Rathlin Island Travel Guide

Discover the beauty of Rathlin Island with our comprehensive travel guide. Learn about its culture, attractions, food, where to stay, and more.

Introduction to Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island is a small, inhabited island located off the coast of Northern Ireland in County Antrim. With around 150 residents, this tranquil paradise boasts stunning natural landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich cultural history.

List of Places to Visit in Rathlin Island

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

The island is steeped in fascinating history, with several museums and historical landmarks worth exploring. These include:

  • The Boathouse Visitor Centre: learn about the biology, geology, and history of Rathlin Island with exhibits, interactive displays, and a cinema.
  • Robert the Bruce’s Cave: a small cave with significant historical significance, as legend has it that King Robert the Bruce spent time here during his exile.
  • The Rathlin Island Church: built in the 1700s, this simple church is still in use today and is considered one of the oldest buildings on the island.

Natural Attractions of Rathlin Island: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

Rathlin Island is a paradise for nature lovers, with pristine beaches, rugged cliffs, and diverse wildlife to explore. Some of the must-visit natural attractions include:

  • The RSPB Seabird Centre: located on the west side of the island, this centre provides visitors with panoramic views of the rugged cliffs and an opportunity to see thousands of seabirds.
  • The Rathlin Trail: a 4-mile walking trail that takes visitors through woodlands, along dramatic cliffsides, and past the island’s famous lighthouse.
  • The Six-mile Waterfall: located near the west end of the island, this cascading waterfall is a sight to behold.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island is a hiker’s paradise, with several trails that offer stunning views of the island’s natural beauty. Some of the best hiking/biking routes include:

  • Kebble Nature Reserve Trail: a circular 2-mile trail that takes visitors through wetlands and grassland areas.
  • Ann’s Bay Trail: a 6-mile trail that covers the east end of the island, with stunning views of the coast and the surrounding sea.
  • Rathlin Trail: a moderate 4-mile trail that takes visitors through the heart of the island, past the island’s lighthouse, and through some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island.

Best Things to Do in Rathlin Island: Activities and Tours

In addition to hiking and exploring the natural beauty of the island, there are several other exciting activities and tours to choose from. Some of the best things to do include:

  • Visiting the seals at Mill Bay: take a boat tour to see the island’s resident grey seal colony up close.
  • Fishing: try your hand at fishing with local guides and learn about the island’s fishing heritage.
  • Scuba diving: explore the fascinating underwater landscape of the surrounding sea, with dives suitable for all experience levels.

Week-Long Itinerary for Rathlin Island

Day 1: Arrive on the island and explore the Boathouse Visitor Centre and Robert the Bruce’s Cave. Day 2: Take a boat tour to see the seals at Mill Bay and hike along the RSPB Seabird Centre trail. Day 3: Visit the Rathlin Island Church and enjoy a picnic on one of the island’s many beaches. Day 4: Rent a bike and explore the island’s many biking trails, with stops at the Six-mile Waterfall and Kebble Nature Reserve. Day 5: Take a scuba diving tour and explore the island’s underwater world. Day 6: Enjoy a leisurely day of fishing and stop by the island’s only pub for a pint. Day 7: Depart the island, taking in the scenic views one last time.

Food and Drink Scene of Rathlin Island

Must-Try Dishes

Rathlin Island has a small but vibrant food scene, with many traditional dishes featuring fresh seafood caught right off the coast. Must-try dishes include:

  • Seafood chowder: a hearty soup made with fresh fish, mussels, and other shellfish.
  • Smoked salmon: one of the island’s most famous dishes, featuring locally smoked Atlantic salmon.
  • Pan-fried scallops: another seafood delicacy, cooked to perfection and served with a variety of sauces.

Local Beverages

The island is also famous for its traditional drinks, with several local breweries and distilleries producing fine ales and spirits. Must-try beverages include:

  • Rathlin Island Whiskey: produced by the island’s only distillery, this single malt whiskey is made using traditional methods and features unique island flavors.
  • Kinnegar Brewing: a small brewery located on the mainland near the island produces a variety of fine ales, many of which can be found in local pubs.

Where to Stay in Rathlin Island: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

Despite its small size, Rathlin Island offers several accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences. Some of the best places to stay include:

  • Kinramer Cottage: a cozy, self-catering cottage with stunning views of the coast and ample space for small groups or families.
  • Rathlin Island Hostel: a budget-friendly option with comfortable dorm beds and private rooms, located just a short walk from the island’s main attractions.
  • The Manor House: a luxurious guesthouse with spacious rooms, a relaxing wellness center, and stunning sea views.

What to Buy in Rathlin Island: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Rathlin Island is home to several unique stores and boutiques, offering a variety of locally-made products and souvenirs. Some of the best things to buy include:

  • Whiskey from the island’s only distillery.
  • Locally made soaps and skincare products featuring unique island ingredients.
  • Handmade jewelry and pottery crafted by local artisans.

Local Culture and Customs of Rathlin Island

The people of Rathlin Island have a rich cultural heritage, and visitors can experience this through various events and traditions throughout the year. Some of the most important customs include:

  • Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival: an annual celebration of the island’s seafaring heritage, featuring traditional music, dance, and boat tours.
  • St. Thomas’s Day: an annual church service and procession celebrating the island’s patron saint.
  • Rathlin Island Regatta: a lively sporting event featuring traditional boat races and other competitions, held each summer.

Best Time to Visit Rathlin Island

The best time to visit Rathlin Island is during the summer months (June-August), when the weather is mild, and the island is alive with events and activities. However, each season has its own unique charm, with spring offering stunning wildflower displays and autumn featuring beautiful fall foliage.

Do’s and Don’ts of Rathlin Island


  • Respect the island’s natural beauty and wildlife by following Leave No Trace principles.
  • Follow the island’s fishing regulations and obtain necessary permits before fishing.
  • Attend local events and traditions to learn more about the island’s unique culture and heritage.


  • Disturb the island’s animal habitats or feed wild animals.
  • Ignore local fishing regulations or fish outside of regulated times or areas.
  • Leave behind any litter or waste on the island.

Safety and Health

Safety in Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island is generally safe for travelers, with low crime rates and a peaceful, welcoming community. However, visitors should still exercise caution and follow basic safety guidelines while exploring the island.

  • Carry a map or GPS system while hiking.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and footwear when exploring the island.
  • Beware of strong currents and riptides when swimming or boating in the surrounding sea.

Health in Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island has a small medical center that can assist with minor health issues. However, visitors with serious medical conditions should seek medical attention on the mainland before visiting the island.

Getting to Rathlin Island: Transportation Options and Logistics

Airports Near Rathlin Island

The nearest airport to Rathlin Island is Belfast International Airport, located approximately 50 miles from the island. From there, visitors can take a bus or taxi to the nearby ferry terminal.

Bus Stations Near Rathlin Island

The nearest bus station to Rathlin Island is in Ballycastle, approximately 10 miles from the island. From there, visitors can take a taxi or walk to the nearby ferry terminal.

Other Options

The most common way to reach Rathlin Island is by ferry, with several daily crossings from Ballycastle. Visitors can also rent private boats or take chartered tours to reach the island.

How to Get Around in Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island is small enough to explore on foot or by bike, and several rental options are available for visitors. Alternatively, visitors can arrange for a guided tour or take a taxi to explore the island’s attractions.

Where to Go Next from Rathlin Island: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

After exploring Rathlin Island, visitors can continue their Northern Ireland adventure by visiting nearby destinations such as the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.


Rathlin Island is a hidden gem in Northern Ireland, offering visitors a chance to experience the beauty of nature and immerse themselves in local culture and traditions. From hiking and biking to exploring historical landmarks and enjoying local cuisine, Rathlin Island has something for everyone.