Trip idea: Walking the northern coast

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, County Antrim

The cliffs, the coastal trails, the country lanes... Ireland’s north coast is a walker's wonderland

Planes are fast, trains are comfortable, cars are easy. But when it comes to scenery, there’s simply no better way to appreciate the island of Ireland than by walking the walk – so pack your best boots and follow in our footsteps along the northern coast.

Walking the northern coast

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The Causeway Coast Way

This is the big one: a 53km route snaking along the coast from Ballycastle in County Antrim to Portstewart in County Londonderry, taking in giant landscapes, sky-high bridges and spellbinding castles.

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
Dunluce Castle, County Antrim

With the Giant’s Causeway taking pride of place on this gargantuan trail, it should be hard to drag your attention anywhere else – but there’s a whole lot more to see along this stretch of the County Antrim and County Londonderry coasts. Divided into six distinct sections that also encompass a number of shorter routes, there is terrain to suit both the casual walker and the consummate pro – so even if your footfalls aren’t giant, you’ll find a chunk to suit you!

The route curves all the way from charming Ballycastle to the the golden sands of Portstewart and is dominated by sweeping seascapes and dramatic cliffs, with pretty Victorian port towns along the way. Make the most of the ocean views by gazing out from the crumbling walls of Dunluce Castle; or tiptoe across the swaying Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge to the lonely fishermen’s cottage on Carrick Island. The route can be done in two days but half the fun is taking your time and really soaking up the scenery, culture and the warm welcome you can expect.

If you have more time

Pay a visit to St Patrick’s Well before leaving Portstewart: it’s thought this place was where Stone Age inhabitants of the nearby sand hills sourced their fresh water; while locals later used it as a holy water well.

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones®, you’ll be running, not walking to see the views from this route!

Downhill Strand, County Londonderry

Chosen by HBO as the real-life location for Dragonstone, the pristine sands of Downhill Strand offered the perfect backdrop for the burning of the Seven Idols of Westeros. But look up and you’ll see something equally thrilling. Perched high above you is Mussenden Temple, an icon of this northern coast and part of the Downhill Estate. From the Bishop's Gate entrance, you can follow the steep grassy path past the ruined grandeur of Downhill House right up to the temple, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the coast as well as glimpses of the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura. Downhill Demesne is a National Trust property so entry fees will apply. But with scenery like this on offer, we say it’s worth it! The full walk is just 3.2km so it’s a wonderful excuse to park up and leave the car behind for a while.

If you have more time

Take a guided tour through one of Northern Ireland's oldest buildings, Hezlett House, a picturesque thatched cottage on the Downhill Estate, which dates back the the 17th century.

Inishowen Head Loop, County Donegal

Inishowen Head Loop

County Donegal is revered as one of the most wild and wonderful parts of Ireland – making it the perfect starting point for any journey along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Inishowen Head Loop, County Donegal
Stroove Lighthouse, Inishowen Peninsula

Poking out into the open ocean, the Inishowen Peninsula offers unspoiled sea views on one side, and soft green countryside on the other. This 8km looped walk is one of the most tranquil you can hope for: starting at the sheltered cove of Stroove Beach, complete with striped lighthouse, it loops along bog roads and boreens (country laneways), leaving plenty of time for blissful, bucolic musing. Views from the coast stretch out across Lough Foyle in County Londonderry and beyond. Our advice? Don't miss the Portkill viewing point, from where St Columba took to the waves on his journey to the island of Iona, all those centuries ago.

If you have more time

Make your way to the World War II lookout tower on Inishowen Head. An unassuming monument, its location is a strategic triumph.

Bloody Foreland, County Donegal

Bloody Foreland

Despite the name, there’s nothing but beauty around these parts – well, plus a spooky tale or two…

Bloody Foreland, County Donegal
Bloody Foreland, County Donegal

Sitting in the predominantly Irish-speaking area of Gweedore, Bloody Foreland feels perhaps that bit more foreign than one of Ireland’s cities or towns. Don’t be surprised to hear the sing-song lilt of the Irish language as you pass the locals along your 13km walk – and a nod and a smile will suffice for a ‘hello’! This is remote Ireland at its most natural, with rough track, bog roads and even legends beneath your feet. In fact, the ground itself is what gives the area its name: the story goes that, long ago, Balor of the Evil Eye was slain in battle here, his blood flowing down the hillside and staining it to this very day…

If you have more time

Keep an eye out for the plentiful wildlife in the area: kittiwakes, gannets, puffins, seals and whales all call this place home.

Arranmore, County Donegal

Arranmore Island Loop

Ireland’s islands sometimes feel like they're a world apart – and Arranmore is no exception. Walking around this northwestern outpost off the coast of County Donegal, you’ll see why.

Arranmore, County Donegal
Arranmore, County Donegal

From the second you step on to the pier, you’re following the path of this 14km national waymarked way, crafted to take in the pure beauty of Arranmore. The island’s population tops out at about 500, so at many a turn you’ll be greeted by empty tracks and pure silence – save for the sound of countless native birds singing their welcome. Although this walk is a loop, a slight detour can take you to the Binawros Point lighthouse. From here, gazing westward, there’s nothing between you and the coast of America.

If you have more time

Stop by Lough Shore, one of the island’s freshwater lakes. Here, a memorial honours Arranmore’s connections with Beaver Island, Canada, where many islanders settled after their eviction in the 1800s.

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