What better way to enjoy Northern Ireland in the sunshine than with a trip to Ballycastle: build a sand castle, soak up those rays and take in all the heritage this town has to offer. A popular tourist destination, food lovers and heritage fanatics will find a wealth of things to see, do and taste in Ballycastle from Kodak moments with the now infamous Children of Lir public art, to making all sorts of inventive sandcastles and tunnels on Ballycastle Beach and experiencing the ‘catch of the day’ in Morton’s fish and chip shop.
Central to the whole North Coast experience, Ballycastle is a small lively town just brimming with bars and restaurants and ways to enjoy your time. Situated in an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ on the North Antrim Coast this town is the ideal place to stay and discover the whole of the Causeway Coast & Glens and the majestic road trip of the Causeway Coastal Route.
We decided a great way to introduce ourselves to Ballycastle was to follow the Ballycastle Town Heritage Trail with the help of fantasy characters Princess Taisie and Dusty Rhodes. They helped us discover some of Ballycastle’s secret places and told us stories from Ballycastle’s past including tales at Marine Corner where the sea brought invaders from the Stone Age and we also enjoyed taking a stroll along the riverside walk. You can pick up your smartphone virtual trail guide and leaflet at the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) now situated at Ballycastle Marina – perfect for children and adults!
We had worked up such an appetite with all that walking so we stopped into the newly renovated Marine Hotel for some lunch. Situated along the seafront, this hotel has just recently re-opened and with the tourist season now upon us, is experiencing a boom in bookings. Featuring 31 rooms, a Costa coffee shop which is perfect for a mid morning break and a homemade slice of delicious cake, Marconi’s restaurantand an events space for weddings and conferences, we were very excited to try something new and fresh and it certainly did not disappoint. Marconi’s restaurant has exclusive views of Ballycastle beach and pier and boasts a menu full of locally sourced produce. We eagerly chose white onion and celery soup with home made treacle wheaten bread and I decided to experiment by trying dulse butter. The soup was both mouth watering and fresh and the homemade treacle wheaten bread was moist and delicious and I surprisingly adored the dulse butter which was a perfect addition to a beautiful lunch.
Top Tip: Stay the night from just £79.00 per room per night B&B – what a bargain!
Next on to Ballycastle beach, just a 2 minute walk away and boy we couldn’t wait to get on it. This is simply a haven for beach lovers, families and couples alike and is literally a water seekers paradise. With the wind in our backs we walked along the beach listening to the wave’s crashing against the rocks and experienced nature at its finest hour. Just beside the beach there is a children’s play park where children can get lost on the magical ship wreck and adventure playground and pose for a picture of the flying swans from Children of Lir. The cherry on top was the mouth watering ice cream we bought from Maud’s just across the road – what a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Top Tip: For all you camera lovers we found the perfect angle to take a picture of the swans was from underneath – have fun!
The beauty about Ballycastle is not only in its landscape but that everything in Ballycastle is within walking distance. For the ultimate outdoor experience take the short walk to Ballycastle Marina and join the guys from Aquaholics to explore Northern Ireland’s coastline from the sea. The Aquaholics sea safari runs from Portstewart and Ballycastle and covers the whole of the North Coast, the Giant’s Causeway, Rathlin Island, Malin Head and the Scottish Isles and quite frankly it is a hard one to beat!
Top Tip: For water lovers you can also join the North Coast sea kayak trail in Ballycastle. This 70 nautical mile route around Ireland’s north-east corner offers varieties of rugged scenery and wildlife that are unique and the best about it is there is something for all kayaking abilities.
Next we went searching for some local delicacies: Dulse and yellow man!! The locals were so friendly and eager to help and encouragingly pointed us in the direction of our now favourite sweet shop in the whole world; The Sweetie Jar, where we discovered all sorts of local treats including scrumptious yellow man, dulse and Bonamargy Chocolates. I was intrigued to see that each chocolate is named after many of our must see visitor attractions in Northern Ireland and they even have a box named after the nine glens of Antrim – perfect to take home to family and friends.
Top Tip: Fill your own jar with all of your favourite sweets to eat on your way home – well worth a visit!
Before heading home we stopped into Morton’s Fish & Chip shop and filled our bellies. Sitting at Ballycastle pier we munched on freshly caught cod and tasty chips and both agreed that where fish and chip shops go this is simply heaven on earth – the fish doesn’t get any fresher than Morton’s.
Catch a glimpse of Loughareema Lake, known locally as the vanishing lake this lake can literally disappear before your eyes, owing to a highly unusual bog landscape below. In 1898 two men and their horses drowned while trying to cross, and they are said to haunt the lake to this day. For heritage seekers, visit Bonamargy Friary, built in 1500 this was a war time piece of land between the MacQuillan and rival MacDonnell clans. There are still many interesting features including the East window, a staircase and a sealed burial vault.
A must see
We only spent a day in Ballycastle but why not stay longer and take a trip to the stunning Rathlin Island. Amidst the rugged landscape of this isolated island, you can let your mind wander and discover a tranquility and beauty that is so unexpected. Amidst the rugged landscape of this isolated island, let your mind wander and discover a tranquillity and beauty that is so unexpected. discover some of the exciting history, learn about present day island life and see some artefacts from shipwrecks around the island.Discover some of the exciting history and learn about present day life and see some artefacts from shipwrecks around the island. Explore the island from the sea and discover its hidden treasures with a scuba diving boat trip with Aquaholics – you are sure to be amazed! The Rathlin Island ferry leaves Ballycastle Marina approx every hour but ensure to check your timings before you depart.
Take the fast RIB boat from Ballycastle Marina to Rathlin Island with Aquasports. Your guide Alan Wilson will bring the Causeway Coast to life with fascinating descriptions of local landmarks & rare wildlife, including puffins, guillemots, seals & dolphins. You might even be lucky to spot a whale, so make sure to bring binoculars & a camera.
Not to be missed
The Ould Lammas Fair has taken place annually in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, since the seventeenth century. Celebrated on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, the fair marks the end of summer and beginning of harvest. The origins of the fair are embroiled in the myths and legends of Ireland, although the tradition such festivals can be found in many cultures throughout the world. The Lammas Fair traditionally attracts thousands of people from around the world, and features more than 400 stalls of craft, bric-a-brac and farm produce. Local specialities include ‘Yellow Man’, a sweet honeycomb candy, and a red seaweed known as ‘dulse’. Street entertainment, including face-painting and pony rides, lends a carnival atmosphere, while traditional music sessions in the pubs cater to a different clientele.