Flavours of Northern Ireland: a food itinerary

As Northern Ireland celebrates a Year of Food and Drink during 2016, we set out on a food trail of local specialties and gourmet treats. Prepare for a taste sensation.

Our culinary trail kicks off in Belfast, winds through the gastronomic heartlands of County Down and the orchard heaven of Armagh, before exploring the lakelands of County Fermanagh and tranquil County Tyrone. We’ll dip into Derry~Londonderry city before tracing Antrim’s Causeway Coastal Route back to Belfast.

Download our map of the Flavours of Northern Ireland food itinerary as a pdf.

This is a sample itinerary, and should be used as a guide only. If you have any suggestions for future itineraries, we’d love to hear from you.

Belfast and the Mourne Mountains

Belfast to Kilkeel, County Down: 83km (52 miles)

Belfast city

Northern Ireland’s food heritage is rooted in great farmers, fishermen and food producers, so our food trail has to start in the heart of Belfast’s historic St George’s Market, where much of the best local produce is gathered under the one roof.

Don’t deny your stomach’s rumbles as you walk alongside the displays of fresh fish at Friday’s Variety Market, the likes of Suki Teas at Saturday’s City Food and Craft Market, or Broughgammon Farm’s goats’ meat at Sunday’s Food, Craft and Antique Market.

Spreading your wings wider, you could also sign up for a food-loving local’s perspective with a Belfast Food Tour – 4.5-hour sampling of regional delights.

Belfast to Killinchy

Once you’ve had a short taster of what Belfast has to offer, head east towards Strangford Lough. Green-fingered foodies will want to detour to the National Trust treasure of Mount Stewart House outside Newtownards, where the Bay Restaurant features produce from their own gardens.

Mount Stewart House, County Down

Down the road in Comber, Horner’s Farm Shop boasts a fascinating range of potato varieties – in particular the Comber Early Potatoes, the area’s special microclimate gives them PGI-status on a par with Parma ham and Champagne – while a monthly farmers’ market (on the first Thursday of the month) showcases excellent artisan producers.

In the locality, sample Chef Danny Millar’s renowned cooking at Balloo House in the village, or try Chef Kelan McMichael’s modern bistro-style cuisine at sister restaurant The Poacher’s Pocket. The owners of both atmospheric 19th-century coaching inns can recommend local accommodation options, to ensure you have a pleasant overnight.

Old School House Inn

For dinner, head towards Killinchy to relish Will Brown’s imaginative cooking at the Old School House Inn, a luxurious restaurant with rooms.

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The Poacher’s Pocket

At this beautiful coaching in, feast on local fare including Strangford mussels and crab, Leggygowan cheese or Mourne Mountain lamb. Pick up a picnic from The Poacher’s Pantry next door before you leave.

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Killinchy to Kilkeel

Meandering south through St Patrick’s Country, we join the Mourne Mountain coastal trail at the picturesque fishing village of Dundrum, where the Mourne Seafood Bar sets the bar for impeccably fresh seafood from local ports and their own shellfish beds.

Mourne Seafood Bar, Dundrum, County Down

In the seaside town of Newcastle, the (downhill) Mourne Food & Film Cycle Tour highlights the link between a heather-rich land and delicious local produce: take your pick from Mourne blackface lamb and Enniskeen Country House Hotel’s honey-themed afternoon tea. Meanwhile, home cooks inspired by the sea air can book a hands-on class at Mourne Seafood Cookery School in the fishing port of Kilkeel.

Mourne Seafood Cookery School, Kilkeel, County Down 

Down, Armagh and Fermanagh

Kilkeel, County Down to Enniskillen, County Fermanagh: 180km (112 miles)

Kilkeel to Armagh

From Kilkeel, we trace the shores of Carlingford Lough and head north along the County Armagh border to the sleepy village of Scarva (near Tandragee).

Work off breakfast of Moyallon Dry Cure Back Bacon (amongst other local treats) by exploring Scarva's canal-side walks and cycle tracks. Or take a break in the lovely Blackwell Tea Rooms or in the five-star Blackwell House.

Blackwell House, County Down

Moving onto Armagh City, walk up another appetite by strolling around the city’s Georgian architecture and the stunning hilltops – boasting not one, but two St Patrick’s Cathedrals. The Moody Boar in the grounds of the Armagh Palace Demesne Public Park has a menu full of fresh, local ingredients, much of it plucked from the restaurant’s herb and vegetable garden.

Armagh city

Armagh to Portadown

It’s onwards now to orchard country for lunch at Portadown’s beloved Yellow Door Deli, Bakery & Cafe. Owner Simon Dougan bakes some of Northern Ireland’s finest bread and his supplier list is a who’s who of local artisanal stars, from Broighter Gold rapeseed oil and Abernethy Butter to Glastry Farm Ice Cream.

Yellow Door Deli, Portadown, County Down

Bramley Apples

At the heart of 6,000 acres of Bramley apple orchards, Loughgall (near Portadown) hosts May’s annual Apple Blossom Fair, with family-friendly activities and visits to cider producers.

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Newforge House

A gem of a Georgian country house hotel, start with a house gin, flavoured with the House’s own orchard fruit, dine out on grass-fed, dry-aged Hereford Beef from the Glenarm Estate, and finish with Young Buck raw milk blue cheese from Newtownards, County Down.

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Portadown to Enniskillen

From the southerly shores of Lough Neagh, we continue our food tour heading west for Fermanagh. Dungannon's Deli on the Green beckons for lunch on the way. Located within the Linen Green designer village, it’s a fine place to sample a salad of Fivemiletown Creamery’s Goat’s Cheese, served with pickled carrot, orange and candied walnuts.

Belle Isle Castle, County Fermanagh

Further south on Upper Lough Erne, Lisbellaw’s aptly named Belle Isle is an enchanted 470-acre estate and working farm spread over eight wooded islands. One of these is home to the excellent purpose-built Belle Isle School of Cookery and its adjacent courtyard cottage accommodation, as well as the charming 17th-century Belle Isle Castle (an extraordinary venue for weddings and similar gatherings). Entering Enniskillen, you have a great choice of eateries, from Dollakis for Greek flavours to Franco’s for local fish and Kettyle beef.

Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry~Londonderry

Enniskillen, County Fermanagh to Derry~Londonderry city: 152km (94 miles)

Enniskillen

Before you leave Enniskillen, be sure to pick up some of O'Doherty’s Black Bacon from the local legend of a butcher, who respects his pigs so much he has them running free on their own private herb-rich island.

Russell & Donnelly’s café-deli (from the folk behind Enniskillen’s landmark Victorian pub, Blakes of the Hollow) is also good hunting ground for local cheeses such as Ballyoak Smoked Brie.

O'Doherty's Butchers, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh

Enniskillen to Omagh

After Enniskillen, Lough Erne Resort makes a great base to explore the surrounding lakelands, Marble Arch Caves and Global Geopark, as well as sampling chef Noel McMeel’s devotion to immaculately sourced produce.

Lough Erne Resort, County Fermanagh

Continue along the westerly shores of Lough Erne to Belleek, famed for its pottery but loved locally for The Thatch, a recently re-thatched coffee shop where you can pick up everything from home-baked goodies to fishing tackle (why not try catching some Lough Erne brown trout?).

Belleek Pottery, County Fermanagh

Our route now heads eastwards to Omagh, where the Ulster-American Folk Park will be a must for many. Nearby, Baronscourt Estate’s Sika venison has been named as one of Britain’s Top 50 foods by the Great Taste Awards.

Baronscourt Estate

The estate offers salmon fishing during summer months and game hunting during the winter. There is also accommodation in well-appointed cottages complete with kitchens where you can cook up a feast of estate produce.

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Omagh to Derry-Londonderry city

From Omagh it’s but worth detouring across the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains towards Castledawson (close to Magherafelt). Home to the original Ditty's Home Bakery, the source of some of the island’s best oatcake biscuits (perfect with Irish cheese) as well as soda farls, wheaten breads and wee buns and scones – these are the perfect accompaniment to a mid-morning cup of tea.

The Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone

On to Derry-Londonderry now, where a lunch of locally reared Glebe Wagyu beef from Pykes ’N’ Pommes food truck looking out towards Lough Foyle offers an unforgettable flavour of this city.

Derry~Londonderry and Antrim

Derry~Londonderry to Belfast via the Causeway Coastal Route: 181km (112 miles)

Derry-Londonderry to Bushmills

Exploring the city further, you’ll be spoilt for choice: think glamorous fine-dining at Browns Restaurant and Champagne Lounge, creative locally-inspired pintxos at the Walled City Brewery (North Derry Salami empanadas, anyone?) or seasonal cooking at Beech Hill Country House Hotel. Browse the weekly and monthly food markets for Dart Mountain Cheese, Flossie’s Fudge or local turf-smoked salmon.

Harry's Shack, Portstewart, County Antrim

The Causeway Coastal Route is next, which meanders along the Antrim coastline as far as Belfast. Our first stop is Harry’s Shack on Portstewart beach. Chef Derek Creagh and restaurateur Donal Doherty have been making international waves from their sand-strewn beach shack, serving masterful seaside fare including fish fresh off the Greencastle boats and vegetables from their walled garden on Inishowen Peninsula.

Then it’s just got to be Bushmills village and a visit to the world-famous Old Bushmills Distillery, before dining out at The Bushmills Inn’s AA Rosette restaurant. Follow that with a drop of malt sitting by a roaring peat fire.

Bushmills Inn, County Antrim

Bushmills to Ballygally

Make your way to the legendary UNESCO World Heritage site of the Giant’s Causeway before a spectacular coastal drive to historic Glenarm where Glenarm Castle makes for a charming sojourn. Refresh and refuel in the Tea Rooms overlooking the kitchen garden, where afternoon tea features Glenarm Organic Salmon from the nearby salmon beds.

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

Keep going to Ballygally, and to where Ballygally Castle Hotel’s Afternoon Tea is inspired by the fact that HBO’s Game of Thrones was filmed nearby. Where else would you feast on Dothraki Trifle with mini Dragon’s eggs? Overnight guests can enjoy the hotel’s focus on local produce at breakfast, which includes Clandeboye Estate Yoghurts produced with milk from Holstein and Jersey cows.

Ballygally Castle Hotel, County Antrim

Titanic Menu

Maritime buffs love the inspired Titanic Menu at Rayanne House (just outside Belfast in Holywood) where the Titanic’s first-class menu is recreated with views of the lough she sailed from.

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Glenarm Shorthorn Beef

Glenarm Castle estate produces Glenarm Shorthorn Beef, which is aged in Peter Hannan’s purpose-built Himalayan salt chambers in Moira, County Down, before appearing on some of the region’s best menus.

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Ballygally to Belfast

You could head straight back to Belfast, or you could head a little further south instead to check out not one but two Great Taste Awards Supreme Champions in the village of Moira, County Down. Besides his supreme Himalyan salt-aged Glenarm Shorthorn Beef, Peter Hannan sells all manner of fresh and preserved produce at The Meat Merchant. Down the road, butchers McCartneys of Moira are famous for their award-winning sausages, which come in dozens of flavours, including several seasonal treats.

Backtrack to Belfast via Lisburn, home to Ireland's oldest independent brewery. Not surprisingly, the menu at Hilden Brewery’s restaurant, The Tap Room, features dishes cooked with its own beer, as well as paired with it.

Hilden Brewery, County Antrim

Back in Belfast, take your pick from a host of gourmet experiences, whether dining at the Michelin-starred OX or Eipic at Deanes or one of the city’s many excellent casual dining options. Pop into the Aladdin’s cave that is Sawers Belfast (established 1897) to fill your suitcase with gourmet goodies. Even if you don’t stay at The Merchant Hotel, you’ll want to sample at least one creation from their rightly famous cocktail list.

Eipic at Deanes, Belfast

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