10 Best Things to See and Do in Carlingford, Ireland

A walk up Slieve Foye takes you high up above the town and the lough
A walk up Slieve Foye takes you high up above the town and the lough | © Gareth McCormack / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of James Hendicott
24 December 2017

The small town of Carlingford, popular with outdoor activity enthusiasts, sits just across the border from Northern Ireland. It has been voted the best place in Ireland to live – many leprechauns apparently agree.

Just across a narrow stretch of sea from County Down in Northern Ireland, Carlingford has an interesting history, not least as a hiding place for members of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) who retreated across the border during the extended 20th-century political conflict known as The Troubles. It’s a peaceful spot now, with good options for tourists and locals in search of active adventure. It is also considered a great place to live, top of the list for Ireland in 2011. Here are the best places to visit and things to do while you’re in town.

Skypark

Laser Tag
Map View

Up in the hills above the town itself, you can enjoy frantic adventures at Skypark. Typically combining zip-lining, climbing, balancing and falling off, you’ll be trained to navigate the cables that bring you around an obstacle course covering hundreds of metres of ground, with plenty of thrills and spills along the way.

Escape HQ

Sports Center
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Ireland, Co Louth, Cooley Peninsula, Carlingford, Newry Street, Escape HQ, electric bicycle hire shop
© Neil McAllister / Alamy Stock Photo

Escape games are all the rage, and Escape HQ in Carlingford is one of only a few indoor activity options in the town, with two variations on the now-get-out-of-that theme, and an hour to use clues to set yourself free. Put yourself under pressure: get your team together, start the clock and follow the subtle hints to make your escape.

Carlingford Adventure Centre

Sports Center
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A huge hub for outdoor types, Carlingford Adventure Centre is both a massive hostel and a focal point for all the adventure activities that have grown up around the place. Drop in (or better, call in advance) to book kayaking, canoeing, water-trampolining, laser combat, archery, paddleboarding and rock climbing plus most of the other outdoor activities on this list. Endless adventure.

Carlingford Leprechaun and Fairy Cavern

Natural Feature
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Carlingford claims to house the last remaining leprechauns, and this surreal cave, Leprechaun Cavern, is their home. A dimly lit retreat outside town that houses (let’s be blunt here) lots of models of magical creatures, it’s the patter that makes this place worth a stop-off. Expect to be taught to be a leprechaun whisperer and given all the background on the fairy-tale world that surrounds the little people. A whole lot of fun.

King John's Castle

Historical Landmark
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Republic of Ireland, County Louth, Cooley peninsula, Carlingford, View of King John's Castle
© Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Dominating Carlingford’s skyline, this 12th-century ruin of King John’s Castle sits on an outcrop overlooking the lough, and is said to have hosted King John of England for a few days in the early 13th century. While it’s now little more than thick but crumbling exterior walls, it’s easy to imagine the grandiosity that once existed here, and the ruins make a historic and picturesque landmark.

The Last Leprechauns of Ireland

Natural Feature
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Ireland’s full of fun and quirky events, but Carlingford’s annual Leprechaun Hunt might just be our favourite of all. The leprechauns – small figurines – are hidden across a mountainside. Individuals and families buy a hunting licence and stream across the hills searching for the little figures, each of which can be traded in for a cash prize. There’s an entire little festival built around it, and proceeds go to charity.

Slieve Foye

Natural Feature
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Slieve Foye, Carlingford Mountain, Carlingford, County Louth, Ireland
© Lynne Nieman / Alamy Stock Photo

The highest peak in the Carlingford Mountains, Slieve Foye is best accessed by a well-marked walking route (follow the blue arrows) and rises to 589 metres directly over the lough. The mountains are ruggedly beautiful, and have an interesting history, including the legend of the battle at Medbh’s Gap. The outline of the mountains is said to resemble the sleeping giant Finn MacCumhaill.

Carlingford to Omeath Greenway

Hiking Trail
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A seven-kilometre (four-mile) walk to nearby Omeath (after which you can grab a coffee, turn around and head back again), the Greenway follows the route of an old railway, right next to the lough, and offers spectacular views as you walk. It’s popular with walkers, runners and cyclists, and is a great way to see the lake off your own steam.

Carlingford Abbey

Church
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Abandoned as a place of worship back in the 18th century, the crumbling remains of Carlingford Abbey still sit fairly centrally in the town today. The stone walls date back to 1305 and, while there’s relatively little of the old structure left, it makes for a pleasant place to stop on your way around.