There are some outstanding beaches in County Down.
And, while the Down’s mighty Mourne Mountains tend to grab much of the attention, its coastline really does boast some stunning stretches of sand.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the best County Down beaches – dive on in!
Our favourite beaches in County Down
Yes, the coastline in this corner of Ireland is stunning, but don’t let it fool you – the water poses a real risk to safety.
Only enter the water of the various beaches in County Down if you’re 1, 100% sure it’s safe to do so, 2, a capable swimmer and 3, if the conditions are good.
1. Helen’s Bay Beach
Helen’s Bay Beach is one of the prettiest County Down beaches. Situated on the south shore of Belfast Lough, it is one of two beaches in Crawfordsburn Country Park, along with Crawfordsburn Beach.
Together these popular beaches serve visitors from Belfast, 10 miles away. The sand slopes gently into the clean water making it ideal for paddling.
The Country Park is free to visit and has a Visitor Centre, cafe, toilets, picnic tables, car park and disabled parking close to the beach.
The beach holds the Green Coast Award and is home to wading birds, eider ducks, terns, porpoises and seals.
2. Tyrella Beach
Where better for a day at the beach than Tyrella Beach, midway between Rossglass and Dundrum Bay. The flat sandy expanse has lots of space for sunbathing, sandcastles and family games but there are some areas that are clothing-optional.
It’s popular for swimming and there are lifeguards on duty during the summer. Despite being off-the-beaten-track it can be busy in summer. It backs onto an area of conservation with mature dunes that are a haven for flora and fauna.
It has a car park, toilets, beach shop, Blue Flag waters and is good for fishing, surfing, kite-surfing, snorkelling and wind surfing. This is one of our favourite beaches in County Down for good reason.
Related read: Check out our guide to 21 of the best things to do in County Down in 2022.
3. Newcastle Beach
Arguably one of the most popular beaches in County Down, Newcastle Beach really is a stunner.
Serving the popular resort of Newcastle, Newcastle beach is about 1.5 miles long with sand and some areas of pebbles. There’s a nice promenade lined with amusements, shops, pubs and restaurants.
There’s a large car park and a children’s play area. The sand is accessed down steps or a slipway. There’s no lifeguard so if you fancy a swim try the 1930s lido nearby or the heated Tropicana outdoor swimming pool.
From the beach, there’s a nice walk north from Newcastle to Murlough Beach and Nature Reserve along the dunes.
4. Ballyholme Beach
Crescent-shaped Ballyholme Beach is on the east side of Bangor and offers a sandy strand stretching for over half a mile. Broken by wooden groynes, it is popular for shore fishing.
The sea wall provides an elevated promenade with views of the coastline, beach and town. At the west end of the beach there’s a Yacht Club and you can often see sailboats out on the water.
At the east end there’s a beach car park, toilets, playground and a ramp down to the sand. There is no lifeguard service so visitors should heed the safety information posted on the beach.
5. Murlough Beach
Murlough Beach is one of the more unique County Down beaches. Five miles of golden sand against the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains – that’s what Murlough Beach is all about.
There’s a summer lifeguard and dogs on leads are permitted. Look out for seals and porpoises offshore while watching the surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers enjoying the waves in the strong breeze.
Located on the east coast of Northern Ireland, this Blue Flag beach is three miles north of Newcastle at the mouth of Dundrum Bay.
The beach backs onto an ancient dunes system and the NT Murlough Nature Reserve – perfect for nature spotting and birdwatching with many wild flowers and butterflies.
Related read: Check out our guide to 31 of the best things to do in Northern Ireland in 2022.
6. Crawfordsburn Beach
The sloping beach has good water quality and is popular for bathing. However, there is no lifeguard service and visitors should take note of the safety warming sign.
The narrow beach has rock pools at low tide and the sand is almost covered at high tide. There’s a trail behind the beach through woods to a waterfall.
The country park is currently free to visit and offers free car parking, toilets and a cafe.
7. Kilclief Beach
Next up is arguably one of the most overlooked beaches in County Down. Lapped by the waters of Strangford Lough, Kilclief Beach is on the south side of the narrows and about 2.5 miles south of Strangford village.
The sweeping light sandy beach is well protected from wind and offers good sailing and sheltered anchorage just offshore.
The quiet beach offers stunning views of the lough and across the outlet to the Ards Peninsula. From the cliff path you can even see the Isle of Man on a clear day.
8. Ballywalter Beach & Park
If you’re staying on the Ards Peninsula on the east coast of Northern Ireland, Ballywalter Beach is one of the best in the area.
Stretching for two miles, the sand is in an unspoilt rural area backed by fields and a paradise for birdwatching and wildlife walks.
There’s parking on Springvale Road at the north end of the beach and ramp access. The beach itself has some rocky areas and rock pools and is popular for fishing from the small harbour.
In summer there are toilets, play area and places to eat and drink. Dogs welcome on leads. No lifeguard service.
9. Rossglass Beach
Check out the amazing views over Dundrum Bay to the distant peaks of the Mourne Mountains from Rossglass Beach.
Located seven miles south of Downpatrick this deep south-facing beach is six miles east of Dundrum Bay and is on the A2 Minerstown Road.
Stretching for about a mile, the sandy beach has shingle and rocks above the high tide line. The sand slopes gently down to the sea making it ideal for paddling and walking with your pet (dogs must be kept on a lead) but there’s no lifeguard or facilities.
10. Cranfield Beach
Located on the south shores at the mouth of Carlingford Lough near Kilkeel, Cranfield Beach is a lengthy sand and shingle beach edged by a holiday park.
It has superb views of Haulbowline Lighthouse and the Mourne Mountains. The west end of the beach has a promenade, play area and grassy picnic spot.
There’s a car park on Ameracam Lane with toilets, showers and beach access down a ramp. It is popular for bathing, kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing and watersports but there is only a lifeguard service in August.
11. Millisle Beach
The coastal village of Millisle has its own curving strip of white sand at Millisle Beach. Located on the quiet Ards Peninsula, the beach has a natural seawater lagoon stretching out about 50m.
There is also an open-air pool next to the beach. There’s plenty to see and do with rock pools, a jetty and slipways for launching boats, kayaks and jet skis.
The beach backs onto a grassy area for picnics and there’s a well equipped play area with a pirate ship, car park and toilets. The nearby village has shops, cafes and amusements.
What County Down beaches have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant beaches in County Down from the guide above.
If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about beaches in Down
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What County Down beaches are good for surfing?’ to ‘Which are good swim spots?’.
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 are the best beaches in County Down?
In our opinion, it’s hard to beat Murlough Beach, Ballyholme Beach, Newcastle Beach, Tyrella Beach and Helen’s Bay Beach.
What’s County Down beaches are quiet?
We get this question a lot. The honest answer is it depends. During summer, many will be busy, however, the ones closer to the main towns (and Belfast) will attract the most crowds.