Ulster travel: Discover the highlights of all nine counties

Ulster travel: Discover the highlights of all nine counties

Ulster. The name of the province is synonymous with Northern Ireland, but did you know that Ulster province is made up of more than just the six counties of the north? Having visited every county in Ulster for myself, I know that each one has its own character and highlights, tied together by a shared history and the instantly-recognisable Ulster accent. If your Ulster travel knowledge needs a boost, here are some great suggestions for what to see in each county!

The nine (yes NINE) counties that make up the province of Ulster are spread across both sides of the United Kingdom/Ireland border. From north to south – roughly! – they are:

County Donegal – Ireland
County Londonderry – United Kingdom
County Antrim – United Kingdom
County Tyrone – United Kingdom
County Fermanagh – United Kingdom
County Armagh – United Kingdom
County Down – United Kingdom
County Monaghan – Ireland
County Cavan – Ireland


County Donegal

Did you know the most northerly point of the whole of Ireland is actually in the “south”? Malin Head is the tip of Ireland, and the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way that winds down the western coast in a series of breathtaking vistas. Donegal has a reputation for wild beauty that is well deserved.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Glenveagh National Park, Co Donegal

Glenveagh National Park

Combining spectacular moorland with picturesque loughs, Glenveagh National Park is not to be missed. Try visiting Lough Beagh, where a lakeside walk takes you to a beautiful Irish castle and tea rooms. The walk from the visitors centre is approximately 45 minutes each way, or take one of the shuttle buses and just enjoy the view!

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Slieve League Cliffs, Co Donegal

Slieve League

The Slieve League cliffs are rivalled only by the Cliffs of Moher further south for sheer awe-inspiring magnificence. Rising 600m from the Atlantic Ocean as it crashes far below, the cliffs will take your breath away. Easily accessible by car.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Donegal Town, Co Donegal

Donegal Town

The town which gives the county its name is compact and quintessentially Irish. Check out the traditional pubs and Donegal castle, or take a boat trip. It’s a great place to stay the night on your travels around Ulster.

Donegal is also a great jumping off point to discover the magical castles of the west of Ireland.


County Londonderry

Across the international border (in reality, there are no border controls; see my post Crossing the Irish border for more information), County Londonderry has a troubled history. But look beyond the city that bears its name and there is much to see and do along the beautiful coastline.

Derry/Londonderry

The city with two names is famous for the Bogside district and its peace murals. But Derry (to use the shorter form) is so much more. There are medieval city walls to explore, as well as a great food scene. Check out Discover the highlights of Derry/Londonderry more information.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Derry City Walls, Co Londonderry

Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple

High on the clifftops of Northern Ireland’s north coast, the atmospheric ruins of the Downhill Demesne are a photographer’s dream. As you explore the wild hillside, make your way to the cliff edge to check out Mussenden Temple, a folly which seems to teeter on the very cliff itself. Spectacular views can be had all the way along the northern coast.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Downhill Demesne, Co Londonderry

Portstewart

The seaside town of Portstewart is a popular spot for family holidays on the Northern Irish coast. Child-friendly beaches are backed by caravan parks, and an international golf course which plays host to the Irish Open every summer. If you want to experience a typical British/Irish seaside resort, this is the place to come.


County Antrim

If I had to pick one county which is overflowing with things to do and see, it would be County Antrim. The Giant’s Causeway, the Glens of Antrim, Carnlough, Slemish, Dark Hedges and Ballintoy (both made internationally famous by Game of Thrones), Lough Neagh… there is so much to cover in this county that it is hard to pick out favourites.

Dunluce Castle

Sitting on the Northern Coast just west of the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce is a ruined castle which perches on a headland overlooking crashing waves below. If you want to get a sense of the Ireland of the Middle Ages, wild and historic, this is a great place to come. There is a charge to enter the castle ruins themselves, but it is free to negotiate the steep steps down the cliff to the lower levels with ruined archways and fairy grottos. Dunluce is a lovely spot to visit on a summer evening, and offers spectacular photo opportunities.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim

Bushmills

Famous as the home of Northern Ireland’s favourite whiskey (note the E which differentiates Ireland’s tipple from its Scottish equivalent), Bushmills is a pretty small town with plenty of restaurants and places to wander. Visit the distillery itself to taste Ulster’s finest, and buy a few bottles to take home!

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Co Antrim

Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge

Located just off the Causeway Coastal Route which winds around the coast of Northern Ireland from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-rede is not for the fainthearted! A 10-minute walk from the car park brings you to the bridge itself, suspended high above the crashing Atlantic. Fishermen have long used the tiny island of Carrickarede to launch their boats, using the rope bridge to cross from the mainland. The bridge itself has of course been modernised and is completely safe, but still a vertigo-inducing walk if you’re brave enough!

Cushendall

If you fancy a stop on your tour of County Antrim, there is no better place than Cushendall. This hilly small town on the edge of the Glens of Antrim has a number of great restaurants, including the original Harry’s Restaurant, famous across the province for its local food, and fish in particular. Make bookings in high season, and enjoy the best local produce.


County Tyrone

Just south of County Londonderry is landlocked County Tyrone. Home to Omagh, the town that suffered one of the most notorious bombings of the Troubles, Tyrone now is a peaceful county with pretty country roads and villages.

The Sperrins

The Sperrin Mountains lie along the border between County Tyrone and County Londonderry, and make for spectacular walking on their high moorland. Wild and untouched, they are a haven for wildlife. Walkers can enjoy the heather-covered hillsides and stone circles that remind you, in case you forget, that Ireland’s history goes back into ancient times.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Ulster American Folk Park, Co Tyrone

Ulster-American Folk Park

Located just north of Omagh, the Ulster-American Folk Park is a world-class outdoor museum that recalls the mass migrations of Irish men and women to the United States during the 19th century. The museum takes you past historic buildings ranging from farmhouses to schools and shopping streets as you explore the Ireland of times gone by. Heading through a mock-up of a migrant ship, you then pass into the streets of New York City and finally into the American hinterland where so many of the Irish population found a new life. If you enjoy exploring historic buildings and want to know more about the reasons for Irish migration and the challenges migrants faced, this is somewhere not to be missed.


County Fermanagh

With borders with both County Donegal and County Cavan to the south, County Fermanagh marks the southwestern extremity of Northern Ireland.

Enniskillen

The town of Enniskillen is another Northern Irish name synonymous with the Troubles. Today it is a functional, day-to-day town which is a great jumping-off point for the waterways of County Fermanagh

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh

Lough Erne

Fermanagh’s crowning glory is its loughs, and Lough Erne is the greatest of them. While away your time on the water, where public jetties provide plenty of opportunities to moor up and explore. A peaceful part of the province, and a world away from the big cities, this is another popular spot for locals looking for a short break.


County Armagh

Armagh is not one of Northern Ireland’s more dramatic counties, and is home to the Belfast commuter belt towns of Portadown and Craigavon as well as the county town of Armagh. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do.

Armagh

The county town is home to St Patrick’s Cathedral, a spectacular Roman Catholic building which is well worth a visit. Armagh is a great place to stroll, and has some fantastic restaurants.

Ring of Gullion

Topped by the mountain of Slieve Gullion, the Ring of Gullion is a series of hills rising high above the Armagh landscape. With walking trails and a scenic driving route, it is a great day out.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh

Bordering several counties including large stretches of County Antrim and County Tyrone, Lough Neagh also has shoreline in County Armagh. The largest stretch of fresh water in the British Isles, Lough Neagh dominates maps of Ireland and is a great place for boat trips, discovering the local bird life, or just strolling along the shoreline.


County Down

Just south of Northern Ireland’s great city of Belfast, County Down holds some of Ulster’s greatest hidden gems.

Stormont

Seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the governing body of Northern Ireland, Stormont Castle is set in magnificent grounds lined with sweeping driveways and planted with groves of different native trees. It’s a great place for an afternoon stroll, and displays also teach visitors a little about Northern Ireland’s political history at the same time.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Stormont Castle, Co Down

Strangford Lough

Southeast of Belfast, Strangford Lough is an inlet from the Irish Sea which offers picturesque coastline and plenty of places to stop and admire the view.

Newcastle

The town of Newcastle, on the edge of the Irish Sea, offers what is arguably Northern Ireland’s premier hotel, the Slieve Donard Hotel. It takes its name from Slieve Donard, the high peak which is unmissable from the town. Newcastle is a bustling small down with shops and great restaurants, as well as a great wheelchair-accessible promenade along the seafront. Don’t miss the quirky building and street art down side streets near the beach. And if your budget won’t stretch to 5* luxury, check out the more affordable Donard Hotel in the town centre, which is a comfortable hotel in the traditional Irish style, which does a great Irish breakfast!

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Street art, Newcastle, Co. Down

The Mourne Mountains

The Mournes are probably the most spectacular region of Northern Ireland, or even of Ulster in general. The mountains are not high by international standards – Slieve Donard is the highest at 850m – but offer stunning moorland grazed by fluffy sheep, beautiful mountain view falling down to the sea, and the best walking in the province. Explore the many walking trails through the mountains, but beware – the weather can be unpredictable and can change quickly, and every year a handful of unwary hikers come to grief here, so stick to marked paths and let people know where you’re going. For a tamer walk, but one that still offers gorgeous mountain views and a close-up encounter with the historic Mourne Wall, try Silent Valley Nature Park near the town of Annalong in the southwest of the mountains.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Silent Valley, Mourne Mountains, Co Down


County Monaghan

Back across the border into the nation of Ireland, County Monaghan is a gentle county full of winding roads, bucolic landscapes and attractive places to drive. Monaghan, the county town, is a great place to stop off and explore.

Lough Muckno

Lough Muckno is home to world-class angling and wakeboarding. Located in the east of the county close to Castleblayney, Lough Muckno Leisure Park also offers walking trails and waterskiing for those who like an active day out.

Lacemaking

Clones lace and Carrickmacross lace are techniques which have been used for Royal wedding dresses for centuries. The traditional hails from County Monaghan, and lace is a theme you will encounter all over the county.


County Cavan

The last stop on our Ulster travel tour is County Cavan, arguably the least known of the counties of Ulster and one that is not typically on the tourist region. But like its neighbour across the northern border, County Fermanagh, Cavan is a hidden gem where lakes are its crowning glory.

Cavan County Museum

Located in the town of Ballyjamesduff in the south of the country (“Bally” is a common prefix for town names in this part of the country, and is derived from the Irish word for “town”), the Cavan County Museum is an award-winning museum which will take you through the history of County Cavan, with special exhibitions on medieval times and the Great Famine of the 1840s which was the catalyst for much of the Irish migration to the New World.

Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

Ulster travel: Castle Lake, Co Cavan

Forest parks

Cavan is overflowing with forest parks offering beautiful woodland walks around picturesque loughs. It is one of the joys of the county, and not to be missed when you are exploring County Cavan.


So there we have it – the joys of each one of the nine counties of Ulster. Has it inspired your own dreams of Ulster travel? Have you ever been to any of the Ulster counties? Let me know in the comments!


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Discover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravelDiscover the highlights of each of Ulster's nine counties, both north and south of the border - and experience Ulster travel for yourself! | Ulster Northern Ireland | Ulster Ireland | County Cavan | County Monaghan | County Donegal | County Armagh | County Fermanagh | County Tyrone | County Londonderry | County Antrim | County Down #ulstertravel

 

Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

Slemish: St Patrick’s Mountain in Northern Ireland

Slemish: St Patrick’s Mountain in Northern Ireland

I have been a regular visitor to Northern Ireland over many years, visiting the town of Ballymena, County Antrim. And anyone familiar with the approach to Ballymena will recognise Slemish. Towering over the surrounding flat landscape, Slemish is unmistakable and, when the mists clear, unmissable. It is also St Patrick’s mountain.

slemish

Slemish stands proudly above the Antrim countryside

The story goes like this: at the age of 16, the teenager who would become St Patrick was captured in England and brought to Ireland against his will. For the next 6 years he was forced to work as a swineherd on Slemish, looking after his pigs on the lonely and exposed mountain. It was during this period of solitude and loneliness that, they say, he became closer to God and developed into the saintly man he would become.

But what is Slemish? What makes it so striking in a landscape that is otherwise lush, but unremarkable? Well, the answer is millions of years old. Slemish is a volcanic plug, formed when magma forced its way out of the earth’s crust and solidified into rock. Over the millennia the surrounding softer rock eroded away, but the harder volcanic rock remained, and now stands proudly above the landscape.

Is it a mythical mountain? Probably not. Is it inextricably linked to Ireland’s history? Very much so.

slemish

The views over the surrounding area are spectacular

Plan your visit to Slemish

Slemish can be visited all year round, although caution should be taken in wet or icy weather as it can be slippery. I drove most of the way up until I reached the exposed rock; from there it is possible to pick your own path to the summit. The round trip takes about 90 minutes, depending on the weather and your fitness levels. Be prepared for a steep scramble.

Because of the association with St Patrick, it is especially popular to climb Slemish on St Patrick’s Day (17 March). If you do the same, expect plenty of company – but expect also to participate in a local tradition that is deeply rooted in Irish myth and legend.

How to get there

Slemish lies approximately 5 miles to the east of Ballymena in central Co. Antrim. Follow signs for Broughshane and make a right-hand turn in the centre of the village. Brown road signs point the way, but these are hit-and-miss so a map or GPS will be helpful.

St Patrick’s Trail

Slemish is part of the St Patrick’s Trail, a 92-mile driving route linking sights across Northern Ireland associated with St Patrick.

slemish


Inspired to discover a little more about Northern Ireland? Check out my other posts!
Northern Ireland: Discover the highlights of Derry/Londonderry
5 Reasons you will love Northern Ireland…
Discover Northern Ireland’s beautiful Causeway Coast
Crossing the Irish border: everything you need to know for a stress-free visit!
Portrush to Castlerock: Discover Northern Ireland’s northwest coast
The Mourne Mountains: Northern Ireland’s beautiful southeast



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Visit Northern Ireland and discover the stunning mountain of Slemish in County Antrim. Steeped in the legends of St Patrick, locals climb Slemish every St Patrick's Day. Visit County Antrim for yourself to discover Slemish, or read on to learn the myths and the practicalities for yourself!

Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

County Meath: Ireland’s ancient east

County Meath: Ireland’s ancient east

If there’s one thing that Ireland has by the bucket load, it’s history. From ancient to modern, there is so much to learn here that you could never do the country justice, but fortunately there are a few sights within a short drive of Dublin which allow you to discover some of the key moments of Ireland’s past. All located in County Meath, they make a great day trip after a couple of days spent in the capital.

This part of Ireland is captioned “Ireland’s Ancient East” on all the signposts, and it couldn’t be more apt. The itinerary described in this post is a round trip of approximately 135 km (84 miles, about 2.5 hours’ driving time) if setting off from central Dublin. If you use the motorways, bear in mind that these are toll roads and you will need change for the toll booths, not all of which accept credit cards or banknotes. Keep some coins to hand!

Brú na Bóinne
Site of the Battle of the Boyne
The Hill of Tara

county meath 4

The beautiful River Boyne has seen more than its fair share of history.


Brú na Bóinne

The best place to start your day in County Meath is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne. Sometimes marked on signposts as Newgrange, this ancient site can get extremely popular, so it is wise to get there early (when I visited in mid-September they opened at 9 am). Brú na Bóinne is a collection of Neolithic burial mounds which will immediately transport you back in time over 5000 years, and are unequalled anywhere else in Europe. They can only be visited as part of a guided tour from the Visitors Centre.

county meath 1

Ancient burial mounds at Knowth

The first stop on the tour is Knowth, a collection of grassy domes set around an enormous central mound. The people of the period built these structures as tombs – they were never lived in – and the decorative supporting stones around the main burial chamber make up almost 60% of all the megalithic art in Europe. Local guides explain the construction and use of the mounds, how the people of that period are believed to have lived and worshipped, and how the site has been used through the ages. You will learn how the entrance to the tomb was perfectly aligned so that light shone straight in at sunset on the winter solstice – an incredible feat when you consider the site is at least 5000 years old. The burial chamber is too dangerous to access, but it is possible to go into a reconstruction of one of the passages, as well as climbing to the top of the mound for panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.

county meath 2

Knowth contains 60% of the world’s megalithic art

After Knowth, you will head by shuttle bus to Newgrange. Newgrange is the busier of the two sites, with more reconstruction and more visitors. However, it is smaller, and contains only one burial mound as opposed to the dozen or so at Knowth. The big difference here, however, is that you can actually enter the tomb. The passageway is narrow but high-ceilinged; I am claustrophobic, but found that it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected! A short uphill walk takes you to the interior burial chamber, where a guide will explain how it was used. Here again, the entrance was carefully aligned; in this case, the sun shines up the passage to the chamber at sunrise on the winter solstice. A lottery takes place every year for just a handful of visitors to experience this phenomenon for themselves; however, a demonstration using artificial light shows everyone else how the effect works.

county meath 3

The burial mound at Newgrange

The Visitors Centre contains audiovisual displays with even more information on the mounds and the prehistoric way of life in this area. There is also a café and a gift shop. Then it’s on to the next history lesson of the day: the site of the Battle of the Boyne.


Site of the Battle of the Boyne

To understand the Battle of the Boyne is to understand the roots of recent Irish history.

In 1690, on 1st July under the Julian calendar in use at the time (12th July by the modern-day Gregorian calendar), two opposing armies met at the village of Oldbridge in County Meath. They were led by two kings of Britain: from the north came the Protestant William of Orange, known to history as William III, and from the south came the deposed Catholic King James II.

The battlefield of the Battle of the Boyne

The battlefield of the Battle of the Boyne

The two met in a mighty battle across the River Boyne. William prevailed, and James was sent running, fleeing all the way to the south of Ireland where he escaped by boat to France. England would never again be in Catholic hands; but the battle would go down in history. It is still commemorated every 12th July by the Orange Orders of Northern Ireland, and the battle lines were drawn for centuries of conflict.

Despite this, the battlefield is today a peaceful and interesting place to visit. Centred around historic Oldbridge house, a small entrance fee (currently €5) gives you access to a short but interesting exhibit. Illustrations and models show life in the army camps of the day, as well as the different uniforms of the various troops. An unusual light display gives a very clear overview of how the battle was fought and won, and is more interesting than it sounds!

county meath 6

The battlefield of the Battle of the Boyne

Outside, you can see many of the canons, firearms and other equipment used in the battle. There are often costumed actors giving talks and demonstrations, and the battlefield itself is open to walk at your own pace.

county meath 5

An actor educates visitors at the Battle of the Boyne battlefield

Expect to spend 1-2 hours here, depending on your level of interest. The battlefield lies just a few miles from Brú na Bóinne.


The Hill of Tara

No location is so engrained in Irish tradition than the Hill of Tara. Rising dramatically above the landscape of County Meath, the hill was supposedly the seat of Árd Rí na hÉireann, or the High King of Ireland, and is mentioned time and again in the tales and mythologies of Irish history. It is not only an ancient royal site, but also a sacred one, and is one of the most important Celtic sites in all of Europe.

county meath 8

Ancient mounds litter the historic Hill of Tara

Visiting the hill can be a wild and windy experience on a normal Irish day, but I was lucky enough to visit on a beautiful autumn afternoon. The site can be confusing to navigate without a guidebook, as most of the important spots are today no more than mounds and depressions in the landscape. However, signs and maps at the entrance to the site explain what each location was, and what took place there. You are free to wander the site at your leisure, guidebook in hand, and project your imagination onto the hilltop as you picture the customs and rituals of millenia gone by.

county meath 9

A Celtic cross stands alone on the Hill of Tara, a reminder of the place religion has always held in this land.

Entrance to the Hill of Tara is free of charge. It is a grassy and uneven site, and suitable footwear is advised. Visit on one of Ireland’s infrequent clear days for stunning views right across the surrounding area.


If you fancy trying this day out for yourself, click on the map below to see the driving route in more detail.

county meath route


If you are visiting Dublin, don’t miss the opportunity to head up to Northern Ireland to check out a lesser known part of the island. See my other posts for inspiration!
Crossing the Irish border: everything you need to know for a stress-free visit
The Mourne Mountains: Northern Ireland’s beautiful southeast
Discover Northern Ireland’s beautiful Causeway Coast
Portrush to Castlerock: Discover Northern Ireland’s northwest coast

Want suggestions for some great things to do while you’re in Ireland’s capital city? Check out this guide to Dublin for inspiration!


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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

The Mourne Mountains: Northern Ireland’s southeast

The Mourne Mountains: Northern Ireland’s southeast

If you are visiting Northern Ireland, you could do far worse than a day or two spent exploring the Mourne Mountains. Nestled in the far south of County Down, the stunning peaks (of which the highest is Slieve Donard at 850m, Northern Ireland’s highest point) rise out of the Irish Sea to provide breathtaking hiking and scenic drives across hillsides covered in moorland, farmland and pastures.

Formed some 56 million years ago from volcanic magma which hardened and evolved into granite peaks, the Mourne Mountains are situated between the towns of Newcastle and Newry, and can be reached from Belfast in about 1 hour. With a little planning, however, there is a great weekend route which you could take to explore even more of Northern Ireland’s history and natural beauty.

the mourne mountains 1

Stormont Estate

Heading out of Belfast east along the A2 and the A22, your first stop is the historic Stormont Estate. The seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont is a familiar sight from news bulletins, but it is also situated in sweeping parkland which is a wonderful spot for a stroll. Various different types of woodland have been planted, so you can check out beech forest, pine forest and much more. If you make your way up to the castle itself, there are signboards explaining the history of the building, the parliament and key figures in Northern Ireland’s history.

Downpatrick

the mourne mountains 10

Continuing south along the A22, consider making a detour to check out Strangford Lough, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, before another stop-off in Downpatrick. Just outside the town lies picture-postcard Inch Abbey. In ruins, and tucked away down side roads, the abbey is the ideal spot to scamper over the remains of the medieval walls, check out the ruined chapel and admire the pretty Quoyle River and the views across to Down Cathedral on the far bank. Parking and entrance are free, and there are few visitors. It is also a great location for dog walking.

Heading into Downpatrick itself, your next stop should be the cathedral. In the graveyard just outside lies the tomb of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint who is celebrated across the globe every 17th March in a flurry of green shamrocks and comedy hats. Whether this is genuinely his tomb is up for debate (he appears to have several gravesites across Ireland), but the locals certainly believe that this is the spot. A large stone marks the grave, although this was added in the early 1900s. While you’re in town, you can also check out the St Patrick Centre, the only exhibition in the world devoted to the man himself.

Newcastle – gateway to the Mourne Mountains

Continuing on along the coast, stop for the night in the town of Newcastle. I stayed at the Donard Hotel, which lies on the main street and is a classic Irish hotel in the traditional style, complete with rambling hallways, huge rooms, and one of the best Irish breakfasts I have had in a long time. If your budget stretches a little farther, the Slieve Donard Hotel (note the difference in names!) is not far away, and offers 5-star luxury. Newcastle has a number of pubs and restaurants; for a cheap eat, check out Doc’s Café which does a great fish & chips! If there is daylight to spare, the seafront has a long, level promenade which is a wonderful place to stroll and check out Newcastle’s beautiful historic buildings.

High Mourne Scenic Loop

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The High Mournes – the wildest part of the Mourne Mountains

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast (don’t miss the potato bread and soda farls for the full Irish experience!), it is time to explore the mountains. I took the High Mourne Scenic Loop, a well-signposted driving route which will take you straight across the beautiful moorland and allow you to experience the full majesty of this wild landscape. The Mourne Mountains are best known for their walking and hiking, although care should be taken; the weather in Northern Ireland can change quickly, and every year there are emergency rescues of inexperienced hikers who ended up in trouble. For mapped and signposted routes check out the Walk NI website, but common sense should always apply.

Families and lovers of garden follies might want to check out Tollymore Forest Park, located just a short drive outside Newcastle.

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The High Mournes – the wildest part of the Mourne Mountains

Silent Valley Mountain Park

As I was visiting on my own, I opted instead for a scenic drive across the moors followed by a visit to Silent Valley Mountain Park near Attical. This park has a number of marked trails of varying degrees of difficulty. A large car park, children’s play area and café cater to tourists; to avoid the vehicle entry charge, there is also a small parking area on the bend of the road just at the entrance to the park (note that there is still a small charge for pedestrian entry; if you are in a group, it is probably worth paying the vehicle fee!). The gatekeeper will give you a map of the walking routes available, together with a leaflet explaining the history of Silent Valley.

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Stunning countryside at Silent Valley

Silent Valley is the site of a huge dam constructed in the late 19th century to store water for the growing city of Belfast. A settlement known as Watertown sprang up to house the construction workers, and remains of the community can still be seen around the park. The walking trails vary in difficulty; the easiest is the Nature Trail, a mostly level walk of just over 1 mile which is accessible to pushchairs and wheelchairs, although it is not paved and there is one short, relatively steep, section where wheelchair users will need a hand. The most difficult trail is the Mountain Route, which takes you across the wild hillside and close to the Mourne Wall, a landmark in these parts which was built in 1922 to keep livestock off the land owned by Northern Ireland Water, and which winds its way over no fewer than 15 of the Mourne’s peaks. I chose to take this hardest trail; I am able-bodied but not particularly fit, and the 2-mile route presented no challenges for me. However, it is rocky and can be wet in places, so walking boots are essential. It is not accessible to pushchairs or wheelchairs. An added bonus of the route when I visited (September) was the delicious wild blackberries which lined much of the path – don’t forget to look out for them at this time of year!

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Stunning countryside at Silent Valley

Heading back to Belfast

Spend a few hours checking out the Silent Valley area, which offers stunning views of forests and mountains, and a sweeping vista across the reservoir which brought the area to life. Round off your day in Kilkeel or Newry, or check out Carlingford Lough, before heading back to Belfast along the A1 and M1. Or stop off in historic Hillsborough, home to Hillsborough Castle, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Northern Ireland. There are so many things to do in this corner of Northern Ireland that you will never get bored.

the mourne mountains driving route

Your route through the Mourne Mountains! Click on the map to access and adjust it in Google Maps.

 


This is not a sponsored post, and I paid for all transport, food, hotels, and entrance fees myself. This post does not contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own.


Have the Mourne Mountains inspired you to learn a little more about Northern Ireland? Check out my other posts!
Northern Ireland: Discover the highlights of Derry/Londonderry
5 Reasons you will love Northern Ireland…
Discover Northern Ireland’s beautiful Causeway Coast
Crossing the Irish border: everything you need to know for a stress-free visit!
Portrush to Castlerock: Discover Northern Ireland’s northwest coast


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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

Portrush to Castlerock: Northern Ireland’s northwest coast

Portrush to Castlerock: Northern Ireland’s northwest coast

The part of the Northern Irish coast to the west of the Giant’s Causeway is the province’s holiday playground. With white sand beaches, caravan parks and coastal towns, it is a great spot for a family break, but it also has history and stunning scenery to explore. So how could you spend a day or two in Northern Ireland’s northwest?

Dunluce Castle

northern irelands northwest - featured

Dunluce is a ruined medieval castle, perched on a headland a few miles to the west of Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. A spectacularly scenic location, the castle is open to visitors until 6pm in summer (entry fee).

However, arrive after 6pm on a long summer’s evening and you can visit the outside of the castle for free. Enjoy the spectacular view points, and brave the steps down the cliff to explore the courtyard below the castle with its towering cliffs, scenic viewpoint and cave grotto.

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Stunning Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim

Magheracross viewpoint

Heading west along the Causeway Coastal Route from Dunluce Castle, don’t miss the turnoff at Magheracross car park for spectacular views along the coast as far as the Giant’s Causeway to the east and the mountains of Donegal to the west.

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Spectacular views from Magheracross

Portrush

Continuing on west along the coat road you will reach Portrush, a popular seaside town with a pretty harbour at its heart. Portrush boasts a number of restaurants close to the harbour, and a fine harbour wall ideal for strolling. For children, there is a Blue Flag certified white sand beach in a sheltered bay, as well as traditional seaside amusements.

Portstewart

From Portrush you can either follow the road inland to the town of Coleraine, or continue along the coastal route to Portstewart. On the way, you will pass the Portstewart Golf Club where the Irish Open tournament is held every July. This spectacular course along the Atlantic shore is a great spot for a round! Continuing on along the coast, your next stop is Portstewart, a popular holiday resort for Victorian holidaymakers in the late 19th century. Just west of the town you will reach beautiful Portstewart Strand, a wide sandy beach with sand dunes to explore. Check out the sandcastle competitions in summer or fly a kite on a breezy winter’s day!

Downhill House and Mussenden Temple

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The evocative ruins of Downhill House, Co. Londonderry

Striking west from Portstewart, you will pass by the seaside town of Castlerock before arriving at the final destination, Mussenden Temple and the Downhill Demesne.

Perched on the clifftop overlooking the north coast, this is a fascinating place to wander. Approaching from the Bishops Gate, lush gardens lead you to an exposed hillside dotted with follies and temples. Downhill House was built in the 18th century and destroyed by fire a century later; apart from a brief requisitioning during World War II it has remained a ruin ever since. Visitors can wander through the remains of the house, admiring the stark shapes of the ruin and imagining what life was like in its heyday.

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Inside the ruins of Downhill House

Passing through the house and heading out to the cliff edge, you reach Mussenden Temple. Despite the name, this was built as a library and is now used as a wedding venue and for occasional concerts, as well as being one of the most photographed spots in Ireland. The Temple was built in an Italian style and was originally much further back from the cliff edge, which has eroded over time. Nowadays it teeters on the clifftop, and structural work has been carried out to secure it for the future. You can go inside during opening hours.

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Mussenden Temple perches above the cliff edge

The property belongs to the National Trust, and non-members can visit for a fee during the day. However, like many other locations along the coast, if you turn up after closing time (5pm in summer) you can visit for free, although you will not be able to go inside the temple.

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Spectacular views to the east across Castlerock and the north coast


Other activities

If you have a few days in the area, you might want to explore further afield. Check out my posts on the Causeway Coast and the city of Derry/Londonderry for more to explore in the north of Northern Ireland, or venture into stunning Donegal or the Mourne Mountains for incredible scenery. There’s so much to do that you’ll never be short of ideas!

And if you want to explore Derry a little more closely, I can recommend checking out these great posts from Teresa at Brogan Abroad:
A Foodie Tour of Derry – Brogan Abroad
48 Hours in the Historic Walled City of Derry~Londonderry – Brogan Abroad


 


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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!

Crossing the Irish border: what you need to know!

Crossing the Irish border: what you need to know!

Ireland is a country divided in two: in the south and west, the nation of Ireland (often referred to as the Republic of Ireland to avoid confusion), and in the northeast the province of Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. Both have plenty to do and see, and it would be a crime to make a trip to Ireland and not cross the border. But what does that entail? Here is everything you need to know about crossing the Irish border!

Locals take for granted the free movement they have between north and south, and it’s true that you can flit across the border with barely a care in the world. But Ireland and the UK are two separate countries, and for non-locals, there are a few things you would be wise to bear in mind when crossing to Ireland or from it.

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Crossing the Irish border: Glenveagh National Park, Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland

Do I need a passport to travel to Ireland/Northern Ireland? What do you need to cross the border?

There are no border formalities between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. This means that you can cross freely from one to the other without the need for documentation; however, you should consider what happens if you encounter problems across the border and need to prove your right to be in the country. It is therefore important to always carry a passport or national identity card with you if you are crossing from one country to the other.

If you need a visa to visit the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom, you need to make sure this has been secured and is in your passport prior to crossing into the new country. Again, if you don’t have a valid visa you are unlikely to be stopped, but this is not legal and it only takes an incident or accident outside your control for you to find yourself in trouble. Don’t put yourself in that position.

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Crossing the Irish border: Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Can I take my rental car across the border?

In short, yes – but you will need to pay for additional insurance and breakdown cover in the other country. This is generally not expensive, but shop around and check before you book. It is very important that you do declare that you will take the car outside the country you rented it in, otherwise you will be faced with a huge bill in the event of a problem. Note that you can pick up a car in one country and return it in the other, but you will be charged a very high fee to do so, so it is always best to return the car in the country you hired it in.

An international drivers permit is not a requirement to drive in Ireland or the United Kingdom, but may be helpful if your licence is not written in English.

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Crossing the Irish border: Donegal Town, Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland

Do the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland use the same currency?

No, they don’t. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and uses the British Pound, and the Republic of Ireland uses the Euro. The two currencies are generally not accepted on the other side of the border, so you will need to change money or use an ATM as soon as possible to get cash in the right currency.

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Crossing the Irish border: Hillsborough, Co Down, Northern Ireland

Do both countries drive on the same side of the road? What about traffic signage?

Both countries drive on the left, and vehicles have the steering wheel on the right. However, the Republic of Ireland measures speed and distance using the metric system (kilometres), while Northern Ireland uses miles. Make sure you don’t forget this when crossing the border, as speed limits will immediately change to the new system with little or no warning. All rental cars will display both units of measurement.

Traffic signs are slightly different on either side of the border, but other than miles/kilometres, in all other respects, the differences are easy to understand.

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Crossing the Irish border: Heading into one of the Ghaeltacht regions, Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland

Is the language the same? I have heard that there is an Irish language?

The predominant language in the whole of Ireland is English. The Republic of Ireland also has Irish, a Gaelic language similar to Welsh or Scots, as an official language, and you will see it on signage. Irish is also gaining in popularity in Northern Ireland, although you will not usually see it written north of the border.

There are small areas of the Republic of Ireland designated as Ghaeltacht, or fully Irish-speaking areas. In these regions you may find the only signage is in Irish, and English is not commonly spoken. However, everyone is able speak English so just ask if you need help!

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Crossing the Irish border: Ballintoy, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland

Do the two countries share a cellphone network?

No, the two countries maintain separate networks. However, in most cases, if you have a contract with a UK or ROI network you will be able to use your phone in the other country at no extra cost – confirm with your provider before travelling. For anyone else, roaming rates will generally be the same for both countries, but again, check before travelling.

Phones will automatically switch networks close to the border. Note that your phone may transfer to the other country’s network before you actually cross the line!

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Crossing the Irish border: Slieve League cliffs, Co Donegal, Republic of Ireland

What will it be like actually crossing the Irish border?

Underwhelming! Driving from the Republic to Northern Ireland is no different to driving from one Irish county or US state to another. If you are lucky, there may be a sign saying “Welcome to Ireland”, or simply “Northern Ireland” as you head north. On other roads, the only indication will be a sign giving the speed in kilometres/miles, and it is easy to cross without noticing!

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Crossing the Irish border: Dunluce Castle, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland

So why should I visit both sides of the border?

The differences between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can be fascinating, but so can the similarities. Both parts of Ireland share stunning landscapes and friendly people, and there are some great experiences to be had wherever you go. So arm yourself with the information in this post, and go out and explore the whole of this great island!


Inspired to discover a little more about Northern Ireland? Check out my other posts!
Ulster travel: Discovering the highlights of the nine counties of Ulster
County Meath: Exploring Ireland’s ancient east
Slemish: Discover St Patrick’s Mountain in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland: Discover the highlights of Derry/Londonderry
5 Reasons you will love Northern Ireland…
Discover Northern Ireland’s beautiful Causeway Coast
Portrush to Castlerock: Discover Northern Ireland’s northwest coast
The Mourne Mountains: Northern Ireland’s beautiful southeast


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Ireland is a country divided in two: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Here is your guide to crossing the Irish border. |Crossing to Ireland | Do I need a passport to travel to Ireland | What do you need to cross the border | #irishborder #crossingtheirishborder #crossingtheborderirelandIreland is a country divided in two: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Here is your guide to crossing the Irish border. |Crossing to Ireland | Do I need a passport to travel to Ireland | What do you need to cross the border | #irishborder #crossingtheirishborder #crossingtheborderireland

 

Ireland is a country divided in two: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Here is your guide to crossing the Irish border. |Crossing to Ireland | Do I need a passport to travel to Ireland | What do you need to cross the border | #irishborder #crossingtheirishborder #crossingtheborderireland

Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!