Northern Ireland - North Antrim Coast

Top 10 places

Top 100 places to visit in Northern Ireland

3. Raithlin Island

Top 10 ten places to visit in Northern Ireland - North Antrim Coast

Raithlin Island

Rathlin Island is Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island. It lies five miles north of Ballycastle and just 12 miles west of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. Take the ferry from Ballycastle to visit this craggy place, bounded almost entirely by cliffs and dominated by the sea. Lighthouses at each end of the island hint at the danger this place can still cause for shipping.
This is a birdwatchers paradise, and Bull Point on the western tip is part of a large RSPB nature reserve. The western lighthouse serves as an excellent viewpoint over Northern Ireland’s largest colony of seabirds. (Open April to September) Contact the warden on (+0044) (0) 28 2076 3948 in advance – a minibus runs to the lighthouse from Church Bay in the summer.

Alternatively, you can access some of the caves in the foot of the cliff by sea, but only in the calmest of weather. A number of them are filled with bits of wreckage from ships, brought to the surface by storms. Enquire at the boathouse about trips.

There is a Stone Age axe-making site about halfway towards the western lighthouse, and to its north, earthworks known as Doonmore. Rathlin was a settlement favoured by monks in the early Christian period, and the remains of a primitive kind of sauna known as a “sweathouse” used by the monks, can be seen near Church Bay at Knockans.  Some sweathouses of this type were still used in Northern Ireland in the 1920’s.

About a hundred people live on Rathlin Island today, supported mainly by tourism and concentrated in Church Quarter, on the sandy and more sheltered Church Bay on the south coast. The many ruined cottages and old dry stone walls elsewhere on the island stand witness to violent incidents in the island’s past.

The first place in Ireland to be raided by the Vikings in 795 AD, Rathlin was later the scene of two bloody massacres. In 1575, the Irish MacDonnell clan sent their women, children and elderly from the mainland for safety from the invading English. This didn’t prevent the English fleet under the Earl of Essex (whose soldiers included Sir Francis Drake) finding them, and killing the entire population.

Sixty seven years later 1642, the Scottish Campbell Clan (enemies of a later generation of the Irish MacDonnells) invaded the island and butchered the inhabitants. This second massacre caused Rathlin to be deserted for many years afterwards.

On the north east point of the island is Bruce’s Cave, a black basalt cavern where legend has it that the Scottish King Robert the Bruce hid away in 1306, after being defeated by the English at Perth. Watching a spider repeatedly trying to spin its web gave him the resolve not to give in, and he returned to Scotland and defeated an English army at Bannockburn.

The Boathouse by Church Quarter’s Harbour has been converted into a visitor centre where you can discover more about the culture and history of the island. (Open May to August daily, 10.30 am to 4 pm)

Raithlin Island Address:      
(For ferry departures)  
Port of Ballycastle
Northern Ireland, UK

Sailing times:

21st October - 20th March
Rathlin Ballycastle   Ballycastle   Rathlin 
Depart Arrive  Depart  Arrive 
9.00am 9.45am 10.30am  11.15am 
3.00pm  3.45pm  4.00pm   4.45pm  

  4.30pm 5.15pm   
25th December and 1st January 
Rathlin Ballycastle   Ballycastle   Rathlin 
Depart Arrive   Depart  Arrive 
9.00am   9.45am 


Adult Day Return: £10.00
Children (under 5 years): Free   
Children (5 & under 16) £5.00
Senior Citizen (in possession of a smart pass) Free
Family Ticket (2 adults and 2 children) £26.50    
Group Rate: On Request
Bicycle: £2.60

T  +44 (0)8000 66 5000

More places to visit in Northern Ireland

Raithlin Island location


Accommodation and eating out on Rathlin Island

Manor House, B&B and tearoom, (+0044) (0) 28 2076 3964

Soerneog View Hostel (+0044) (0) 02 2076 3954,;dorms

Bruce’s Kitchen in Church Quarter for bar meals

McCuaig’s Pub in Church Quarter for snacks and lunches

Manor House for lunches and teas 

Laterooms hotel deals

  • Spa hotels   City breaks
  • Beach hotels
  • Discount 5 star deals
  • Great UK locations

Find a hotel