If you haven’t got a holiday booked this year or been away anywhere yet, then there is no better place to have a “staycation” than up at the North Coast. Now that The Open has been and gone, the towns and villages are back to ‘business as usual’ with a whole host of family fun set among naturally beautiful coastline and stunning beaches, so there is plenty to keep the family entertained over the summer months and through all weathers.
Here we have listed a few of our faves, but there are lots more things to do and plenty of resources to check it all out.
1. The Giants Causeway
Many of us locals take this Natural Wonder of the World for granted, but it really is outstanding and such a crazy natural phenomenon when you stop to think about how our famous hexagonal rocks were formed. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre has lots of information on the area and the history behind the stones; you can choose to take an audio tour or simply walk down to the Causeway and just take in the gorgeous scenery at your own pace. It’s a photographer’s dream, whatever the weather – and a must-do is to get a picture on the rocks near a crashing wave if you feel like risking it. Not one for the little ones though! The walk to the Causeway can be a challenge for those who are perambulate or just too young/too old, so there is a bus that takes you from the visitors’ centre and back again if you can’t manage. To add to the enjoyment you can also get the old fashioned railway train from Bushmills up to the Causeway which is a real treat for the kids. There is free parking at the Bushmills carpark for the train.
2. White Rock Beach
Located in Portrush, White Rocks beach has to be among the most gorgeous beaches in all Ireland, with beautiful sand dunes that kids loving running up and down. [Side note: A great use for that sledge you have from the winter months is putting the kids on it and letting them sail down the dunes!] Another interesting activity for younger ones is to search the caves for any hidden treasures. We also enjoy acting out the “going on a bear hunt” book and searching the caves for imaginary bears.
Kids aside, there is no better place for a lovely stroll along the water (or in the water if you feel like getting your toes wet) watching the surfers…
There is no better place for just a lovely long the water watching the surfers try their best to catch some waves. If you have older kids, they can take up some surf lessons closer to the town end of the beach. There are a few schools, but Troggs is probably the oldest and best established and surfing is a great way to build up an appetite for a big feed at the Ramore or Neptune and Prawn.
3. Ballintoy Harbour
Down the narrowest and bendiest road you will find the most gorgeous harbour, Ballintoy. With beautiful little fishing boats and views for days, Ballintoy its great place to explore with little ones – and the perfect place to capture life-long photo memories in black and white too. There is beach with loads of pebbles which are fabulous to collect for decoration (I have a beautiful vase of plain white pebbles in the bathroom) or plain grey ones are fab for painting back at home. If you’re adventurous you can bring paints with you to wile away an hour or two on the picnic blanket! Ballintoy is also known to be popular with marine wildlife, so make sure to keep your eyes open in case you spot a pod of dolphins nearby!
4. Portballintrae Beach
Of all the beaches there are for kids, Portballintrae would probably be the most popular choice because it is small, located beside a shop which sells delicious ice cream and there is a public toilet located next to the town hall. You will find many families pack up for the day and head here so you always see a barbeque or picnic happening – if not at the beach, then by the pier wall, where older kids jump off and swim back in to shore. It’s important to note that Portballintrae is a relatively small cove which doesn’t have as strong a current as, say, White Rocks or East Strand in Portrush, so the water is safer to play in. This is the Atlantic Ocean after all. There are also plenty of rock pools so make sure to bring a net to catch some crabs in there as there are always plenty to spot.
5. An evening in Portstewart
A great way to round up a busy day is a walk along the promenade in Portstewart. At the very end of the street there is wonderful play park built in the sand with a splash pad located just beside, so make sure and bring a change of clothes for the little ones! There is also a panoramic viewing wheel located in Portstewart for the summer months so you can take in the views from great height - 110 metres to be exact. This will be there until 01 September, so be sure to give it a go. There are loads of eateries in the area and we love some of the restaurants in Portstewart, but a bag of takeaway chips eaten on the prom is also a fun adventure for the kids too.
6. Morellis Ice Cream
Have you even been to Port-Magic if you haven’t visited Morellis!? Located in Portrush and Portstewart, this third-generation ice cream café is an absolute essential. The ice cream is absolutely delicious with a vast array of flavours from your typical vanilla and chocolate through to Daim bar and Nutella delights. They even have a hot chocolate sauce tap to cover your ice cream! Mums will love that Morellis cater brilliantly for smaller children with their Monkey Cone; just enough ice cream to enjoy the flavour with much less stress about dripping chocolate on those clothes - if you know, you know!
7. Barry’s amusements
Barry’s is, of course, a North Coast institution. Everyone (from this neck of the woods anyway) surely remembers a trip to Barry’s at some stage in their life? How could you forget!? It has definitely moved with the times though, and now caters to a younger crowd with more toddler rides to keep the littlest ones happy while the bigger ones can enjoy the famous Ghost Train and Big Dipper out the back. The only tears you will see are when the tokens for the rides run out!
8. Creative Gardens
This is not only the most beautiful garden centre you could find (located in Bushmills), but also a great idea for a rainy day. There is a big gift shop inside with lots of alternative toys and books for children and also a lovely restaurant/café. There is a play barn with a climbing frame and slide equipment located beside the ice cream/coffee station so parents can relax whilst the children play in a safe environment. There are also numerous children’s activities that go on through the summer including treasure hunts, face painting and barbeques as they house a Webber Barbeque area.
9. Coastering and other watersports
The Atlantic Ocean is free to use – so get out and enjoy it, even for a paddle, while the Gulf Stream keeps the waters warm right through until October. If you have older kids and you’re feeling particularly sporty, find Hanno at Alive Surf School, who does wonderful surf plus Stand Up Paddle Boarding lessons for kids and adults from the beach. (He also does free diving – think Luc Besson in La Grande Bleu circa 1989 – but maybe not for the kids!) We also love kayaking up here too, it’s so fab and a great way to explore the coast on a calm day.
Matt and Barry at CausewayCoasteringNI are a brilliant duo to encourage your kids to face their fears and experience a multi-sensory, adrenaline-rushed day out climbing rocks and jumping off into the sea. Believe me, it’s scary at first, but so exhilarating and kids LOVE the adventure of it. If you’d prefer the river life to ocean life, then try water skiing on The Bann river at Coleraine.
10. Golf lessons
Contact Royal Portrush, home of The Open 2019, to book a lesson for the budding Rory McIlroys in your family. The scenery is wonderful in the links course, not that all kids will notice to be honest, but the fresh air, the walking and the concentration of the put will build focus as well as an appetite for lunch or dinner in the Ramore afterwards!