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Rathlin Island: Our 2024 Travel Guide

Rathlin Island: Our 2024 Travel Guide

Those that climb aboard the Rathlin Island Ferry are in for a treat.

The ferry, which takes as little as 25 minutes, leaves from Ballycastle and crosses the choppy Sea of Moyle.

The destination? Rathlin – a breathtakingly beautiful island off the coast of County Antrim that makes addition to your Causeway Coastal Route itinerary.

Below, you’ll discover what to do on Rathlin Island, how to get there and the different tales and legends the island is famous for. Enjoy!


Some quick need-to-knows before you visit Rathlin Island

different angles showing rathlin island

Photos via Shutterstock

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.

1. Location

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 two options:

  • The car ferry: Takes 40 minutes
  • The pedestrian ferry: Takes 25 minutes

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.

4. Plenty to see and do

There’s certainly no shortage of things to do on Rathlin Island. From scenic walking trails to discovering the history and culture of the island at the Boat House Information Centre, there’s something for everyone.


The history of 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, it’s steeped in history and boasts a unique culture that draws from both Scottish and Irish traditions.

Vikings and early history

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.


The Rathlin Island massacre

When Scottish King Robert the Bruce sought refuge on Rathlin, 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.

Myths and legends

The island is steeped in history and myth. Remember the famous Scottish King Robert the Bruce I mentioned earlier?

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.


How to get to Rathlin Island

The daily Rathlin Island Ferry service operates throughout the year (see timetable) 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 £8.00 each way for an adult on the passenger ferry and £4 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

Things to do on Rathlin Island

Photos via Shutterstock


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

If you’re after some active things to do on Rathlin Island, there is bike hire available from Friday 3rd May 2024 and operate until Friday 30th August 2024.

You can book one in advance or bring your own. This is a handy way to explore the island at speed!

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 (note: you can get a bus there from the harbour).

Housed in a converted lighthouse, you can witness the magnificent creatures as they invade the cliffs in search of the perfect nesting place.


3. Conquer one of the island trails

For a small island, Rathlin is brimming with walking routes and trails to suit all abilities, and they’re especially impressive on those often rare sunny days.

Besides spectacular views of the cliffs and out to sea, you’ll take in historic villages and diverse flora and fauna. Here are the main walks:

4. 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. PLEASE keep well away from them!


Rathlin Island accommodation

rathlin island glamping

Photos via the Rathlin Glamping Pods

As there are plenty of things to do on Rathlin Island, it’s well worth staying overnight. Fortunately, there are several places to find accommodation.

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.

There are two hostels on the island and several B&Bs:

  • Rathlin Island Hostel
  • Soerneog View Hostel
  • Coolnagrock B&B
  • Manor House Bed & Breakfast

Rathlin Island restaurants

food at Mc Cuaig's Bar on rathlin

Photos via McCuaig’s on FB

As is the case with most of the islands in Ireland, there are only a handful of places to eat on Rathlin.

McCuaig’s Bar, the only pub on Rathlin, is a great spot for entertainment and eating alike.

Alternatively, head for Manor House Bed & Breakfast, which also operates a licensed restaurant that offers an array of dishes.

Then there’s the Rathlin Co-op Shop where you can grab coffee, wraps and salads. There’s also the Lazy Bird Cafe where you’ll get homegrown food and drinks.


Things to do nearby

Causeway Coastal Route Drive

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 harbour in Ballycastle.

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.


Frequently asked questions

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?

The main attraction on the island is the scenery, which can be enjoyed on one of many trails. The puffins tend to draw the crowds as does the Seabird Centre.

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.

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