IF YOU fancy a staycation embracing the great outdoors, grab your walking boots and woolly hat and discover some of Northern Ireland’s most scenic locations. With eight Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), 47 national nature reserves, 43 special areas of conservation and 10 special protection areas, it’s a rambler’s paradise.
A crisp morning is arguably the best time to walk the Lagan Towpath as the mist hovers just above Belfast’s main river.
Divis and Black Mountain rest in the heart of the Belfast Hills and provide a backdrop to the city’s skyline, offering spectacular views across Northern Ireland, Belfast Lough and as far as Donegal and the coast of England, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Stay: The 4-star Ramada Plaza Hotel Belfast in Lagan Valley Regional
Spanning 40 miles and over the two counties of Tyrone and Derry, the Sperrins mountain range is the largest in Ireland and walkers can expect undulating hills covered in heather, quiet valleys, boggy uplands and a land teeming with wildlife.
Add in more than 90 sets of stone circles, the best known being Beaghmore, and numerous other intriguing, megalithic structures, and the Sperrins are most definitely a walking wonder.
Check out The Robber’s Table near Gortin. The highest point of this route provides superb views of the Bluestack and Derryveagh Mountains of Donegal to the west and the high Sperrins to the north east.
Stay: Blessingbourne Estate offers 5-star luxury pet-friendly self-catering accommodation with premier 13k mountain bike trails
The Mourne Mountains
These are the highest and most dramatic range in Northern Ireland and are criss-crossed by an unrivalled network of paths and tracks, providing enthusiastic walkers with incredible opportunities for exploration.
Northern Ireland’s highest peak, the Slieve Donard, climbs up through forest to meet the famous Mourne Wall for the final steep ascent to the top.
The dramatic views of Newcastle and the sea below definitely make it worth the 850m climb.
Nearby Tollymore Forest Park offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sea at Newcastle while Castlewellan Forest Park offers an array of loops through one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe.
Stay: The 4-star Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle.
Causeway Coast & Glens
The Causeway Coast Way, especially the section from Portballintrae to Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, is among the most scenic coastal walks you can find anywhere.
Follow a stretch of breathtaking coastline between Ballintoy and Bushmills for a great 12.4 mile walk. The route includes walking on beaches, across rocks and along clifftop paths.
Winter creates the perfect backdrop to explore the mature woodland of Glenariff Forest Park with freezing waterfalls and open, frosted moorland.
The trail first takes you down the Inver River gorge, to the edge of the Ess-na-Crub Waterfall and your path back offers spectacular views straight down the misty glen to the coast and the sea beyond.
Stay: The 4-star Causeway Hotel.
Whilst Fermanagh is renowned for its lakelands, the first destination for any keen walker should be its highest summit – Cuilcagh Mountain, standing at 665m.
This area is part of the UNESCO endorsed Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark due to its unique geology and spectacular landscapes.
A new boardwalk meanders through one of the largest expanses of blanket bog in Northern Ireland.
Crom Estate near Enniskillen offers walks amidst a tranquil landscape of islands, woodland and historic ruins.
Along the shoreline to Crom’s beautiful boathouse you can enjoy stunning views up to the 19th century castle which sits to the right of the trail dominating the landscape.
Stay: The 4-star Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel & Lodges
TRANSLINK run a Sperrins & Mournes Rambler bus service all year round with stops in key towns which are ideal starting points for many circular walks. For further information, see www.discovernorthernireland.com.