- For Ballycastle in County Mayo, see Ballina
Ballycastle is a small fishing port and beach resort, historically in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Those counties have been abolished so the town is now in Causeway Coast and Glens District, and in 2011 had a population of 5237. It's close to the top-draw attractions of Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Bridge and Dark Hedges, all very touristy, but has many others that escape the hordes. The town is named for its own castle (hence Baile an Chaistil), lost somewhere beneath Castle Street, but other castles still stand on dramatic headlands, and Fair Head is a natural wonder.
The Visitor Information Centre is at the harbour. They've free maps and can book accommodation for you.
There's no direct public transport from Belfast, take train or bus to Ballymena and change.
Bus 131 / 217 runs from Ballymena via Cloughmills, taking 70 min to Ballycastle. There are five M-F and two on Saturday.
Bus 402 runs along the coast from Coleraine to Portrush, Dunluce castle, Bushmills (for distillery), Aird (for Giant's Causeway), Dunseverick (for castle), Ballintoy (for Carrick-a-Rede) and Ballycastle. There are six M-F, four Sa and three on Sunday.
Bus 178 is an inland route from Coleraine, with 2 or 3 M-Sa. It takes 80 min via Ballymoney and Armoy (for Dark Hedges), so don't take it for the coastal attractions.
Kintyre Express is a ferry for foot passengers between Ballycastle and Port Ellen on Islay in the Scottish Hebrides. This runs F-M in April and Sept, daily May-Aug, though it didn't sail in 2020. It sails from Ballycastle at 09:30, taking an hour and returning at 15:00, an easy day trip. Adult fare is £60 single, £95 return, bikes are free. This ferry is a continuation of the sailing from Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre at 07:30, returning from Ballycastle at 16:30 and taking 90 mins. So a day trip from Campbeltown to Ballycastle is possible but not vice versa.
Bus 402 runs along the coast, see above. You need your own wheels for anywhere else.
The car park by the seafront is free but has a maximum stay of two hours, and fills up quickly in summer. If you're taking a trip on the ferry, you need to use Ann Street off Quay Road - this is 30p / hour M-Sa 08:30-18:30, free at other times. Either feed it with coins or register for online payment with JustPark.
- 1 Ballycastle Harbour is the focus of town. The lump of rock near the ferry ticket office commemorates Marconi's pioneering test transmissions of 1898, relaying news of approaching ships from Rathlin Island. (His mother was Annie Jameson, one of the Jameson whiskey family.) The traditional red phone box on the Promenade shows just how far we've advanced since. The beach starts east of the marina, with a footbridge over Glenshesk River to the main Strand.
- Churches: St Patrick's and St Brigid's (RC) on Moyle Rd was built 1870. The octagonal spire was added in 1898, nicely in time for Marconi to use it as a radio transmitter. Holy Trinity (C of I) on The Diamond was built in Graeco-Italian style in 1756. The Presbyterian church on Castle St was built in 1872, and its distinctive Round Tower was added in the 1890s.
- Ballycastle Museum is a small volunteer-run museum at 61 Castle St. It didn't open in 2020.
- 2 The Strand is the sandy beach stretching for half a mile east of the river. At its east end, a boardwalk leads onto Pans Rocks, nowadays popular for angling. In the 18th / 19th century the rocks were used as salt pans, and as access to a coal seam. The Devil's Churn is a small natural sinkhole or sea-cave, with steps cut for access and a barrier so that sea water trickled in gently and sediment settled. In the 19th century there was also briefly a fever hospital nearby; as this coincided with a vogue for sea-bathing it's possible that the Churn was also used as a therapeutic dunking spot.
- 3 Bonamargy Friary, 43 Cushendall Rd BT54 6QR. 24 hours. Franciscan friary established in 1485, which is relatively late. The church has lost its thatched roof but is well-preserved, as are the gatehouse and cloister. Several Earls of Ulster are buried here. Free.
- Glenshesk is one of the nine Glens of Antrim, the river valley rising above the friary. There are roads both sides of the river - take the smaller west-side lane to reach Ballycastle Forest car park, start of the path up Knocklayde (514 m). This is on forestry dirt-tracks and firm going until near the top, when you come onto open soggy heath with three false summits before you reach the triangulation point. Great views.
- Glentaisie is the last of the nine Glens. It's scenic but has the main road A44 running up it to Armoy. You might prefer to take the lane, B15 Hillside Rd.
- 4 Armoy is a village on A44 six miles south of Ballycastle. The Presbyterian church in village centre has an odd metal spire, likened to a miniature Eiffel Tower, at least by those who've never been to Paris - couldn't they re-badge it as commemorating Marconi? St Patrick's (C of I) church half a mile east has the 11 m stump of a Round Tower, the only remains of the ancient abbey. Armoy Road Races are held here, see below, and the champion motorbike racer Joey Dunlop (1952-2000) came from the village.
- 5 The Dark Hedges are near Armoy, but see Ballymoney for this attraction.
- 6 Fair Head is a three-mile stretch of cliffs up to 300 ft / 100 m high. They're dolerite, rising in organ-pipe columns, popular for rock-climbing. They're not quite sea-cliffs as a scree separates them from the shore. By car or bike leave A2 Cushendall Rd at Ballytoy (Hunter's Bar) and follow Torr Road east. In the little lake by the car park is an Iron Age crannog. Wild goats roam the headland. From here on, the coast trends south, facing the Irish Sea.
- 7 Torr Head is the next headland, reached by staying on Torr Road, which straggles along the clifftops to rejoin the main road at Cushendun. See Cushendall for Altagore ringfort and other sights south of here.
- 8 Kinbane Castle is the gnarly remnant of a two-story fortress, built in 1547 and promptly smashed up by English attacks. It's on a dramatic limestone headland, where you clamber up the steps for views out to Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre. In early 2021 the castle is closed off for maintenance, but you can still enjoy the headland, free to access 24 hours.
- 9 Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, 119a Whitepark Road, Ballintoy BT54 6LS (5 miles west of Ballycastle), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Closed ufn. Carraig a' Ráid means "rock of the fishing-rod" and it's a tidal islet, an offshore volcanic plug, a good place for fishing if only you could reach it. There's been fishing here for centuries but fishermen first built a rope bridge across the chasm from the mainland in 1755, when salmon changed from a cheap staple foodstuff to a lucrative catch. They strung the bridge together much as they'd string a net, a homespun affair not intended to last, and each spring it had to be replaced before the salmon-run began. They also built a cottage on the islet, next to a precarious ledge where the boat was winched up the rock face between trips, for want of shelter from the Atlantic. So successful were they that the salmon are all gone, and the last fisherman retired in 2002. The bridge morphed into a tourist attraction, and now half a million visit each year. No way could a rope bridge cope with that footfall, so it's been replaced by stronger and stronger bridges. The current bridge from 2008 is a sturdy metal wire structure, open year-round except in bad weather or for occasional spells of maintenance. So the knee-trembling experience is gone, the missing slats and your glove turning over and over as it plunges into the void. It's still a remarkable site, but you have to share it with the elbows and selfie-sticks of many nations. No dogs. Adult £9, NT free.
- 10 White Park Bay is a long sandy beach backed by sand hills, maintained by the National Trust and busily burrowed by rabbits. Elephant Rock is a natural scenic arch. The limestone contains many fossils.
- 11 Dunseverick Castle is a scrappy remainder, you come for the headland setting. Earthworks indicate defences here from the Iron Age, and St Patrick called by in the 5th century. The medieval stone bastion has suffered from Cromwell, 350 years of dereliction, and the restless sea. The cliffs on either side have many scenic lookouts and little coves for boats.
- 12 Giant's Causeway is within walking distance west of Dunseverick, see separate page.
- 13 Rathlin Island is the island seen six miles to the north. It's an easy day-trip.
- Rock-climbing: Fair Head is the premier spot, with 100 m columns ascended by hand-jamming or chimneying. Only "clean-climbing" techniques are permitted.
- Ulster Way is a long-distance hiking trail that circumnavigates Northern Ireland. The local section is called the "Causeway Coast Way" but in early 2021 is problematic, with no footpath between Carrick-a-Rede and Ballycastle, so you have to tramp along the busy main road with no sidewalk. To the east the route swings inland as Moyle Way, over boggy hills. In wet weather stick to the public road along the coast towards Cushendall.
- Boat trips out of Ballycastle are available for sea-angling, scuba-diving and scenic tours. The main operator is Kintra.
- Make peace: Corrymeela Community is an organisation based in Ballycastle and dedicated to reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland. They sometimes host conferences, exhibitions and so on.
- Ballycastle Golf Club is on Cushendall Rd just east of the river. White tees 5899 yards, par 71, visitor round £105.
- Armoy Road Races are an on-road motorbike racing event held in July. The next races are probably 23-24 July 2021 but TBA.
- Were you ever at the fair, were you ever ever there, were you ever at the fair in Ballycastle-oh?
- Ould Lammas Fair is a street festival and market held since 1606. Lammas was loaf-mass, a church harvest festival held on 1 Aug, but the modern Fair is held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August linking to the weekend. The next is probably 23-24 Aug 2021 but tba.
- The convenience store for the harbour area is Spar on North St, open daily 07:00-23:00.
- Spar main store is on Castle St (daily 06:30-23:00), along with Co-op Food and Nisa.
- Did you treat your Mary-Ann to the dulse and yellowman, at the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-oh?
- - Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is an edible seaweed - well, sort of edible. So chomp away, buoyed by the thought that a swanky Japanese restaurant would be charging you £14.50 for this experience.
- - Yellowman is a chewy honeycomb toffee, quite tangy as vinegar is mixed with baking soda to create the bubbles. Then it's bashed up with a hammer and sold by weight in irregular lumps.
- The Cellar, 11B The Diamond BT54 6AW, ☏ . Su-F 17:00-23:00, Sa 12:00-23:00. This restaurant gets rave reviews for its seafood and other Med cuisine.
- Anzac Restaurant, 5 Market St BT54 6DP, ☏ . Tu-Sa 17:00-21:00, Su 13:00-20:00. Good bar food and service.
- Thyme & Co Cafe, 5 Quay Road BT54 6BJ, ☏ . M Tu Th F 09:00-16:00, Sa 09:00-15:30, 17:00-21:00, Su 10:00-15:00. Bright simple place for lunch and light bites.
- Maguire Strand camping and caravan site is along Carrickmore Rd, on the coast a mile east of town. It didn't open in 2020.
- Ballycastle Backpackers, 4 North Street BT54 6BN (next to Marine Hotel), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean well-run hostel in 18th century townhouse, very central.
- Castle Hostel is nearby at 38 Quay Rd.
- Marine Hotel, 1-3 North Street BT54 6BN, ☏ . Smart comfy hotel overlooking the harbour. B&B double £110.
- B&Bs: lots, mostly along Quay Rd, and Clare Rd to the north. They didn't open in 2020, or only operated as self-catering.
- 1 White Park Bay Hostel, 157 Whitepark Road, Ballintoy BT54 6NH, ☏ . April-October. Clean quiet hostel in a great location by White Park Bay beach. In winter it may be available to pre-booked groups. Dorm from £17 ppn.
As of Feb 2021, there is 4G in Ballycastle from EE, O2 and Three, but no signal from Vodafone. 5G has not reached this area.
- Rathlin Island is a 30 min ferry ride. You have to come back the same way.
- Giant's Causeway lies west, along with Bushmills and Portrush, all very touristy.
- Southeast through Cushendall are the Glens of Antrim and the scenic coast road via Larne and Carrickfergus to Belfast.