How to Spend a Day (or two) on Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island is located six miles off the coast of Ballycastle and is the Northernmost inhabited point of Northern Ireland.

Home to only 150 people, the island is 6km by 4km and can be extensively explored on foot or by bike.

It’s a sanctuary for seabirds and seals and if you find yourself with a spare day or two on the Irish North Coast, Rathlin won’t disappoint. 

Views of Rathlin Island Coast

Legends of Rathlin 

As is the case with many hotspots on the Irish North Coast, Rathlin Island is shrouded in deep history and of course, a few folklores. The most famous being that of Scottish King, Robert the Bruce, who found himself seeking shelter on Rathlin where he was inspired by the efforts of a spider persevering, trying (and failing) to weave its web so it could cross a gap in the castle. These events led him to head back to Scotland to reclaim his throne. 

Rathlin Island Massacre

In 1575, 600 Scottish and Irish (400 of whom were civilians) were killed on Rathlin after Francis Drake and John Norreys invaded Rathlin Castle, a sanctuary at the time for the MacDonnell Clan.

How to Get to Rathlin Island 

 

Ferry to Rathlin Island Timetable - Credit: Rathlin Ballycastle Ferry

Ferry to Rathlin Island Timetable – Credit: Rathlin Ballycastle Ferry

The Rathlin Island Ferry operates frequently between Ballycastle and Rathlin during the summer and winter months but expect a limited service between October to April. The Rathlin Express takes 25 minutes and departs from pier 1. The Spirit of Rathlin is the slightly slower ferry for vehicles and passengers (40 minutes) and departs from pier 2. 

Ferry to Rathlin Island Timetable – Credit: Rathlin Ballycastle Ferry

You can check out the Ballycastle to Rathlin ferry times below: 

Summer Timetable – 13th April to 30th September 2022.

Winter Timetable – 1st October 2022 to 12th April 2023.

 

 

 

 

Things to Do in Rathlin 

There’s an abundance of activities to keep you busy during your Rathlin Island stay. Whether you’re just hopping on the ferry for the day or prefer an overnight escapade, make sure you have the following must-sees on your itinerary. 

Visit the Rathlin Island Seabird Centre 

The Rathlin Island Puffins are in residence at the RSPB West Light from April to July. During this time you can expect to see hundreds of these bright billed birds as they return to Rathlin to nest. The Seabird Centre is open 10am to 5pm everyday to the end of September and is free for RSPB members (£5 for non-members).

Cycle the Island 

If you prefer to discover Rathlin by bike, you can hire one from the Soerneg View Hostel, it’s seasonal so be sure to double check with the hostel/book in advance before your trip or reach out to one of us here at the lodge and we’d be happy to hook you up. 

There are three main cycling routes on the island and since Rathlin is pretty traffic free, it’s super safe. 

Take a Hike

Rathlin Island currently has a total of 7 walking trails if you’re eager to immerse yourself in its nature on foot, the majority of which are less than a couple of miles and suitable for those of all abilities.

If you’re seeking something a little more challenging, you can combine a couple or several of the trails so you can explore every inch the island has to offer.

A little more about Rathlin Island’s walks can be found below, or you can download this mini guide from the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council if you want a rough visual guide of the paths, where they intersect and where you can combine them and create your own route. 

The Rathlin Trail:

Hop from ferry to footpath on this scenic 4.8 mile stroll from the harbour to the West Lighthouse. Don’t forget to stop in the seabird centre once you get to the destination and check out the Atlantic Puffins if you’re visiting from April to July. The trail is mostly tarmac/road but is relatively traffic free due to the restrictions on the island. More about the hike can be found on Walk NI, here.

Kebble South and West Lighthouse Circular:

This 1.25 mile stretch from the West Lighthouse to Kebble Cottage is the perfect way to discover the dramatic coastline of Rathlin Island. There are various arches, stacks and seabirds along the route. Most people make a loop of this route which can easily be done if you’re hiking the Rathlin trail. Full details on the loop can be found on All Trails, here

Kinramer North Trail: 

Team this hike with the Kebble South Trail to fully explore the western side of the island. Or if you’re just after a quick stroll, do this solely and take in sights from the Kebble Nature Reserve, Lack Point, Kinramer Wood and Kebble Cottage. You can even link this 2.1 mile loop with the Kinramer Permissive Path if you’re keen on scoping out the sea cliffs a little more. Full route details can be found here

Kinramer Permissive Path:

If you want to check out more Basalt columns, similar to what you might see on the Giants Causeway, we highly recommend you check out the Kinramer Permissive Path. This short loop is just 1.7 miles, and full details of the walk can be found here

Ballyconaghan Trail: 

Towards the Northeastern part of Rathlin lies the Ballyconaghan trail, a 1.3 mile loop which takes you past the Coastguard station, Church quarter and gives you a good view of the East Lighthouse and even Scotland on a clear day. 

East Light Walk: 

The East Light walk takes you from Rathlin harbour to the East Lighthouse. It’s a gentle, 2 mile loop taking you past two churches on route.

Roonivoolin Walk: 

This is a slightly longer walk on Rathlin if you’re looking to shower your head and get out in nature for a good few hours. You can start this trail as soon as you hop off the ferry and take this less-travelled route towards the south tip of the island through the RSPB Roonivoolin Reserve. Keep your eyes peeled for seals, curlew and Irish hare, of which there’s an abundance of on this path. You’ll get the chance to take in the views of the dramatic coastline, Church Bay, Mill Bay, Craigmacaghan Lough and Rue Point where you can go see the lighthouse. For directions for the route, click here

Spot Some Seals

There are over 1500 seals currently recorded to call Rathlin Island and its shores home. The common Seal (Harbour Seal) and the Grey Seal which you’ll often find in less-sheltered areas of the island.

Thanks to Rathlin Island’s geography, all the small inlets make for perfect areas for seals to haul out. They’re commonly spotted by the main harbour, Rue Point, Doon Bay, Church Bay and Mill Bay. 

The Harbour Seals’ pupping season is from May to June, while the Grey Seals tend to give birth around September to November time. 

When looking for seals on your trip remember to respect them and keep your distance, let the animals decide how close they want to come to you. Plus, if they’re with their young, they will be a lot more protective and territorial of them. Seals can, and will bite to protect their young.

Can You Camp on Rathlin Island?

Many people visiting Lagom are keen campers. It’s a great way to fully immerse yourself in the nature you’re visiting. At the time of writing, there aren’t any places to pitch your tent (legally) on Rathlin. If you’re planning on spending the night on Rathlin Island, you can try out one of the Rathlin Island glamping pods which are located just south of the Harbour. Alternatively, there are also several B&Bs on the island as well as a hostel. 

Is Rathlin Island Worth Visiting?

Wondering if it’s worth spending a day on Rathlin the next time you visit us on the Causeway Coast? We hope this post cleared things up for you. If you have any questions about visiting Rathlin Island, feel free to reach out to us and let us know in the comments below what your best part about your Rathlin Island day trip was 👇