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Top Destinations for Hiking in Northern Ireland

By Coach Road Cottages

November 16, 2021


Northern Ireland is the perfect destination for hiking and walking holidays. With a varied landscape, in a relatively small area, hiking in Northern Ireland offers something for visitors of all abilities.

Whether it’s rugged mountain landscapes, dense woodlands, or scenic seaside vistas, Northern Ireland offers some of the richest and most exciting hiking trails anywhere in the world.

Today, we’ll look at some of our favourite destinations for hiking in Northern Ireland.

The Mourne Mountains

Without a doubt, the Mourne Mountains are the best known hiking spot in Northern Ireland. WIth countless mountainous trails, across 12 peaks, the Mournes offer challenging hikes, with incredible rewards.

On a clear day, from any of the peaks, you’ll enjoy truly magical views. From the top of Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak you’ll have clear views of Scotland to the East, and the Wicklow Mountains to the South.

In the 1920s, the Northern Ireland Water Corporation built an extensive network of traditional granite walls across the Mournes, making it incredibly easy to navigate the range. Keep in mind, many of the higher peaks comprise challenging terrain.

As with any mountainous hiking, you’ll also want to pack plenty of warm and waterproof clothing, as conditions in the Mournes are infamous for changing quickly.

Slieve Gullion

Slieve Gullion, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is a 10-mile circular rink dyke, formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity. These days, it’s a popular yet challenging hiking route.

The circular route reaches its peak at the Neolithic South Cairn Passage Grave, which is thought to have been an important ritual site in pre-Celtic Ireland.

Slieve Gullion is also steeped in history and mythology, with particular links to the legendary Finn MacCool. Along the route you’ll be able to see some of his ‘carvings’. There are also incredible views of Slievenacapple along the way.

In the area, you’ll also find Slieve Gullion Forest Park, which offers more family friendly hiking trails.

Slieve Gullion is one of the best loved hiking spots in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast Hills

The hills and mountains surrounding Belfast also offer some of the best hiking in Northern Ireland. Along with stunning views over the city, and Belfast Lough, the trails in Belfast Hills are relatively accessible and beginner friendly.

Although, that’s not to say you won’t get a great workout all the same. However, the terrain in the Belfast hills is much more forgiving than in Northern Ireland’s higher mountains.

The Divis and Black Mountain trail in West Belfast offers a challenging day over mostly tarmac surfaces. This route is popular with locals, as an amazing way to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Further North, Cave Hill offers a range of different hiking trails, from child-friendly routes, to more demanding day-hikes. There are two routes to the summit, with a choice of either a paved footpath on the Southern side, or more varying and rocky terrain to the North.

Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park is a truly vast site, taking in both elaborate gardens and unspoiled wooded areas. With over 13 miles of trails, it’s also a popular spot for walkers, runners, hikers and families.

There are onsite camping facilities, making it a popular option for accessing the nearby high Mournes, including Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh. There are a number of unique features within the park, including sections of the Shimna River Valley, along with a number of ornate stone bridges spanning it.

Hiking within the forest itself is a truly serene and magical experience.

Tollymore even played a starring role in HBO’s hit Game of Thrones, where it was used as a filming location for the Haunted Forest. Fans can wander the woods, and recreate their favourite scenes as they hike through Tollymore.

Causeway Coast and Glens

The North Coast offers some of the best hiking in Northern Ireland, with a mixture of hills, beaches and pastoral terrain. The area is also home to some of Northern Ireland’s top tourist destinations, including the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and the Bushmills Distillery.

The nearby Glens of Antrim offer hilly terrain, across mostly open countryside.

If you prefer to stick to the coastline, there are numerous hiking trails on offer. The Causeway Coastal Walk follows the headland around from Windy Gap to the Giants Causeway.

For the more hardcore hikers, there’s the 33-mile Ulster Way, which runs all the way from Portrush to Ballycastle, taking in many of the most popular sights along the way, including Dunluce Castle.

This typically takes two full days to complete, so be sure to plan accordingly.

The Ulster Way is a long distance route in Northern Ireland.

Hiking in North Down

The North Down region also offers countless opportunities for hiking in Northern Ireland. The North Down Coastal Path is a particular favourite, offering gentle and easy terrain against a beautiful ocean backdrop.

Running from Holywood to Orlock Point near Bangor, the path is also known for its rich variety of flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for the local population of grey seals, which make this one of the best opportunities for seeing wildlife while hiking in Northern Ireland.

Crawfordsburn Country Park and Nature Reserve offers a range of family friendly hikes through dense forests and scenic beaches. There is also a purpose built visitor centre on the site, offering educational experiences relating to the local landscape.

Whitespots Country Park is another family favourite. It is centred around Helen’s Tower, just outside of Newtonards, from which you can delight in panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, after only a short walk.

Hiking in Northern Ireland

Hiking in Northern Ireland is one of the top attractions for visitors from near and far. In all corners of the country, you’ll find scenic landscapes, challenging trails, and family friendly walks through nature.

Since Northern Ireland is a relatively small country, almost all areas can be reached within a few hours, making exploring the region’s hiking destinations incredibly easy.

The key thing is to choose the right accommodation to base yourself during your stay. At Coach Road Cottages, we offer incredible self-catering accommodation in the Ards and North Down area.

With easy access to local hiking trails, and the wider road network for reaching further afield destinations, we’re the perfect place to stay for a hiking holiday in Northern Ireland.

Contact our team today to find out more.

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