Sun worshippers flocked to the coast in their thousands yesterday as temperatures in parts of Northern Ireland soared higher than Palermo.
Heavy traffic was reported on approaches to the north coast as the exodus took off, with holidaymakers keen to take advantage of a predicted three-day spell of scorching weather.
Portstewart Strand had to be closed for a time yesterday afternoon as more than 5,000 people descended on the popular beach.
National Trust seasonal supervisor Gill McIlmoyle said the decision was taken for safety reasons as the beach had become "jam-packed" with thousands of people as high tide approached.
"There were around 900 cars on the beach, including vans and buses, and there were probably over 5,000 people," she said.
"The atmosphere is good – it's all families and everybody's having a good time. Even at this stage it seems to be quite litter-free."
Yesterday proved to be the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures rising to 27C in Castlederg, which was the hottest place in Ireland. That exceeded 24C in Biarritz, 24C in Casablanca, 25C in Palermo and 26C in Paris – but St James's Park in London reached a sweltering 29C.
Forecaster Andy Ratcliffe of MeteoGroup said the sunshine is set to continue for the next few days but the weather will turn unsettled at the weekend.
"We have a high pressure system north-east of the UK which is sending up a south to south-east flow. In the strong July sunshine this is lifting temperatures up high," he said.
He said today will be another warm day with just a small chance of heavy showers in the west, and Friday is expected to be warm and sunny as well.
"We're looking at a change over the weekend to fresher, more unsettled conditions, as we see a band of rain on Saturday clearing to leave one or two showers," he said.
Barbecues were being sparked up across Northern Ireland as people rushed outside to take advantage of the unexpected sunny spell.
John McAuley, of McAuley Family Butchers on the Falls Road, estimated he had sold around 1,000 burgers over the last few days.
"It's been a steady flow coming through the doors," he said. "I would say we've probably sold nearly 1,000 burgers because we have three shops, and sausages I would say are in the same region."
Meanwhile, Toytown at the White House in Portrush said it had sold 60 or 70 bucket and spade sets in the past few days and up to 12 paddling pools.
The Met Office said mist patches will clear this morning, leaving many places dry with some strong sunshine, but with the risk of a thundery shower across western Tyrone and western Fermanagh later and maximum temperatures of 27C.
Tomorrow is set to stay sunny and hot with isolated showers, but turning cloudier on Saturday with some showery rain.
It will be mainly dry and bright on Sunday, though it is likely to be less warm.
Five tips to help you sleep in the sweltering summer nights
- Keep your pyjamas on – the fabric draws sweat away from your body, making you feel cooler. But throw off your duvet.
- Don't stick your feet outside the duvet as having cold feet can actually disturb sleep – it's your face that you want to keep cool.
- Have a cool shower before bedtime.
- Sleep downstairs if you can, as heat rises.
- Sleep in a separate bed from your partner – the human body generates the equivalent of 116 watts of heat.