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.

Safety

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.

Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast - World Heritage Site

Along the Causeway Coast there are many designated 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.

Beaches

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. Councils and Visitor Information Centres have information 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 us to bathe in.

Information about water quality monitoring including weekly reports during the bathing water season, visit the following nidirect page:

Clean beaches

To find beaches that are clean and safe, look at the Marine Conservation Society's Good Beach Guide or visit the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful website. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful runs the Blue Flag and Seaside Awards and the Clean Coast Programme.

There are also some private beaches which are closed to the public.

Nature and wildlife

Northern Ireland's coastline is home to various wildlife, from bottlenose dolphins and basking sharks to corals and crustaceans. The sea cliffs and craggy coastal rocks also make ideal nesting sites for gulls and other seabirds. You can also look out for:

  • wading birds along the shoreline
  • intertidal marine life - such as crabs, limpets and small fish in rock pools
  • starfish and jellyfish on beaches
  • seals close to shore

You'll find different wildlife in different coastal areas. Whatever you're looking for, make sure you always leave these important habitats as you found them.

You can find more information about birds on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website. Ulster Wildlife has information about other coastal wildlife.

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.

Respect, protect and enjoy the coastal environment

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

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