Those that climb aboard the Rathlin Island Ferry are in for a treat.
Rathlin Island is a breathtakingly beautiful spot just off the coast of County Antrim, and it’s a great little detour for those tackling the Causeway Coastal Route.
Steeped in history and boasting a unique culture that draws from both Scottish and Irish traditions, it’s a fantastic place to visit for a day or two.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from things to do on Rathlin Island to where to eat, sleep and drink.
Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Rathlin Island
Although a visit to the island is fairly straightforward (thanks to the Rathlin Island Ferry), there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Rathlin Island is just 6 miles (10 km) from Ballycastle across the Sea of Moyle. It’s also just 15.5 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in mainland Scotland, as well as the Scottish island of Islay. Historically, it was part of a larger sea-kingdom that incorporated parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the islands in between.
2. The ferry
To get to the island you’ll need to take the Rathlin Island Ferry from Ballycastle Harbour. There are several crossings each day, throughout the year. You have a choice between the pedestrian ferry, which generally makes the crossing a bit quicker than the alternative, the vehicle ferry.
3. Puffin season
Rathlin Island is home to a diverse array of seabirds and wildlife. Chief among these are the puffins, which typically call the island home between April and July. This is a great time to see these fascinating birds, and a visit to the seabird centre is a must for anyone looking to find out more.
4. Plenty to see and do
There’s certainly no shortage of things to do on Rathlin Island. From exciting walking trails that take in breathtaking scenery to discovering the history and culture of the island at the Boat House Information Centre, there’s something for everyone. More info below.
About Rathlin Island
Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s most northerly point, is home to around 150 people in total and the L-shaped island never fails to impress with its rugged beauty.
And, while it isn’t very big, measuring in at just 4 miles (6 km) from east to west, and 21⁄2 miles (4 km) from north to south, there’s plenty things to do on Rathlin Island (more on this in a minute).
Myths and legends
The island is steeped in history and myth, with links to the famous Scottish King Robert the Bruce. It is said that in 1306 he took shelter on the island after losing his crown. During his time on Rathlin, he became fascinated by a spider.
For many days he watched as it attempted to weave a web large enough to bridge a gap until it finally succeeded. Inspired by the spider’s perseverance, he returned to Scotland where he eventually regained his crown.
The island has been inhabited for many thousands of years, since at least the Mesolithic period around 6,000 BC. During the Neolithic Age, the island is believed to have been an important area of Porcellanite stone axe production.
Such axes were traded across Ireland at the time, and to this day the island is full of ancient relics. It’s believed that Rathlin Island was the first site to be raided by Vikings, with an attack in 795 seeing the church and other buildings pillaged and burned.
Rathlin Island massacre
When Robert the Bruce sought refuge, the island was owned by the Irish Bisset family. Hosting Bruce cost them their ownership of the island however, and they were dispossessed of it shortly after.
During the 16th century, the island became the property of the MacDonnells of Antrim. The island witnessed several massacres over the following centuries (most notably the Rathlin Island massacre), with attacks targeting the locals and devastating the island.
How to get to Rathlin Island
The daily Rathlin Island Ferry service operates throughout the year and it’s nice and handy to get, once you book in advance.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about the ferry to Rathlin Island.
Where does the Rathlin Island ferry leave from?
The ferry to Rathlin departs from Ballycastle Harbour. The harbour is located more or less in the centre of the town and there’s a car park on-site.
Can I take my car to Rathlin Island?
There is a vehicle ferry that sails to Rathlin Island with several crossings each day. It’s called the Spirit of Rathlin. There’s also a pedestrian-only ferry, called the Rathlin Express.
How long does the crossing take?
The foot passenger ferry takes 25 minutes to make the crossing and is slightly quicker than the car ferry, which normally takes 35 minutes.
How much does the crossing cost?
You can expect to pay £12 for an adult return on the passenger ferry and £6 for a child (5-15 years old) return. Under 5’s travel for free. Vehicle costs vary and it’s best to contact the booking office directly for an accurate price.
Things to do on Rathlin Island
There are plenty of things to do on Rathlin Island, which make it a great little option if you’re in search of unique day trips from Belfast, in particular.
Below, you’ll discover everything from walking trails and cycle tracks to the Seabird Centre and much more.
1. Explore the island by bike
One of our favourite things to do on Rathlin Island is to explore it by bike. You don’t need to worry about bringing your own either. On the island, you’ll find seasonal bike hire, though it’s well worth booking in advance to avoid disappointment. Seeing the island from the saddle is a great experience and there are some fantastic trails to enjoy.
2. Visit the Seabird Centre
You don’t have to be an enthusiastic bird watcher to get excited about the winged wildlife that calls the island home. From puffins to guillemots, thousands of rare birds flock to the island each year. Together they form Ireland’s largest seabird colony.
The best place to catch the action is the Seabird Centre. Housed in a converted lighthouse, you can witness the magnificent creatures as they invade the cliffs in search of the perfect nesting place. This is a handy one for those of you looking for things to do on Rathlin Island when it’s raining!
3. Take a guided walk
Another superb way to learn about the history and culture of the island is to take a guided walk. These are typically held on Sundays from April to August, though sometimes it’s possible to book alternative days.
Tours can be booked in Ballycastle at the tourist information centre, or you can contact the tour companies directly;
- Dalriada Kingdom Tours: 07752659202
- Nine Glens Walking Tours: 07723 921022
- Rathlin Walking Tours: 07745566924
4. Conquer one of the island trails
For a small island, Rathlin is brimming with amazing walking routes and trails to suit all abilities, and they’re especially impressive on those often rare sunny days.
With looped routes taking in the amazing scenery and various cultural hot spots, as well as point-to-point trails that cover the entire island, walking is a great way to get closer to the stunning nature offered by the island. Besides spectacular views of the cliffs and out to sea, you’ll take in historic villages and diverse flora and fauna.
5. Keep an eye out for the seals
Besides tourists and seabirds, seals also frequent the island. Both the harbour seal and the grey seal enjoy hanging out in Rathlin’s sheltered bays and inlets.
There are several places you can go to watch them as they bask in the sun or swim in the cool afternoon. Mill Bay, Doon Bay, and Ushet Port are common places to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures, but be sure to treat them with respect.
Rathlin Island accommodation
As there are plenty of things to do on Rathlin Island, it’s well worth staying a day or two. Fortunately, there are several places to find accommodation. From B&Bs and hostels in the more populated areas to self-catering cottages in more remote parts of the island, there’s something for everyone.
There are two hostels on the island; Rathlin Island Hostel and Soerneog View Hostel, each offering affordable shared accommodation as well as bicycle hire. For something a little different, check out Rathlin Glamping Pods. Just a 10-minute walk from the harbour, the pods boast spectacular views over the Sea of Moyle.
You’ll find several self-catering options dotted about the island, from loft apartments in converted barns to entire cottages. Alternatively, treat yourself to a stay in one of the island’s B&Bs; Coolnagrock B&B and Manor House Bed & Breakfast, where you’ll be served sumptuous meals and enjoy a more pampered stay.
Rathlin Island restaurants
You don’t have to stay in a B&B to enjoy a good cooked meal on Rathlin Island. There are plenty of places to get a good feed, including a food truck, restaurants, cafes, and shops.
The Watershed Cafe is a great place for a good cup of coffee and a savoury or sweet crêpe – a specialty of the cafe, as well as homemade cakes. For an easy-going breakfast, check out the Hungry Seal food truck, where you can enjoy a cooked breakfast or a hearty lunch or dinner.
McCuaig’s Bar is a great spot for entertainment and eating alike. As the only pub on the island, you can sure of good craic. Alternatively, head for Manor House Bed & Breakfast, which also operates a licensed restaurant that offers an array of dishes, from Irish staples to more modern fare and seafood.
Things to do near Rathlin Island
While there’s lots of things to do on Rathlin Island, you’ll find many of the best things to do in Antrim a stone’s throw from the island.
Below, you’ll find everything from towns and villages to beaches, bays and some of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations in Ireland.
There’s plenty of things to do in Ballycastle, from the brilliant Ballycastle Beach to the many great restaurants in Ballycastle. In the town itself, you’ll also find a number of cafes ans and pubs to chill in, as well as an array of small shops showcasing local handicrafts.
2. The Causeway Coastal Route
When visiting Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route is a must. It features a host of attractions along the Antrim coast, including the incredible Giant’s Causeway, a variety of beaches and bays, waterfalls, villages, ancient sites, castles, and much more. Some of the most popular stops are:
FAQs about visiting Rathlin Island
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from how does the Rathlin Island ferry work to what to do on the island.
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 Rathlin Island worth visiting?
Yes! It is. There’s plenty of things to do on Rathlin Island and the fact that the ferry only takes 25 minutes to get there makes it a great spot for a day out.
What is there to do on Rathlin Island?
There’s plenty of things to do on Rathlin Island, from the many walking trails and the seabird centre to guided tours, bike trails, seals and more.
How long does the Rathlin Island Ferry take?
There are two types of Rathlin Island Ferry crossings – the fast ferry, which takes 25 minutes and the vehicle ferry, which takes 35 minutes.