A coastal trail with a difference: sea kayaking in Northern Ireland

written by
Helen Ochyra

updated 05.07.2019

The Northern Irish coast is justifiably famous for its beauty, all craggy inlets and brooding cliffs topped by crumbling castles. Most people explore this coastline from the land, walking along the clifftops and driving the winding road that snakes along from the Scotland-facing east coast to the large inlet of Derry in the west.

But now a new kind of coast trail lets visitors see this gorgeous area from the ocean. The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail promises something for everyone, of all kayaking abilities, as well as being a great way to see the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.


© Rudi Leys/Shutterstock

So, where is it?

The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail runs along the north Antrim coast of Northern Ireland from Magilligan Point to Waterfoot at the base of Glenariff, over 70 nautical miles of open water.

What will I see?

The star of the show here is, of course, the Giant’s Causeway. But as most novice kayakers paddle at around three nautical miles per hour, and there are a lot of jutting headlands and craggy outcrops to navigate, it will take a little while before you hit the main attraction.

And that’s the point of kayaking here. Visit by coach and you’ll be whisked along to the Causeway in a flash, seeing nothing of its surroundings. Explore by kayak instead, and you’ll understand the geological context as you negotiate the rugged coastline that surrounds those famous natural steps.

You’ll also see just how flexible a kayak can be – backing into narrow grottos at White Rock, or “rock hopping” through the shallow waters that lap the spiky basalt cliffs of Ballintoy.

How long does it take?

Experienced kayaker and ready to go? Then the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail can be travelled in its entirety in two full days. There’s plenty of information, including maps on the Canoe NI website.

Those with less paddling experience can see the Causeway by heading out with a guide from Simply Sea Kayaking from Portballintae to Dunseverick Harbour, which takes about 6–8 hours.

What about wildlife?

You’re sure to see gannets dive-bombing into the Atlantic with alarming speed in search of fish all along this coast, while at Runkerry Cave you’ll see cormorants nesting by the dozen.

Seals hang out around the Skerries rock stacks and will almost certainly pop their grey heads up out of the water to greet you – they may even mess with you, disappearing in a flash only to reappear directly behind you with what you’ll swear is a cheeky glint in their eye.

Dolphins also regularly surface to check out any interloper in their waters people have even seen basking sharks breaching nearby.

Giant's Causeway

Image by CanoeNI.com

Is it hard work?

The simple answer is yes. Your aching muscles at the end of a day on the trail will prove testament to that, but sea kayaking is easy enough for anyone with a decent level of fitness – and a certain amount of tenacity. But those sheer cliff views make it all worthwhile – and those aching muscles are nothing a hot bath can’t sort out.

Sharing a double kayak can make things easier (and you’re less likely to capsize).

How do I do it?

Simply Sea Kayaking r tours for all abilities along the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail including three-hour taster sessions for complete beginners and guided excursions for those with more experience.

There are even overnight tours, including bothy camping. Prices start from £40 per person and include all specialist equipment.

Explore more of Ireland with the Rough Guide to Ireland. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Top image © Nahlik/Shutterstock

Helen Ochyra

written by
Helen Ochyra

updated 05.07.2019

Helen Ochyra is a Scotland-obsessed freelance travel writer and author of the critically acclaimed Scottish travel book "Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes", a Times Travel “book of the week” and one of Wanderlust’s “best travel books of 2020”. Helen specialises in British travel and is currently studying towards a Masters in British Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Helen's work has recently appeared in the Times, the Telegraph and Grazia among many others. She lives in London with her husband and two young daughters.

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