Categories: things to doecotourism

Northern Ireland has some big hitters when it comes to must-see spots and must-do experiences. But as we try to avoid crowded areas and find that slice of nature just for ourselves, it’s good to explore the lesser-known trails and hidden gems around Northern Ireland. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you get bragging rights for finding that perfect spot off the beaten track. 

Right, let’s get exploring so you can visit while it’s still a hidden gem! 

1. Open Ground at Seamus Heaney HomePlace 

Technically this isn’t one hidden gem, but five! From the Strand at Lough Beg to the banks of the Moyola River, this new outdoor experience Open Ground at Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy lets you visit significant locations in the life and works of our Nobel Laureate. If you’re a fan of Heaney’s work, you’ll recognise the five locations, some of which are now accessible to visitors for the first time.

Before you visit, download the dedicated Open Ground app (available from the App Store or Google Play) which brings the experience to life through innovative augmented reality. We wonder what the poet would have to say about that?

2. Fodder Café & Shop 

Nestled at the beginning of some spectacular walking trails in Finnebrogue Woods, Co. Down, you’ll come across the delightful Fodder Café & Shop. There is plenty of outdoor seating which is perfect for when you want to grab a bit and refreshing drink before setting off, or as a deserved reward at the end of your stroll.  

The menu is purposely kept simple so that each dish is served using only the freshest, local ingredients. And if you’re looking for a tasty vegan option or something gluten free, you’re in good hands at the Fodder Café.  

3. Carntogher, Maghera 

If scenic mountain trails sound like your idea of heaven, grab your good boots and make your way to Carntoger near Maghera. Your path will bring you by trickling streams, lovely little waterfalls, and reward you with views that stretch from Errigal in Donegal to the Sperrins and south-east to the Mourne Mountains. The whole trail will bring you on a 5.6 mile circular route, and you can finding parking in the roadside carpark by Cotters Row. 

Don’t forget to snap a few pics of the incredible panoramic views stretching all around you. That’s sure to have your friends and family in the groupchat jealously asking, “where’s that?!” 

4. Darkley Forest 

There are two trails you could take through the enchanting Darkley Forest, both as magical as each other. The Mountain Lodge trail is a peaceful stroll which brings you through unspoilt woodlands, passing by Tyllynawood Lake and the Old Linen Mill.  

Or you’ll find local history as rich as the landscape on the Aughnagurgan trail which leads you through the heart of the woodlands towards a beautiful picnic spot encircled by beech trees. The peace and tranquillity you find here is as close to the dictionary definition of ‘hidden gem’ as you can get. 

5. Gortin Glen Lake 

If you’re aware of the International Appalachian Trail across Ulster, you’ll be aware of the beautiful loop stroll that is Gortin Glen Lake. You’ll be treated to incredible views of the Sperrins landscape, as you wrap yourself in natural beauty on this figure 8 trail. With deep water on one side, and natural vegetation on the other, the path is easy to follow and has seating benches along the way for you to soak in the views.  

All in all, it’s only a 0.6 mile trail which makes it the perfect mini-escape on your day trip or as part of the wider day’s activity.  

6. Glenoe Waterfall 

A short stroll from the charming village of Glenoe in the stunning Glens of Antrim, you'll find Glenoe Waterfall. Take the woodland walk as it meanders up and down the sides of the valley to one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Northern Ireland. 

7. National Trust’s Crom Estate 

Set on the shores of Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, Crom Estate is one of Ireland's most important nature conservation areas. It’s a tranquil, peaceful and dreamlike kind of place, where nature runs wild along the shoreline. 

There’s an award-winning visitor centre to visit, although arguably the most rewarding time spent here is exploring the trails and shore where all sorts of creatures roam, from pine martins and otters to grey herons, sparrowhawks and buzzards. Take to the water by hiring a boat for an even more immersive experience.  

If you enjoy self-led activities, be sure to pick up a “Get Set, Go” card available at the estate. “Get Set, Go” cards are handy activity sheets that help you create your own adventure with activities available on the estate. Go! Go! Go! 

Make a Giant Difference 

It mightn’t seem like it but by visiting a hidden gem and discovering something off the beaten track, you’re helping to keep yourself and others safe. Reducing footfall and avoiding crowded areas makes a Giant Difference to Northern Ireland.  

You can also find plenty of green accommodation near all of the hidden gems mentioned above. If you plan on exploring any of these areas, be sure to check out these fantastic eco-friendly options.