Coleraine is one of the few towns in Northern Ireland which retains good rail connections. 1 Coleraine station is the rail junction on the Belfast/Derry line for the branch line to the seaside resort of Portrush. Those in a hurry will wish to use the rail service from Great Victoria Street in Belfast, stopping at Botanic which is in the University area, and Central, and which takes just under 80 minutes to arrive in the modernised rail station in the heart of the town.
Those with more time on their hands should use the Ulsterbus summer-only Goldliner service from Laganside Bus Station along the world-famous Antrim Coast through Larne, the Glens of Antrim, and the Causeway Coast. The journey takes three hours but is one of the most beautiful journeys in Ireland or the UK.
The town is well served by dual carriageway from Belfast on the A26 and the journey of just under 60 miles (100 km) may be made in an hour.
Coleraine is a small town and everywhere is in easy walking distance of everywhere else. There is a suburban bus service but visitors are unlikely to need it. The branch rail line to Portrush is charming and has a halt at the University of Ulster. As elsewhere in Northern Ireland, there is a greater use of taxis than elsewhere in the islands.
The setting of Coleraine, at the lowest bridgeable point of the River Bann, where the river is a quarter of a mile wide, is impressive.
The east side of the town is distinguished by Mountsandel Forest, which contains the impressive Mountsandel fort, an ancient site which has been claimed as the oldest site of human settlement in Ireland.
- 1 Mountsandel Fort. Iron Age fort
As in many other towns in the Northern Ireland, the town square is called 'The Diamond' and the Town Hall and nearby Church of Ireland St Patrick's Church are both reasonably venerable and attractive. The University was built in the 1960s but is one of the better pieces of architecture from that era and has brought a high quality theatrical space to the town in the form of the Riverside Theatre, where the quality of production often belies the small size of the town. There are also some private art galleries in the town.
Information on walks and local attractions is available from the Coleraine Tourist Information Centre (in the old Town Hall), +44 28 7034-4723, fax 028 7035 1756).
Coleraine is the market town for a large part of the northern part of Northern Ireland and is well-known locally for its shopping. Bland shopping malls predominate, but enough characterful traders remain; there is, for example, an excellent second-hand bookshop, well-stocked in particular with books on local history and politics.
There is an excellent modern leisure centre and swimming pool.
- Anderson Park. Putting and tennis courts.
The local library is larger and better stocked than might be expected for a small town.
The riverside walks stretch for miles.
- Watch football at Coleraine FC. They play soccer in the NIFL Premiership, the top tier in Northern Ireland; they often do well and qualify for European tournaments. Their home stadium The Showgrounds has a nominal capacity of 13,000 but is restricted to 2500; it's on Ballycastle Rd just east of the railway station.
A major campus of the University of Ulster is just outside the town. This was the campus of the former New University of Ulster which merged with the Ulster Polytechnic at Jordanstown just north of Belfast in the early 1980s. It is a world-class centre of research on biomedical sciences.
Travel by bus to Portstewart, 3 miles outside the town and the third point on the Coleraine - Portrush - Portstewart 'Triangle'. There buy two different types of thing. Firstly, buy ice cream at Morellis, an integral part of the childhood of many Northern Irish people. Secondly, browse the town's many private art galleries.
- 1 The Water Margin, 1 Hanover Place (down near the old Bridge in an old Boat House on the riverside). Chinese restaurant is highly recommended. It is the only Water Margin outside Belfast.
Otherwise the fare strongly relies on soda bread, although none the worse for that.
If dining outside the town, there is much to be said for the pub food at the Harbour Bar in Portrush.
- 1 The Old Court House, Castlerock Rd, ☏ . Wetherspoons pub at the foot of Castlerock Road, as the name suggests, in an ambitious conversion of the former Court House. There is a limited amount of outside seating for warm weather and the usual Wetherspoons pub food, which is decent, cheap, and unexciting. There is however a good range of beers and spirits.
Coleraine is does not have much accommodation, likely because most visitors to the region go to the coast.
Coleraine has the advantage of being near some of the most extraordinary landscape in Britain or Ireland. The world famous Giant's Causeway is a 25-minute bus ride away.
- Portrush is a 15-minute train journey north of the town and is Northern Ireland's principal seaside resort, with not one but two long strands of beach complete with sand dunes.
- Also north of Coleraine is the scenic coastal resort of Portstewart, with fantastic beach, long promenade and spectacular coastal walks.
- North-west of Coleraine lies Castlerock which can be accessed by train. There is a also a beach here but the most notable feature of the area is man made, namely the bizarre Mussenden Temple, built by an 18th-century Anglican bishop (and slave trader) atop a precipitate cliff and overlooking Donegal in one direction and Scotland in another.
When travelling outside the town to the coast, visit Dunluce Castle just outside Portrush. It's a ruin but the clifftop setting and views to Rathlin Island and Scotland are magnificent.
Then travel to Balintoy and visit the bizarre rock formations beside the Harbour, stopping to admire the eccentric 'Artist's House' on the way. Walk the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge suspended hundreds of feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
The most exciting opportunity is to take the 17-mile (25-km) road journey from Coleraine to Magilligan point, a hauntingly beautiful spit of land that yearns out to Donegal (the most northerly county in Ireland and part of the Republic of Ireland) and from there to take the car ferry across a couple of hundred yards to Greencastle in Donegal. From there some of the most remote and dramatic landscape in Europe is within easy reach. Magilligan's beauty is marred for many by the presence of the enormous ugly prison and the sadness that it represents. It is a poignant place. Those travelling by bicycle will wish to cycle along the 'Murder Hole Road' to Limavady, or from that town through Dungiven right into the Sperrins.