Scenic Staycations In Northern Ireland

Family Health

Ramblers retreat through mythic history and heritage 

We start our adventure in the Sperrins which offer a quieter alternative to the much-visited Mournes. 

Local walkers know the Sperrin trails well and their variation in length and difficulty makes them increasingly popular with visitors too. If you’re pressed for time, the half-mile jaunt around Gortin Lakes or the two-and-a-half-mile Lough Fea walk will give you a flavour of what these spectacular surrounds offer. Those looking for a bit more of a challenge can take on the four-mile stretch of Ness, Ervey and Burntollet or the slightly longer Carntogher Way and there’s always the twelve-mile Craignamaddy Circuit which offers spectacular scenery around every corner. 

Not only do these mountains show off Northern Ireland’s enchanting countryside but they also give an insight into its rich heritage. This area is a warren of narrow glens, deep valleys, sandy eskers and mysterious lakes with a wealth of archaeological sites that are almost unrivalled anywhere on the island of Ireland. As you follow the many trails through these peaks you’ll find little pockets of ancient remains like the Clogherny Wedge Tomb and the Glenroan Portal Tomb as well as the Beaghmore Stone Circles, discovered in the 1940s by locals digging for peat. 

If you’re spending the night in the area then try the Ardtara Country House (4*) in Upperlands. This old country house is surrounded by woodlands and offers a wonderful respite after a long day of hiking through the Sperrins. The multi-award-winning restaurant offers great food, much of it grown on the grounds of the house, and the menu changes daily, showcasing the best of seasonal local produce. 

Gazing at the stars while lying by the lake 

Step down from the Sperrins and you could try the lakeside haven, Finn Lough, in Fermanagh. At this 75-acre peninsula resort you’ll drop off to sleep gazing at the stars in their exclusive, secluded and unique forest bubble dome. Lie back on your four-poster bed and watch the night pass you by. You'll see so many shooting stars that you’ll have run out of wishes by the time you’ve fallen asleep. In the morning step outside and get back to exploring nature with kayaks, bikes, fishing and bushcraft experiences all literally on your doorstep, before coming back that evening to cook your dinner over your own fire pit.  

Drama and a dram along the Causeway Coast 

Heading back towards the coast, the Causeway Coastal Route and Glens are of course a must for anyone who takes their exploration with a good dose of fresh air. Do not miss the site that gives this spectacular route its name. The Giant's Causeway is a geological wonder and Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is steeped in myth and legend and its 40,000 perfectly formed rocks never fail to leave an impression. 

Further along the route, you’ll need the heart of the bravest giant to get across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which hangs above the waters of the Irish Sea. Those who prefer to get the view from under the bridge might be interested in trying a sea safari with Abháinn Cruises. They will take you from nearby Ballycastle past the Mermaid’s Tears Waterfall, the Mermaid’s Seaweed Bath and the Smuggler’s Cave before giving you a fish-eye view of the bridge. If the sea is calm they’ll even bring you to a secret spot where you can swim - so be sure to bring your togs or maybe even a wetsuit - it gets a bit nippy here. 

After walking the famous rope bridge, you might need to settle the nerves so it’s just as well the world’s oldest whiskey distillery at Bushmills is only up the road. When you’ve sampled their whiskey – uisce beatha as it’s known in these parts - take a stroll around the town before putting the head down at the Bushmills Inn Hotel (4*). This cosy spot has lots of little fire lit nooks that give you a great sense of privacy and intimacy. The fresh food, quite possibly prepared in heaven, can be enjoyed both indoors or on their wonderful terrace but without doubt their pièce de résistance is the on-site private cinema that offers all the latest movies in luxurious and intimate surroundings.  

All set for an island adventure 

The aforementioned Ballycastle is also the starting point for day trippers to Rathlin Island. This spot is renowned for its scenic walking trails that bring you to seal colonies and the island’s Seabird Centre, at the so-called upside down lighthouse. The island is hugely important for the likes of breeding puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars and is also home to Northern Ireland's only pair of breeding chough.  

Back on the mainland, the Galgorm Hotel (4*) near Ballymena is a fine spa resort set on over 150 acres. With the easy flow of the River Maine as your backdrop you can come here to unwind and relax a little before tackling the Mournes. With two swimming pools and a luxurious labyrinth of pods, massage rooms, mini-jacuzzis and hot tubs, you’ll do well not to get lost in your haze of relaxation. The more adventurous among you might like to try a night overlooking Belfast Lough at Blackhead Lightkeeper’s House. It’s clean, comfortable and suitably spartan in its décor. This simplicity and lack of distractions are what makes it the perfect place to spend the night, gazing at the sparkling lights from towns across the lough.  

Many ways to see the Mournes 

As you go south, you’re sure to bump into the Mountains of Mourne. There are several ways of exploring the many trails and peaks of this wonderful range yourself. But if you’re looking to get the most from your day, why not join Peter Rafferty on his Men of the Mournes tour. Over the course of around five hours, you’ll have plenty of time to take in the sights, stories and sounds in the company of a man who knows these mountains’ trails and tales like the back of his hand. 

For something a little different, Cranfield Coastal Alpacas offer visitors a really lovely way of taking in the stunning views around Carlingford Lough as well as the Mourne and Cooley Mountains while you hang out with their growing flock of affable alpacas. Enjoy the opportunity to spend time in the company of these wonderful animals and take in the scenery. It’s quite the experience. 

If you’re staying in the area there’s lots of accommodation options to chose from and one of the newest are Newells Cross Cottages (4*). These make a perfect base for a group or large family getaway in the heart of the Mournes. Both cottages, Mabel’s and Olive’s, are situated in the same complex overlooking Carlingford Lough and are bright and spacious and offer a real home-from-home experience. 

With so much fun, food and freedom to roam right on your doorstep, you’ll wonder why you never staycationed before. 

As always, we remind our visitors to leave no trace to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy our wonderful landscapes. Consider signing our visitor pledge, and commit to caring for each other, our lands, and our local businesses while out and about exploring Northern Ireland.

Content sourced from Discover Northern Ireland (discovernorthernireland.com).

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