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Seven of the best beaches in Northern Ireland to visit this summer

There are several coastal stand-out spots in this section of the Emerald Isle

Chris Wilson
Wednesday 14 June 2023 16:51 BST
A view of Whitepark Bay, a secluded area of the Causeway Coast
A view of Whitepark Bay, a secluded area of the Causeway Coast (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Northern Ireland may be more closely associated with charming cities – such as Belfast or Derry – and natural wonders like the Causeway Coast, but the country also has dozens of pristine, serene beaches to discover.

From well-known seaside resorts to secluded stretches of golden sand, Northern Ireland offers some of the best beaches in the UK to those who want to explore its coast.

With flights from major UK cities – including London, Manchester and Glasgow – and ferries from Liverpool and Cairnryan, getting to the Northern Irish capital has never been easier. From there, the coastal counties of Derry, Antrim and County Down are just a matter of minutes away.

As the temperature rises this summer, there’s never been a better time to explore some of the country’s beaches. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best to help you plan a holiday by the Irish Sea.

Tyrella Beach, County Down

Tyrella Beach at sunset, with the Mourne Mountains in the background (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Located in Downpatrick in the south the country, Tyrella Beach sits in Dundrum Bay, a small enclosed area of beach backed by dunes and overlooked by the Mourne Mountains and the St John’s Point lighthouse on either side. The mile-long stretch is one of the area’s Blue Flag beaches – awarded due to general cleanliness and high water quality – and lies in a conservation area that’s perfect for peaceful walks, water sports or simply admiring the flora and fauna.

Nearby, Downpatrick is reputedly home to the final burial place of St Patrick himself. The town will provide basic amenities (the beach itself only has toilets and nearby parking), but also has a cathedral, church and abbey, as well as the Down County Museum and Saint Patrick Centre for those who might want to learn a little more about the area.

Benone Beach, County Derry

Benone Beach is overlooked by Mussenden Temple (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The longest beach in Northern Ireland, Benone is a seven-mile stretch of sand that reaches from the end of Portstewart Strand to Magilligan Point, with fantastic views over Donegal. Another Blue Flag beach, its golden sands are surrounded by high cliffs and dunes, making the area another particularly scenic area of the coast. It is also an inclusive beach, offering free beach equipment loan schemes that include all-terrain wheelchairs (other facilities include an RNLI Lifeguard Service in July and August, specific zones for activities and food and drink options).

Limavady is the nearest town, roughly 15 minutes away by car (though there are smaller villages closer to Benone). While there isn’t a large variety of things to do here, you’ll find several cafes and pubs to help keep everyone fed and watered after a beach visit.

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Whiterocks Beach, County Antrim

A view of part of Whiterocks Bay (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whiterocks Beach sits near the tip of Portrush, looking out into the Atlantic Ocean and towards the Hebrides. This beach is popular with surfers and other water sports enthusiasts all year round (with board hire available in summer), but is arguably most well-known for its unique natural setting. This section of the coast is backed by lush greenery and vast limestone cliffs that have been eroded to create magnificent rock formations, including Elephant Rock and Lion’s Paw.

While there are toilets and a cafe on the beach, the town of Portrush itself is worthy of a visit as a great Northern Irish seaside resort. In addition to several other beaches, the town has an impressive range of things to do, from small theme parks to walks along sections of the Causeway Coast Way.

Helen’s Bay, County Down

An aerial photo of the beach at Helen’s Bay (Getty Images)

Helen’s Bay itself is a village near Bangor, with a beach, local golf course and the Crawfordsburn County Park (home to woodland areas, fields and footpaths). On the beach, calm and clean waters meet gently sloping sands to provide good, safe swimming opportunities, making it a popular place for swimming clubs and families.

The village itself is small, but is only four miles from Bangor, the newest city in Ireland. While it only received its status last December (as part of the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee civic awards), Bangor has long been a popular seaside resort, with its castle and marina among the main attractions.

Ballycastle Beach, County Antrim

Part of the coast near Ballycastle (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ballycastle is another beach in the north, not far from Portrush and Portstewart. Regarded as a good place for swimming and surfing, it runs from the marina to Pans Rocks, a popular fishing spot around one mile away. Quieter and more accessible than some of the other beaches on this list, it also possesses amazing views out to sea and of Rathlin Island (which can be reached via regular 30-minute ferry journeys).

The town sits east of Portrush, close to the Giant’s Causeway, one of the country’s most-visited sites. While seeing the Causeway is definitely a recommended trip, Ballycastle is also close to Downpatrick Head (a scenic geological site on the Wild Atlantic Way) and part of the Nine Glens of Antrim (a series of valleys). Its charming marina area is an option for relaxing by the water in town.

Whitepark Bay, County Antrim

Whitepark Bay is another gem along the Causeway Coast (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Found in a secluded spot along the Causeway Coast, Whitepark Bay (sometimes written as White Park Bay) is even closer to the Giant’s Causeway than Ballycastle, but offers a welcome retreat from seaside resort towns and swarms of people. Flanked by both steadily rising hills and limestone cliffs – and backed by dozens of ancient dunes – its sweeping white sands stretch for over a mile between Portbradden and Ballintoy, two small fishing villages. Its seclusion means that there are no real facilities, but the payoff is an abundance of peace and tranquility (but beware of swimming due to rip currents).

Both nearby villages are tiny (Bllintoy had a population of 150 people in the 2011 census) but offer spectacular views that would normally be reserved for Caribbean or Mediterranean destinations – Ballintoy’s harbour was even used as a filming location for Game of Thrones’ Lordsport.

Murlough Beach, County Down

Murlough Beach sits at the foot of the Mourne Mountains (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The area around this beach – now named the Murlough Nature Reserve – became Northern Ireland’s first nature reserve in 1967. It is now managed by the National Trust, and today boasts a 6,000-year-old sand dune system and network of paths to add to the four-mile stretch of coastline. Part of the beach is nestled near the foot of the Mourne Mountains, with much of its golden sand overlooked by Slieve Donard, the highest point in Northern Ireland. Water sports and walking are popular here, with the Dundrum Coastal Path among the popular routes.

Newcastle is the nearest town, roughly two miles southwest of the nature reserve. It has its own section of beach, with a promenade and two open air swimming pools if you’d prefer to avoid the waves. For many, the opportunity to visit the Mourne Mountains to try to scale the country’s highest point will be another attractive proposition.

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