Coasts and beaches
Along the Northern Ireland coastline there is so much to explore, see and do. You can walk along coastal footpaths, picnic on a beach, paddle in the shallows or search for marine life in rock pools.
Find beaches to visit
You can search for beaches that are clean and safe at the Good Beach Guide.
There are also some private beaches which are closed to the public.
Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful run the Blue Flag, Seaside and Green Coast Awards. Visit their website to see where the award winning beaches are:
Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast - World Heritage Site
Along the Causeway Coast there are many geology, flora and fauna sites. A coastal path links the World Heritage Site with other interesting places such as Dunluce Castle and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. When you finish your coastal walk, you can take the train near the Giant's Causeway to Bushmills.
Northern Ireland has many stretches of beautiful coastline - from Newcastle to Portstewart and beyond. About 70 per cent of the coastline is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The National Trust website has information about the Giant's Causeway and other places to visit in Northern Ireland.
Many beaches in Northern Ireland are open for public use. You can visit these beaches at all times, although certain activities such as camping, driving or lighting fires may be restricted.
Local councils and visitor information centres have details about beaches in their areas.
Bathing water quality
Northern Ireland’s bathing season begins on 1 June and ends on 15 September each year.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is responsible for monitoring and making sure that coastal waters are of high enough quality for people to bathe in.
For information about water quality monitoring, including weekly reports during the bathing water season, visit the following page:
Nature and wildlife
Northern Ireland's coastline supports a variety of marine wildlife and habitats. These include bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks, mudflats, mussel and worm reefs, sea cliffs and craggy coastal rocks which are ideal nesting sites for gulls and other seabirds. You can also look out for:
- wading birds along the shoreline
- intertidal* marine life - such as seagrass, crabs, limpets and small fish in rock pools
- starfish and jellyfish on beaches
- seals close to shore
* When the seashore is covered at high tide and uncovered at low tide.
Most of the sea life is unseen and includes animals such as sponges, corals, octopus, scallops.
You can find more information about seabirds on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website.
Ulster Wildlife has information about other coastal wildlife.
A number of species and habitats are recognised as internationally important and most of the coastline in Northern Ireland is protected for its special interest. Whatever you're looking for, always leave these important habitats as you found them.
More information on Marine Protected Areas and species, as well as marine wildlife licensing, can be found on the following pages of the DAERA website.
Report wildlife sightings online
In Northern Ireland, the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) collates wildlife records for both native and non-native species.
You can record your sightings on its website either as a single record event or you can register with them and send in details through a free online account.
Many beaches in Northern Ireland offer a pleasant outdoor environment for activities, daytrips and holidays. Stay safe when visiting coastal areas.
To make sure you're safe by the sea, follow advice from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).
Always check the weather forecast before setting out.
Respect, protect and enjoy the coast
The coastline is important to people and wildlife. It is a natural resource to be enjoyed and conserved.
Help keep the coast clean and safe for other visitors and for the plants and animals which depend on it for survival.
The Countryside Code gives you advice on how to do this - some key tips are:
- be safe, plan ahead, and follow signs and waymarks
- let others know where you are going and when you expect to return
- protect plants and animals and take your litter home with you
- treat rock pools with care , many species live in rock pools
- keep dogs under close control, and clean up after your pet
- leave gates and property as you find them
Consider other people, especially when driving through narrow coastal lanes. If possible travel by bike or public transport.
When you are at the coast, it is important to:
- swim only in areas that are safe for bathers
- keep bathing water clean by using public toilets instead of the sea
- check the high tide times to make sure you are not stranded by rising waters