As the weather gets better coming into the summer, hiking, walking trails and road trips are becoming more popular.
So, if you’re planning a road trip with family or friends this year, why not check out our top 7 favourite hikes in Northern Ireland. We’ve included a list of different hikes to suit a range of fitness levels including day hikes, short hikes, and long hikes.
If you’re feeling ready to hit the trail, then our #1 spot to stop off at is Slieve Donard. Standing at 850m (2,790ft), it’s the highest peak in Northern Ireland and the province of Ulster. It forms part of the Mourne Mountain range located in Newcastle, Co. Down.
One of the best hikes in Northern Ireland overlooking the Irish Sea, it will take you around 5 hours to complete a round trip. You can start the route in Donard car park and follow the well-marked path behind the park. Along the way, you’ll pass Scots Pine Forest and Glen River before reaching the famous Mourne Wall at the top.
The hike is steep in places but it’s not too difficult and can be completed by those with a moderate level of fitness.
On sunny days, you can enjoy extended views from the summit of Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man.
2. Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail
Distance: 7 miles
Duration: 2-3 hours
Nicknamed “Stairway to Heaven” the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail is located in Co. Fermanagh. The route meanders through the largest areas of bog in Northern Ireland. On your journey, you will cross over tracks, a boardwalk, and staircases.
This hike takes between 2-3 hours to complete and is rated as difficult according to mountain walking guides due to the steep incline after the boardwalk. This hike is approximately 7 miles from the car park to the viewing platform at the end. Be prepared to break a sweat and for a steep 1-mile ascent to the summit where you’ll enjoy breath-taking views of the surrounding land.
Remember to stick to the boardwalk and don’t venture past the viewing platform on this trail. Access to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain is often not permitted as the habitat in this area is fragile.
3. Cave Hill Country Park
Distance: 4.5 miles
Duration: 1.5-2 hours
For a hike near Belfast, check out Cave Hill. Perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Belfast, this trek is only a 15-minute drive north of the city.
There are many routes to choose from in Cave Hill Country Park, each with its own level of difficulty, but the most popular one starts and ends at Belfast Castle. If you’re looking for an easy walk, follow the Castle Trail which is 2.4 miles.
If you’re looking for something more strenuous, you can take the Cave Hill Walk circular hiking trail which is 4.5 miles. This hike can take between 1.5 to 2 hours. The paths on the trail aren’t surfaced and are steep in parts making it quite challenging. You’ll need a good level of fitness for this route if you want to tackle the 256m ascent.
4. Giant’s Causeway Coastal Walk
Distance: 2 miles
Duration: 1.5 hours
The Giant’s Causeway in Antrim attracted one million visitors in 2019. The area comprises around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns descending into the sea so it’s no wonder tourists flock to this area each year.
The Causeway Coastal Walk is one of the most popular hiking routes for tourists in Northern Ireland. Legend has it that Fionn McCool was responsible for the creation of these magnificent columns, but others argue that it was the result of volcano eruptions that happened millions of years ago.
The Red Trail is a clifftop walk that’s suitable for all fitness levels. It can be accessed from the visitor centre. Along the trail, you’ll discover wonderful views of the Antrim Coast.
5. Rostrevor and Kilbroney Forest
Duration: 10 minutes
Various hiking routes can be found around Rostrevor and Kilbroney Forest but our favourite one is The Narnia Trail. This trail opened in 2015 as the forest reportedly served as the inspiration for C.S Lewis’ Narnia.
The Narnia Trail starts and finishes within Kilbroney Park. The trail is entered by stepping through a wardrobe (literally) … into Narnia. Along the way you’ll come across a number of features that bring to life the Chronicles of Narnia. It’s a family friendly loop made up of forest paths so it’s a perfect trip for everyone.
There are also other routes to choose from in the park with the longest trail being approximately 5 miles long.
6. Glenariff Scenic Trail
Distance: 5.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
The Glenariff Scenic Trail is a 5.5-mile loop trail near Cargan in Antrim. Less famous than the Causeway Coastal Walk, Glenariff makes up one of the Nine Glens of Antrim.
To start off your journey, head to the Glenariff Forest car park. The way is well sign posted so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the starting point. As you hike through the forest you’ll stumble upon a gorge and the Ess-Na-Crub waterfall. A timber boardwalk along the river will allow you to get up close to the Glenariff waterfalls. Once you ascend through the forest you can enjoy spectacular views of the glen.
After your hike, why not pay a visit to The Dark Hedges featured in Game of Thrones. Only a 35-minute drive away, this is a must-do activity for fans of the television series.
7. Divis Peak Ridge Trail
Distance: 4.2 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
This moderately challenging loop trail is located just outside Belfast and takes approximately 2 hours to complete. Enjoy great views of Belfast City and the surrounding countryside while you make your way up Divis Mountain. Other sights nearby include Black Mountain and a plethora of rivers.
The trail brings you through a rich landscape where you can get a glimpse of some wildlife. The hiking path consists of heath, stone tracks, boardwalks, and road surfaces which suit a variety of walking levels.
How to Prepare for Long Hikes
You’ve read about our top Northern Ireland hikes and trails, now it’s time to prepare for your trip with some useful tips that we love to follow at Stroll Insurance:
Prepare Your Body: To prevent aches and pains after your hike, it’s always a good idea to get your body warmed up beforehand. Why not take some long walks in the evening or hit the gym in the weeks leading up to your hike?
Pack Appropriately: The most popular time to go hiking in Ireland is during the summer months when the weather is warmer. However, a rain jacket is essential for the likely event that it will rain. Warm clothes are needed for when you ascend higher up the mountains. Hiking boots are also recommended for grip and to help prevent slips or falls.
Whether you plan to hire a car or drive to these sights using your own vehicle, it’s important that you have everything necessary for your journey. Don’t forget to pack a car emergency kit and know how to change a tyre before you set off.