Carrick-a-Rede: Ireland's Exhilarating Rope Bridge

A 350-year-old fisherman's bridge over the crashing Atlantic waves

Northern Ireland rope bridge stretching over the Atlantic Ocean to Carrick-a-Rede island
© Marco Bottigelli​ (Getty Images)

Thrill seekers travel from all over the world to take an adrenaline-fueled stroll across the Carrick-a-Rede bridge. The famed rope bridge connects the mainland in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, with a tiny island off the coast. Swaying 100-feet above the Atlantic Ocean, this unique bridge is as historic as it is unmissable.

Ready to brave the sea winds and walk across the rope bridge that dangles above the crashing waves? Here’s your complete guide to booking tickets and experiencing Carrick-a-Rede.

History

Salmon once flourished in the cold Atlantic waters around Carrick-a-Rede island, and a fishery was built on the little outcropping. In order to reach the island and its lone cottage, salmon fishermen first built a slender rope bridge on the Antrim coastline 350 years ago. The narrow bridge makes for spectacular scenery, as just a few ropes are all that span the 66-foot gap between Carrick-a-Rede and the mainland.

Carrick-a-Rede (which is pronounced carrick-a-reedy) translates to something along the lines of the “rock in the road.” It was the rocky island where fishermen would traditionally come to cast their nets to catch the migrating salmon.

While similar rope bridges have been built on this spot for hundreds of years, the current one was rebuilt in 2000 and tested for safety.

Completely open to the elements, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is now maintained by Northern Ireland’s National Trust, a conservation charity.

What to see

The Antrim coastline is one of the most striking coastal areas in Ireland. Set against this rugged ocean-front scenery, the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede Island is the main attraction. Most visitors come to test their bravery and walk across the swaying suspension bridge.

Once on Carrick-a-Rede Island, visitors can stroll along the windswept pathways and see the single fishermen’s cottage that stands on the island. The cottage is sometimes open for visits, but its white walls set against windswept grass make for a postcard-perfect Irish scene even when the doors are closed. Outside the cottage is a re-creation of the type of crane that would have been used to hoist up the simple fishing boat and its nets, in order to protect the boat from being smashed against the rocky island cliffs below.

On clear days, there are views out to Scotland’s Rathlin Island. However, aside from incredibly panoramas, winding walkways and the cottage, the only other activity on Carrick-a-Rede is wildlife spotting. There are often dolphins and porpoises just offshore.

Back on the mainland, the area has several paths along the coast which are free to walk along. After a stroll, or once you have crossed back over the slim rope bridge from Carrick-a-Rede Island, the National Trust (the Northern Ireland organization in charge of the bridge and the surrounding natural area) runs a tea room which serves hot drinks and sandwiches.

There is a reception hut where you can confirm your ticket, but no other visitor’s center or shelter.

Location and How to Visit

The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is located near the village of Ballycastle, about 9 miles (or a 20 minute drive) east of the Giant’s Causeway. The main parking area can be found at 119a White Park Road, outside of the village of Ballintoy.

For safety reasons and to ensure that the crowds are more manageable, visitors must now purchase timed tickets in order to cross the famous rope bridge. The tickets can be pre-booked online, and the reference number must then be presented at the ticket office in person.

Tickets for Carrick-a-Rede grant access to walk over the bridge to the island within a specific one-hour time slot, but there is no time limit for how long visitors can stay on the island. The bridge is more than half a mile from the parking lot, so be sure to leave enough time to reach the bridge at least 15 minutes before the ticket expires in order to be sure you don’t miss your schedule crossing time.

The dangling bridge is closed 24-26 December every year, and occasionally for a few days in November for annual maintenance, but all of this is noted and updated on the official site to book tickets.

An adult ticket to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge costs £9 (a little over $11) and must be booked in advance. However, the coastal walkways on the mainland are completely free to visit and do not require any advanced reservation to visit.

What Else to Do Nearby

Carrick-a-Rede is a short drive (20 minutes by car) from the Giant’s Causeway. The incredible natural formation of 40,000 stone columns is a World Heritage site and one of the most famous places in Ireland.

Just on beyond the natural wonder, on the other side of the village of Bushmills, are the stunning ruins of Dunluce Castle. Set dramatically on the edge of a cliff, Dunluce has been immortalized in movies and the Game of Thrones and it is instantly obvious why – the wild beauty of the landscape and the falling-down towers make this one of the best castles in Ireland.

Finally, the nearby town of Bushmills is famous for its whiskey and is home to the Old Bushmills Distillery, which dates back to 1784. It takes its name from the River Bush, which runs nearby.

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