Coleraine is a town historically in County Londonderry in Northern Ireland; those counties have been abolished so it's now part of Causeway Coast and Glens District. Standing 55 miles northwest of Belfast, Coleraine is a transport hub and home to Ulster University. It has limited sights of its own but is within a few miles of major attractions along the Antrim coast.
Coleraine in Irish is Cúil Rathain, "nook of the ferns." It grew up at a point where the river could be bridged but was navigable by small boats. It became a Plantation settlement from the 17th century, but remained a small provincial market town until the railways and industry arrived in the 19th century. Coleraine was, and is, predominantly Protestant: of the 13 people killed here during the Troubles, six elderly Protestants were killed by an IRA car bomb, four UVF terrorists were killed by an own goal when their bomb went off prematurely, and three were shot by loyalists.
In spite of that background, Coleraine was re-vitalised from 1970 when it became the main campus of the new Ulster University. This was seen by some as a Protestant poke in the eye for the academic claims of Derry, but that was a cramped city site, and the university had far more scope on the greenfield site north edge of town. This boosted the population to 24,634 by 2011, and it also made Coleraine one of the most affluent towns in Northern Ireland, with spiralling property prices.
The TIC is the Visitor Information Centre in Town Hall on The Diamond.
Trains run hourly, daily from Belfast Great Victoria Street via Lanyon Place and other Belfast stations, Antrim (for International Airport) and Ballymena, taking 80 min to Coleraine. They continue to Castlerock and Derry (40 min) along a scenic coastal route. From Coleraine a connecting train runs hourly via Ulster University to Portrush (15 min).
1 Coleraine railway and bus station is 200 yards northeast of town centre.
2 University railway station is east side of the campus.
Goldline Bus 278 runs in university term-time, with one bus Su-F from Monaghan via Armagh, Moy, Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Garvagh and Coleraine to Ulster University, Portstewart and Portrush.
Bus 172 / 402 tours the scenic Antrim coast, running from Coleraine to Portrush, Dunluce (for castle), Portballintrae, Bushmills (for distillery), Giant's Causeway, Ballintoy (for Carrick-a-Rede bridge) and Ballycastle (for ferries to Rathlin Island). It runs M-F every 2-3 hours with only one on Saturday. The 172 runs direct to Bushmills bypassing Portrush, the routes are otherwise the same.
From Belfast follow M2 / A26 north past Ballymena, 60 miles. From Derry follow A2 / A37 via Limavady.
Walking will get you most places. Take the 140 triangle bus for the University.
Ulsterbus 116 runs from Magherafelt via Castledawson, Maghera and Garvagh. There are four M-F and two on Saturday.
Bus 134 runs 5-6 times M-Sa from Limnavady via Aghanloo, Magilligan and Castlerock to Coleraine.
Bus 173 plies four times M-F from Ballymoney; it's basically a school bus.
Bus 139 perambulates Coleraine town M-Sa hourly.
- Town centre grew up at the lowest bridge on the River Bann, 100 yards wide at this point. The central square is called The Diamond, with town hall and the TIC. St Patrick's Church (C of I) is a little way north; parts date from 1613.
- Art galleries: there isn't a civic museum-gallery but commercial galleries include Reflections on Dunmore St, Ecology Art on Queen St, and Just Fine on New Row.
- 1 Mount Sandel Mesolithic Site, Mountfield Drive BT52 1TW. 24 hours. The mound is an Iron Age fort, circa 500 BC. Given its location, the Normans may also have palisaded and garrisoned it by knee-jerk reflex, but they never built a stone castle. But excavations around it in the 1970s revealed dwellings from 7000 BC, the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. These were ten tepees, with saplings bent into a framework then covered in hides, and with a central hearth. Although there's evidence of earlier human activity in Ireland, this is the earliest fixed "village" - it had been thought that Mesolithic people here were nomadic hunter-gatherers and that settled dwellings and agriculture only began with the Neolithic or New Stone Age. Free.
- Ulster University main campus north of town is one of the better displays of 1970s architecture, a pleasant stretch of parkland and modern buildings. There are also campuses in Belfast, Jordanstown and Derry.
- Riverside Theatre is on the university campus, two miles north of town along A2 Portstewart Rd.
- Cinema: Movie House is south edge of town on Dunhill Rd. It's within Jet Centre which also has 10-pin bowling, mini-golf and arcades.
- Coleraine Leisure Centre has gym, fitness classes and pool. It's on Railway Rd towards the station.
- Anderson Park is a green space north of the central shopping mall.
- Walk: the riverside walk is west bank of the Bann.
- Watch football at Coleraine FC. They play soccer in the NIFL Premiership, the top tier in Northern Ireland; they often do well and qualify for European tournaments. Their home stadium The Showgrounds has a nominal capacity of 13,000 but is restricted to 2500; it's on Ballycastle Rd just east of the railway station.
- Northwest 200 is a motorbike race held in May on a triangular on-road circuit between Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart. The 2020 and 2021 races were cancelled so the next is probably 8-14 May 2022, tbc.
- Boat trips from Coleraine are not sailing in 2021. River Bann cruises are available further upstream, where Lough Neagh empties into Lough Beg then into the Bann: see Magherafelt for details.
- Diamond Shopping Centre is the main mall in town. Further out are several convenience stores, open daily till late.
- The Bookshop at 21 Society St is worth a rummage. It's open M-Sa 10:30-17:00.
- Causeway Specialty Market is held in Town Hall on the second Saturday of each month, 09:00-16:00.
- Riverside Centre is the edge-of-town retail park, south on A29. There's Lidl, Sainsbury's and the Premier Inn.
- Water Margin, 1 Hanover Place BT52 1EB, ☏ . M-Sa 12:30-14:30, 17:00-23:00, Su 13:00-23:00. Popular Chinese chain, the early bird is especially good value.
- Pizza Pomodoro is a cheap and cheerful place on Waterside just west of the bridge, BYOB. It's open daily 16:30-23:00.
- There's a slew of cheap eateries along Railway Rd northeast side of town.
- Old Court House, Castlerock Rd BT51 3HP, ☏ . W-Su 12:00-23:00. JD Wetherspoon pub just west of the bridge at the foot of Castlerock Road, in the converted former Court House. Good range of beer and spirits and standard Wetherspoons pub food.
- Nearby west of the bridge are Bridge Bar, Grannie Annie's and Captain's Bar.
- In town centre east bank are Queen's Arms, Market Bar, Forge Bar, Ruby's and Mary Craig's.
- Clustered round the bus and railway stations are Railway Arms, Clyde Tavern and Patsy's Bar.
- Tullans is a camping and caravan site east of town on Newmills Rd, but in 2021 it's only open for static caravan stays, no tents or tourers.
- Lots of B&B round the edge of town, but not open in early 2021 - try Portstewart just north.
- 1 Premier Inn, 3 Riverside Retail Park BT52 3AW, ☏ . Reliable budget chain. B&B double £80.
- 2 Lodge Hotel, Lodge Rd Roundabout BT52 1NF, ☏ . Clean slick hotel opposite Causeway hotel, handy for motorists. B&B double £100.
- 3 Bushtown Hotel, 283 Drumcroom Rd BT51 3QT, ☏ . Mid-price hotel, spa and leisure centre south edge of town. B&B double £110.
As of Jan 2021, Coleraine has 4G from all UK carriers. 5G has not reached this area.
- Portstewart and Portrush are seaside resorts with long sandy beaches and promenade walks.
- East of them lies the scenic Antrim coast, with the top attractions of Bushmills, Carrick-a-Rede bridge and Giant's Causeway.
- Castlerock is the main resort west of the River Bann, with the wacky 18th century Mussenden Temple.
- Magilligan Point is the haunting spit that ends the Londonderry shoreline, with views across to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.
- Derry is the fascinating walled city at the head of that reach of sea.