Northern Ireland contains just 1.8m people – roughly a fifth of London's population. Indeed, the density of humans is so low that it can often feel as though you have the countryside to yourself; each path your own, save the scuttle of a red squirrel or the chirrup of a songbird.

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With hundreds of miles of dramatic coastline, wild hills and mountains, magical forests and numerous beautiful rivers and lakes, Northern Ireland is a walker's paradise.

To help you make the most of these landscapes, we've put together a selection of the best walks in Northern Ireland. Each route includes the distance, duration and difficulty, as well as walking directions and maps.

Take to the trail and discover the mountains, loughs, forests and coastlines of this magical country with some of our favourite walks.

Ballycastle, Northern Ireland
The view from Torr Head, Ballycastle/Credit: Getty

Best walks in Northern Ireland

Ballintoy, Carrick-a-Rede and Portbraddan, County Antrim

5 miles/8km | 3–3.5 hours | moderate (return)

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge on the Causeway Coast/Credit: Getty

Set in the midst of Antrim’s famous Causeway Coast, Ballintoy is a small village whose name translates as ‘town of the north’. The title is apt; Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre is visible on the Atlantic horizon.

The village jewel is its harbour, a time-honoured haven for fishing boats, constructed from limestone blocks and protected by a jumble of offshore stacks. So evocative is the location, it was chosen as the setting for the Iron Islands in HBO’s popular TV series Game of Thrones.

Yet long before its small-screen fame, this coastline was celebrated by walkers and naturalists. The signed Causeway Coast Way stretches off in both directions, providing 33 miles of superlative coastal hiking.

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Less than two miles east along the path lies the unique and thrilling Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The route west towards Portbraddan is even better, and an out-and-back hike in this direction is not to be missed.


Slieve Binnian, County Down

6 miles/ 9.7km | 4.5 hour | challenging

Mourne Mountains ©Jake Graham
Looking towards the central peaks of the Mourne Mountains from Slieve Binnian/Credit: Jake Graham

Severe weathering during the last ice age sculpted Slieve Binnian into the most distinctive peak in Northern Ireland's Mourne Mountains.

The scenic splendour of these mountains is well known. After all, this is the landscape that inspired CS Lewis to create Narnia.

The walk that lets you explore all this is just four hours long, but involves 600m of ascent, so demands hillwalking experience and mountain equipment, such as walking poles, as a prerequisite. Route-finding is not overly tricky, but it’s best to wait for a clear day to make the most of the fabulous views. And having completed the route, it’s just a short drive down to the pubs in Annalong, where you can thaw out slowly.


River running through the Lost Valley in Glencoe in Scotland

Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim

1.8 miles/2.9 km | 1 hour | easy-moderate

Waterfalls and moss
Boardwalks lead through the reserve from one waterfall to the next/Credit: Getty

The Rivers Glenariff and Inver have cut right through this spectacular steep-sided gorge – the Queen of the Glens.

These rivers can be lively and dramatic as they tumble over boulders and a series of three impressive waterfalls. But then they become suddenly calm and tranquil, flowing lazily through oak and beech woodland, sunlight streaming through the fresh new leaves.

This humid and moist microclimate is home to rare ferns, mosses and liverworts, as well as spruce, fir, pine and larch. Discover all this and more on a 1.8-mile walk through the forest park.


Slieve Bearnagh, County Down

7 miles/11.3km |4-5 hours | moderate-challenging

Mountains on a sunny day
The Mourne Wall on the Hares Gap beneath the summit of Slieve Bearnagh/Credit: Getty

The Mountains of Mourne loom large behind the resort town of Newcastle. The beaches and dunes here are superb for walking, but Newcastle’s jewel in the crown sits inland; a fulfilling circuit of two of the Mournes’ most notable summits, Slieve Bearnagh (739m) and Slieve Meelmore (682m).

Take on this tough upland walk, following a 100-year-old wall over peaks and cols through Northern Ireland’s Mountains of Mourne.


Tollymore Forest Park, County Down

3 miles/4.8km | 2 hours | easy-moderate

Tollymore Forest, County Down
Oak from Tollymore Forest was used to build the interior of the ill-fated RMS Titanic in Belfast/Credit: Getty

The River Shimna rises on the rutted slopes of the Mourne Mountains, gurgling over granite and heather before dropping into the shadowy depths of Tollymore Forest.

The slopes around the Shimna River are home to a remarkable number of tree species, including oak, beech, ash, birch, larch, Sitka spruce, yew and willow. Field maple, Himalayan cedar, eucalyptus, Douglas fir, Monterey pines, monkey puzzle and giant redwoods can also be found.

Climb through lush woodland along the Shimna River, past the Hermitage and on to Parnell's Bridge on this 3-mile walk.


Murlough National Nature Reserve, County Down

4.7 miles / 7.6 km | 2.5 hours | easy

Winter beach
The granite tops of the Mourne Mountains – Northern Ireland’s highest peaks – overlook Murlough National Nature Reserve/Credit: Getty

Situated 3.5 miles north-east of the coastal town of Newcastle in County Down, Murlough National Nature Reserve is a wildlife-watchers’ dream.

Its range of habitats play host to a vast diversity of flora and fauna, and the long, sandy beach is the focal point of a fantastic walk, overlooked by the iconic Mourne Mountains.


Cove Cave, County Down

5.6 miles/9km | moderate | 3 hours (return)

Rocky escapement in mountains
Looking south-east along the Lower Cove escarpment just beneath Cove Cave towards the town of Annalong and the Irish Sea/Credit: Jake Graham

Caves conjure mystical, murky thoughts of bats and boggarts, dragons and trolls. But step inside and your blood remembers. Your ancestors sheltered here, made fire here, chewed bones here. They would have gazed out from within, the dank, pitted walls of their refuge an unpolished frame for the rivers and woods and mountains beyond.

These doors into the earth – or out of it, depending on your aspect – can be found across the UK. Some are well-known, revered for their great atriums, jousting stalactites and archaeological remains; others are more elusive, secreted among quiet hills like dozing shadows wanting none of the fame.

One such hollow sits high within a rocky escarpment on the western slopes of the Annalong River valley in the Mourne Mountains. This six-mile, there-and-back-again walk takes you right to it, an exhilarating quest for friends and families with adventure in their veins.


The Causeway Coast, County Antrim

6 miles/9.7km | 4 hours | moderate

White and red fishing boat at harbour
Explore Dunseverick harbour/Credit: Getty

The undeniably impressive Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. But step off the beaten track and you’ll be able to marvel at this coast’s geology, myths and breathtaking views in virtual solitude.

This six-mile walk starts east of the Giant’s Causeway at the shoreline hamlet of Portbradden, meaning ‘Port of the Salmon’. Historically a famous fishing spot, it still has a working slipway.

More unusual is the blue and white St Gobbans church. Known as Ireland’s smallest church, it is in fact a local man’s tribute to Gobban, a 7th-century Benedictine monk, whose actual church is a ruin half a mile away at Templastragh.


The Mourne Way, County Down

23 miles/37km | 2 days | challenging

Rocky Mountain in the Mourne Mountains
The Mourne Way passes Rocky Mountain/Credit: Getty

Founded in the 1970s by Wilfred Capper, the Ulster Way walking route circled all six counties of Northern Ireland. At 665 miles long, the original route proved awkward to maintain, but the best parts have now been re-packaged into 15 ‘quality sections’, or Waymarked Ways.

Together these provide signed walking routes across many of the best landscapes in the province. If you’d like a taster, the Mourne Way in County Down takes two days to complete and is a great place to start. Like all the routes, the trail is linear, fully signed and predominantly off-road.


Slemish, County Antrim

1.2 miles/1.9km | 1 hour | moderate

Autumn hill in Northern Ireland
Wheatears, meadow pipits, buzzards and ravens are seen regularly on the slopes of Slemish/Credit: Getty Getty

Slemish is a name familiar to most inhabitants of Northern Ireland. Rising abruptly from its flat surrounds, the hill is an unmissable landmark of County Antrim.

Walkers know it as a short, steep climb that provides vast views, but there are so many stories associated with the hill, even those who have never seen it can recall its myths and legends.


Belfast Castle Estate, Belfast

2.4 miles/3.8km |1.5 hours | easy

Belfast Castle sits 120m above sea level/Credit: Getty

Follow the waymarked Estate Trail through forest and parkland past Belfast Castle.

Belfast castle walking route and map


Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim

1.4 miles/2.2km | hours | easy

Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is a famous rope bridge near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland/Credit: Alamy

Step across a swinging rope bridge high above the Atlantic and on to a rocky offshore island, once a salmon fishery. The walk down to the beach offers visitors the chance to see a range of unique flora and fauna – don't forget your camera.


Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast

Climb to the summit of Cave Hill/Credit: Getty

Cape Town has Table Mountain, Edinburgh has Arthur’s Seat, and Belfast has Cave Hill. It’s one of those mandatory excursions and no visitor or local should spend long in the city without making the trip to the top.

Rising to 368m, the eastern slopes of Cave Hill are cut into a series of plunging cliffs. Some 3,000 years ago, the loftiest promontory was home to McArt’s Fort, a prehistoric ceremonial ring fort. Today it’s popularly known as Nelson’s Nose, a reference to its distinctive, face-like profile when viewed from the south.


River Blackwater, County Armagh

2 miles/3.2km | 1 hour | easy

The River Blackwater is home to kingfishers/Credit: Getty

Cross the industrial ironwork of Bond’s Bridge, then head south-west along the River Blackwater, keeping an eye out for kingfishers and other wildlife. This National Trust walk is perfect for dog walkers, families and geocaching.


Mount Stewart Demesne Trails, County Down

0.2 miles–2.4 miles | 20 mins–1 hour | easy

Mount Stewart house and Italian garden
The mild climate around Strangford Lough allows gardeners to grow a vast range of plant species/Credit: Getty

Explore the woodland, farms, orchards and walled garden of Mount Stewart Demesne. The area is popular with red squirrels, buzzards and woodpeckers, and in spring the the countryside blooms with wildflowers.


Fairhead, Country Antrim

1.4–3.4 miles | 1–3 hours | moderate

Rathlin Island Northern Ireland
The cliffs at Fairhead are composed of dolerite rock/Credit: Getty

Look out from the clifftops of Fairhead to the town of Ballycastle, Rathlin Island and sandy Murlough Bay. There are a number of walks over the headland, varying from 1.5-3.4 miles.

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Authors

Daniel Graham of COuntryfile magazine on a hike with wet hair and blue coat and hills in background
Daniel GrahamOutdoors editor, BBC Countryfile Magazine

Danny is the outdoors editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.

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