Did you know that Northern Ireland has lots of child-friendly walks.
Walking is a great way for the entire family to enjoy some exercise and get some fresh air. Being outside can dramatically improve your mood and doesn't require any expensive equipment. Even better - it's free - most of the time.
No matter what age of kids you have there are walks across Northern Ireland that will suit you.
Here are my tried and tested top family walks with suggestions for families with younger toddlers to older teenagers wanting to try more challenging hill walks.
Make sure you read to the bottom for a few tricks to keep your kids motivated along the way too.
This is an easy flat walk around the lake that will take you about an hour. Younger kids could scoot or cycle the wide paths while you walk or run alongside.
There’s a small playpark above the car park and a fiendish maze, plus plenty of picnic tables.
This is a great site to come for an all-day trip with challenging mountain bike trails for older kids or options to kayak or paddleboard on the lake.
There is also a good coffee shop on-site or you can wander into Castlewellan for more shops or restaurants.
You’ll get some amazing views from Cave Hill. It’s a nice intro to hill climbing for slightly older kids. Starting from Belfast Castle, it’s a pretty steep climb of about 4.5 miles.
High above Belfast is Divis and the Black Mountain. This is a National Trust site and a nice manageable climb for kids. It’s about 3 miles in a circular route. There are fantastic views looking over Belfast Lough Neagh.
Hopefully you'll spot skylarks, red grouse and peregrine falcons.
It’s also Dog friendly. There’s a coffee shop at the National Trust Long Barn car park. Free parking is available on Divis Road.
Drumkeeragh Forest is a large woodland with plenty of paths to explore. The longest route is 4 miles. Parking is off the Drumnaquoile Road.
It has been recently redeveloped and has a new car park.
Just beware as it's very easy to get lost in the trees so best to stick together if kids are small. 🙈
The Giant's Causeway is great fun for young kids as they can spend hours climbing up and down the stones. The visitor’s centre is also interesting to learn about the history and geology of the site.
It’s a gentle walk down and you could manage with a buggy as there's a pavement down from the visitor's centre. There’s a free bus that will take you back up again if the kids are exhausted from all that clambouring.
Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock
Hen Mountain is another easy Mourne mountain to climb with kids. You’ll get amazing views at the top and a pond for kids to poke about in. If you're lucky, you may be able to see the Shetland ponies that roam about the meadow at the bottom.
Get here early to avoid the crowds.
Hillsborough Forest Park
The newly redeveloped Hillsborough Forest Park has great flat paths that loop around the central lake. There are plenty of places for kids to explore and even a great new woodland-themed play park which is great for kids of all ages.
There is plenty of seating along the walk, picnic benches and lots of parking.
We do this walk regularly and the kids enjoy building huts in the forest. Younger kids also like stopping to feed the swans and ducks.
Once you’ve finished the walk, there’s a coffee hut with icecream or you could wander into Royal Hillsborough and grab coffee or lunch at The Plough or The Hillside.
Kilbroney Forest Park
On a nice day, this is a great long walk to take with the kids. There's also a Narnia trail for younger kids which won't take long, but they can find lots of wood statues and fairy doors dotted along the path.
If you go up to the Big Stone you will get some great views over Carlingford Lough.
Mount Stewart is also managed by the National Trust and has beautifully maintained gardens. There are also lots of walks that are well signposted. Try the Red Squirrel trail or the Lake walk for younger kids. The Red Trail will take you about an hour to two hours.
Also, check out the Mount Stewart website to see what’s on as there are lots of seasonal activities for kids.
There is a lovely long beach walk in Portstewart. There’s a lighthouse at the very end - if you get that far. Walking in the dunes is great fun and kids will love sledging up and down the sand.
These dunes are also where some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed.
Grab lunch at Harry’s Shack or stop at one of the many coffee shops in Portstewart for coffee and ice cream afterwards.
Rowallane Garden is a National Trust site with some really nice walks through well-kept gardens. This is a good day out with the grandparents and plenty to see. They also have a plant hunters pack to help kids learn about types of trees and plants.
They also run lots of seasonable events, so it pays to keep an eye out for what’s on. Go during May to see the blue Himalayan poppies or the Magnolia Blossom in April and May.
It also has a great cafe and outdoor seating.
Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park
There are lots of lovely walks through the different meadows and themed gardens at Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park just outside Beflast.
You’ll also find a good play park with a large sandpit and room for ball games. Plus some handy picnic tables.
Kids can roam free here, either tearing about the rose garden, along the woodland trails or playing in the rolling meadows.
There’s also the Stables Coffee Shop in the lower car park.
If you’re meeting friends, make sure you agree on which car park to meet at, as there are several entrances to the park.
This is a short steep climb up along a gravel path. You can get up and down in about 1.5 hours. It’s a great one for small children and a good intro to the Mournes before doing any bigger mountain climbs.
A five-year-old can definitely manage it, but remember to stop and enjoy the view along the way - and pack snacks! Once at the top, the panoramic views are spectacular. It’s best done on a clear day to get the best from this walk.
Go before 11 am to avoid crowds.
Slieve Binnian Blue Lough
This is a pretty rugged path, but around the lake, the walk is flat and will take about an hour. There’s also a nice cafe at the bottom at the end of your walk. On a nice day bring swim stuff and a towel for a swim in the lough.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Another one that is great for young children, Slieve Guillion Forest Park has an adventure playpark and The Giant’s Lair fairy trail that is great entertainment. The playpark has the Slieve Guillon ZIP and a toddler area. Kids will also enjoy the walking trails through the woodland or stopping by the walled garden.
Tollymore River Walk
Tollymore Forest Park has a great flat walk around the Shimna River, with plenty of spots for kids to mess about at the water’s edge.
There’s lots of bridges, caves and grottos for kids to enjoy and lots of trails to choose from. The Arboretum Path is just half a mile. Younger kids would manage the 3 mile Red Trail through the woods, past Parnell’s Bridge and jumping on the stepping stones over the river.
I would definitely recommend taking snacks or a picnic to enjoy at the playpark back at the car park.
You might even spot a red squirrel!
White Rocks to Portrush East Strand
This is a nice 2-mile beach walk to the Portrush White Rocks, past sand dunes. Great for walking with a dog.
How to keep kids motivated and energised on a walk?
With four kids, I have tried and tested a lot of walks around Northern Ireland, looking for days out that will give them some exercise and burn off some energy.
I have also struggled along the way, spending most of our walks cajoling kids to keep going, stop complaining and try to enjoy the open air.
But, over the years, I’ve learnt a few tricks to keep kids motivated and get the most from their walk.
Always pack snacks. I always take a small rucksack with bottles of water and snacks. If anyone complains or starts to flag, then pulling out a small treat is great to keep up the motivation and energy levels!
Take a picnic lunch. If you’re going for a longer walk, then taking a picnic lunch is a great idea.
Arrange to go with friends. Kids enjoy other company and it helps keep them entertained along the way.
Bring a ball. Throwing a ball can give them a distraction while they’re walking.
Play games while walking. Often smaller children can find walking boring and lose interest. Try playing alphabet games, eye spy or doing simple quizzes.
Hopefully, these child-friendly walk ideas will have you inspired to try somewhere new this weekend. Let me know if there are any you have loved or any I’ve missed.