The Best Beaches in Northern Ireland

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With a wild Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the Irish Sea on another, it’s natural that Northern Ireland is home to some of the best and most spectacular beaches in Europe. The naturally stunning formations of the coastline provide long stretches of golden sand and impressive sand dunes, with a backdrop of mountains, cliffs, caves and even temples. Every beach is different, and every beach offers something different, but on all of them you’ll find that same Northern Ireland sense of inspiration and exhilaration.

Benone Beach, County Derry-Londonderry

With seven miles of sandy shoreline from Downhill to where it meets Magilligan Point, Benone Beach forms part of one of Ireland’s longest beaches and one of the best beaches in Northern Ireland. This Blue Flag beach is a firm favourite throughout the year for families, activity enthusiasts and those looking for a leisurely stroll. On a clear day visitors can take in the great views of Binevenagh Mountain whilst exploring the sand dunes.

All this wide open space and gentle sea breezes makes it ideal kite-flying country, for young and old alike. So if you’re entertaining kids or entertaining your child-like self this is the place to fly those colourful kites as high as you like.

West Strand, Portrush, County Antrim

West Strand Beach is flanked on either side by the busy harbour port of Portrush and a pedestrian and cycle promenade which follows the coastline. With shops, amusements and restaurants nearby, this Blue Flag beach resort is a family favourite throughout the holidays.

If it’s surfing you’re after, you’re certainly in the right place here. Pull on a wetsuit and learn how to surf, body board or stand up paddle board at one of Northern Ireland’s great surf schools, such as Portrush Surf School which you’ll find at Portrush Yacht Club, or the legendary Troggs surf shop and school. After a day of adrenaline-fuelled fun you’ll need to chill out and eat and you’re spoiled for choice here, so check out The Quays, Kiwi’s Brew Bar and Ocho Tapas for light bites and brews.

Ballintoy Harbour Beach, County Antrim

Game of Thrones® fans will recognise Ballintoy Harbour as the filming location for Pyke and the Iron Islands. Known as the ‘raised beach’, it sits near Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

Found at the end of a small winding road, Ballintoy Harbour Beach features secluded bays, rock pools and sandy coves that you can spend time exploring before stopping off at the nearby village of Ballintoy. This picture-perfect stop-off point is home to a charming array of shops and restaurants where you can sit back and relax with a refreshing afternoon tea. You’ll find Roark’s Kitchen right on the harbour and a little away from the harbour is the ever-popular Red Door Cottage Tea Room & Bistro.

Castlerock Beach, County Derry-Londonderry

A Blue Flag beach, Castlerock is a 1km (0.7 mile) long stretch of beach between the sea cliffs of Downhill to the west and the Lower River Bann estuary known as the Barmouth to the east. The beach and dunes are designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

This is one of these everything goes beaches where people from all walks of life come together to swim, surf, bodyboard, paddleboard, walk, build sandcastles, sunbathe and even pony trek on the clear sands.

Downhill Beach, County Derry-Londonderry

Downhill Beach is situated within the Bineveagh area of outstanding natural beauty and is set against a backdrop of cascading waterfalls, towering sand dunes and the stunning Mussenden Temple. Downhill - part of an 11km stretch of sand and surf – offers a wealth of activities including water sports, scenic walks and family-friendly facilities, making this Blue Flag beach an ideal place to explore.

If you really want to immerse yourself in the beachside experience, then this is the place for a long barefoot walk as the waves tickle your ankles and seabirds call out from the cliffs above. A dawn walk here will have the sun rising over the cupola of Mussenden Temple behind you. With the walk done, make for The Point Bar and Restaurant to replenish the energy levels, or venture a little further to Frank Owens Bar in Limavady and catch one of the iconic Doors of Thrones while you’re at it.

Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island is the most northerly inhabited island off the Irish coast and is one of Northern Ireland’s Special Areas of Conservation due to its large bird colony. From its sandy shoreline, visitors are rewarded with breath-taking views of the Causeway Coast and can enjoy many of the walks the Island has to offer. With accommodation available on the Island, April to July is a great time to visit as it’s puffin season: so don’t miss the opportunity to see them along with lots of other sea birds.

Rathlin Island can be reached by ferry from the pretty harbour town of Ballycastle, worth a few hours in its own right as there is plenty of interest here, not least watching out for the goats that roam the flanks of Fair Head beyond the harbour mouth. From Ballycastle, a cycle trail will bring you eventually to the quaint village of Cushendun. Originally designed in 1912 as a village of only seven houses, this designated conservation area is home to charming craft shops and tea rooms. It is here that you’ll find the beloved sculpture of ‘Johann’ the goat – a famous Cushendun resident.

Ballycastle Beach, County Antrim

You’ll also find Ballycastle beach backing onto Ballycastle Golf Club, five minutes from the town centre. Approximately 1.2 kilometres in length, the beach is predominantly sand with some shingle and has a promenade at the western end.

Portrush Whiterocks, County Antrim

Stunning limestone cliffs and recognisable headlands such as the Wishing Arch, Elephant Rock and the Lion’s Paw have made Portrush Whiterocks Beach a must-see destination for local and international visitors. With its amazing waves, this Blue Flag beach is a regular hotspot for surfers and bodyboarders riding the surf.

It really is an everything beach for everyone – sandcastle builders, wave-riders, dog walkers, sun-bathers and sand-walkers.

Portstewart Strand, County Antrim

Maintained by the National Trust, Portstewart Strand is an area of stunning natural beauty and of scientific interest. It holds the prestigious Blue Flag award and is perfect for family fun holidays and picnics. It is also a favourite for visitors wishing to take part in activities such as surfing, swimming and horse riding. (parking available, National Trust charges apply).

Make a meal out of this full-on beach experience by heading for Harry’s Shack for a bite or two. The sand from your shoes will sprinkle beneath the table as you eat. With breath-taking sea views, this cool and laidback beach side eatery majors on locally caught fresh fish and produce from the owner’s farm.

Tyrella Beach, County Down

The award-winning Tyrella beach and dune conservation area is a small, enclosed complex within Dundrum Bay, Downpatrick, County Down. It is a wide, flat, sandy beach two kilometres long and backed by 25 hectares of mature dunes. Awarded the prestigious Seaside Award annually since 1997, it has also maintained the Blue Flag award since 2011.

Cranfield Beach, County Down

Popular with family and water sport enthusiasts alike, Cranfield beach can be found in an idyllic location at the mouth of Carlingford Lough. With the majestic Mourne Mountains offering a dramatic backdrop, it is a picture perfect beach and was awarded Blue Flag status again in 2016.

Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

Murlough National Nature Reserve is a fragile 6,000 year old sand dune system owned by the National Trust and is an excellent area for walking and birdwatching due to its spectacular location at the edge of Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains. With its shingle beach and four mile Blue Flag strand, there are nature trails to explore, activities for kids, and wildlife to discover.

You’ll get a different perspective on the coast and wildlife around here if you take a RIB ride with Strangford Sea Safari just up the road from Murlough. You can get up close to the seals and, if you’re lucky, porpoises and dolphins. If you’re very, very lucky you might even see the visiting pod of Orcas that chase bait fish into the lough.

Back on dry land, the pretty conservation village of Strangford is the perfect stop-off point for a relaxing lunch or stroll around the harbour. From here you can explore Strangford Lough, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Northern Ireland’s first marine nature reserve. Hop on board the ferry and sail across the lough to Portaferry. Take a tour of Portaferry Castle’s historical grounds, or simply walk along the marina and take in the views all round.

As you can see, there’s a beach for everyone and everything here in Northern Ireland – and this is only a handful - each offering a unique perspective on our spectacular seascapes and the adventures to be had here.

Content sourced from Discover Northern Ireland (https://discovernorthernireland.com/)

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