The best beaches in Northern Ireland are situated by picturesque conservation villages, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and ancient sand dune systems. Wildlife watchers can look out for rare flora and marine creatures like puffins, dolphins and even orcas. Families can sunbathe on award-winning sandy stretches while surfers take to the ocean. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love exploring castle ruins and historic religious monuments.

    Whether you want to learn about the local culture, marvel at some of the best natural views in the UK or enjoy water sports ranging from jet skiing to kite surfing, there’s a beach in Northern Ireland for you.

    1

    West Strand Beach

    Learn how to surf before hitting the amusements

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    Located by the seaside resort of Portrush, West Strand Beach is flanked by a harbour to the north and a promenade to the east. During summer, this beach becomes one of the UK’s most popular surfing destinations, home to many of Northern Ireland’s oldest surf schools. Outside summer, dog walking, horse riding and navigating coastal trails are popular activities.

    If you’re an experienced surfer, head to West Strand Beach in winter when the best waves hit, but remember to wear a full-body swimsuit for protection from the cold waters. July and August are the best months to visit with the family, when all the nearby amusements and arcades are in full swing, and professional lifeguards boost safety for swimmers and surfers of all experience levels.

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    2

    Ballintoy Harbour Beach

    Visit one of the most recognisable settings from Game of Thrones

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    Ballintoy Harbour Beach is characterised by rugged cliff faces and a dramatic ocean landscape. The small mountainous islands that lie just off the coast featured as the Iron Islands in the hit series, Game of Thrones. While you admire the natural views of Ballintoy Harbour, you can look out for colourful butterflies, seabirds and even dolphins if you’re lucky.

    After a day at this quiet beach, head to the nearby town of Ballintoy, where you’ll find shops, cafes, restaurants and landmarks such as the Ballintoy Church, which has a unique Latin appearance. If you want to see more natural wonders, visit the UNESCO-protected Giant’s Causeway, a formation of around 40,000 basalt rocks located about 15 mins from Ballintoy by car.

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    3

    Benone Beach

    Top up your tan on one of Northern Ireland’s longest beaches

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    With a golden stretch of sand spanning around 7 miles, Benone Beach is one of the longest beaches in Northern Ireland. Windy weather conditions make this beach a popular spot for kiting and watersports, though its clean, rock-free waters make for a leisurely swim, especially when lifeguards are on duty over summer and on public holidays.

    Nature lovers often navigate the boardwalks that cross the nearby protected sand dunes. Look out for wildlife such as birds, seals and porpoises. On a clear day, you can admire views of the Binevenagh Mountain, the stunning scenery of Donegal and the coast of Scotland. There’s also a supervised playground and outdoor paddling pool for the kids.

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    4

    Castlerock Beach

    Navigate diverse landscapes from sand dunes to cliffside trails

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    Bound by the Lower River Bann estuary to the east and the cliffs of Downhill to the west, Castlerock Beach is popular with families, water sports enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its stunning scenery, ancient dunes and nature reserves, Castlerock Beach has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Special Scientific Interest.

    Don’t forget to check out the clifftop Mussenden Temple and nearby Downhill Castle. These 18th-century structures offer panoramic views over the village of Castlerock and the surrounding natural vistas. Head into the village to find restaurants, shops and Hazlett House, a 17th-century thatched cottage which is believed to be one of the oldest in Northern Ireland.

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    5

    Downhill Beach

    See the waterfalls in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

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    Located in the Bineveagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Downhill Beach is backdropped by sand dunes, cascading waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. Popular activities at this Blue Flag beach include water sports like jet skiing, canoeing and kite surfing, but its 7-mile stretch of sand and calm waves make it an ideal spot for paddling, sunbathing and angling.

    Head down to the beach early to watch the sunrise over the Mussenden Temple, or visit the Ulster Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve to see birds, insects and rare plant species that live in the undisturbed dune system. Find a spot to the east of the beach to watch trains zooming out of the Tunnel Brae, which runs through the cliffs. Parking on the beach is permitted year-round.

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    6

    Rathlin Island

    Watch out for bird colonies while traversing the island’s trails

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    The L-shaped Rathlin Island is the northernmost point of Northern Ireland, where you can admire sweeping views of the Causeway Coast on the mainland. This Special Area of Conservation is famous for its large bird colony, which includes puffins that migrate here from April to July. Besides its beaches, the natural beauty of Rathlin Island is exemplified by impressive cliffs, some of which ascend as high as 230 ft.

    For a day of adventure, hike the trails and bridges that stretch between the cliffs, or navigate the shore along Mill Bay to see seals and seabirds. Head to the Boathouse Visitor Centre to learn about the island’s famous shipwrecks and rich history. You can reach the island by ferry from Ballycastle Ferry Terminal, which is just 6 miles away.

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    7

    Whiterocks Beach

    Explore a labyrinth of caves hidden within limestone cliffs

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    Locally known as The White Rocks, Whiterocks Beach is famous for its dramatic white limestone cliffs and the labyrinth of arches and caves that have been carved into them over centuries. Its impressive waves make it a hotspot for surfers and bodyboarders, but sunbathers will appreciate the beauty and cleanliness of the 3-mile-long Blue Flag beach.

    A lifeguard service operates at Whiterocks Beach, making it a suitable seaside destination for the family. Activities such as horse riding and dog walking are restricted in July and August, but these are the best months to learn how to surf at nearby schools such as Troggs Surf School. The closest town, Portrush, is home to restaurants, shops and entertainment venues such as Barry’s Amusements.

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    8

    Murlough National Nature Reserve

    Go wildlife watching in a beautiful conservation area

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    Situated on the coast of County Down, the Murlough National Nature Reserve includes a 6,000-year-old dune system, a shingle beach and a 4-mile Blue Flag sandy stretch, with spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains and Dundrum Bay. In addition to being a hiking hotspot, the reserve is a mecca for wildlife watchers. If you’re lucky, you might see seals, porpoises, dolphins or even orcas.

    Head to the nearby conservation village of Strangford to explore the harbour, Northern Ireland’s first marine nature reserve, and the Strangford Lough, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you want to learn about the region’s heritage, take the ferry across the lough to Portaferry, where you can admire the historical grounds of the 16th-century Portaferry Castle.

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    9

    Tyrella Beach

    Water sports, mountain views and ancient dunes

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    Tyrella Beach is a wide sandy beach spanning over a mile in length, backdropped by the Mourne Mountains and about 25 ha of sand dunes that form the Dundrum Bay conservation area. During summer, the car-free beach is popular with families, surfers and water sports enthusiasts. Year-round, the dunes attract wildlife watchers searching for rare flora and fauna.

    Tyrella Beach is about 5 miles from the village of Clough, where you can explore the ruins of a 12th-century Anglo-Norman castle that sits on top of a 25-ft-high motte. About 3 miles from Clough is the pretty village of Dundrum, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and shops. Head to Dundrum Bay in time for sunset for magnificent views.

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    zdjęcie: Keith Ruffles (CC BY 3.0) zostało poddane edycji

    10

    Cushendun Beach

    Discover castle ruins and caves in this prime fishing destination

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    Cushendun Beach is hidden in a bay by the picturesque village of Cushendun, offering views over the beautiful Mull of Kintyre on a clear day. It attracts history buffs looking to explore the 14th-century Carra Castle Ruins and the nearby Bronze-Age standing stones. If you’re a fan of fantasy, head to the spectacular Red Caves, which was as a filming location in Game of Thrones.

    Popular activities include water sports, sunbathing and sightseeing, but be aware that there is no lifeguard service in operation, and dog walking restrictions are in place during summer. When you’re feeling peckish, grab a cup of tea and a bite at The Corner House, a traditional tearoom maintained by the National Trust.

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    Joshua Saunders | Autor

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