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Being an island, Northern Ireland has a host of beautiful beaches. Most beaches in Northern Ireland are on the North Coast, along with a number of iconic landmarks like the Giants Causeway.
Best Beaches in Northern Ireland
Several beaches in Northern Ireland were used as a filming location for Game of Thrones due to the dramatic landscapes.
While Northern Ireland doesn’t always have the weather to sunbathe, the beaches offer breathtaking beauty. Whether you want to relax with a picnic and enjoy listening to the waves, or you want to get your adrenalin pumping with water sports, there is something for you in Northern Ireland.
Downhill Strand Beach in Northern Ireland
Downhill Strand is a Blue Flag Award Beach stretching 11-kilometers. The golden sands reach out to the Atlantic Ocean. Boulders are strewn throughout the beach, with little rock pools forming in their indents.
Alcoves have been carved out of the cliffs. A railway line runs behind the beach through a natural rock arch. The only sound disturbing the peace is the chugging of the train along its tracks.
It is unique in that cars are permitted all year on the beach but be careful as the tide can come in quick enough, and you could find yourself stuck in wet sand.
Benone Beach in Northern Ireland
Downhill Beach and dunes merge with two other beaches, Benone and Magilligan. One runs into the other along the North Coast, and they are an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
You can stroll across the vast expanse of sand, enjoying the view, or take part in some activities, including surfing, fishing or swimming. You need to be brave to dip a toe in these waters as they are icy cold even when the sun is shining.
Northern Ireland’s Mussenden Temple
Situated impressively at the cliff edge above the beach is Mussenden Temple. The National Trust now owns part of the Downhill Demesne. Mussenden Temple is an iconic structure and can be found on many postcards from Northern Ireland. It is perched on the edge of the cliff, 120 feet high.
Inspired by a temple in Rome, it was built in 1785 to be a summer library. The view is spectacular. The beach lies below, and the Atlantic Ocean stretches to the horizon.
The temple itself has a dome roof and through the doors is a single circular room with red brick walls and large windows that peer over the edge of the cliff. When darkness creeps in, in certain weather conditions, the greens and pinks of the Aurora borealis can be seen strewn across the sky.
Benone beach is joined with Downhill and is also a European Blue Flag Award beach. The beach is seven miles long with views of Benevenagh mountain.
Magilligan is also joined with Downhill and Benone and is a historic and conservational area.
The Martello Tower sits intimidatingly amongst the dunes. Built in 1812 during the Napoleonic wars. It is a Special Area of Conservation and an Area of Special Scientific Interest.
The beach stretches twenty miles with tall grass edging the sand dunes. From Magilligan Point, you can take a ferry to Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland.
Downhill Beach is right in the middle of all the iconic landmarks across the North Coast, including the Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and Dunluce Castle, so there is plenty in the area to explore.
Ballycastle Beach, Northern Ireland
Another beach on the North Coast worth a visit is Ballycastle Beach. It is 1.2-kilometers of sand and shingle. Take the bridge over the river and walk along the beach, finding beautifully colored shells as you go.
Dogs are allowed off-leash and you can watch them splash around in the foamy waves after a game of ball. A gold sandy course stretches behind it with its luscious green lawns.
The town of Ballycastle sits behind the beach and is a popular seaside town with hotels that offer spa treatments like seaweed wraps. There are plenty of places to eat with chip shops, ice cream shops, or decadent pastries from the Ursa Minor bakery.
A marina sits at the other end of the town where you can hire a boat and stay the night. Have a go driving it around the scenic coast, with the captain keeping a watchful eye, towards Rathlin Island. To visit Rathlin Island, you can take the ferry from the marina. It is known for its bright beaked puffins clinging to the cliffs.
Bonamargy Friary isn’t far from the beach. It is a peaceful walk around the ruins of an altar, church and lopsided ancient headstones. A sealed burial fault is the resting place of an Irish Chieftain.
Waterfoot on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland
Waterfoot beach is situated in a bay at the bottom of Glenariff Forest. It is on the east coast on the Causeway Coastal Route. The soft sand stretches for one kilometer with the dunes alongside it. It doesn’t have many visitors.
It is a tranquil spot to listen to the waves glide across the sand and view the mountains rising behind you. You can find picnic benches amid the meadows of wildflowers surrounding the beach. Ducks and swans roam around the car park and grassy areas taking no notice of passers-by.
The beach is located in the quaint village of Waterfoot. A one-street village with a shop, chippy and bar. It doesn’t take long to reach Glenariff Forest Park, situated behind the beach. It is a National Nature Reserve of 1,000 hectares of woodland and waterfalls.
It is hilly in parts but has stunning views across the Antrim Glens. There are several cascading waterfalls, where little rainbows arch over the water as it crashes into the rocks below.
Be sure to visit all the best sights on the Causeway route, like the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Dark Hedges.
Northeast Ireland Coastal Village of Cushendun
Cushendun is a quaint village on the northeast coast. The landowner came from Penzance and the white-washed buildings are a reminiscence of Cornish villages.
The beach sits in a curving bay with views across to the Mull of Kintyre, just twenty miles away. It is such a peaceful place; it refreshing to just stroll along the beach and admire the buildings.
At the end of the beach, a stone bridge leads across a river to the local hotel and bar, with a goat tied up on the grass verge having a munch. The Cushendun caves are just around the corner with red walls.
If you fancy a more challenging walk, you can traverse the hill up to Castle Cara, just outside of the town. A 14th-century tower lies in ruins, overlooking Cushendun.
See more activities in Cushendun.
Northern Ireland: Crawfordsburn Country Park
On the east coast in County Down, Crawfordsburn County Park includes two beaches. It lies between the towns of Bangor and Holywood (pronounced Hollywood, slightly less glitzy than the American one).
From the coastal path, there are views across Belfast Lough as ferries steam across the water. The beaches are perfectly situated for a panoramic view and yet it feels secluded with the woodland edging the beach.
It is a popular spot that can get crowded on nice days. Nearby are the geology garden, visitor center and café. Walk the undulating path through woodland with the sea on one side. Roaming through the forest will take you to the waterfall as it roars across the stones and into a river.
The Most Famous Cows of Northern Ireland in Whitepark Bay
Situated on the North Coast, Whitepark Bay is another National Trust Beach.
Start above the beach and stroll along the path that winds down past a white-washed house sitting desolately in the dunes. The sweeping bay has little white cottages on one side and white cliffs.
Make sure to pack some layers in case the coastal winds pick up! SCOTTeVEST has the best layers for traveling, from fleeces to windbreakers, all equipped with over 10 concealed pockets so you can keep all your travel essentials handy. Check out their selection here.
Murlough National Nature Reserve
You might have to pay to get into Murlough National Nature Reserve in Ireland because of the conservation work the National Trust does here. It is worth every penny.
A wooden boardwalk winds through the high dunes and grasses leading to the beach. Once you get past the dunes, the beach opens up and the Mourne Mountains tower to the right.
Paths wind through the woodland and butterflies flutter past to land on branches. The trees are windswept to one side in this open and rugged terrain.
While Northern Ireland doesn’t strike you as being a place with golden sanded beaches because of its weather, it has some of the most picturesque beaches you will find. They’re so beautiful the weather won’t be able to spoil it.
Book This Trip
Ready to plan a different kind of beach vacation to Northern Ireland? Find the important information for your trip, like hotel or VRBO options, restaurants along the coasts and must-see local attractions on TripAdvisor and Travelocity. When you’re ready to book, check out Kiwi for exclusive airline deals to Northern Ireland and nearby places in Europe.
Author Bio: Since she lives in Northern Ireland, Rebecca Boyle tries to go somewhere sunny as much as possible. She is a qualified Journalist and trained chef who writes on everything from travel to politics, all while holding down a 9-5 job.