Surf, cycle or hike: go wild on Northern Ireland’s adventure coast

·4-min read

Whether you like to explore on foot, by bike or by water, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast could be the most scenic part of the UK you’ve never visited. Yet its natural attractions and diversity of landscapes make it perfect for anyone with an adventurous heart.

Here we pick a few of Northern Ireland’s outdoor highlights, though the full range of opportunities extend far beyond what’s mentioned. The best advice? Book a week and discover the possibilities for yourself.

Related: Lough Erne to Whiterocks Beach: nine epic Northern Ireland sights – in pictures

Explore by foot
At the tip of Northern Ireland lies its most famous attraction – the Unesco world heritage site of the Giant’s Causeway. And there’s no better way to reach it than on foot, by following an eight-mile section of the Causeway Coast Way. Begin at picturesque Ballintoy Harbour, which Game of Thrones fans will recognise as a setting for the Iron Islands. Then head west along the signed coast path, passing sandy beaches, rock arches and a ruined clifftop castle before finishing at the Giant’s Causeway. The 40,000 interlocking basalt columns provide a fitting finale to one of the best walks in Northern Ireland.

For something completely different, head to nearby Glenariff Forest Park. Set within the celebrated Glens of Antrim, the scenery here transports you to another world. Expect numerous waterfalls, wooden walkways deep within river gorges, and long-distance views along chiselled glacial escarpments. Signed hiking circuits of different lengths mean there’s a route for walkers of all abilities.

Explore by bike
If two wheels are your thing, Rathlin Island offers an outing that will remain etched in your memory for years to come. Lying six miles off the coast, the trip begins with a ferry ride from Ballycastle marina. You’ll need to bring your own bike due to Covid-19 restrictions, but the island can be explored in a few hours. The highlight is the eight-mile return trip to its western tip. Here the land ends in sheer cliffs that are home to both a lighthouse and Northern Ireland’s largest breeding seabird colony. There’s no better way to break your ride than descending to the RSPB viewing platform and, if you’re here at the right time of year – between April and August – watching the antics of hundreds of thousands of nesting birds. Regardless of when you visit, the views remain breathtaking all year round, and the sensual assault of sound and smell makes the trip back to the harbour feel positively peaceful.

Surfers on the East Strand Portrush County Antrim Northern Ireland.
Surfers at Portrush. Photograph: Dermot Blackburn/Alamy

For a longer journey, back on the mainland try the signed cycle route between the Giant’s Causeway and Benone. This 22-mile trip can be completed in either direction, and follows a mixture of public roads and traffic-free paths. The ride takes you through the coastal towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Castlerock, with numerous opportunities to explore sandy beaches or stop for refreshments along the way.

Explore by water
Another great option is to leave the land altogether, and explore the unique coastline from the sea. This is a shore littered with caves, arches, tunnels and cliffs, and the only way to appreciate them fully is from the water.

Sea kayaking is a great option, with several local companies providing all the equipment and guidance you need to begin weaving silently between the headlands. Choose from a half-day or full-day excursion, with incredible coastal scenery interspersed by a snack or lunch in some tucked-away cove along the way.

If you’d prefer to embrace the waves then there’s the chance to try surfing instead – the neighbouring towns of Portrush and Portstewart are the twin meccas for local surfers. Hire a wetsuit and surfboard from the back of the beach, book into a lesson, then hit the waves. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’re guaranteed a great time, with watery thrills and spills all part of the fun.

Something different
Of course the activities mentioned here just scrape the surface of what’s available, and with a little imagination almost anything is possible. How about a catch-and-sea boat trip, where you start by going sea fishing, then return to watch a professional chef prepare your bounty, garnished by other local delicacies?

Or a horse ride, featuring a gentle hack through the glens or an adrenaline-filled canter across the beach? Organised scuba diving, coasteering; it’s all here, with countless options to suit all ages and abilities.

So what’s keeping you away? The Causeway Coast is a goldmine of activities and opportunities, its charms are just waiting to be discovered.

If you’re travelling from within the Common Travel Area (United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands), we’re excited to welcome you back to Northern Ireland! To see the latest information on testing requirements and restrictions, please visit Ireland.com

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