The enthusiastic paddler will find that exploring Northern Ireland in a Kayak offers some splendid opportunities for all levels of skill.
Northern Ireland is blessed with some wonderfully green rolling hills and a rugged and beautiful coastline. Its rainy yet temperate oceanic climate ensures that a great number of rivers, streams and lakes are available to paddle.
Flat-Water kayaking, sea kayaking, river kayaking and white-water are all at a paddlers disposal in Northern Ireland and there is no shortage of local kayak hire operators and tour specialists ready and willing to help heighten your kayaking experience in the six counties.
The question of Where Can I Kayak in Northern Ireland is what we tackle in this post where we outline our Top Picks for Kayaking in Northern Ireland, we sincerely hope you enjoy the read.
Table of Contents
1. Kayaking Strangford Lough
Strangford Lough is a magnificent sea kayaking haven situated just several miles to the east of Belfast.
With around 70 islands contained within, Strangford Lough is an outdoor adventurer’s dream destination. Many of the islands offer permissible wild camping so if you’re into Kayak Camping then you’ll love it here. As the lough is noted for its marine life Kayak Fishing is also quite popular on Strangford.
Strangford Lough is a massive 58 square miles in size so there is plenty of water to explore and the scenery and differing landscapes of the shoreline can be quite breath taking.
Coves, mudflats, headlands, islands, bays and tides all combine to make Strangford Lough a most desirable kayaking destination.
Kayak Hire on Strangford Lough
2. Kayaking Belfast
Kayaking is so popular in Belfast that they even have a Kayak Academy that specialises in teaching kids the craft of kayaking.
The Belfast Lough is a busy shipping port and is fairly uninteresting for paddling. However. The River Lagan, which splits the city, is navigable from Belfast Lough for a considerable distance south and passes through residential areas, parklands, industrial areas and offers a wonderfully diverse landscape to explore.
Kayakers, Canoeists, Paddle boarders and Rowers regularly utilise the river even in the winter months and share the stretch of water with abundant fauna including plenty of birdlife and even a population of invasive Yellow Bellied Slider Turtles.
Those enjoying the waterways of Belfast should also keep an eye out for Sammy the Seal, a regular in the River Lagan around Belfast.
Kayak Hire in Belfast
3. The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail
Originally devised by members of Northern Ireland’s Countryside Access and Activities Network to boost tourism, The North Coast Kayak Trail has become a “must-do destination” for all avid sea kayakers visiting Northern Ireland.
Divided into six sections and stretching from Magilligan to Waterfoot this 70 nautical mile stretch of coastline showcases a wonderfully dramatic and diverse coastline with the main geological star of the route being the amazing Giants Causeway.
Anyone with a decent level of fitness can attempt most sections of this wonderful kayak route. However, it is absolutely essential that all paddlers are totally prepared and have fully researched the route beforehand as this is rugged coastline where swells can be brutal if you’ve picked the wrong day to paddle.
But making the attempt will see you rewarded with an experience you’ll not likely forget and it’ll probably include dolphins, seals and even the occasional whale! Not to mention beaches, castles, cliffs and some amazing scenery.
Kayak Hire on the North Coast of Northern Ireland
Plenty of the towns along the north coast have kayak hire operators more than willing to share this magnificent part of Northern Ireland with you. Check out Causeway Coast Kayaking Tours in Ballycastle as a starting point.
4. Kayaking Lower Lough Erne
County Fermanagh’s famous Lakelands District is without a doubt one of Northern Ireland’s premier watersport destinations.
Lower Lough Erne provides open waters that are filled with a myriad of bays, channels and islands, all equally exciting to explore. Grasslands, rolling hills, woodlands and farmlands surround the lough and there is just so much to see from wildlife to ancient Celtic ruins, from a distillery to some wonderful pubs.
Lower Lough Erne is well known for being windswept and waves can actually seem to be oceanic at times so proper planning is advised if you are visiting during an inclement weather period.
Kayak camping is popular here and you can often feel like the surrounding wilderness means you’re the only person on earth.
Don’t miss White Island with its 2000-year-old strange carved stone figures or the Boatyard Distillery for some pure heart-warming locally made vodka or gin.
Kayak Hire on Lower Lough Erne
Providing a wealth of information on the waterways here and offering a number of different water activities to indulge in the folks at Castle Archdale Boat Hire & Water Sports come highly recommended.
5. Kayaking Lough Neagh
Lough Neagh is actually the United Kingdom’s largest inland lake with a shoreline of over 90 miles. The water here is so vast that it could easily be mistaken for an inland see but for the fact that it is a freshwater lake. Lough Neagh’s surface area of 151 square miles ensures there are dozens of kayaking opportunities here for the paddlers of all levels.
The shoreline is primarily dedicated to numerous flora and fauna reserves providing a rich wildlife population including a number of otter families which are always a bit of fun to spot. Also dotted about the lake are numerous historical sites well worth visiting including Shane’s Castle ruins in Antrim and the remains of the mysterious ancient monastic buildings on Ram’s Island.
Again, the guys at the Canoe Association of Northern Ireland have an awesome pdf with loads more detail on kayaking and canoeing on Lough Neagh. Find it here.
6. Kayaking the River Blackwater
The River Blackwater meanders through some stunning countryside teeming with wildlife to spot such as owls, otters, and eels. The Blackwater north of Blackwatertown is a slow-moving waterway and this is suitable to beginners, families, and kids, but make no mistake this is an enjoyable section of the river for paddlers of all abilities. The river winds its way through pastures, farmlands, hills, and grasslands of the Counties Tyrone and Armagh before entering Lough Neagh from the South.
Camping is available along the route and besides the obvious attraction of being on the water and viewing wildlife, there is loads to see such as the National Trusts Argory Property which is well stopping to visit.
The Canoe Association has come through yet again with a wonderful pdf on Kayaking the Blackwater River so check it out!
7. Kayaking the River Foyle
Running into Lough Foyle in the North of Northern Ireland is The River Foyle. The Foyle is a wide river flowing through some magnificent countryside packed with loads to see and do in terms of both the natural world and historical and architectural sights. Being a tidal river, with proper planning, it can be just as much fun to paddle upstream as to “go with the flow”!
The river is around 40 miles in length and the wider stretches house thousands of birds including flocks of swans and geese. Kayaking on the Foyle River south of Londonderry means you’ll be paddling in the UK and in Ireland as the river stretch between Strabane and Londonderry forms the border of the two countries.
There are a number of islands in the Foyle interesting to visit and you can easily paddle the entire way to the Atlantic Ocean via Lough Foyle in the north.
The River Foyle is a diverse waterway offering differing paddling opportunities for everyone no matter what your kayaking skill level is.
Kayak Hire on The River Foyle
8. Kayaking on the River Bann
Flowing north out of Lough Neagh is the kayaking adventure that is the River Bann. There is a recorded history of the Bann River dating back from Mesolithic times and you can almost feel the history as you paddle along this waterway.
From the bizarre Celtic traditions of the “Rag Trees” on Church Island to the natural Reed Beds along the route, some of which are still harvested for thatch today, the river is an eclectic mix of history, mythology, wildlife and architecture. The mouth of the River Bann also has the most amazing sandy beach and fantastic sand dune conservation area managed by the National Trust.
There are a few weirs and sluice gates along the river but all are easily passed using the navigation channels provided. Obviously having all the right information at hand and a detailed map would be the best way to ensure that your paddling preparations for the River Bann were on point and luckily, yet again, The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland comes to the party with this pdf.
Kayak Hire on The River Bann
Kayaking Northern Ireland: Useful Links and Extra Info
We hope you enjoyed this guide to our Top 8 Places to Kayak in Northern Ireland and that the blog will assist you in getting the best out of your visit to this part of the world. As always there are too many resources to list but the following links should get you well on your way.
- The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland – https://cani.org.uk
- Discover Northern Ireland – https://discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/outdoors-nature-and-wildlife/water-activities/boating-canoeing-and-kayaking
- Canoe NI – http://www.canoeni.com
- OutdoorNI.com – http://www.outdoorni.com/activities/canoeing/where-to-go
Northern Ireland Kayaking | An Adventure Waiting!
There are so many great places to Kayak in Northern Ireland it was quite difficult to put this list together. This part of the UK is blessed with plenty of water to suit all kayaking skill levels but as always, paddle with the right equipment and be prepared.
Please let us know in the comments if there is something you’d add to this list.
Where have you kayaked in Northern Ireland and found to be an amazing experience? Do you have a favourite place to paddle? We’d love to hear from you with any suggestions.
If you’re feeling generous we’d love it if you’d share this article with your friends who have similar interests.