Beautiful Northern Ireland encompasses six counties on the Emerald Isle, namely Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone. Famed for their stunning Celtic scenery including boglands, heathlands, lakelands, mountains and legendary coastlines, all once trodden by mythical giants in worlds gone by; it’s no wonder the north has so many stunning hikes to choose from.
Each of Northern Ireland’s six counties is utterly unique. In County Antrim, for instance, you might find yourself walking beside coastal bird colonies, towering rock formations and craggy cliffs one morning, and then heading further inland through majestic glens, mystical forests and undulating hills the next. Much like the weather, no two landscapes or days are the same in this part of the world.
Another great thing about Northern Ireland is its compactness. You could visit for two weeks, for example, and tick an enormous number of activities off your bucket list. Starting in Belfast (where you’ll find Belfast International and Belfast City airports), you could start in the Belfast Hills and road-trip your way up towards the Antrim coastline for stunning hikes by the Irish Sea.
From there, you might head towards the Sperrin Mountains and challenge yourself to climb Sawel Mountain, before heading south west towards the mighty Cuilcagh Boardwalk trail and the surrounding lakelands of Fermanagh. Wherever you end up, you’re never too far from the next adventure.
Here’s our pick of some of the best hikes in the beautiful country of Northern Ireland.
Top Walks in Northern Ireland
Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail
St. Patricks Way
The Causeway Coast Way
The Ulster Way
Divis and the Black Mountain Trail
Location: Mourne Mountains, County Down Distance: 5.8 miles Duration: 4 to 5 hours
Slieve Donard is Northern Ireland’s highest peak at 850m (2,790ft). Situated amongst the mystical Mourne Mountains, this mighty climb takes you along the Glen River, past streams and forests of pine, birch and oak, towards a panoramic view from the summit. On a clear day you can spot the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, the Wicklow Mountains in the south, Lough Neagh in the north, and even Donegal way out west. The main route is an out-and-back ascent via the Glen River Track, though you could also try the quieter Bloody Bridge route via the Bloody River.
Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail
Location: Near Enniskillen in County Fermanagh Distance: Approx. 7 miles Duration: 2 to 4 hours
Otherwise known as Fermanagh’s stairway to heaven, the Cuilcagh Boardwalk trail crosses one of Northern Ireland’s largest blanket bogs via tracks, boardwalks and staircases. Following a route of roughly 7 miles (including the walk from the car park), the walk takes around two to four hours and culminates in a stunning ascent of Cuilcagh Mountain, offering magnificent views across the county’s surrounding lowlands. Check out our handy field guide to County Fermanagh if you’re looking for more fun activities in this part of the country.
Saint Patrick’s Way
Location: Armagh to Downpatrick Distance: 82 miles Duration: 6 to 10 days
Starting at the Navan centre in Armagh and ending in the grounds of Down cathedral in Downpatrick, Saint Patrick’s Way connects some of the key Christian heritage sites relating to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It’s both a pilgrimage and a long-distance hike, so is one of the less remote hiking trails in this sense, taking you through a combination of on and off-road trails in order to reach these sites of interest. Beyond St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the final resting place of the saint, other areas of interest include the Mourne Mountains, the Murlough Bay Nature Reserve, Carlingford Lough, the Newry Canal, and Tyrella Beach, to name a few.
Credit: Creative Landscapes
Location: Slemish car park, Broughshane Distance: 1.2 miles Duration: 1 to 2 hours
Slemish Mountain (Slieve Mish), the first known home of Saint Patrick, sits 437m (1,434ft) above sea level and is the core of an extinct volcano. According to local histories, it is where Saint Patrick was enslaved to the local chieftain Mulchi, and spent 6 years herding livestock. While steep in some places, requiring a scramble here and there, the ascent is rewarded with a panoramic 360-degree view of the surrounding counties including the Antrim Hills, the Mourne Mountains, Lough Neagh and the Sperrins to the west. Due to its short distance, this hike is an excellent choice for those just starting out in hill and mountain walking.
Causeway Coast Way
Location: Portstewart to Ballycastle Distance: 31.5 miles Duration: 2 days
Taking in County Antrim’s iconic coastline, the Causeway Coast Way is situated in the north-east of Northern Ireland and passes through the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Beauty (Ireland’s only World Heritage Site), and several other Areas of Special Scientific Interest. It also crosses paths with many popular attractions including the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and the Bushmills distillery, the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. The trail itself mostly follows the coastline, hugging craggy cliffs, isolated beaches, and large sections of The Ulster Way. With the highest point of the trail being just over 140m, this trail is suitable for both experienced and novice hikers.
Cave Hill Walk
Location: Circular route from Belfast Castle Distance: 4.5 miles Duration: 1 to 2 hours
A perfect day out if you’re staying (or living) in or near Belfast, Cave Hill park is a bucket list hike in Northern Ireland. Situated just north of the city, it has an elevation of 368m, culminating in incredible views across the country's capital. There are some impressive historic points of interest along the way too, including McArt’s Fort, Ballyaghagan Rath, Carrs Glen Mill, the Devil’s Punchbowl and more. The paths are mostly unsurfaced and can get pretty muddy on rainy days, so make sure you’ve got a good pair of waterproof boots to see you through the whole hike. It’s worth noting that the Cave Hill summit walk follows the green way-marked arrows.
Location: County Tyrone and County Derry Distance: up to you! Duration: up to you!
Spanning 40 miles, the Sperrin mountain range is the largest in Ireland. It stretches through the counties of Tyrone and Derry and includes ten summits above 500m, the highest being Sawel Mountain at 678m (2,224ft). Peaks aside, there’s also the Gortin Glen Forest Park, Banagher Forest and Altnaheglish Reservoir, Carntogher Way, Sli Cnoc Breac (Crockback Way), Moydamlaght Forest and many more. Including boglands, stone circles, valleys, heather-laden hills and lakes for miles and miles, there are a huge variety of landscapes to explore here.
The Ulster Way
Credit: David Matthew Lyons
Location: The six counties of Northern Ireland Distance: 636 miles Duration: 3 to 5 weeks +
The Ulster Way is the longest hiking trail on the entire Emerald Isle. It’s a circular route crossing the Mourne mountains, the Giant’s Causeway, the spine of the Sperrins, the uplands of the Fermanagh lakelands, and a whole lot more. It also takes in all six counties of Northern Ireland in one go. More of a multi-week (or even a multi-month) expedition than a quick hiking trail for a sunny Sunday afternoon, the Ulster Way consists of primarily waymarked paths, and a few non-waymarked sections along the way.
Rathlin Island Trail
Location: Rathlin Island Harbour, County Antrim Distance: 4 miles Duration: 3 to 5 hours
Beginning in Rathlin Island Harbour and ending at the West Lighthouse, the Rathlin Trail is a fantastic way to explore the island in its entirety. The island itself is only 4 miles east to west (and 2.5 miles north to south), so you can really take time to soak up the landscape and study its fascinating geology and wildlife. This is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland, but the population consists of a mere 141 people, so there’s a unique sense of solitude to the hike too. Surrounded by sea cliffs, Rathlin supports the largest seabird breeding colonies in Northern Ireland, with puffins arriving in spring, so don’t forget to check out highlights such as Knockans RSPB and the Kebble nature reserve as well.
Divis and the Black Mountain Ridge Trail
Credit: M Temes
Location: Belfast Hills, County Antrim Distance: 4.2 miles Duration: 3 hours
Nestled in the Belfast Hills is the Divis and Black Mountain trail, a short hike in the beautiful county of Antrim. Whilst there are quite a few routes to choose from including the summit trail (3 miles), the heath trail (4 miles) and the lough trail (0.9 miles), the ridge trail is a great contender for a slightly longer outdoor adventure, taking a circular route across stunning grasslands and boglands that offer 180-degree views across Belfast and beyond. Other highlights include birdwatching for skylarks, the historic Bobby Stone, the Collin River and much, much more.
Jazz Noble is a London and Northern Ireland-based writer with a passion for hiking, cycling and the outdoor world.