The small town of Ballycastle, County Antrim, is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by travellers seeking beauty and charm in Ireland. With its rich history, breathtaking scenery, and friendly locals, a popular tourist destination Ballycastle has something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in exploring the town’s historical past or taking in the surrounding area’s natural beauty, Ballycastle is the perfect destination for your next trip to Ireland.
A Brief History of Ballycastle
Before diving into the top attractions and things to do in Ballycastle, looking back at the town’s fascinating history is worthwhile. Ballycastle town dates back centuries, with evidence of early settlements dating back to the Neolithic period. The town played an essential role in the Plantation of Ulster in the seventeenth century, and the 1798 Rebellion was a pivotal event in Irish history.
Early Settlements and Origins
The town of Ballycastle has a rich and varied history that dates back over 6,000 years. The earliest evidence of human settlement in the area dates back to the Neolithic period when the people of that time erected dolmens and other structures. These structures, which can still be seen today, provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people who lived in the area thousands of years ago.
Over time, Ballycastle grew and developed, becoming an essential hub for trade and commerce in the region. The town’s name, Ballycastle, means ‘town of the castle’ and refers to an ancient castle that once stood on the site of the present-day ruins of Bonamargy Friary. The castle was an important stronghold in the area and played a crucial role in the town’s development.
Ballycastle’s Role in the 1798 Rebellion
The late eighteenth century saw a period of unrest in Ireland as people began to demand more rights and representation for themselves. The 1798 Rebellion was an important event in this movement, with Ballycastle playing a significant role in the uprising against British rule.
The town was a hotbed of revolutionary activity, with many residents actively involved in the rebellion. Today, visitors can learn more about this fascinating period of history by visiting the Ballycastle Museum, which features exhibits on the history and culture of the town.
Ballycastle’s rich history makes it a fascinating destination for visitors interested in exploring the past. Whether you’re interested in ancient history, the Plantation of Ulster, or the 1798 Rebellion, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant and historic town.
How to Get To Ballycastle
Ballycastle is a popular tourist destination located on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Here are the directions to get there by car and public transport:
- From Belfast, take the M2 motorway northbound towards Ballymena.
- Exit onto the A26 and continue north towards Ballycastle for approximately 30 miles.
- Follow signs for Ballycastle town centre and parking.
By public transport:
- From Belfast, take a train from Great Victoria Street station to Coleraine.
- From Coleraine, take a bus to Ballycastle.
- Alternatively, take a direct Ulster bus from Belfast bus station to Ballycastle.
- Both options take approximately 1.5-2 hours and run multiple times daily.
Once in Ballycastle, it is easy to explore the town on foot. However, renting a car or taking a guided tour to explore the surrounding countryside may be more convenient.
The Ould Lammas Fair
The Auld Lammas Fair is an annual event in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, during the last week of August. This fair has been a part of Ballycastle’s history for over 400 years and is one of the oldest fairs in Ireland. The event attracts visitors from all over the world and is a highlight of the town’s cultural calendar.
During the two-day fair, the town comes alive with music, dancing, and an array of traditional fairground attractions. The streets are lined with market stalls selling local delicacies such as dulse (a type of seaweed) and Yellowman (honeycomb toffee). There are also stalls selling handmade crafts and souvenirs.
The fair is steeped in tradition, with many of the same attractions and activities that were present centuries ago. One of the most popular events is the horse trading, where locals and visitors gather to buy and sell horses. There are also sheep dog trials, traditional music sessions, and a tug-of-war competition.
One of the unique features of the Auld Lammas Fair is the custom of “grabbing a duck”. This involves catching a live duck from a pool of water using only a hook attached to a wooden handle. It is a challenging and exciting activity that is enjoyed by all ages.
Overall, the Auld Lammas Fair is a unique and fascinating event that offers visitors a glimpse into Ballycastle’s rich cultural heritage. It is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Northern Ireland at the end of August.
Top Attractions in Ballycastle
Now that you better understand the town’s history, it’s time to explore the top attractions and things to do in Ballycastle. From natural wonders to historical sites, there’s no shortage of activities to entertain you during your visit.
No visit to Ballycastle would be complete without relaxing on its beautiful beach. Ballycastle Beach is a beautiful and unspoiled stretch of golden sand near Ballycastle Harbour, situated on the north coast of in Northern Ireland. With its crystal-clear waters and stunning views of the rugged coastline, it is ideal for a relaxing day by the sea.
The beach is approximately one mile long, stretching east from Ballycastle Marina at the town centre, offering plenty of space for visitors to soak up the sun, take a leisurely stroll, or enjoy a picnic. The water is generally calm and safe for swimming, making it an excellent place for families with children to enjoy a dip in the ocean.
Ballycastle Beach is surrounded by stunning scenery, with Ballycastle Golf Course on one side and views of the nearby cliffs and Rathlin Island in the distance. It is also conveniently located near the town centre, with plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants just a short walk away.
For those who love water sports, Ballycastle Beach offers a range of activities, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and surfing. Visitors can rent equipment on the beach or take lessons from local instructors. Ballycastle Beach is has RNLI beach lifeguards patrolling throughout the summer months
In addition to its natural beauty and recreational opportunities, Ballycastle Beach is also steeped in history. It is believed to have been a landing spot, pans rock, for the Vikings in the 10th century, and the remains of a castle built by the MacDonnell clan in the 16th century can be seen nearby.
To learn more about the history and culture of Ballycastle, make sure to stop by the town’s museum. You’ll find exhibits on everything from the town’s early settlements to its role in the 1798 Rebellion. The museum also features a collection of local artefacts and artwork, providing a fascinating glimpse into life in this charming Irish town.
One of the museum’s most interesting exhibits is a collection of artefacts from the Spanish Armada, which sank off the coast of Ballycastle in 1588. Visitors can see various items recovered from the wreckage, including cannons, coins, and even a rosary.
A visit to Ballycastle wouldn’t be complete without exploring the ruins of Bonamargy Friary. Founded in the fifteenth century, the friary served as a place of worship for the Franciscan order until it was dissolved in the sixteenth century. Today, visitors can wander among the ruins and imagine what life was like for the friars who once called this place home.
Legend has it that the friary is haunted by the ghost of Julia McQuillan, a young woman who died tragically in the 17th century. Visitors can learn more about her story and other local legends from the friary’s knowledgeable guides.
Overall, Ballycastle has something for everyone, from history buffs to nature lovers. With its stunning scenery and rich cultural heritage, it’s no wonder this charming town is a popular destination for visitors worldwide.
Ballycastle Golf Club
Ballycastle is a picturesque 18-hole links course located on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Offering stunning views of the North Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding countryside, the course provides a challenging yet enjoyable golfing experience for players of all skill levels. With its friendly atmosphere and top-class facilities, including a modern clubhouse and a fully stocked pro shop, Ballycastle Golf Club is a must-visit destination for any golf enthusiast travelling to Northern Ireland.
Exploring the Surrounding Area
While Ballycastle offers plenty of attractions and things to do, the surrounding area is equally fascinating. From natural wonders to cultural landmarks, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in this beautiful part of Northern Ireland.
The Causeway Coastal Route
The Causeway Coastal Route is a scenic drive that stretches along the north Antrim coast, starting from the town of Ballycastle and running along the causeway coastal route south for approximately 70 miles to the city of Belfast going east and 50 miles west to Derry.
From Ballycastle, the Causeway Coast Route takes you along the winding road that hugs the rugged coastline of County Antrim Coast. You’ll pass by picturesque villages, dramatic cliffs, and stunning beaches while taking in breathtaking views of the North Atlantic Ocean.
One of the most popular stops on the route is the famous Giants Causeway, a natural wonder of thousands of hexagonal basalt columns formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago. Other must-see attractions along the route include the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, and the Glens of Antrim.
For those seeking a bit of adventure, Fair Head is a must-visit destination. This striking cliff face towers 600 feet above the sea, offering breathtaking views of Ballycastle Bay and the surrounding countryside. Hiking and climbing enthusiasts will love exploring the area, which features a variety of routes and trails to suit all skill levels.
At the top of Fair Head, visitors can enjoy a picnic while enjoying the stunning views. On a clear day, it’s possible to see to Scotland. The cliff face is also a popular spot for birdwatching, with peregrine falcons and ravens often spotted soaring above the cliffs.
If you’re interested in history and architecture, visit Kinbane Castle. This stunning 16th-century castle ruins sit on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, offering incredible coast views. Visitors can explore the castle’s remains, which include a tower, a gatehouse, and a drawbridge.
Legend has it that the castle was once home to the infamous clan chief Sorley Boy MacDonnell. Visitors can imagine life for him and his family as they explore the castle’s various rooms and passageways.
The Giant’s Causeway
One of Ireland’s most famous natural wonders, the Giant’s Causeway is a must-visit destination for anyone travelling there. This stunning geological formation features thousands of hexagonal basalt columns that defy explanation. Visitors can stroll along the cliffs overlooking the causeway or descend down to the beach to explore the columns up close.
Legend has it that the giant Finn McCool built the Causeway who used the columns to create a pathway to Scotland. While the truth behind the formation is less fantastical, it’s still an awe-inspiring sight.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
A popular tourist destination location west If you’re feeling brave, check out the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This narrow bridge spans a 65-foot chasm, offering incredible sea views. While it can be a bit nerve-wracking to cross, the thrill of the adventure is worth it.
The bridge was built by fishermen over 350 years ago to access a small island where they would catch salmon. Today, visitors can cross the bridge and take in the stunning views of the coastline and surrounding islands.
A trip to Rathlin Island is a must for those seeking tranquillity and natural beauty. This small island is home to various wildlife and stunning scenery, including sea cliffs, secluded bays, and rolling fields. Visitors can take a ferry to the island from Ballycastle and spend the day exploring its hidden treasures.
Rathlin Island is also steeped in history, with evidence of human habitation dating back to prehistoric times. Visitors can explore the island’s lighthouses, churches, and ruins to get a sense of its rich cultural heritage after a short trip on the Rathlin Island ferry from Ballycastle Marina.
The Glens of Antrim
Check out the Glens of Antrim for a scenic drive that will take your breath away. This rural area features a series of beautiful valleys, each with its own unique character and charm. Highlights of the drive include Glenariff Forest Park, which features waterfalls and walking trails, and the picturesque village of Cushendun, featured in many films and TV shows.
The Glens of Antrim are also home to several historic sites, including the ruins of Dunluce Castle and the remains of an ancient hill fort. Visitors can immerse themselves in the area’s rich history while enjoying the stunning scenery.
Whether you’re interested in exploring history, natural wonders, or cultural landmarks, Ballycastle and its surrounding area have something for everyone. With so much to see and do, this charming Irish town is worth a visit on your next trip to the Emerald Isle.
Places To Stay in Ballycastle
Here are some top places to stay in Ballycastle:
- Marine Hotel: Located in the heart of Ballycastle, this hotel offers luxurious rooms with sea views, on-site dining, and free Wi-Fi. It’s within walking distance of local attractions, including ballycastle beach and the Ballycastle golf course.
- The Salthouse Hotel: This boutique hotel is situated in an old salt storehouse and has been tastefully restored to provide modern and comfortable accommodation. Guests can enjoy the sea views, on-site restaurant, and bar.
- An Caislean: This charming guesthouse is housed in a historic castle and offers comfortable rooms with views of the castle courtyard. It’s located in the center of town and is within walking distance of all the local amenities.
- The Fullerton Arms: This family-run guesthouse is located in the heart of Ballycastle and offers comfortable rooms, on-site dining, and live music on weekends. It’s within walking distance of the beach and local attractions.
- Causeway Lodge: This bed and breakfast is situated in a peaceful countryside setting just outside Ballycastle and offers comfortable rooms with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Guests can enjoy a hearty breakfast and explore the nearby Causeway Coast.
Overall, Ballycastle has a range of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets, and these options offer guests a comfortable and memorable stay in this beautiful part of Antrim.