Northern Ireland is, at heart, a maritime nation. You’re never more than a few hours’ drive from the sea, and with the Irish Sea in one direction and the North Atlantic Ocean in the other, there’s plenty of amazing coastal scenery on offer.
The cold waters and often tempestuous weather might not be the best beach environment, but if you’re in the market for a great coastal walk, Northern Ireland offers dozens.
This stretch of golden beach and rising cliffs runs for 7mi (11km) between Magilligan Point and Downhill, where the 18th-century Mussenden Temple overlooks the sea, as well as the nearby remains of a Georgian house. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognise the area as the site where the Dragonstone scenes were shot; it’s only 45 minutes by car from Derry, or 1hr 15 minutes from Belfast.
When thinking of white cliffs, Dover is usually the obvious place, but Northern Ireland has its own chalky rises, and you can spend quality time walking the aptly named Whiterocks beach. Starting from the town of Portrush, an hour by car from Derry, it’s a relatively short walk at 3mi (4.8km) end to end, but the views are nothing short of incredible, and on a clear day you get a great view of the ruins of Dunluce Castle.
Killard is a small but colourful patch of coastline that will appeal to nature lovers in particular. You can see the Isle of Man from the vantage it offers, and the cliffside is home to various nesting birds, as well as blooms of orchids and other rare flowers. The reserve sits at the mouth of Strangford Lough, an hour by car from Belfast. The walk itself is just under 1½mi (2.4km), so nothing too arduous, but there’s plenty of scenery to stop and gawk at along the way.
If you’re minded towards a more secluded, solitary experience, White Park Bay is ideal. Equidistant from both Belfast and Derry (an hour by car) on the northern tip of the country, it sees fewer visitors than many of the better-known coastal walks. That’s all part of the charm, though, as it’s one of the oldest and best preserved natural beaches in the British Isles, which also makes it a great destination for fossil hunters.
Rathlin is the only offshore island with a local population, and at a mere 5sqmi (13sqkm), you can easily get around it in a day. Between April and July, the RSPB bird sanctuary brims with thousands of puffins, razorbills, guillemots and other incredible species. The ferry leaves from the town of Ballycastle, which itself can be reached from Belfast in an hour by car.
This National Trust site offers a great view of the Copeland Islands and the lighthouse there. As well as this, evidence of early settlers including Vikings can be seen along the route, as well as artefacts from World War II. As an added bonus, Orlock Point is just a 30-minute drive from Belfast, and a great route to take to visit the historic town of Donaghadee.