Categories: OutdoorsNature & Wildlife

With over 200km of diverse coastline and a strong maritime history, Northern Ireland is the perfect destination for a relaxing touring holiday. You could easily use our truly beautiful harbours and coastal villages as a loose itinerary for your visit to Northern Ireland because while they share much in common, each offers something unique and different for you to discover and inspire your next short break or weekend getaway. 

Strangford, County Down 

Strangford Lough is the largest sea lough in Britain and Ireland, filled with extraordinary wildlife and beauty. Not only that but right out at the mouth of the lough and where it meets the Irish Sea is the pretty conservation village of Strangford. This is a place of narrrow streets and lanes, town squares and glimpses of the glittering sea between and beyond the beautifully kept homes and businesses. 

Strangford is the perfect stopping-off point for a relaxing lunch or stroll around the harbour. From here you can explore Strangford Lough, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Northern Ireland’s first marine nature reserve. Hop on board the ferry and sail across the lough to Portaferry. Take a tour of Portaferry Castle’s historical grounds, or simply walk along the marina and take in the breathtaking views all round. While you’re in the village, why not drop in for a drink or a bite to eat in The Cuan (4*) or spend a night or two in the well-appointed rooms. 

Rathlin Island, County Antrim 

Home to the largest seabird colony in the United Kingdom, Rathlin is the perfect coastal village to spend some quality time. Board the ferry at Ballycastle - a small, unspoiled seaside town – before disembarking on the island where you can explore its harbour and the many and varied walking trails that it has to offer. 

Rathlin will repay your visit ten-fold, packed as it is with both natural wonders and rich human heritage. Over the years it’s seen many visitors, some of whom have more than left their mark, including the Vikings who made a port where and whose remains and tools have been discovered scattered across the island. Here too, in Church Bay, lies the World War I wreck HMS Drake which was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917 and is today a popular diving mark. Across the island you’ll find a number of lighthouses and their stations to view and snap. 

Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim 

Found at the end of a small winding road along the Causeway Coastal Route, you’ll find Ballintoy Harbour - made famous as a filming location for the Game of Thrones® series. The harbour features secluded bays, rock pools and sandy coves that you can spend time exploring before stopping off at the nearby village of Ballintoy. 

This picture-perfect stop-off point is home to a charming array of shops and restaurants where you can sit back and relax with a refreshing afternoon tea. You can watch the well-kept fishing boats bobbing on crystalline waters, walk out to Ballintoy Church, one of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful, or just drink in the awe-inspiring views along the clifftop walk towards Whitepark. 

If you want to linger longer here – and you will – then Ballintoy House is a beautiful family-run listed Georgian building offering bed and breakfast just a few minutes’ walk up from the harbour itself. 

Carnlough Harbour, County Antrim 

Carnlough Harbour is located at the foothills of Glencoy – one of the nine Glens of Antrim, and on the shores of Carnlough Bay. It’s a small, enclosed harbour that is just brimming with seaside atmosphere as people dangle legs over the quay to eat ice cream and watch the fishing boats and pleasure boats come and go through the narrow harbour mouth. Carnlough is renowned for its super-friendly annual regatta which takes place in May of each year when boats from around the country converge to take part in the Round the Rock Challenge. 

With the Londonderry Arms Hotel (3*) a mere stone’s throw away and Glenarm Forest only one mile from the village, it is the ideal place for a relaxing break by the sea. 

Glenarm Village, County Antrim 

Further along the Causeway Coast in County Antrim, you’ll arrive in the coastal village of Glenarm. Here you can visit Glenarm Castle, ancestral home of the McDonnells, Earls of Antrim. With its glorious walled garden packed full of natural and manmade features, enjoy refreshments in the charming tea-room in the 19th century Mushroom House before setting off to explore this harbour village. 

Glenarm was once an important trading port with Scotland, reflected in its large and sturdy harbour wall and quays which now enclose a fully equipped and popular sailing marina. If you're not staying in a berth in the harbour, land-lubbers are very welcome at the Water’s Edge Guesthouse (5*) overlooking the sea just along from the harbour itself. There’s also a café here, so you can tuck and watch the world and the boats go by. 

Cushendun, County Antrim 

Located on a raised beach at the outflow of the Glendun and Glencorp valleys, you’ll find the pretty village of Cushendun. Originally designed in 1912 by Clough Williams-Ellis who is most famous for also designing the Portmeirion pottery village in Wales, this village of only seven houses is a designated conservation area that is home to charming craft shops and tea rooms. It is here that you’ll find the beloved sculpture of ‘Johann’ the goat – a famous Cushendun resident. 

The Fisherman’s Cottage (3*) is right out at the mouth of the Glendun River and makes for a spectacular overnight experience of splendid isolation with uninterrupted views of the surrounding seas. 

Donaghadee Harbour, County Down 

Home to the first lighthouse built in Ireland in 1836 and the famous lifeboat station which played an important role in rescuing survivors of the MV Princess Victoria in 1953, Donaghadee Harbour boasts a long seafaring history. Popular with anglers and maritime enthusiasts alike, Donaghadee is reputedly home to the oldest pub in Ireland, Grace Neill’s, and boasts spectacular views across the Irish Sea. 

If you’re looking to spend a little more time here, then you won’t a find a more perfectly positioned or named place than Pier 36 (4*), overlooking Donaghadee harbour itself, which enjoys an outstanding reputation as one of Northern Ireland’s finest pub and restaurants. You’ll enjoy spacious nautically themed rooms, with sea views and superb breakfasts. 

Dunseverick Harbour, County Antrim 

A short drive from the historic ruins of Dunseverick Castle you’ll find Dunseverick Harbour. Still in use by local fishermen, the harbour is a pleasant place to stop off on your coastal tour.  Legend has it that Saint Patrick once visited here. It was also the point where many people set off on the emigration trail in the 1800s. Today, the harbour and its surrounds are the perfect picnic stop off point as well as offering a number of walking trails to explore. 

Portbradden Harbour, County Antrim 

Found along the Western end of Whitepark Bay, the tiny village of Portbradden is one of the most picturesque and recognised fishing harbours in Northern Ireland. With nearby caves to explore, walking trails to traverse, and reputedly home to Ireland’s smallest church, it is a must-stop along the Causeway Coast. 

Stop you must, so stop at Portbraddan Cottage (4*), an authentic and atmospheric National Trust self-catering property from where you can hear the sea crash against cliffs and watch the gulls circling the harbour as the trawlermen land their catch. 

There are so many more picture postcard seaside places to enjoy here, including Annalong and Portaferry in County Down, that we could keep going for ages and still not cover them all. The great thing is that, despite the best efforts of our ocean waves, these amazing places aren’t going anywhere and they’ll all be waiting here for you to discover them.