Oakfield Park is a privately owned and fully restored Georgian country estate overlooking Croaghan Mountain. With flower meadows, walled gardens and a lake complete with a castle folly, there is plenty to keep you occupied, whether you want to explore on your own or follow one of the walking trails. You can take a trip on a miniature steam train that runs in a section of the garden and wander around the hedge maze. It’s also dog friendly, and pups are even allowed on the train.
Take a walk back in time at the Newmills Corn And Flax Mills, where some of the oldest buildings date back 400 years. You’ll see the machines that powered the Industrial Revolution, and one of the largest water wheels in Ireland still in use today. Back in Victorian times, the flax mill here provided crucial supplies to the thriving linen industry, which was a huge part of the economy in Ulster.
With ancient oak woodlands, bulbous mountains and pristine lakes, Glenveagh National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty. A drive along the undulating country roads is always a treat, but there are numerous walking trails to explore if you want to stretch the legs. If you’re lucky, you might spot a golden eagle or the native rare red deer, particularly if you join the park rangers for a guided hike. In the heart of the park you’ll find Glenveagh Castle, a 19th century masterpiece with extensive gardens and an excellent tea room.
At the western end of the pretty village of Dunfanaghy is the Workhouse Famine & Heritage Centre, whose modern-day function as a mixed exhibition space and craft centre belies its grim origins. It opened in 1845 as a workhouse for the destitute, and its horrible history is powerfully recounted in the story of ‘wee’ Hannah Herrity (1836-1926), who spent time here as a young woman. Besides the gallery and excellent exhibit there’s also a café (check out the homemade cakes) and tourist information point.
It isn’t often that one park can combine beaches, woodland, lakes and rivers. But at Ards Forest Park, you’ll find all this and more, with extensive habitats to explore. Take a stroll on the Sand Dune Trail to breathe in the sea air, or pop into the bird hides along the Salt Marsh Trail and see what you can spot. There are nine trails in total, from 0.5km to 13km in length, so you can pick a walk for every mood.
Linking the town of Milford with Lough Colmcille, this 7km loop is a scenic trail through pretty woodland and quiet country paths. Stroll along the peaceful track and enjoy the beautiful countryside views and the sound of the waters lapping against the shore as the rushes sway in the breeze.
This corner of Donegal is renowned for its tweed and linen. Pay a visit to the family-run McNutts Donegal Woollen Mill to watch the masters at work and see the craftmanship firsthand. In operation for more than 60 years, McNutts has evolved from creating traditional fabrics to more modern pieces, all of which you can buy in their on-site shop.
At Eco Atlantic Adventures, you can get the adrenaline pumping with any number of activities, from rock climbing and abseiling to coasteering and gorge walking. For something really special, take one of the night-time kayaking tours on Mulroy Bay, and gaze at the stars as you glide along the water. You may even witness the phosphorescence (bioluminescent plankton) that turns the water a glowing blue in the dark of night.
Set on the western shore of Mulroy Bay, this picturesque trail weaves through thick woodland stretching alongside the water’s edge. Though only 1.5km long, the Woodquarter Forest Trail has great views of the bay, including Inishyweel and Gull Island in the distance.
Stand at Fanad Lighthouse and you’ll be met with one of the most striking views in Donegal. Set on the northernmost tip of the Fanad Peninsula, the lighthouse is surrounded by grassy boulders and the swirling mass of the Atlantic. It’s also one of just 15 signature discovery points along the Wild Atlantic Way. Take a tour of the lighthouse itself (which has been in operation since 1817) or go one better and book a stay in one of the lighthouse keeper's cottages.
The remarkable stone fort of Grianán of Aileach stands on a hilltop 800 feet above the sea. Dating back to 1700 BC, it is linked to the Tuatha de Danann (People of the Goddess Danu in Irish) who according to Celtic mythology invaded Ireland before the Celts and built similar forts on hills. Look out from the base of the fort for incredible views of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, and huge swathes of the Inishowen Peninsula.
Take a walk along the 8km looped path at the Inch Wildfowl Reserve on Lough Swilly and see what wildlife you can spot along the way. In the summer you’ll find a huge variety of birdlife, like Greylag geese and Sandwich Terns, which travel from as far as South Africa to nest at the reserve. Come winter, the wetlands buzz with life as the migratory birds, including the rare Whooper swans, return. Take a seat on one of the waterside benches and listen out for the distinctive honk of these shy but beautiful birds.
Built in 1798, Fort Dunree is set on a striking corner of the coast, combining bogland, sea cliffs and an open stretch of ocean. Explore the walking trails around Dunree Point or visit the Military Museum, where you’ll find one of the best artillery collections in the world in the underground bunkers. You’ll also learn all about its role during World War II, when Irish forces were stationed here to prevent warring nations violating the country’s neutrality.
A short walk through the Glenevin Valley brings you to Glenevin Waterfall, where fresh mountain water cascades over a 30ft drop. Cross the stream via little footbridges and stepping stones, keeping an eye out for fairy doors hidden among the tree trunks as you go. There are plenty of great spots for a picnic, with benches tucked among the trees.