Giant’s Causeway and more. Five must-see photo opportunities in Northern Ireland

Our weekend in Northern Ireland started well. Nature and Flybe had treated us to front row seats to a magical sunset performance above the clouds, flying from Southampton Airport had been easy, baggage collection at Belfast airport was nice and simple, and we’d picked up our hire car with no drama.

Sunset

Sun setting above the clouds – nature’s party piece

You might think ‘so what’ about the hire car, but having experienced more bumpy  transactions in far-away lands (ok, California, Portugal and France), it made a pleasant change to stroll up, say the name and get handed the keys – without a three hour wait or fuss about mandatory breathalyzer kits and high-vis vests.

And so we made our way north. There’s plenty to see in Belfast and one day we’ll no doubt return to enjoy attractions including the Titanic museum,  but we were off to visit family and enjoy the north eastern coastline of County Antrim.

Cushenden

Pretty village of Cushenden, Northern Ireland

Simply put, the landscape is wild and beautiful and quite apart from spending time with some of my favourite people, I was looking forward to getting out with the camera. My poor family. They are all incredibly patient, but I find that when you’re attached to a camera everything slows down and you see so much more. This is what I love above photography, but it must drive my friends and family nuts when they see me wander off and mutter ‘I won’t be 5 minutes’. They know it’ll be 15.

County Antrim is a landscape photographer’s paradise and this is just a taster of some of the ‘must see’ places to add to your list. Places that’ll have you wandering off for ‘just 5 minutes’ – and desperate to return for more.

5 must-see photo opportunities in Northern Ireland 

  1. The Causeway Coastal Route

Starting in Belfast and twisting up and around the north eastern section of the island, this top tip is a bit of a cheat as it takes in so many wonderful places, including the pretty coastal village of Cushenden (pictured above).

Rough, rugged, rolling green landscape, with crashing grey seas. A ribbon of breathtaking photo locations, no wonder the Northern Ireland Tourist Board declares that this stretch of road is rated as one of the top five road trips worldwide. Their useful Causeway Coastal Route map is worth a look if planning a trip.

2.       Giant’s Causeway

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

This totally bonkers place is nature’s way of putting us firmly and squarely in our place. Thousands and thousands (over 40,000) hexagonal rock columns erupting from the surf, all messing with your brain.

Giant's Causeway. Surf and stones.

Giant’s Causeway. Surf and stones.

Man couldn’t even conceive of creating such a bizarre landscape; the fact that nature made it happen, just like that, is, to my unscientific mind, completely incomprehensible. However, (in my opinion) it’s marginally more believable than the legend that it was built by its namesake, the giant Fin McCool.

Giant's Causeway

Giants Causeway. Breathtaking and bonkers.

Giant’s Causeway is an UNESCO World Heritage site and the new National Trust visitor centre has been sympathetically designed to blend seamlessly into the landscape.  It also serves damn good tea and cake, so you can make a real day of it!

Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre

Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

If you visit just one place in Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway should be it.

3.       Dunluce Castle

The ruins of late Medieval and 17th century Dunluce Castle are dramatically and precariously perched on the North Antrim cliff edge.

The Department of the Environment Northern Ireland (DOENI) have a virtual tour of the castle. 

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has more info.

4.       Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

I was happy to look at this 30m high and 20m long bridge from afar.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Built for salmon fishermen to reach Carrick-a-Rede and the ice house, the Causeway Coastal Route website has a detailed history of the bridge.

5.       Rathlin Island

An island of lighthouses, standing stones, an ancient church, a castle, a colony of seals and the RSPB Seabird Centre (home to puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes), Rathlin Island is a photographer’s treat.

Legend has it that whilst hiding in a cave on the island, Robert The Bruce was inspired by a spider spinning his web – he planned his return to Scotland to fight for his country.

Getting there is easy. Catch a ferry from the pretty town of Ballycastle.

Tourist Information

Tourist Information

Tempted? You’ll find plenty of really helpful stuff on the following websites. Enjoy! x

Useful Northern Ireland tourist information stuff on these websites

P.S.  What did I miss? Add your ‘must-see’ suggestions below…

Propeller sunset images – and how to find them

Before we’d even landed in Belfast, Nature had spoilt us.

A late afternoon flight from Southampton on a crisp November day meant we were in for a treat. Floating above the clouds somewhere between Southampton and Belfast, Flybe and Mother Nature indulged us with this stunning sunset.

Sunset above the clouds

Propeller sunset – somewhere between Southampton and Belfast.

A view usually reserved for God and pilots, the sun slowly slipped behind the horizon, lighting the sky candyfloss streaks of orange, gold, red and pink. We’ve got an abstract seascape print in our living room. I can lose myself in the ever changing colours, but on that flight Nature was making a point, loud and clear. Anything you can do, I can do better.

With a few spare seats, I took the chance to move about the plane with the camera and take as many shots as possible. All around, people snoozed, catching up on a precious 40 winks, unaware that we had exclusive front row seats to Nature’s evening party piece.

Sunset

Sun setting above the clouds – nature’s party piece

Lesson learnt: photo opportunities never stop, even when you’re thousands of metres above the earth.

If you’re booking a sunset or sunrise flight, think about the direction of travel. We were flying west, so the sun was setting out of the left hand side of the plane. If you’ve got a choice of seats, think about the best place to sit and enjoy the view.

Have your camera ready on a flight and you could get lucky with a front row seat to an exclusive exhibition courtesy of your pilot and Mother Nature.

Dubai

It’s big, it’s brash and, in parts at least, it’s beautiful.

Dubai is a dazzling metropolis in the middle of the desert. The realisation of a monarch’s dream to make the city a world-leading wealth generator, it is famous for its sky-high towers and its addiction to world firsts, biggests and tallests.

In the heart of the Arab middle east, a Westerner might think that a trip to Dubai would be an educational voyage of discovery into the culture and habits of the Arab world, but in reality, this commercial congregation of businesses and tourists from across the world makes this city very much Middle-East lite.

One of seven Emirates (collectively, the United Arab Emirates – UAE), Dubai gained independence from the UK on 2 December 1971. Since then, businesses from across the globe have flocked to the region, seeking a ride on the wealth-propelling (if a little bumpy) rocket that is this ambitious and forward-thinking city.

For all its seven star hotels, shopping malls (one with an aquarium, one with a ski centre), majestic buildings and crazy developments (man-made islands The Globe and The Palm spring to mind), Dubai, for me at least, lacks a sense of sincere culture and soul. Perhaps all the money spinning mirrored glass has diluted the culture of 50 years ago.

That’s not to say it’s not worth a visit. It absolutely is. It’s one of those destinations you mark as an ‘experience’ and from a photography point of view, there’s plenty to keep you happy. Just a note of caution. If you’re going to go, do so armed with a pre-set budget and don’t be afraid to use it. There’s no such thing as a beach-front Travelodge. It’s pretty much 5 star or no star.

We visited in March. The weather was beautiful – the skies were blue (other than the days of the sandstorm!), the beaches white and the sun bounced off the steel and glass.

Dubai buildings in the early evening sunlight

My brother in law, a Dubai resident, had bought us tickets to the Dubai World Cup  – an experience like no other. A fashion show for Western expats, whose principal aim is to quaff champagne whilst getting papped for the local glossies and websites, the horse racing is a purely incidental affair for the majority of race-goers (Westerners may be influenced by the no-betting policy [do it before you leave home via the internet if you must]). At a mile long, with a capacity of 60,000, and lit seats reminiscent of an 80’s dance-floor, the grandstand is extreme, whilst the no-expense-spared, statement-making fireworks were as dramatic as you’d expect. There were lots of them. They were loud. They were pretty. There was an aerobatic display from a spitfire. Yes, it was impressive.

Meydan Racecourse, Dubai

Meydan Racecourse, Dubai – champagne and glittering lights

Burj Khalifa, Dubai - tallest building in the world

Burj Khalifa, Dubai – tallest building in the world

Elsewhere, the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, situated just outside the largest shopping mall in the world (The Dubai Mall, complete with must-have aquarium) is a must-see.

We went for Afternoon Tea – and with treats like these, why wouldn’t you?

Burj Khalifa, Dubai Afternoon Tea

The highest tea in the world – Burj Khalifa, Dubai afternoon tea

The best view, so we were reliably informed, is from the ladies toilet. And yes, it’s pretty good. This is the vertigo-inducing view from the restaurant. Not bad?

View of Dubai from Burj Khalifa

View of Dubai from Burj Khalifa

Then there’s the fountains. “You must see the fountains” friends had implored before our trip. If I’m honest I can take or leave fountains. Not these fountains. You absolutely HAVE to see these fountains.

The Dubai fountains

The Dubai fountains

Every evening, a display of synchronised water dancing takes place in the 30-acre lake at the foot of the Burj Khalifa. 275m of fountains, shooting up to 150ft tall, the creators of the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas masterminded this installation. It’s free, but my recommendation would be to book an outside table and eat at one of the restaurants overlooking the fountain ‘arena’. We ate at Mango Tree. The food was amazing and the view pretty crazy. The best part was seeing the fountains moonwalk to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which you can see here via the wonder of YouTube.

And finally, the Burj Al Arab, the iconic hotel on the Jumeriah Beach. Beautiful at night and well worth a photo. A good spot is from the bridge outside the Souk Madinat Jumeriah.

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Of course, there’s plenty more to see than all of this. There’s the creek, the gold souks, the golf courses, the sandy beaches and the ski centre. Naturally.

Go, go, go!