Coleraine: Explore the ancient county town

Last Updated

Exploring Coleraine: A Hidden Gem in Northern Ireland’s Crown

Seen as the informal capital of the Causeway Coast on the northern coast of Northern Ireland, Coleraine has great historical significance and provides all the modern amenities you may need. The town is busy all year round and is thriving as it is a favourite destination of many International and National visitors who visit the Causeway Coast. Coleraine is also very close to many of the world’s most impressive pristine beaches, natural attractions, and coastal views.

What Does The Name “Coleraine” Mean?

 Cúil Raithin or Coleraine means “Nook of Ferns” and St Patrick gave the town its name. It is home to 25,000 inhabitants and the peaceful town lies on the longest river in Northern Ireland, the River Bann.

Coleraine Town Centre – The Diamond Centre

The official town centre is known as ‘The Diamond Centre’ and this area is usually bustling with people. The impressive sandstone Town Hall was built in 1859. Also known as ‘Tidy Town,’ Coleraine has won several awards and there are numerous of places to sit and watch the world go by among the dazzling floral displays.

Shopping in Coleraine

Shopping in Coleraine is pleasurable and safe due to the town centre only being open to pedestrians. Several high street chain stores have shops in Coleraine and this is supplemented by many cafes, independent local businesses, pubs, and restaurants. The locals love the two independent department stores, Dixons and Moores, as these provide great all round shopping for everyone. They each have a restaurant and have been part of the local scenery for many years.

Culture and Leisure

Photo of Coleraine Football Club captured on a Mavic 2 Pro
Coleraine Football Stadium – Photo by Samuel Steele on Unsplash

There are many opportunities for both outdoor and indoor leisure pursuits. There is a leisure centre in town that is open 7 days per week and offers a gym, pools, sports hall, café, and health suite.

In Coleraine, you can indulge in many forms of outdoor activities, including swimming, soccer, gliding, cycling, fishing, water sports, archery, sky diving, rugby, climbing, snorkelling, tennis, clay pigeon shooting, athletics, surfing, diving, bowling, putting, golf, boating, orienteering, and pony trekking.

A choice of three main local parks may be visited, and each offers something different for visitors. There are also many coastal, inland, parkland, and forest walking trails around Coleraine.

Phoenix Peace Fountain

In Anderson Park the Phoenix Peace Fountain can be found for public enjoyment. Originally a gift from the USA, each symbol on Phoenix Peace Fountain has a specific meaning. To be able to read the full dedication on its six base platforms, you’ll have to walk completely around the fountain. The world famous Giant’s Causeway ancient rocks’ hexagonal shapes can be recognized easily.

The modern commercial harbour and Marina is a mile from town, in the direction of Portstewart and slightly off the main road. It offers excellent facilities that include powered moorings for sailing of all kinds as well as fishing, water skiing and canoeing. There are also 7 championship golf courses within a few miles of Coleraine.

The Arts and Entertainment

The North Coast’s Premier Entertainment Centre, Jet Centre is a hugely popular local attraction. It is situated over the new bridge, on the road to Londonderry and just off the roundabout. This indoor complex offers entertainment for children and adults alike. The centre features ten-pin bowling, multiple cinemas, a pool hall, a diner, and an amusement arcade.

Jet Centre is also home to ‘Alley Cats,’ a massive indoor climbing play park with nets, ropes, balls, and slides, offering endless thrill possibilities for children. You will also be able to enjoy a cuppa and relax whilst being right next to the action.

One of Northern Ireland’s oldest professional theatres, Coleraine’s Riverside Theatre, is well-loved and known. It offers world-class entertainment as well as Outreach, an excellent youth drama programme.

The theatre is operated jointly by the Borough Council and the University of Ulster, and several excellent, well-known actors have at some stage performed there. These include one such local hero, James Nesbitt. In 1978 he gave an exceptional performance in Oliver as Fagin, and his international career continues to go from strength to strength.

Respect and Understanding

Coleraine paired up with a European partner, La Roche sur Yon, becoming the first town in Northern Ireland to do so. The aim of this connection was to ‘Develop and foster mutual respect and understanding’ and to ‘support and encourage exchange between group associations and individuals’.

Coleraine residents spend time in La Roche with their French Swap friends and they, in turn, host them in their home in Coleraine. It is generally viewed as a very good experience and the aims of the connection are definitely met.

Tempestuous History

Coleraine and the surrounding area have significant historical value as it is the first known settlement of humans in Ireland in about 5935 BC. At the start of the 17th century, it also became the first town in the ‘Plantation of Ulster’. As you explore the area, you will find plenty of evidence of this uncommon heritage.

Coleraine’s pre-plantation history is turbulent. At the time, Ireland was divided into kingdoms which were each governed by a Chieftain. Due to the clashes of Coleraine’s clans, the town was settled many times over the years.

In 1607, King James 1 colonised Ulster after the Flight of the Earls in what was known as ‘The Plantation of Ulster.’ The Honourable Irish Society’ was then formed to fund the building of a new fortified town. They were enticed by promises of timber and salmon fishing.

Coleraine Potted History

Mountsandel is a Mesolithic site that is dated from about 5935 BC and it contains some of the earliest evidence of human settlement in Ireland. Saint Patrick named the town after he was offered a piece of ground covered by ferns to build a church. A potted history of Coleraine can be found by visiting Coleraine Potted History

State Care Historic Monument

The remains of Mountsandel Fort can be found in the middle of the magnificent Mountsandel Forest. Now declared a State Care Historic Monument, the Fort dates back to 7000BC and the early Iron and Mesolithic Ages. It is located at the edge of a steep river bluff that drops into the River Bann on the side of the river opposite to the town.

Mountsandel Fort

Mountsandel Fort can be reached via a 2-mile walking trail. As the trial is circular, either the upper or lower or path can be taken along the banks of the River Bann and through the forest.

Coleraine has been frequented in the past by Neolithic and Mesolithic man, Saints, Vikings, Norsemen, Chieftains, Barons, Earls, heroes and Rebels. Man has known for thousands of years that Coleraine is a stunning place to live!

Coleraine Today

Coleraine Town Hall
Photo of Coleraine Diamond & Old Town Hall

Coleraine is nowadays an affluent large town that is accessed easily by bus, train, and car. As the town utilises a one-way system everywhere, the traffic moves smoothly and there are ample parking opportunities.

Coleraine has abundant walking trails, both in the town itself and in the surrounding parks, beaches, forests, rivers, and rocks. The world-class cycling tracks include the National Cycle Network, which opened in May 2001 and crosses the Millennium Bridge.

As the Atlantic Ocean and the River Bann are easily accessible, many types of water recreational pursuits are possible. Coleraine is a big town and is ready for City Status. It is also near Portstewart, Portrush, Castlerock, Bushmills, Ballycastle, and Portballintrae and within a few minutes drive to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, the Mussenden Temple, and Dunluce Castle.

The North West 200

Motorcycle racing at the North West 200 road race in Northern Ireland
Photo by Derek Lynn on Unsplash

The Causeway Coast plays host to one of the fastest road races, in the world, the ‘North West 200‘ every May. The public roads between Portstewart, Portrush, and Coleraine get turned into high-speed (up to 200 miles per hour) tracks, and it is one of the last of its kind in Europe.

The race is unbelievably thrilling to watch, and standing next to the roads presents the best views of the powerful bikes speeding by. The event makes for a busy time at the Causeway Coast, as an additional 150,000 people come to watch Ireland’s biggest outdoor sporting event every year.

About the author

Originally from Scotland, Colin now resides near the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart on the Causeway Coastal Route. By day he works in IT and by day off he spends much of his time travelling around the Island with his young family, writing about his experiences for many sites both locally and nationally.