Northern Ireland has more than 200 miles of coastline, facing towards England and Scotland in the east, and out to the Atlantic in the north. While it might be better known for stunning cliffside views and the Giant’s Causeway, there are plenty of beaches, too – stunning stretches of sand, pebbles and inviting sea, providing plenty of appeal for sunbathers, swimmers and surfers.
Sometimes the most difficult thing about a day at the beach is finding a nice, secluded spot to set everything up. At Benone Strand, you’re unlikely to run into this issue. The sandy beach stretches for seven miles (11km) and has the coveted Blue Flag status for safety, hygiene and general upkeep. Facing the Atlantic and sitting in the shadow of Mussenden Temple, you can drive there from Derry-Londonderry in under an hour.
The village of Cushenden is as much of a worthwhile visit as the beach it backs onto. Located along the Causeway Coastal Route, just over an hour out of Belfast, the village itself was designed to look Cornish, and by the same architect who designed Portmeirion in Wales. The beach itself is a small, curious cove of pebble, with a few caves dotted around that were once used as filming locations for Game of Thrones.
Another spot that will appeal to Game of Thrones fans, Ballintoy was the site where the Iron Islands were filmed. Ballintoy itself takes just over an hour to reach from Derry-Londonderry or 90 minutes from Belfast, and from there a narrow, winding country road will take you to the coast. Once there, though, you’re in for a real treat, as you’ll see the ancient Ballintoy church overlooking the sea, and a secluded beach framed by tall cliffs on all sides.
Crawfordsburn Beach is part of a wide-ranging country park, which means that the sandy shore is mere yards away from some amazing woodland walks, for those so inclined. The beach itself is just 20 minutes from Belfast by car – you can even see the ships coming in. For this reason, though, it gets fairly busy in the summer.
Another Blue Flag beach, Whiterocks is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Northern Ireland and will also appeal to the explorer types, with a network of caves cut into the limestone cliffs that run along it. Whiterocks is just outside the coastal town of Portrush, around an hour’s drive from Derry-Londonderry. The nearby town means that you won’t struggle to find places to eat after a good day’s beaching.
For those after something a bit more remote, Tyrella Beach is ideal. It sits in the shadow of rolling hills, and is a car-free zone, so visitors should expect a bit of a trek after the 50-minute drive from Belfast. The seclusion makes it popular with surfers and swimmers alike, and nature enthusiasts will be able to spot a litany of birds and wildflowers along the 2km (1.2mi) stretch.