Things to do in Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim

by Jan

Is Ballintoy Harbour worth visiting?  We think so.  We paid a visit during our recent road trip on the Causeway Coastal Route and loved it. Find out for yourself with our guide on the top things to do in Ballintoy Harbour.

Ballintoy Harbour is a little fishing village with a big reputation.  It is a popular stop off on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route, bringing in vast numbers of visitors every year.

So, you must be wondering why such a small place attracts so many visitors?

Well, not only is Ballintoy picture-postcard pretty but a filming location for Game of Thrones.  Since the television series cast Ballintoy as the filming location for Lordsport, the popularity of the village has soared.

We visited Ballintoy Harbour during our recent road trip along the Antrim Coast.  We took the Causeway Coastal Route from Belfast to Derry, enjoying some of Ireland’s most breath-taking scenery along the way.

Although for some it’s tempting to just pop in and take a photo, there’s far more to Ballintoy and lots to see.  In this guide, we share the details of our visit and help you discover all the best things to do in Ballintoy Harbour.

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Getting to Ballintoy Harbour

Ballintoy Harbour views, Northern Ireland

Less than a mile from the village on the North Atlantic Coast is Ballintoy Harbour.  To get there by car, you have to descend a steep, winding road, down Knocksaughey Hill,  which leads to the coast.  It’s the sort of road, where you just pray no one is coming up in the other direction.  Luckily, large vehicles are not permitted!

Without a car, the easiest way to get to Ballintoy is a guided tour from Belfast.  You can choose from a selection of day trips, many of which include a visit to Ballintoy Harbour.

A brief history of Ballintoy Harbour

Stunning coastal views near Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

Ballintoy has a rich, maritime heritage and once was a hive of activity for seafaring traffic.

Large schooners and little fishing boats provided a constant flow of traffic in the harbour, as they exported wood coal, limestone, and basalt to Ireland.

The harbour was first built in the mid-18th century to support the local mining and quarrying industries.

Herdman, McKeen & Co started extracting lime in Ballintoy at the start of 1860.  The harbour became an important trading point, as they removed limestone to Ireland’s industrial cities, for construction use.  You can still see the limekilns near the harbour today.

Ballintoy Church of Ireland

Ballintoy Church of Ireland, Northern Ireland

On the way to the harbour, keep an eye out for the gorgeous, white church looking out over the ocean. Perched on the side of the hill, Ballintoy Church dates to 1813, replacing the original 17th century building.

The church’s steeple was removed after hurricane damage in 1894, when it crashed through the roof.  Unfortunately, many other properties and boats in the village were also devastated or lost in the storm that ravished the coastline for six hours.

Inside the church, you’ll see two magnificent stained-glass windows.  To the outside of the church is a sundial from 1817, which they used as a tide clock to measure the movement of tides.  You can also see the gravestones of many notable families and seamen from the area.

Parking at Ballintoy Harbour

Once you arrive at Ballintoy Harbour, there is a free car park.  We found it easy to find a space, but it can get busy in the afternoons.  From the car park it is just a few minutes’ walk to the harbour.

You’ll also find some free, public toilets in the car park.

Things to do at Ballintoy Harbour

Although many visitors head to Ballintoy Harbour because of Game of Thrones, this picturesque destination has much more going on.  Whether you’re a nature-lover, hiker, or adventure-seeker, you’ll find something fun to do at Ballintoy Harbour.

Here’s how we spent our visit and the pick of the best things to do in Ballintoy Harbour.

Stroll around Ballintoy Harbour

Sheep and stunning coastline on a walk from Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

On arrival, the first thing to do is take a wander around the pretty harbour.  You can walk along the quayside, for views out over Sheep Island, Rathlin Island, and the Scottish Isles.

Nowadays the only boats you’ll see are small boats, used for fishing and tourist tours.   However, on the day we visited, there wasn’t a single boat in sight!

Take a boat trip

Despite the lack of boats when we arrived, Ballintoy is a popular destination for hiring a boat.  Several companies offer a variety of trips which depart from here, Ballintoy Boat Tours or Causeway Sea Safari.

There’s a choice of boat tours including a short trip to Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, or Harbour History Tour.  They even offer adult trips, with gin-tasting!

Have a go at Coasteering

If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Ballintoy,  you could explore the coastline with a coasteering adventure from Ballintoy Harbour .  The experience takes 2.5 hours and will combine rock climbing and swimming in the sea.  Another option for adventure-lovers is a kayak tour around the coast.

See the Old Lime Kilns

Visitors to Ballintoy Harbour can still see a pair of old limekilns, a testament to the lucrative limestone industry of the 18th century.

Check out the Game of Thrones filming location

The picturesque village of Ballintoy rose to fame after appearing the HBO’s medieval fantasy, Game of Thrones.  This has attracted hordes of new visitors, many of whom arrive by coach as part of a guided tour.

Ballintoy is the filming location for the fictional town of Lordsport in the television series, Game of Thrones.  It is the port of Pyke in the Iron Islands of Westeros and home to Theon and Yara Greyjoy.

Blue skies, coastal views as seen Game of Thrones filming location, Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

There are two display boards, one by the harbour and one by the beach describing the scenes from the series.

The first filming location was for season 2 and is by the harbour.  This is the scene when Theon first arrives at his boyhood home of Pyke in the Iron Islands.  He is later baptised in the harbour.

The second filming location is by Ballintoy Beach.  This features the place (in Season 6, Episode 2) where Euron Greyjoy, presumed dead, returns to the Iron Islands.  He later goes on to kill his brother, Balon.  Later in Episode 5, Euron is declared king on the Iron Islands, drowned and reborn.

Hard to believe that this all happens in little Ballintoy Harbour?  However, when you see the dramatic seascape, you’ll understand why!

A walk on the Causeway Coast Way

Natural Rock arch on Walk from Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

One of the very best things to do at Ballintoy Harbour is to walk a section of the Causeway Coast Way.

The Causeway Coast Way is a long-distance trail, which goes from Portstewart to Ballycastle, which takes about 2 days.  It is a scenic route, which passes just above Ballintoy Harbour.

From Ballintoy, you can go east to Carrick-a-Rede or west to White Park Bay.

Walk from Ballintoy to Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

View of Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

If you head east from Ballintoy Harbour, you’ll come to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, one of Northern Ireland’s most popular attractions.

At 100 feet high and 65 feet long, salmon fishermen have used this bridge for centuries to access the island.  It is now a tourist attraction and one of the best places to visit on the Causeway Coastal Route.

You can join the trail at the bend in the road by Ballintoy Church and head along the cliff top.  It’s only about 1km to get to the ticket office, but then another 1km to the bridge.

Click here for more details about a visit to Carrick-a-Rede.

A walk from Ballintoy to White Park Bay Beach

Sheep on the coastline, Ballintoy Harbour walk, Northern Ireland

As we’d visited Carrick-a-Rede on the second day of our road trip, we headed west towards White Park Bay.

This is a stunning stretch of rugged coastline, known as a “raised beach”.  Shaped over millions of years by sea, ice, faulting, and volcanic lava, the coastline here has a unique geology.  This is not really that surprising when you remember it’s only 7 miles from the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.

You’ll see an array of diverse coastal features and rock formations.  These include natural limestone arches, caves, and sea stacks, including “Elephant Rock”.  We left the trail to explore some of the rocks, before continuing our walk.

Whitepark Beach, Northern Ireland

The walk to White Park Beach follows a pretty trail, with lots of wildlife including sheep and rabbits galore.  It was boggy in places and there’s several stiles, so is not accessible to all.  However, it is a flat trail and very family friendly.

White Park Bay Beach is just over 2km away and takes about 40 minutes to get there on foot.  White Park Bay has a long sandy beach and is famous for its unusual visitors – cows!  However, we weren’t in luck, as we didn’t see any.

A visit to Dunseverick Castle

If you continue along the Causeway Coast Way, you’ll arrive a Dunseverick Castle, the remains of an ancient fort on the headland.  We didn’t make it this far and turned to retrace our steps to Ballintoy.

Ballintoy Harbour - need to know

Places to eat at Ballintoy Harbour

You’ll find a small café, Rourke’s Kitchen right next to the harbour.  Alternatively, head back to Ballintoy village where you can eat in one of the pubs.

Directions to Ballintoy Harbour

By car

You can drive directly from Belfast in 1 hour, or use the more scenic Causeway Coastal Way.  From Dublin, the drive is about 3 hours.

You could combine your visit with a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, which is only 7 miles along the coast.

By public transport

The nearest train station is Coleraine, which is 16 miles away.  You could then take the 402 bus, going via Portrush.  This would take about 3 hours.

A coach tour from Belfast

If you don’t have a car, it would be far easier to get to Ballintoy is with an organised tour from Belfast or Dublin.  The group tours organise luxury coaches, which would save you the hassle of public transport.

You could combine this tour with a visit to the nearby Giant’s Causeway or Dunluce Castle.  Game of Throne fans might prefer a full-day tour of GoT filming locations.

The best accommodation near Ballintoy

View of the water mill by river Bush, Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

If you’re travelling independently, you could stay in Bushmills or Ballycastle.  There are only a few choices for accommodation in Ballintoy, as it is so small.

We stayed in Bushmills, which is ideal for visiting the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede.  We stayed here for three nights, allowing us to make an early visit to the Giant’s Causeway.

Bushmills is a pretty village, with several shops, pubs, and places to eat.  It is also home to the oldest whiskey distillery in the world, Old Bushmill’s Distillery.  You can do a tour of the distillery in about 40 minutes.

Accommodation in Belfast

Alternatively, you could do a day trip from Belfast, where you’ll find plenty of choice of accommodation.

If you want luxury accommodation, try The Regency or The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

For mid-range accommodation, have a look at the Hilton or Bullitt Hotel.

We stayed on the edge of town in an amazing 2-bedroom apartment (Titanic View), which is perfect if you have a car.

Other Game of Thrones filming locations near Ballintoy

Game of Thrones fans will be spoilt for choice when choosing filming location spots in Northern Ireland.  There are loads and all within an easy drive of each other.

Just up the road, by the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is Larrybane Quarry.  This was the filming location for Renly Baratheon’s camp.

Or you could explore Dunluce Castle, home to the house of Greyjoy.

At Cushendun Caves, you can see where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow creature who later killed Renly Baratheon.

One of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland is the Dark Hedges.  This tree-lined avenue became famous as the Kingsroad.

Click here for the Game of Thrones tour from Belfast or Dublin.

Other places to visit in Northern Ireland:

There are so many fantastic places to visit near Ballintoy.  One of the most popular attractions in Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is less than 8 miles away.  Other interesting places to visit on the Antrim Coast include the seaside town of Ballycastle or the Glens of Antrim.

Or you could try Gobbins, an exhilarating cliffside walk near Larne.

We'd love to hear from you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the best things to do in Ballintoy Harbour?   We’d love to hear your questions or comments below.

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