If you’re debating staying in Ballycastle in Antrim, you’ve landed in the right place.
Ballycastle is a pretty harbour town on County Antrim’s northern coast. And, while there’s plenty of things to do in Ballycastle, it’s the location of this town that gives it its ‘X-Factor’.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from things to do in Ballycastle in Antrim to where to eat, sleep and drink.
Some quick need-to-knows about Ballycastle
Although a visit to Ballycastle in Antrim is nice and straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Sitting on the north-eastern tip of County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Ballycastle is surrounded by the Glens of Antrim. It’s located just an hour’s drive north of Belfast City.
2. A great base for the Causeway Coastal Route
Known as the eastern gateway to the Causeway Coastal Route, Ballycastle is the perfect place to base yourself for exploring more of the Antrim coastline. Some of the best attractions like the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge are just short drives away.
3. A gorgeous seaside village
The small town is a delightful place to spend some time. The surrounding scenery is stunning with mountains, forest, lakes, and the beautiful coast. You’ll also find a relaxing beach and delicious dining scene in town, making it a well-known holiday destination.
The charming little town of Ballycastle is one of the more popular places to head to in Northern Ireland for a weekend break, as there’s no real mystery as to why.
Stunning location and scenery
Ballycastle lies in a beautiful and unique location. Right on the northern coast, it has a sandy beach at its doorstep and a harbour where the ferries to Rathlin Island depart from.
It’s also the major town on the eastern end of the Causeway Coast. Further inland, Knocklayde Mountain towers above the coast and is visible from town. It’s also surrounded by a lush forest and perfect for a walk.
A bit of history
Ballycastle was a Viking settlement and the original wall from their harbour still stands today. However, the name of the town is a bit of a mystery, as it has been home to a number of important forts over time, but it’s unknown which castle actually inspired the name.
Famous ancient festival
Other than its incredible beauty, Ballycastle is also famous for the annual Ould Lammas Fair which celebrates the yearly harvest. The festival began some 400 years ago in the 17th century and still carries the tradition on today.
The three-day event is where you’ll find traditional goods being sold, including livestock and foods such as Yellowman chewy toffee.
Things to do in Ballycastle
One of the beauties of Ballycastle is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Antrim.
Now, while we’ve covered places to visit in the area in our Ballycastle attractions guide, I’ll pop our favourites in below.
1. Ballycastle Beach
The sandy 1.2 kilometre Ballycastle Beach lies in front of Ballycastle town. It runs from the pier and promenade to Pans Rock in the east. It’s the perfect place for a stroll or swim, with relatively calm water most of the year.
There is a seasonal lifeguard service in the summer months and dogs are permitted, with some restrictions in summer. There’s plenty of parking, or you can easily walk from town for some early morning exercise.
2. Kinbane Castle
The now-ruined Kinbane Castle sits on a spectacular narrow limestone promontory in the sea. Its name means “white head” referring to the rocks of the point. Located just 5 minutes northwest of Ballycastle town, it makes for a great spot to check out on the coast.
The castle was built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell until it was destroyed just a few years later by the English. Having been rebuilt, it was thought to have been inhabited up until the 1700s. While it lays in ruin now, it’s a stunning spot to have a look around not far from town.
3. The Fair Head Cliffs
A must see around Ballycastle, the Fair Head Cliffs rises 600 feet above sea level and is known as Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff. Located just east of Ballycastle town on the northern coast, the cliffs stretch around for 5 kilometres and appear to rise up near vertically.
The unique cliffs offer one of the most well-known and seriously epic climbing spots in Ireland. However, if you’re not experienced in hanging off a rock wall, then you can opt for a beautiful panoramic walk along the coast here instead.
4. Rathlin Island
Rathlin is the only inhabited island in Northern Ireland. The L shaped isle is just 10km long and 1.6km wide, but has a population of around 150 people. You can hop on a ferry to the island from Ballycastle harbour.
The island offers incredible walks or cycles along the rugged coast with stunning views in all directions. If you visit between April and July, you might even get to see puffins, along with other sea birds. You’ll find a pub, restaurant and local art shops to browse on the island before you leave.
5. The Torr Head Scenic Route
Arguably one of Ireland’s most beautiful road trips, the Torr Head Scenic Route runs between Cushendun and Ballycastle along the coast of Antrim. It’s a very narrow road with blind corners but the scenery is simply stunning and worth the hairy moments.
There are some beautiful stops along the way, including Fair Head, Torr Head and Murlough Bay. So, it’s worth taking a day to do, just ensure that you pick some decent weather so you can enjoy the views safely.
Restaurants in Ballycastle
If you’ve read our Ballycastle restaurants guide, you’ll know that this corner of Antrim is home to heaps of great places to eat.
Below, you’ll find three of our favourites. You can find a full guide to the best food in the town right here.
1. Thirty Nine Steak and Seafood Restaurant
Right on the bustling Ann Street in town, this is by far one of the best restaurants in Ballycastle. Open for dinner every night of the week, the well-priced menu has delicious steaks, burgers and fresh seafood. You can bring your own wine or beer to go with your meal and they have a range of soft drinks available too.
2. ANZAC Bar and Restaurant
Just on Market Street, this popular pub has a good reputation for delivering some incredible meals. Known for their large portions, the menu is varied with steak being the obvious standout. You can also find plenty of fresh seafood, as well as a separate kid’s menu as well. It’s always busy but is open for dinner every day except Monday.
3. The Central Bar, Ballycastle
By far the most popular place to head for a feed, The Central Bar is a stylish European restaurant with excellent service and well-presented meals. On the menu you can find plenty of seafood including seared salmon, mussels, and seafood linguine. Or you can try the varied poultry dishes and popular steaks.
Pubs in Ballycastle
If you fancy a post-adventure pint or if you just want a quick meal before hitting the nest after a long day exploring, you’re in luck.
While Ballycastle is smallish, it packs a punch pub wise. Below, you’ll find our favourite places to eat and drink.
1. The Central Bar
More of a classy pub, The Central Bar is one of the most popular bars and restaurants to head for a drink in Ballycastle. Located on the main street, it has a good atmosphere any night, with the occasional live music performance and delicious pub grub if you’re after a meal.
2. Anglers Arms
For an old school pub experience, The Anglers Arms is definitely the place to go in Ballycastle. It sits just across the ocean on North Street and is the perfect place for a post-beach pint. They have a big selection of Irish and Scottish whiskeys served up with a warm and welcoming vibe.
3. House of McDonnell
Another cosy and traditional pub in Ballycastle, House of McDonnell has a long history serving up pints to customers. It’s been handed down through the generations since the 1700s, with a very old-world décor and interior.
Accommodation in Ballycastle
Although we have a dedicated guide to the best hotels in Ballycastle, I’ll run through our favourite places to stay below.
Note: if you book a hotel through one of the links below we’ll make a tiny commission that helps us keep this site going. You won’t pay extra, but we really do appreciate it.
1. The Salthouse Hotel
Located just out of town and 1.2km from the beach, the Salthouse Hotel is an upmarket option that offers an incredibly memorable stay. The stylish hotel gets rave review for its service and spacious double and family en-suite rooms.
2. Marine Hotel
If you want to be closer to town and the sea, this waterfront hotel is a great 3-star place to stay in Ballycastle. With a wide range of rooms to choose from including double, family and studios, some even offer sea views.
3. Glass Island
Tucked behind the main street and not too far from the beach, this hotel is a favourite amongst couples. They have king, double and family rooms, with a shared garden and lounge. You’ll also get complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi and parking, so it’s no surprise that this is a popular place to enjoy a quiet stay.
FAQs about visiting Ballycastle in Antrim
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is Ballycastle Protestant or Catholic?’ to ‘Is Ballycastle Safe?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Ballycastle worth visiting?
Yes! Ballycastle is a lovely little base to explore Antrim from. Throw in the endless great places to eat, drink and sleep, and you’ve a fine spot for a weekend break.
Is there much to do in Ballycastle?
No, but the town’s biggest draw is its setting and its proximity to the various attractions on the Causeway Coastal Route.
Are there many pubs, restaurants and hotels in Ballycastle?
Yes, yes and yes. There’s a great bit of choice when it comes to food, places to stay and old-school pubs in Ballycastle.
Elisha is a freelance writer, content creator and blogger and her work can be read in Lonely Planet, Remote Lands and Matador Network. You’ll usually find her travelling in offbeat places or hiking wherever there are mountains; always with a camera in hand.