When I first got my invitation to join Princess Cruises on another trip this year, and saw that we would be adventuring around the British Isles, I was (to be perfectly honest), not quite as excited as I had been for the prior two trips. Our Mediterranean cruise hit up all my favorite places (Spain! France! Italy!) and provided plenty of sunshine. The Baltic Cruise was a total dream come true, hopping around all the Scandinavian countries I'd been wanting to explore, and even a jaunt through St. Petersburg! I knew that Ireland and Scotland were beautiful, but they hadn't exactly been at the top of my list.
But, all of that changed the second I set eyes on this lush, green scenery. If you're looking for somewhere beautiful to escape to in 2019, my friends, pack your bags and get thee to Ireland and Scotland to experience the stunning coastline and countryside of the British Isles.
Life is funny. I used to only want to explore cities and now I'm exhausted by them if I don't get a break in between. Which is why this trip in particular was so perfect for me. Between ports like Dublin and Edinburgh, we had stops like this one, where we got to take in the scenery and slow down our pace a bit.
Belfast was our fourth stop on the cruise, and I was ready for it! I knew, out of all the places we were going, that this one was the one to experience by car. When people say that the Antrim Coast is one of the most magnificent drives you'll ever take, they are not exaggerating.
Princess Cruises offers guided tours of the coast, but we wanted to go at our own pace, so after hopping a taxi over to the Titanic Hotel where we grabbed a bit of breakfast (more on that later in this post!), we managed to find a local driver willing to take us wherever we wanted to go for the day. He was a GEM. I know I've already said this, but I have never been so impressed by a collective people as I was by the Irish. They are incredibly helpful, sweet, and welcoming.
While we had somewhat of our own agenda, our driver also made some suggestions on what to skip and what to see. He was also 100% cool with us all suddenly yelling 'STOP!' when we saw this meadow with sheep on the side of the road in Ballygally! He pulled into a nearby parking lot as we all dashed across the highway to grab a photo opp. It was our first idyllic sheep sighting, but certainly not the last!
There are so many beautiful spots to stop on this coastal highway, but we just didn't have enough time for them all. So we trusted our driver to take some shortcuts and alternate routes. One of which led us to to this view...
The luck of the Irish was with us, when through the misty rain we caught this end to end rainbow from a cliff overlooking the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge! Rather than taking us down to the bridge itself, he brought us up to a scenic spot (I couldn't tell you where it was if I tried!), where he treated us all to delicious ice cream while we enjoyed the view. Told you he was a sweetheart!
While it would have been fun to jaunt across that rickety bridge, I much enjoyed our quick view of it instead, and on we went to my favorite stop: Ballintoy Harbor.
Here, the landscape became pure drama with the water crashing and the green going on forever. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, then you might recognize this as one of the places they've filmed in the past. (Ballintoy is the Iron Islands!) In fact there are quite a few GOT stops you can make if you're touring the coastline, which could be a fun day in itself!
The weather changes very quickly in the north, as we soon discovered. But as an example, these photos were taken about 20 minutes apart... and look like they could have been two different days!
The wind soon brought rain and unfortunately, a major downpour ruined our plans for much more sightseeing that day. But even from the car, the views were incredible.
And yes, I found myself wondering how much a little house like this one, overlooking the endless changing sea might cost me to retire to someday?
While the rest of our trip didn't afford us the time to do another major coastline tour, we did love the quiet countryside of the Orkney Islands as well. And remember how I mentioned there would be more sheep?
Well, we found them! On the way to an incredible scotch distillery (a must, obviously, when in Scotland!), we happened upon the most scenic field full of these fluffy guys!!
Needless to say, I will never be doubting that the beauty and drama of the coastline and countryside in this part of the world is worth a visit. The sheep and the lovely people were a bonus!
Now, back to Belfast for a second, because although we didn't get to experience the city itself (which was a shame!), we loved our quick stop at the Titanic Hotel, where - you may have guessed - the Titanic was actually designed and built. Needless to say, there is a lot of history here, and they have done an amazing job in not only preserving the historical building, but created a beautiful aesthetic with the interior that feels at once nautical and chic!
So if you find yourself in Belfast on a cruise or otherwise, I'd highly recommend a stop into their bar for coffee or a drink!