Northern Ireland has been fought over for more than five Centuries as kings and queens of Europe tussled over it for its strategic position.
Those of a certain age may remember the problems that continued to a dangerous level up until the Good Friday Agreement, and still rumble on today to a far lesser extent as a direct result of those power struggles in Europe and beyond.
It’s not what it used to be. With peace came prosperity, wealth and tourism.
You will find wild landscapes as least as stunning as the Scottish Highlands or Lake District, and lots of things to do as a family here.
Your kids will experience the generational change that was hoped for in bringing peace to Northern Ireland – remembering it for its fun, beauty and character as opposed to what you may remember in TV news reports.
So, let’s go for a blast around some of the best family walks and treks here!
Teenage Children – Overnight
Teenage kids are at the stage where you can take them on more adult walks, even as your legs start to fade with the age and strain of living with them.
Here we look at six Northern Ireland walks that should suit your teenagers as they grow both the fitness and love of time out on the hill.
The first two are over-nighters where you could either sneakily stay on the hill in a wilderness camp or book a B&B nearby for the evening/s between days on the hill or coast.
Anyone on a visit to Northern Ireland should visit the Giant’s Causeway.
The volcanic phenomenon has gone down deep in Ulster history and is supposed to have been built by Finn the giant to fend off marauding Scots.
However it was made, it is very interesting to look at and a lot of fun to clamber over.
The Causeway Coast was formed at the same geological time as the causeway and you will find huge cliffs plunging into the sea as well as a large number of secluded beaches to chill out on on a sunny day.
Over two days you will walk along this coast, absorbing the beauty and history of what you find along the way.
Just one thing to note – currently the section between Ballintoy and Ballycastle involves a busy road and no real footpath while the local authority is fixing the actual path.
Should there be a ‘you don’t understand me’ strop there’s always the temptation at this stage to not prevent your child from being hit but you’ll eventually regret it…
Lough Bradan to Gortin
The Ulster Way is a 650 mile monster that we won’t suggest for your teenage progeny – sadly the summer holidays aren’t long enough for them to do that and in most cases it would cost you a lot of money to send them off on their own for that long.
This stretch takes in some of the best scenery of the County Tyrone section of the Ulster Way.
Crossing blanket bog, forest, and ridgeway it ultimately ends in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains.
It is quite challenging as walks in Northern Ireland go but is also an opportunity for you to get to know this part of the world and your own offspring as you shoot the breeze while you go.
At Bolaght Mountain you will be afforded views right across the county if not province, Bluestack Mountains of Donegal in the west, the pyramid of Errigal in the northwest, the dome of Slieve Snaght on the Inishowen peninsula in the north and the rounded summits of the high Sperrins to the northeast.
Day two you will cross sites of special scientific interest including bogland unique to this part of the world before reaching the Sperrins foothills.
Teenage Children – Day Walks
The next walks, ranked in distance, should appeal to a family with 10 – 18 year olds depending on how far you wish to go and how far their legs can handle.
These are days out on the hill and should capture the interest as well as reduce energy levels at the end of the day, perhaps allowing you to have some peace and quiet that evening…
Central Mournes Circular
Slieve Donard is NI’s highest mountain at a heady 850 metres.
That makes this walk challenging and suitable for a family with kids of 15+ who are sporty and will enjoy the energy release of a walk that would satisfy many an adult hill walker.
Do be aware that it is quiet in these parts so you will often find yourself alone for long stretches – no bad thing but others who have done the walk have worried at times they had left the route only to review their GPS and find they had followed it perfectly!
This might be an opportunity to practice paper navigation.
The Central Mourne Mountains are a granite range that are dramatic in their own right but it isn’t just mountains on this one.
There is a stretch through the Annalong Forest that is teeming with wildlife and you will also pass the Ben From Reservoir that adds to the drama and beauty of this great landscape.
From the top of Slieve Donard you can see as far as Scotland and the Isle of Man in the distance, not a bad view as things go!
The Gullion Circular
The Ring of Gullion is a ring dyke volcano that last exploded 50 million years up so there’s no chance of ending a teenage strop once and for all there…
Now it is a heather-clad area of outstanding beauty that is a great place to walk.
The main hill is Slieve Gullion, that at 573 metres will keep everyone quiet as they puff and pant their way to the top (or more likely you will as the kids show their youth and you your age).
As well as the geological history, humanity has lived in this area for at least 6,000 years.
You will find Christian and Megalithic remnants including 20 large tombs.
You will walk a section of the Dorsey, a high earth embankment and route to Eamhain Macha, the ancient capital of Ulster.
Both exercise and cerebral stimulation should keep the kids quiet – and they should be nice and tired at the end of the day!
Slieve Bearnagh Circular
Suitable for older, more experienced youngsters you will summit two peaks on this route – the whale-backed Slieve Meelmore and the higher, possibly more awesome Slieve Bearnagh.
This is challenging not for its length but for the difficult scrambles on the route and the steep pitches as well as the ridgeway that requires care.
There is a 100 year old wall that follows much of the route so you won’t be lost for long if ever, taking in the rugged beauty of the landscape.
For that you will have a really fun time as you stop talking and start concentrating on the climbing aspects of the walk.
As you summit each of the Slieves you will be rewarded with views right across Ulster to Lough Neagh and the Sperrins in the far distance.
This is an upland walk and something that should create some happy memories for the family as you take it on, slip, grunt and laugh together before sharing the rewards of this – one of the best mountain walks in Northern Ireland.
Slieve Binnian Circular
At 747 metres Slieve Binnian is Northern Ireland’s third highest mountain but that isn’t the selling point – the jagged tors at the top make it very distinctive and a lot of fun to explore once you and the family have summited.
The walk itself is challenging at times with some steep climbs but the rewards at the top, with its expansive views for miles around, make for a worthwhile walk.
Unusually this is highly recommended as a winter walk so when the kids are a bit older we would suggest you get out there in a bit of snow.
It is the snowiest point in Northern Ireland with an average of 35 snow days a year.
Remembering snow makes a walk a different league harder, it could make for a winter day out with a difference.
Do watch out for glimpses of the Irish hare that live on the mountain, that can sprint at a blistering 30mph, and in winter carry white coats for extra protection against predators’ eyes.
Winter is also the time when peregrine falcons migrate to the area to fraternise and fight with the local peregrines so you could be in for a real treat.
Half-day Walks for Shorter Legs
This section looks at some walks that will get your kids the taste for hill walking.
Let’s face it, from the ages of 6-10 kids are a nuclear power station of energy but they do need re-setting with the odd rest and won’t manage any of the decent-length walks we have covered so far.
Here we have chosen two that should help get them the taste for time on the hill without putting them off by the difficulty and length of a full day out there.
Oxford Island Walk
Lough Neagh is the biggest body of fresh water in the British Isles and occupies a large chunk of Northern Ireland.
As a massive lake it attracts all sorts of wildlife from otters to wading birds, water voles and even a non-biting midge that is pretty much only found in this part of the world.
The Oxford Island Walk is a figure of eight walk that takes in the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre with its wetlands, forest, meadow and other protected areas.
Not the most challenging as walks go, there are a number of steps to climb in certain sections but for pushing your little one’s stamina that little bit it should be a nice little bimble with lots to see and explore as they go.
There is a play area at the Discovery Centre too, so you can perhaps let them have time to be themselves before dragging them off to explore the rest of the route!
The island of Raithlin lies a few miles off the Causeway Coast and this route follows the island’s spine.
The day out will begin with an adventure – taking a ferry out to the island which can be lots of fun for your youngsters as long as it doesn’t get too rough.
Do remember that kids have no sense of fear so keep an eye on them at this stage!
Once in Raithlin Harbour you can explore the village, perhaps have lunch at the pub and then head along the trail out to the lighthouse, where there is an RSPB nature reserve.
There we go, boats, birds and bars – not the sort you thought of was it?!
The sea cliffs on Raithlin are home to the largest seabird colony in Northern Ireland and at the right time of year you will be in for a Bedlam-like cacophony of screeching and squawking that will bemuse and amuse little legs at the same time.
The scenery is jaw-dropping too – something that will entertain you the parents as well as those you’re trying to give the taste for nature to.
There are lots of bail-out routes on this walk should there be the need to get back to the village as can happen with your little bundles of energy!
Little Walks for Toddlers
Here we’ve found two great spots for your little ones to give them positive associations with being outdoors and exploring the world around them.
The Giant’s Causeway
What could be more fun than clambering around these peculiar rock formations?
You can let your little one’s imagination run riot with the story of Finn the Giant and his story of fighting the Scottish giants, and see his boot – a reputed size 93.5!
As a National Trust property you will find all the good stuff from play areas to decent toilets and changing facilities, not to mention organised self-guided tours for those who wish to teach the story of Finn to your tot?
Kids of this age work in short, energetic bursts so you will be able to wear them out over a couple of spells while showing them one of the most geologically important rock formations in the British Isles.
If you have a trolley or pram there is the opportunity to take them on longer walks of up to five miles.
All in this can be a great day out for you and your little bundles of joy and lots of photo opportunities to boot!
Murlough North Point Nature Trail
A mixture of nature trail through wetland, a pause at a stately home and sand dunes with views that are just nuts, this is a family walk with interest for everyone.
Who cares if this walk takes a brisk 90 minutes or all day?
From launching yourselves off the sand dunes to having lunch at the National Trust cafe, there’s all sorts of things to keep you and your tot very happy indeed.
On a sunny, warm day (rare enough in these parts admittedly) this wander can be a big day out with sandcastles, swimming and dune jumping as part of the fun.
All in you’ll have a great day out and give your young’uns positive associations with being outdoors and expending energy.
You can probably see by now why Kings of Europe have fought over this part of the world for centuries – or certainly would if they weren’t concerned about its strategic geographical location and appreciated the stunning beauty of Northern Ireland!
From mountains to coastline and fresh watercourses, the country is special from end to end.
We hope you find a route for you and your family!