Hopping on a plane and having a far-flung adventure is great, but if you don't want to have to wait for months between explorations, it's good to get out and about closer to home. Or, if you are reading this from elsewhere, and thinking about an Irish adventure, here's some tips from a local on how to get the most out of your trip to Belfast.
If you have a car, there are lots of great day trips an easy drive from Belfast. Without a car, it's a bit trickier, but all of these locations should be accessible with public transport, it'll just take longer, and you might need to walk a bit more.
Whether you want a serious hike, or a pleasant drive, there is beautiful scenery in abundance whether you head north or south...
The Mourne Mountains are about 40 miles south of Belfast, and have Northern Ireland’s highest peak, Slieve Donard (850m), along with more beautiful peaks than you could climb in a day. There are lots of car park access points throughout the range, and walks range from easy to challenging. We’ve spent years worth of weekends up there, so if you’re interested in exploring, just ask and I can give you lots of suggestions for great day out in the mountains.
On your way to the Mournes, you’ll pass Dundrum, a great place for a walk at Murlough Nature Reserve, through dunes and an ancient forest and out onto an expansive beach with views of the Donard sweeping down to the sea. Pop into the Bucks Head or Mourne Seafood for a nice hearty bite on your way through Dundrum to complete your day.
The shores of Strangford lough offer lots of lovely coastal walking opportunities, with some nice detours along the way. Start with a tasty lunch at the Picnic deli in Killyleagh. Pop into Gibbs Island or Inch Abbey on your way to Audleystown Castle, where you’ll probably bump into some Game of Thrones fans sporting robes!
Then take the car on the ferry from Strangford village to Portaferry to continue a scenic loop back to Belfast. The Portaferry Hotel is a nice spot for dinner overlooking the quay, and on your way home, take a detour to Scrabo Tower for an ancient forest walk around Killynether wood to enjoy the panoramic view over Strangford Lough.
Or for a shorter trip, go down to the ancient monastic site on Strangford Lough shores at Nendrum, followed by a fantastic meal at The Old Schoolhouse, one of Northern Ireland’s best restaurants.
Another nice loop is around the Ards Peninsula, taking you around the eastern shores of Strangford Lough, and then up the coast from Portaferry to Groomsport. Be sure to do the short walk around Orlock Point for some lovely varied coast views.
Take the scenic A2 out of Larne through the Glens of Antrim as they hug the coast, up through Cushendall and the National Trust village of Cushendun until you reach the Causeway coast. Check out the cliff top vistas at Kinbane Head, and beautiful beaches at White Park Bay. A short detour will bring you down to the historical harbours at Ballintoy and Portbradden, where there are epic coastal walks.
Along this same road is Carrick-a-rede rope bridge and the Giant’s causeway, so you get to see a lot in a short distance. The Bushmills Inn is nice for a spot of lunch or dinner when you are hungry from all that exploring!
Further north is Dunluce Castle, clinging to the cliff edge, and White Rock beach, which has some great views of the castle if you walk east along the beach from the carpark. If you have time, you could also check out Mussenden Temple at Downhill Beach.
If you get up north early enough, you could take the boat over to Rathlin Island for a day trip. You can see puffins there from about April to September, and seals all year round. The boat leaves from Ballycastle, and once you get there, there’s a bus you can hop on to get to the puffins.
So, whether you live here, or are just stopping by, whether you go north or south, you really can't run out of things to do around Belfast!