The excursion to Rathlin Island, and back, can sound like a full day trip, but it can also easily be added to a full days itinerary along the Causeway Coast. On our visit, we start with breakfast on Belfast’s Laganside, we forward to Ballycastle via the Dark Hedges, and then travel to Rathlin Island from the Ballycastle Ferry Terminal. Afterwards we still have time for the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge before returning to Belfast. So a visit can be done quite quickly. Anyway, travel to Rathlin Island is always by Boat, the Rathlin Ferry, which leaves from a small harbour on the coast of Ballycastle. The ferry leaves on intervals throughout the day and, while I’ve attached a timetable photo below, it is best to double check the Rathlin Ferry website (website here) as sailings change seasonally and weather conditions can affect crossings.
So it’s easy to travel to Rathlin Island and back in one day, but there is always the possibility of longer, overnight stays (hotel list here) and on the odd occasion, you may forced to stay. Given choppy weather and sea conditions there will always be the rick of cancelled crossings, so it’s best to be certain of this if travelling on a tight schedule. So the Rathlin Ferry will arrive to a small village on the coast where there’s a small docking area and a nearby local bar (McCuaig’s Bar), cafes and gift shops. People do live on the island and there are a number of housing developments along the coastline, not the prettiest, but the village is otherwise fairly small (the photo below shows it from above). A walk along the coastline from here is quite intriguing where we find the remains of old stone houses and seals basking on rocks and beaches. The village also marks the beginning of some scenic walking routes, but we skip on these, and continue to the RSPB Seabird Centre
The Seabird Centre opens only from March through to September (10 am to 5 pm daily) but, again, it is best to check the RSPB Rathlin website to be certain. It is found at the West Lighthouse of the island and while it is possible to reach on foot (four miles), or rent a bike even, we are of course lazy, and take the bus (£5 return for adults). Along the way are scenic views from the hills (like the aerial photo above) then, arriving to the lighthouse, there’s quite a few steps to climb down before finding the Seabird Centre and viewing platform. When we travel it is mid-April which is a bit early for the iconic puffins of Rathlin Island which are seen nesting on cliffs below the platform. So we miss them but instead find all sorts of other birds and, given this is one of largest breeding seabird colonies in Europe, this can include puffin, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, puffins, fulmars, shags and gannets. Either way it was well worth the visit.