Northern Ireland's Stunning Global Geopark Gears Up for International Visitors

The view of Warrenpoint from Flagstaff in Northern Ireland
The view of Warrenpoint from Flagstaff in Northern Ireland | Courtesy of Tourism Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains region is known for its stunning scenery and natural beauty. It has featured as the backdrop of Game of Thrones and most recently one of the locations used in Hollywood movie Dungeons & Dragons. The wider area has now been recognised as a UNESCO Global Geopark. Here’s why Mourne, Ring of Gullion, and Strangford Lough and Lecale are perfect for a summer break this year.

The area covers approximately 3,000 square kilometres with the Geopark designation highlighting the area’s unique geology and diverse cultural heritage. There’s a rich geological history that dates back millions of years here too. The region’s diverse range of rocks and land formations offer insight into the earth’s ancient history from a relatively small location.

Highlights from Northern Irelands newest attraction

The Mourne Mountains are the obvious highlight of the region, with their dramatic peaks and stunning vistas. The highest peak, Slieve Donard, stands at 850 metres and can be seen from far and wide. If you’re staying in Newcastle you can stay at places like Avoca Hotel and have easy access to the mountains whilst enjoying coastal views. The mountains are popular with walkers and hikers, with a range of routes to suit all abilities. The landscape features granite outcrops, glacial valleys, and stunning sea views.

Take a guided tour with Walk the Mournes and you’ll find out more about the specific features that helped the area gain global recognition.

The impressive view of the Mournes from the beaches of Newcastle

The Ring of Gullion is another major attraction in the region. It is a circular geological formation that is made up of a range of different rock types. The area features unique features forged from ancient volcanic activity, and is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including rare bats, otters, and red squirrels.

The Slieve Croob area is also worth exploring, with its rolling hills and beautiful countryside. The landscape is dotted with ancient ruins and monuments, including stone circles and burial mounds. There are also plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, including cycling and horse riding.

Cloughmore Stone, Rostrevor, Co. Down is one of the best known natural features in the region.

The UNESCO Global Geopark designation will help to promote the region as a major tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world. The designation will also help to protect the area’s unique geological, ecological, and cultural heritage, ensuring that future generations can enjoy and appreciate the region’s natural beauty.

Things to do in the area

As you can imagine there are plenty of walking, climbing and hiking trails to take if you want to explore on your own or with a guide. Its a great way to see what all the fuss is about and location-wise you’re in a spot somewhere between Belfast and Dublin. When driving through the area you will notice the patchwork of dry stone walls known as ‘ditches’. A fun option is to try your hand at making one of these distinctive walls at The Green Holiday Cottages where an ongoing renovation process has resulted in a collection of beautiful properties. Owners Mark and Jenny love to look after the guests, and you can book a package to suit your own needs.

Killowen Distillery specialises in small batch local sprits including Poitin, a potent traditional drink that works as a neat shot or cocktail mixer. You can take a tour to find out more and try a few samples to see if its to your taste.

Mournes Trails and Ales Tour sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the experts will make sure you have a great time in complete safety.

Another great way to explore is on two wheels. E-bikes have grown in popularity recently, and even the inlines of the Mourne Mountains are easily climbed on a power-assisted bike. With Bike Mourne you can do a Trails and Ales tour and try a few samples of locally-produced beverages as well as a guided tour of Annesley Estate (now Castlewellan Forest Park).

Secret Dining by Chef Paul Cunningham is a unique experience that whisks guests to carefully selected locations for a special treat. Cunningham takes local ingredients and talks you through the intimate dinner where you are guaranteed to leave satisfied.

If you’re still hungry but want to do something active too Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen runs SUP and Soda tours from £35 per person for a 1.5-2 hour tour. Tracey (yes, she is real) and her husband invite you into their home and take you through a cooking class and stand up paddle board session. Its great for beginners on the water and in the kitchen, and if it all goes wrong Tracey is on hand to serve up treats she made earlier.

Ireland is part of the common travel area, meaning there are no travel restrictions for British travellers to Ireland

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