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World Travel Guide > Guides > Europe > United Kingdom > Northern Ireland > Ballycastle beaches

About Ballycastle beaches

Northern Ireland has a fiercely beautiful coast, with some of Ireland’s best beaches.

Beach:

Backed by grassy dunes and nestled between glowering cliffs, Ballycastle beach is a popular white-sand stretch. It’s safe to swim here.

Around 11km (6.3 miles) west, is the spectacular White Park Bay beach, sheltered beneath limestone cliffs – a white curve between two headlands on the North Antrim coast. You have to take care when swimming here, as there are rip currents. There are three ancient tombs above the bay, one of which is a dolmen called the Druid’s Altar set on the highest ground. The ancient dune system backing the beach is an area of scientific interest and a haven for birds and other wildlife.

Beyond the beach:

Ballycastle is only 21 sublimely scenic kilometres from the Giant’s Causeway, an extraordinary geological feature and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The hexagonal basalt columns were formed around 60 million years ago, when lava underwent accelerated cooling leading to crystallisation. It’s thought there are over 40,000 of them, which visitors can clamber across like a geological playground. A narrow-gauge steam train runs between the Giant’s Causeway and the famous whiskey brewery at Bushmills (www.bushmills.com), where you can learn about the manufacture of the ‘water of life’.

Family fun:

Ballycastle is a proper old-fashioned coastal town, with a sleepy seafront promenade, small playground and bags of charm. It’s a popular place, but only gets really busy during the Ould Lammas Fair in August, when so many people descend that it’s difficult to move in the streets. If you’re here at this time, must-eats are dulse, a kind of dried seaweed, and yellowman, a crumbly, bubbly Irish toffee.

You can take a ferry trip to Rathlin Island, 9.5km (6 miles) offshore, home to a terrific, well-run bird sanctuary, with hundreds of seabirds, including puffins. For other trips head along the coast to Carrick-a-Rede, where a not-for-the-fainthearted rope bridge, swaying over a 30m (98ft) chasm, connects the coast to a rocky island.

There are also some adventurous and wonderful coastal walks near Ballycastle, especially around Fairhead, the rocky headland that looms to the east of town. It’s a prime spot for rock climbing, with some exciting climbs for the more experienced adventurists.

Exploring further:

Saddle up and cycle from Ballycastle to Cushendun ob the Causeway Coastal Route. The ride offers spectacular scenery as well as some notable points of interest along the way such as ancient ruins at Torr Head as well as staggering views over the Mull of Kintyre.

Splashing out:

Take a spectacular sea fishing trip or just a tour along the coast with charming Ballycastle Charters. They offer full day and evening boat trips, and supply rod and tackle.