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40 free things to see and do in Northern Ireland this summer

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Blackhead Lighthouse towers from the cliff face above Belfast Lough

Blackhead Lighthouse towers from the cliff face above Belfast Lough

Giant’s Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

Slemish Mountain

Slemish Mountain

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Blackhead Lighthouse towers from the cliff face above Belfast Lough

As the cost-of-living crisis continues and the holidays loom, here are scores of things to do that won’t cost a penny.

CO ARMAGH

Edenvilla Park, Portadown

Spanning 25.5 acres, this forest offers sculpture trails, a play park, plenty of open space for games and picnics, a bird aviary and a secret garden with a fish pond.

Children will want to roam around the badger tunnels, but this popular park offers something for all of the family.

Armagh County Museum, Armagh

Stories that span the ages are housed in this building which mimics a small Greek temple.

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It caters to all tastes with its collections ranging from local history and fine art to archaeology and natural history.

Visitors will also experience a flavour of the famous ‘orchard county’ and behold the museum’s art collection which illustrates what life has been like over the centuries.

Oxford Island, Craigavon

The National Nature Reserve of Oxford Island is a fantastic stop for wild swimmers looking for access into Lough Neagh.

The island holds staggering natural beauty, making it one of the best spots in Northern Ireland to take a dip.

You should also check out the incredible walking trails.

CO ANTRIM

Blackhead Lighthouse, Whitehead

A remnant of Belfast’s glory days of shipping, these lights guided many great vessels on their journey, including the Titanic.

You can walk along the coast from Whitehead to this beautiful building perched on the rugged cliff edge overlooking the sea below.

This charming and magical spot is the perfect place to watch the sun rise.

Carrickfergus Castle, Carrickfergus

Possibly the most famous castle in Northern Ireland and definitely one of the most spectacular.

While entry to the structure — which was built in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy after he invaded Ulster — will set you back £6, you can behold its glory without spending a penny as you roam around the nearby harbour and marina.

Dunluce Castle, Bushmills

This medieval castle is stunning and so too is the seaside cliff upon which it sits.

Built by the second Earl of Ulster in the 13th century, it was first documented as owned by the McQuillan family in 1513.

Take in the ruins of this fortress from outside for free or pay a small fee to enter.

Slemish Mountain, Ballymena

Regarded as Saint Patrick’s Mountain — as he is rumoured to have spent his time tending sheep here as a slave — it is actually the remains of an extinct volcanic plug.

That explains its distinctive, flat-topped shape visible from miles away.

The steep ascent is worth the reward of a 360-degree view spanning as far away as the Sperrin Mountains and Lough Neagh.

Ballygally beach, near Larne

Ok, it might not have a blue flag but it does offer amazing views.

Located on the northeast coast this 300-metre long stretch of sand is perfect for a short - but sweet – walk.

Ideal as a place to stop and stretch your legs if passing by.

Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills

The natural marvel sprawled out along the north Antrim coast offers everyone a chance to walk in the land of giants.

Make sure you bypass the visitor centre to take in the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns free of charge.

A walk along the Red Trail on the cliffs above the Causeway offers the best views.

Maritime Milestones, Titanic Quarter, Belfast

A series of events are taking place throughout the summer, with visitors encouraged to walk, cycle and even dance the Maritime Mile.

There’s no better way to discover Belfast’s vibrant quayside and heritage.

Some of the best local music talent has been popping up at SoundYard and other locations along the Mile. Keep an eye on social media for weekly performances and a range of upcoming events.

Ould Lammas Fair, Ballycastle

This centuries-old traditional fair attracts thousands of people onto the streets of this seaside town on the last Monday and Tuesday of August.

You will have to shell out to enjoy its famed delights — dulse and yellowman — but you don’t need money to soak up the atmosphere of the oldest fair in Ireland.

Bring a packed lunch or picnic and find the perfect spot to enjoy the entertainment on offer.

Bumblebee & Butterfly Safari, Belfast

Snap up a ticket for this free walk through the meadows of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park and learn more about bumblebees, butterflies and the wildflowers they visit.

It starts from Lower Stables Car Park at 11am on July 15 and booking is essential due to limited places.

Ulster Museum, Belfast

It’s hard to believe that you can come face-to-face with dinosaurs and get up close and personal with an ancient Egyptian mummy completely free of charge.

The Ulster Museum houses treasure of the past and the present, including a rich collection of art, history and natural sciences.

Behold ancient masterpieces, delve into the history of your ancestors, and learn how ‘Takabuti’ ended up arriving in Belfast back in 1834.

Glenariff Forest Park, Cargan

Crowned queen of the nine Antrim Glens, Glenariff is surrounded by 1,000 hectares of woodland, lakes, outdoor recreation spaces and conservation areas.

The rocky gorges of the river is fertile ground for rich and diverse plants resulting in part of the Glen being designated a National Nature Reserve.

Keep an eye out for red squirrels, hen harriers and Irish hares and take in spectacular views including a majestic waterfall.

Glenoe Waterfall, Glenoe

This magnificent 30-foot waterfall is hidden deep in the Glens of Antrim and is worth the trek to find it.

Just a short stroll from the charming village of Glenoe, 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.

Dunseverick Falls, Bushmills

A hidden gem on one of the five great highways of ancient Ireland, High Kings Road (Slige Midluachra) had its terminal point at Dunseverick.

Marvel at the castle ruins, walk along the coastline and admire the waterfall often overlooked by visitors.

Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum, Lisburn

Visitors can explore the award-winning exhibition Flax To Fabric: The Story Of Irish Linen, which traces the history of the industry in NI from the earliest times to the present day.

You will see live spinning and weaving demonstrations and learn about the early development of Lisburn in the museum’s Making Of A Town: 17th Century Lisburn exhibition.

The museum also offers free tours of historic Lisburn and Castle Gardens, as well as a range of free educational workshops including WWII, Ancient Egypt and Science Week.

CO DOWN

Scrabo Tower & Killynether Woods, Newtownards

Those who make the steep climb to the top of Scrabo will be rewarded by breathtaking views of Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside.

On a clear day you will see as far as the Mourne Mountains in the south and the Scottish coastline in the east.

Descend into the forest and discover a walled garden surrounded by impressive beech trees — the perfect place for games and a barbecue.

Bangor Castle and Walled Garden, Bangor

A wide variety of flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables grow alongside sculptures and a unique fountain (with a tongue-twister) in this once secret garden.

Designed by the Ward family in the 1840s, the 1.5-acre site was restored by the council before opening to the public in 2009 and sits against the backdrop of Bangor Castle.

The picturesque grounds are divided into four distinct sections — the kitchen garden, the herb and topiary garden, the swamp garden and the flower garden — with seating available throughout.

Mountains of Mourne, Newcastle

Numerous routes are available in these famous hills catering to the novice and the advanced hikers.

For the more adventurous, a trek up to Hare’s Gap will provide awe-inspiring panoramic views.

It will also allow you to get an up-close look at the Mourne Wall, a dramatic mountain pass formed by the slow movement of a glacier that carved out the landscape.

Kilbroney Forest Park, Rostrevor

It’s not hard to imagine how these stunning views inspired CS Lewis.

“That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia,” he once confided to his brother.

The majestic forest conjures up magical scenes of a Nordic fjord right here in Northern Ireland.

Tyrella beach, near Downpatrick

It is famed for its flat, wide, sandy shore enclosed by a 2km stretch of dunes within Dundrum Bay.

Scenic walks and stunning views await those willing to venture off the beaten track — the only downside is the dog ban which applies between 10am and 6pm.

Cranfield Bay, near Kilkeel

This sand and shingle beach just opposite Cranfield Bay Holiday Park offers spectacular views of the mouth of Carlingford Lough and the surrounding beauty, which includes Haulbowline Lighthouse.

On its western end, you will find a promenade and a patch of grass that makes the perfect picnic spot.

It also has a large children’s play area and offers parking, toilets and showers.

Scarva Summer Band Concerts, Scarva

Free concerts are taking place on the Scarva Bandstand every Sunday until September 25.

A variety of different bands will play each week from 3-4pm.

There’s no need to pre-book and some seating will also be provided.

Brompton Beach, Bangor

About a mile away from Bangor lies the tranquil waters of Brompton Beach, also known as Jenny Watts Cove, which is perfect for open swimming.

If you enjoy taking a dip here you can consider joining the Brompton Belles & Beaux swimming group.

Donaghadee Harbour and Lighthouse, Donaghadee

Standing tall as a tribute to the town’s seagoing history, the lighthouse nods back to a time when it was our principle port, before Belfast was developed.

The harbour, designed by John Rennie, was built in the 1820s and is part-built from limestone from Wales known as ‘Anglesea marble’.

The lighthouse was constructed in 1836 and was the first in Ireland to be lit by electricity.

St John’s Point Lighthouse, Killough

This amazing lighthouse is easily recognisable due to its bright yellow and black stripes.

While you have to pay to stay, there’s nothing to stop you taking in the view and exploring the rocky shoreline.

The first tests of the Titanic were carried out around St John’s Point, with the lighthouse guiding the liner.

CO FERMANAGH

Devenish Island Monastic Site, Lower Lough Erne

Founded by St Molaise in the 6th century, it quickly became the most important of Lough Erne’s many island monasteries.

The large parish stretched across both sides of the lough, attracting pilgrims and parishioners until the 1600s.

Whilst free to explore, the remnants of the island’s early history can only be accessed by water.

Visitors should beware of loose masonry.

Cuilcagh Way, Enniskillen

Better known as ‘The Stairway To Heaven’, this 4.6-mile hiking trail straddles the Cavan-Fermanagh border.

The steep ascent to the 666-metre summit is not for the faint-hearted and should only be attempted by experienced walkers.

The 450-step staircase was designed to preserve the protected blanket bog which covers most of the mountain.

Drummoney Falls, Kesh

Billed as small but mighty by visitors who have embarked on this short walk.

Journey through the woods and down the concrete steps that take you to the falls.

It’s the perfect backdrop for pictures and/or a packed lunch or cup of coffee.

Pollnagollum Cave Walk, Derrygonnelly

Belmore Forest is part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and lies right in the heart of Boho cave country.

An observation platform offers amazing views of the cave entrance, which is fed by a flowing waterfall that swoops down a 12-metre limestone cliff before disappearing into the abyss.

CO LONDONDERRY

Derry Walls, Londonderry

The only remaining completely walled city in Ireland — and one of the finest examples in Europe — is crammed full of history and heritage

The Walls were built during the period 1613-1618 as defences for early 17th-century settlers from England and Scotland and are approximately 1.5km in circumference.

It forms a unique walkway around the inner city and serves as the perfect promenade to view the layout of the original town, which still preserves its Renaissance-style street plan.

Maghera Walled Garden, Maghera

This restored Victorian Garden lies on the grounds of a medieval 4th-century royal dwelling and ancient monastery.

The impressive stone wall surrounds fruit trees, a herb garden, vegetable beds and a wild flower meadow, which is the perfect place to relax.

The former winner of the prestigious Green Flag Award also serves as the ideal picnic spot.

Bellaghy Bawn, Bellaghy

One of our most famous houses is located in the historic village, which was one of the first planned towns in Ireland.

The fortified structure is built on land owned by London company Vintners and is slightly off the tourist trail.

Surrounded by beautiful countryside this museum is free entry, with plenty of picnic tables to make use of on a sunny day.

Ness Country Park, Killaloo

Named for ‘an las’ or Ness, meaning waterfall, which is a defining feature of this woodland.

Spawning 55 hectares of mixed woodland and open parkland, which extends along both sides of the Burntollet River, this is home to one of our highest waterfalls.

There is more than 7km of stunning walking trails to enjoy, including a meadow walk which offers easy access.

Magilligan Strand, near Limavady

This seven-mile stretch of sand, backed by one of the largest dune systems in the UK, is popular with surfers, swimmers and walkers.

The beach, which forms part of a local nature reserve, is a favourite fishing spot too.

A cafe, caravan park and a supervised paddling pool are all close by, with boardwalks offering access through the dunes.

Downhill Strand, near Castlerock

Also known as Magilligan Point, this beach forms the eastern end of a splendid seven-mile stretch of sand and surf along some of NI’s most scenic coastline.

Lined by sand dunes and even a waterfall, nothing compares to the iconic Mussenden Temple perched precariously close to the edge of the cliffs which overlook the Atlantic Ocean.

The Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is known to Game Of Thrones fans as Dragonstone, the place where the Seven Idols of Westeros were burned.

Portstewart Red Sails Festival, Portstewart

This weeklong summer festival kicks off on July 24 and includes a variety of free entertainment for all ages.

Live music from The Doghouse Ska Band, Willie Drennan Ulster Scots Folk Band, The Dandy Lyons, Rol The Dice, Southbound Train and The Alastair Scott Ceilidh Band are among the main acts.

And, of course, Hugo Duncan’s Radio Ulster Roadshow will be broadcasting live from The Crescent Bandstand.

CO TYRONE

Harry Avery’s Castle, Newtownstewart

It is believed to date back to 1320, when it was built by a local chieftain of the O’Neill clan and named after Harry Avery (Henry Aimbreidh) O’Neill.

The structure is considered unusual in that Irish chieftains of the time rarely built stone castles.

Its design, which bears similarities to Carrickfergus Castle, is just as quirky.

Benburb Castle, Benburb

Dramatically situated on the cliff edge above the River Blackwater in the grounds of Benburb Servite Priory, it was built by Sir Richard Wingfield around 1615.

The bawn walls are more like tall houses than defensive flankers.

Interestingly, the 19th-century house inside is privately occupied and therefore not accessible.



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