more visitors are coming to Northern Ireland, to see the Giant’s Causeway, to go to the Titanic Museum, to learn about their ancestors maybe and to get in on the great food we have,” says Derry-based chef and author Emmett McCourt, a champion of Irish food heritage. “Tourists want to learn about Irish food customs and traditional methods of food preparation. They like the stories behind the food. They want the connection to the food producer to lend meaning to what they’re experiencing.”
Drink in the scenery. On our way up the legendary Coastal Causeway, we are stunned into silence by the pastoral beauty, absorbing picture-postcard views at every turn. Farmland, villages, ocean, forest—the variety is mesmerizing. Between the castles, the cheese, the cliff walks and the gin, this is one of the best road trips in the world.
Break bread. When we reach the North Atlantic Ocean at Ballycastle, we wander into Ursa Minor Bakehouse, where baker Dara O hArtghaile and his wife Ciara treat us to a lesson in sourdough. They use methods that can be traced back hundreds of years, long before the birth of commercial yeast. The O hArtghailes dress up their loaves with things like linseed oil, nuts, grains or beer, and feature them prominently in the hearty menu at their busy vegetarian café.
Brave the bridge. The 250-year-old Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge was once used by fishermen to reach the region’s salmon, but now used merely to thrill the tourists.
Visit the giants. Reaching the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we head out with a guide to see the 40,000 basalt columns. This geological anomaly was created by volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, the columns formed by molten lava cooling into hexagonal stone steps. This being Ireland, there’s an alternate version of the story that has little to do with volcanoes, and more to do with Celtic warrior Finn MacCool and his Scottish rival Benandonner.
Relive Game of Thrones. Twenty minutes’ drive inland, we take a spooky stroll through The Dark Hedges—a favourite stop on all the Game of Thrones tours.
Go to the beach. The famous Strand, a two-mile stretch of golden beach in Portstewart, is the ideal spot for picnicking, surfing, birding or just taking in the view. The beach also makes the perfect backdrop for dinner at Harry’s Shack. As the name implies, it is a big, wooden shed tucked at the edge of the dunes, family-run by people with restaurant resumés as long as your arm. Inside, the interior is raw and rustic with a wood stove crackling away. We tuck into perfect fish and chips and fried chicken, washed down with a bottle of wine, watching the sand slowly turn from gold to blue to black.