There are plenty of beaches near Belfast City for those of you looking to escape the hustle and bustle for a bit.
Belfast is a bustling capital city yet it is just a short drive from some of the best beaches in Ireland. From Helen’s Bay to Whiterocks Beach there are sandy surfing beaches galore.
Whether you fancy a stroll, a swim or more strenuous water-sports, these glorious beaches near Belfast have a bit of something to tickle every fancy.
Beaches near Belfast (under 30 minutes from the city)
The first section of our guide tackles the closest beaches to Belfast. Each of the spots below are under 30 minutes from Belfast City Hall.
Note: ALWAYS use caution when entering the water and make sure to check locally on the day of your visit to see if it’s OK to swim.
1. Holywood Beach (15-minute drive)
Holywood Beach is the nearest beach to Belfast. The result is that, come often-rare fine weather, the place tends to get pretty packed!
Also known as ‘Sea Park’, Holywood Beach is a glorious spot for a stroll and a paddle. It’s also a good place to grab a coffee (Percy’s) and tackle a nice long ramble (the Holywood to Bangor coastal trail).
2. Helen’s Bay Beach (20-minute drive)
Helen’s Bay Beach is near the town of Bangor and is one of two gorgeous sandy beaches within the Crawfordsburn Country Park. This Green Coast awarded beach is deservedly popular as it boasts clean water quality and a shelving entry for paddling and swimming.
Wooded headlands mark either end of the 500m-long beach with scenic coastal or woodland walks. Nearby facilities include a Visitor Centre with first aid, an excellent café, car parking, picnic tables and toilets.
A wheelchair/ buggy-friendly path connects the main car park with the beach. Helen’s Bay village is nearby with shops, pubs and a church.
3. Crawfordsburn Beach (25-minute drive)
Located east of Helen’s Bay, Crawfordsburn Beach is also part of Crawfordsburn Country Park. Flanked by smooth rocks, the sandy beach runs gently down into the clean waters making it ideal for bathing and swimming.
At low tide there are ample rock pools for investigating and identifying a range of miniature marine life. There’s parking at the country park, a café and toilets just a short walk from the sand.
Forested walks lead to a cascading waterfall. Helen’s Bay Golf Course and village are about one kilometer away and Bangor is 3 miles to the east.
4. Ballyholme Beach (30-minute drive)
On the eastern suburbs of Bangor, Ballyholme Beach is a sweeping sandy bay with onsite parking, toilets, playground, disabled facilities and a picnic area.
The Ballyholme Yacht Club is at the western end. Stretching for 1.3km, this sloping sandy beach has rocks at the eastern end for scrambling exploring. It is backed by a seawall and promenade for pleasant strolls.
If you don’t fancy building sandcastles, you can walk along the coastal path (1.5km) to Ballymacormick Point. Groynes are in place along the beach and there is signage regarding water quality but no lifeguards.
Beaches near Belfast (under 60 minutes from the city)
Now that we have the closest beaches to Belfast out of the way, it’s time to see what sandy spots are under an hour from the city.
Below, you’ll find everything from Cushendall Beach and Ballygally Beach to Brown’s Bay and much, much more.
1. Ballygally Beach (40-minute drive)
Head due north of Belfast to Ballygally Beach, a small curving bay overlooked by a row of homes and turreted Ballygally Castle Hotel. It’s the oldest occupied building in Ireland and supposedly haunted.
Just across from the beach there’s a car park with a children’s play area at the far end (across Croft Road). You can also park on Coast Road. Access to the beach is via a long ramp.
With good water quality, the sandy beach is popular for paddling in summer, and for fishing all year round.
2. Murlough Beach (55-minute drive)
With a backdrop of the beautiful Mourne Mountains, Murlough is a stunning 5-mile stretch of sand. The prevalent winds make it popular for watersports including surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing and there’s a lifeguard in summer.
It’s a beautiful beach for walks, backed by dunes. It is within the Murlough Nature Reserve which became Ireland’s first nature preserve when the National Trust took over in 1967.
Visitors can spot a plethora of plants, birds, butterflies and wildlife along with seals and porpoises out to sea. Murlough Nature Reserve has parking and toilets with a short walk through the reserve to reach the sand.
There’s also Newcastle Beach that sits right next to it and that has the mighty Slieve Donard looming over it.
3. Carnlough Beach (50-minute drive)
Midway between Glenarm and Glenariff (two of the Glens of Antrim), Carnlough Beach includes a sheltered harbour and village at the northern end. There’s plenty of sand at low tide, but it almost disappears under high water.
Dogs are allowed at the beach all year round. The water quality is good and the beach is popular for fishing as well as traditional beach activities.
Families can enjoy the sand and picnic area although there is no lifeguard service. The bay is famous for its gig racing and hosts the Annual Regatta and Round the Rock Challenge in May.
4. Brown’s Bay (45-minute drive)
You’ll come across crescent shaped Brown’s Bay at the northern end of Islandmagee Peninsula in Antrim. The sand extends for about 300m with a stream dividing it in half.
The sheltered location and calm water makes it ideal for paddling, kayaking and paddle-boarding. There’s a grassy area behind the beach for picnics, sunbathing and enjoying Views of the mountains and countryside.
The beach has a good sized car park with toilets and changing facilities. Access to the beach is down steps or using the short ramp. There’s also a seasonal shop at the west end of the beach and Larne Golf Club nearby.
5. Cushendall Beach (1 hour)
Cushendall Beach is part of the Causeway Coastal Route and Glens AONB and it certainly lives up to that accreditation. This small sandy beach is only about 250m long but it offers magnificent mountain and coastal views.
Backed by a grassy picnic area and Cushendall Golf Club, the beach has a small river outlet at the north end. The beach is popular for fishing and walking.
Trails lead off from the north end of the beach where the car park, play area and toilets are located. For shops and cafes, the historic town of Cushendall is just a short walk away.
6. Cushendun Beach (1 hour and 5-minute drive)
A visit to the popular Cushendun Beach is easily combined with a trip to the nearby Cushendun Caves (yes, they were one of the Game of Thrones filming locations in Ireland).
Cushendun Beach stretches along a curving bay around the northern coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. It’s backed by the pretty town of Cushendun, which is partly managed by the National Trust.
Towards the southern end of the beach, the Glendun River enters the sea. The sandy beach is perfect for a wander, with plenty of space and never too much of a crowd.
7. Ballywalter Beach (45-minute drive)
Located at Newtownards, Ballywalter Beach is an extensive sandy beach popular year-round with families, walkers and swimmers. Rock pools provide tiny natural aquaria for children to discover.
There’s a car park, playground, toilets and a raised area, the Lime Kilns, which gives panoramic sea views. Awarded the 2017 Seaside Award for its water quality and facilities, this dog-friendly beach has disabled parking and suitable access for wheelchairs.
It’s a great place for bird-watching with many migratory birds such as plovers, Manx shearwaters and turnstones spending the winter here.
Other brilliant beaches near Belfast
The final section of our guide to the best beaches near Belfast is packed with beaches a little further afield.
Below, you’ll find everything from Whitepark Bay and Ballycastle Beach to what’s arguably one of the best beaches in Ireland.
1. Ballycastle Beach (1 hour and 10 minutes)
You’ll find Ballycastle Beach is on the north coast of Antrim, 12 miles east of Bushmills. The sandy beach has some shingle at the high tidemark and runs for about 2km from Ballycastle Marina to the Pans Rocks which are a fishing paradise.
The Rathlin Island ferry departs from the harbour where you can find cafés, toilets and restaurants. There’s a promenade and a bridge over the River Margy which flows into the sea here.
Ballycastle Beach is a popular spot for a paddle and you’ll also catch surfers here throughout the year hitting the waves.
2. Whitepark Bay (1 hour and 10 minutes)
Managed by the National Trust, Whitepark Bay is a stunning white sandy beach. Close to Ballintoy Harbour, it’s sandwiched between two headlands on Antrim’s north coast.
The beach is nice and sheltered with some excellent surfing waves. Rocks provide endless rock pooling possibilities for youngsters and the area is a haven for birds, wild flowers and wildlife in the nearby dunes.
There’s a steepish walk from the car park which makes it tricky for those with mobility issues or young children. It’s a hidden gem but facilities are zero!
3. Whiterocks Beach Portrush (1 hour and 15 minutes)
Last and probably the most famous, Whiterocks Beach is one of 3 beautiful sandy surfing beaches at Portrush. This popular resort is backed by limestone cliffs (hence it’s name) with many spectacular sea caves and arches.
The sand stretches for miles and is perfect for breezy walks. However, surfing is the main attractions on this Blue Flag beach, along with kayaking, swimming, water-skiing and windsurfing.
FAQs about the best beaches near Belfast
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what is the closest beach to Belfast to which are the most impressive.
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.
What is the closest beach to Belfast?
Depending on where you are in the city, the closest beach to Belfast is either Helen’s Bay Beach (20-minute drive from City Hall) or Crawfordsburn Beach (25-minute drive from City Hall).
What are the best beaches near Belfast?
In our opinion, it’s hard to beat Murlough Beach (55-minute drive) and Crawfordsburn Beach (25-minute drive).
Does Belfast have a beach?
No, there are no beaches in Belfast City, however, there are plenty of beaches near Belfast City less than a 30-minute drive away.
Monday 18th of July 2022
Ballintoy beach is absolutely gorgeous. I love it
Monday 20th of June 2022
I’m homesick. I want to go home. 🥲