On Water

Beach Recreation & Swimming


For beach recreation and swimming there are many wonderful and accessible sandy beaches and varied coastline in our area.

They provide special places for both local communities and the visitor alike in the enjoyment of a variety of activities on beautiful shores in spectacular locations . An obvious and common recreation is simply walking and excercising. All of the beaches offer a place to relax and enjoy the health benefits of being outdoors in great spaces. Rock pooling, sand castle building, mandala making, flying a kite, beach games, fishing, sun and sea bathing are all for the taking across a variety of beach locations .


From north to south within County Down the favoured beaches are Helens Bay, Crawfordsburn, Ballyholme, Groomsport, Millisle, Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert, Portavogie, Cloughey, Knockinelder, Benderg, Rossglass, Tyrella, Murlough, Newcaste, Nicholson’s Strand, Cranfield, Warrenpoint.

The Guide to GB/Northern Ireland beaches gives a summary of facilities at each location and can be found at:

Opportunities for “wild swimming” can be had almost anywhere, care and caution should be given to coastline where sea state and or local currents would make open water swimming more challenging.. An example of this would be anywhere in the “Narrows” of Strangford Lough, on the “bar” at Ballykinler where the channel neets the ope sea of Dundrum Bay.






Area Description

The variety and distribution of beaches in the area offers the visitor much scope in any prefered activity of choice. All sit between inspiring land and sea-scapes, some offering views that will simply inspire and “take the breath away. “ The beaches of North Down provide the convenience of being proximate to large urban settlement of Belfast-Bangor-Ards. At the other extreme the remote and relatively isolated beaches of Knockinelder, Benderg Rossglass and Murlough will allow a greater sense of escape. At Murlough and Newcastle experience “where mountains fall in to the sea “ the vista across Dundrum Bay is outstanding .

For the classic sandy beach with a backdrop of sand-hills the choice has to be Tyrella and Murlough; here there is an almost magical, secret world sometimes like a desert where hills have been stripped bare and mobile sands are shifting. The beaches of Lecale and the outer Ards coast seem to face a wild ocean and beckon far distant shores; on clear days as if easily reached the coasts and hills of the Isle of Man, the Mull of Galloway can be seen.

Bathing Water Quality

Northern Ireland’s bathing season begins on 1 June and ends on 15 September each year. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is responsible for monitoring and making sure that coastal waters are of high enough quality to bathe in.

Bathing water at 26 sites across Northern Ireland is monitored weekly from May to September and classified into one of four categories:

– excellent
– good
– satisfactory
– temporary advice issued against bathing

Bathing Water beaches in Strangford and Lecale at which the water quality is monitored by DAERA are:

Ballyhornan, Kilclief, Tyrella

Additional Information

Good Practice and Safety

Most if not all our beaches receive some care and management through council and other appropriate authorities . Some benefit also from a voluntary public input of care and maintenance .

Many beaches have some signs, boards, website links, or other means of notification concerning local regulations, good practice and or safety advice. Please be aware of these local site informations..

Beach Safety Advice :

Good Practice Advice: All users of the coast and its beaches can be aware of a  general and standard level of good practice in which to apply with each visit. These are well summarised in the:

UK government Code for the Countryside      

Leave No Trace :                                                                                                                                          

Code for the Countryside 

Respect the people who live and work in the countryside

Show courtesy and consideration to everybody. Be a friendly visitor with a responsible way.

Know where you are allowed to go

Most land is private property and access is only available with the goodwill and tolerance of the owner. Whilst most landowners do not object to recreational users on their land, some do. Always respect a landowner’s wishes.

Keep to paths across farmland

Help prevent damage to crops by walking around the edge of a field unless there is an existing path across it.Avoid fields where there are animals, as your presence may cause them stress and endanger your own safety.

Use gates and stiles to cross fences, hedges and walls

When crossing fences, hedges and walls, use the nearest gate or stile. Damage to fencing can allow animals to stray. If you must climb a gate because it is difficult to open, always do this at the hinged end.

Leave gates as you find them

If you find a gate closed, close it when you pass through to prevent animals straying. Farmers sometimes leave gates open to allow animals to pass from one field to another to graze or drink.

Help a farmer by leaving gates as you find them. If in doubt, close a gate.

Do not interfere with livestock, machinery and crops

These are valuable commodities and should be left alone. Interference with animals and equipment may endanger you. Pay attention to warning signs as these are for your protection.

Keep dogs under control

Keep your dog on a lead when walking on roads or when close to farm animals. A dog can cause distress to animals and endanger you.

Keep your dog under control always so as not to disturb wildlife or annoy or frighten other visitors.

Protect wildlife, plants and trees

Leave all natural places as you find them. Never uproot plants as they will be lost forever. Keep your distance from wild birds and animals to prevent disturbance and stress especially to adults that are with young and in winter when food may be scarce or weather harsh.

Keep all water sources clean

The public water supply is not available to everyone living in the countryside. Take care with your personal hygiene and do not pollute water. Don’t interfere with water troughs which provide clean water for livestock.

Take your litter home

All litter is unsightly. Glass, tins and plastic bags can be dangerous to people, livestock and wildlife. Keep the countryside clean by taking home your own litter and any which you may find.

Guard against all risk of fire

The countryside is vulnerable to fire especially during dry weather. Accidental fires pose a great risk to farmers and foresters. Be careful to extinguish all used matches and cigarettes. Use a stove for cooking rather than a fire. Never throw cigarettes from a car window.

Make no unnecessary noise

One of the attractions of the countryside is its peace and quiet. Do not disturb this with noise or disruptive behaviour which might annoy residents and visitors or frighten farm animals and wildlife.

Respect other recreational users

Behave responsibly. Where possible, warn others of your approach and slow down or stop if necessary. Irresponsible behaviour could lead to you and your activity being banned from the area in the future.

Take special care on country roads

Always drive carefully with reduced speed on country roads. Consider others when parking and avoid blocking entrances, gateways or other drivers’ visibility. Walkers should take special care on narrow country roads and if uncertain should walk in single file.

Consider your personal safety

If possible do not go alone. Wear suitable clothing and footwear as the weather can change very quickly. Don’t go if the weather conditions are beyond your experience.

Clubs, Opportunities, Disability Access

A variety of activities are associated within the range of beaches available in our area. An obvious and common recreation is simply walking and excercising. All of the beaches offer a place to relax and enjoy the health benefits of being outdoors in great spaces. Rock pooling, sand castle building, mandala making, flying a kite, beach games, fishing, sun and sea bathing are examples of what can be done.

Within certain local constraints horse riding, kite surfing, sand-buggy racing are possible. As a general rule these are associated with the more extensive beaches where such activities can be more easily practised with little conflict or impact on wildlife or other beach users.    

An appreciation of the rhythm of the tides is advised so that the visitor will find the beaches uncovered by the sea. Be aware that tidal currents can be very strong in places

See the link for summary of facilities at each beach location :


Open Water Swimming :

Chunky Dunkers :  

Ballyholme Yacht Club Open water Swimmimng : 

Find your Lifeguarded Beaches

New Year Swimming :     Bangor, Strangford, Donaghadee, Newcastle 

Beach Recreation:

10 Things to do on NI Beaches:

Best Beach Guide in County Down :

Blue Flag Beaches in County Down:

Trip Advisor:

Care for our Coast

All of our coast can be an exceptional area for wildlife. To help you spot, identify and enjoy this wildlife you can download our species guides  which include coastal birds, flowers, marine and shore life. 

The top of the shore above the high tideline on many beaches is important for its coastal flora; more locally these can also have nesting birds such as Ringed Plover. On many islands these shores can have ground nesting Gulls, colonies of Arctic, Common and or Sandwich Terns, all are susceptible to being crushed or disturbed by human activity. Many of these locations are designated Areas of Special Scientific Interest.

During winter overwintering birds are very dependent on our shores for feeding and rely on the abundance of shellfish, worms, other small marine animals, eel grass and some green seaweeds that they find in the shallows, at the water’s edge on or within the shore. The birds only have a short time between the tides to feed so keeping a good distance and especially any dogs under control is of great benefit so this wonderful wildlife gets a chance to eat undisturbed.  

Seals may often be seen hauled out resting on rocks adjacent to Knockinelder, Kilclief, Ballykinler and at Minerstown – they are easily disturbed, please do not approach them – using binoculars or spotting scopes is  the best way to get a good view.  

If you come across a seal pup on the shore do not approach it or you may scare away its mother who is likely to be watching from the sea. Pups can also give a good bite in self defence. If you think a pup is really in distress or injured please call Exploris seal rehabilitation centre on 028 427 28062.