Visiting the Dark Hedges with your baby or toddler is an excellent addition to any family itinerary to Northern Ireland. There is more ‘to do’ than it seems, and this is a great place to let your toddler run around and stretch his/her legs.
The Dark Hedges, made famous by Game of Thrones in season two, episode 1, is one of the highlights of the Coastal Causeway of Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Gracehill House, built in ~1775, sits at the top of the Dark Hedges. The road leading up to Gracehill House was lined with more than 150 beech trees to create a dramatic approach to the estate. This row of trees is now affectionately known as the Dark Hedges.
We visited the Dark Hedges in 2019 with our two and a half-year-old son, and he loved it. He thought the trees were OK, but he really enjoyed the ‘fairy garden’ and running freely along the row of trees.
1. How to Get to the Dark Hedges
Where are the Dark Hedges?
The Dark Hedges are located in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, between the towns of Armoy and Stranocum. They are along a half-mile stretch of the Bregagh Rd, just off Ballinlea Rd. The closest establishment is the Hedges Hotel whose address is 139A Ballinlea Rd., Stranocum, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, BT53 8PX, Northern Ireland.
It’s about 49 miles (or an hour) from Belfast and about 153 miles (or 3 hours) from Dublin. The Dark Hedges are about 12 miles (or 25 minutes) from the Giant’s Causeway and 9 miles (or 20 minutes) from the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
2. Can You Drive Through the Dark Hedges?
This is a common question, and the answer is no. People live in and around the Dark Hedges, so the road is still ‘open’ (no physical barrier); however, since October 2017, driving the road is against the law. The ban is for Bregagh Road, from Ballinlea Road to Ballykenver Road. While we were there, people did drive their cars down Bregagh Rd. and it was extremely annoying. First, the ban is in place to preserve and protect the beech trees. Second, cars interfere with people walking along the road, trying to take pictures. Please respect the ban and do not drive down Bregagh Rd.
Where to Park
We parked in the Hedges Hotel parking lot, which is the designated parking lot for the Dark Hedges. If you park here I’d recommend patronizing the Hedges Hotel, so stop in and grab a bite to eat.
3. How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Dark Hedges?
Nothing, the attraction is free, although it may not be free forever. We were there in February 2019, and there was a little information shed, and I could see them charging for this attraction in the future.
4. Walking to the Dark Hedges with a Baby or a Toddler
We parked in the Hedges Hotel and from there it’s about a 10-minute walk (with small children). You can get there through two different routes; one way will take you through Gracehill House and a little Fairy Garden (see below), and the other is a road that will bring you out to Ballinlea Rd. Both roads will bring you out to Ballinlea Rd, but walking through the Gracehill House Grounds is the more scenic route.
I’d bring a stroller or at a minimum a baby carrier. It’s not a long walk over to the Hedges, but the Dark Hedges road is a half-mile long (you don’t have to walk the entire thing), so it’s an out-and-back situation.
5. Taking Photos
The biggest obstacles for taking photos is people and potentially cars. Although cars are not permitted on Bregagh Rd. people still drive onto the road. While we were there, no one did this, but as we were leaving several cars drove down and parked on the road.
There is a little dip and also a bend in the road. Use these natural features to help ‘block’ out other people on the road. Also, if you walk to the end of the trees, there are fewer people (another reason to bring the stroller).
6. What Else is There to do at the Dark Hedges?
Visit the Fairy Garden
One of my son’s favorite things about the Dark Hedges was the Fairy Garden. The Fairy Garden is nestled between Gracehill House and the ‘information shed’ at the Hedges Hotel. They’ve taken a little wooded area and created fairy houses out of the tree stumps and kitted it out with ‘fairy’ birdhouses. It’s an adorable Dark Hedges’ feature for babies or toddlers.
Check out the Game of Thrones Door at Gracehill House
In 2016 two beech trees were uprooted by Storm Gertrude, and the wood was used to create ten intricately carved wooden doors inspired by the Game of Thrones. The ten doors are on display at pubs, restaurants, and B&Bs throughout Northern Ireland. One of these doors is on display at Gracehill House.
If you are a big GoT fan, you can download Tourism Ireland’s ‘passport’ to learn more about each door or to go on a scavenger hunt to find them all.
7. Facilities at the Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges is simply a row of trees along a road. On either side of the road is farmland; as such, there are no facilities at the Dark Hedges themselves. You will find bathrooms and baby changing facilities at the Hedges Hotel and Gracehill House. If you have a toddler, I’d recommend putting kiddo in a pull-up and using the bathrooms at the Hedges Hotel before you head out. Ireland doesn’t have ‘shoulder’s on the side of the road like we do in the States; because of that, it’s a lot harder to nature pee with any kind of privacy.
The Hedges Hotel restaurant, the Scullery Bar & Restaurant, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Gracehill House has a restaurant and a bar as well; Gracehill House’s restaurant, the Bell Tower Restaurant, serves lunch and dinner. You can also get afternoon tea, beverages, and snacks.
The Hedges Hotel is a full-service hotel, and although we did not stay there, we did go inside, and it was clean and seemed like a typical hotel.
I was worried that the Dark Hedges would be too boring for my toddler, but he enjoyed the fairy garden, checking out the trees, and the reprieve from the car. Next time you find yourself on the Causeway Coastal Route be sure to stop by the Dark Hedges! A few other fun attractions near the Dark Hedges that you can do with small children are the Giant’s Causeway, the Bushmills Distillery, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and Dunluce Castle.
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