We’re very fortunate in Northern Ireland to be surrounded by nature and beauty in every county.
It’s this beauty alongside our vivid history and often very dramatic settings that make us a wide eyed travellers dream.
But did you know that Northern Ireland has 8 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), 47 national nature reserves, 43 special areas of conservation, and 10 special protection areas?
8 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to Explore
1. The Antrim Coast & Glens
The pride of Antrim, the Antrim Coast and Glens is host to some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in Ireland and was designated an AONB in 1988.
The area includes Rathlin Island (Northern Ireland’s most northerly inhabited island – found six miles off the Causeway Coast), the Glens of Antrim and the coastal areas between Larne and Ballycastle – so there’s no shortage of things to see and do here.
It is an area of complete contrasts. You’ll find gentle bays that are abruptly separated by headlands, exposed moorland that gives way to secluded valleys and wide open areas that offer shelter to farmland.
You’ll be simply mesmerised by what this place has to offer, and the common blue and large heath butterflies, damselflies, bats, badgers, foxes and hares all call this place home.
2. Binevenagh, County Londonderry
Designated an AONB in 2006, this magnificent area takes up an area between Roe Estuary and Magilligan, the cliffs of Binevenagh, the Bann Estuary and Portstewart sand dunes. You’ll be amazed at the panoramic views of Magilligan, Inishowen and Islay and Jura in Scotland.
The area also includes some of the finest beaches and dune systems in Ireland together with the small seaside resort of Castlerock, but that’s not all.
Binevenagh also has a great archaeological heritage which includes many listed buildings and monuments such as Manannán Mac Lir – part of the Limavady Sculpture Trail.
Courtesy of Roe Valley Arts and Culture
Perfect for the adventurous type, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in a wide range of recreational activity including walking, cycling, swimming, orienteering, angling and gliding in the area.
This, together with the easy access by road, rail, air and sea, has helped to establish Binevenagh AONB as one of Northern Ireland’s most stunning places to visit.
3. Causeway Coast, County Antrim
In recent times in Northern Ireland, you’d have to be living under a rock not to understand the relevance of the beautiful Causeway Coast.
Awarded AONB status in 1989, it’s served as one of the figureheads of scenery in the province with the natural beauty found here intertwined in small harbours, fisheries and farms along the coastline.
If it’s wildlife you seek – you’ll find a rich and fascinating variety of wildlife on the offshore islands and rocks.
The coast also plays home to extraordinary beauty which encompasses 18 miles of spectacular coastal scenery with dramatic cliffs, fresh sandy beaches and dark volcanic rocks – but that’s not even the most memorable part!
The Causeway Coast is also home to the Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site) – a place where geology, history and old Irish legends encapsulate every visitor to make it a great day out for all the family.
If you’re planning on visiting the North Antrim coastline, why not book yourself a coastal retreat along the coast.
4. Lagan Valley, County Down
One of Northern Ireland’s first Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; awarded in 1965, the Lagan Valley area is an idyllic area that’s very accessible to the population of the Belfast and the surrounding area.
Most of this AONB is situated within the Lagan Valley Regional Park which includes a beautiful riverbank, meadows, woods and a very scenic, peaceful feeling.
The area has a rich heritage, with grand monuments like the Giant’s Ring and remnants of fine estates but that’s not all – it’s also a place of important industrial archaeology related to linen production.
The old Lagan Canal and its towpath is also very popular with walkers and cyclists alike.
5. Mourne Mountains, County Down
The Mourne Mountains need no introduction, as simply one of the most picturesque mountain ranges in the Uk and Ireland, and awarded AONB status in 1986.
With 12 glorious peaks to see, each one spectacular in its own right, the majestic Slieve Donard standing at 850m high, claims the title of Northern Ireland’s highest mountain.
The Mournes are not just a place of overwhelming beauty; but every adventure seekers paradise, known as the mountain biking capital of Ireland, a walker’s haven and a photographers dream!
Rivers, lakes and reservoirs scattered around the Mournes invite you to come and see the natural beauty that has put this place on the map.
Come snow, hail or shine – you’ll find happy campers in the forests, adventurous climbers in the cliffs, and energetic walkers on the summits.
There’s so much to see and do here; you’ll find yourself in awe!
6. Ring of Gullion, County Armagh
The Ring of Gullion was designated an AONB in 1991 and since then has remained a huge part of County Armagh’s Natural Heritage.
With its varying slopes, the Mountain Ring alongside, the famous Dorsey Enclosure is a well known area of natural beauty and to the west, the valley of the Cully Water and the Umeracam.
The river separates the hills of the ring dyke from the rolling drumlin landscape which reaches out to Crossmaglen and Cullyhanna.
The countryside of the Ring of Gullion area is alive with landscape, wildlife and a strong heritage of land holding.
Not content with being an amazing AONB, the Ring of Gullion plays home to one of only a few small areas in Ireland to have so evidently reserved its local identity.
For over 6000 years, people have lived in the area and expressed their feelings about the landscape through local literature, poetry, music, folk history and art.
So you won’t only be welcomed by the sheer beauty of the land but also invited by the rich history.
7. Sperrins, County Tyrone
The sheer vastness of beauty found in the Sperrins is all consuming.
The Sperrin AONB encompasses a largely mountainous area of great geographical complexity.
Rich in beauty, this place is also wealthy in archaeological heritage and folklore and was awarded AONB status in 2008.
With narrow glens and deep valleys, sandy eskers and mysterious lakes – the area is a mystical place that curious walkers have been flocking to for a long time, especially to the site of the Beaghmore which consists of 7 stone circles.
With the combination of rolling hills, scenic countryside, and lush river valleys, it is a peaceful and serene place where you can truly escape from the pressures of modern living.
8. Strangford and Lecale
One of the most beautiful places in Northern Ireland, Strangford Lough was one of the first regions given the prestigious AONB status.
The coastal area extends inland by Quoile River, which is dominated by the historical town of Downpatrick, and then south along the outward-facing shore of the Irish Sea.
It’s difficult to think of anywhere in Northern Ireland where the interplay between land and water is so evident.
You’ll be surrounded by picturesque towns, villages, historic sites, visitor attractions and plenty of activities to enjoy both on and off the water.
The contrast between the expansive open lough and sea and the surrounding hill slopes is powerful.
This AONB is also one of Europe’s most important wildlife sites and represents the largest sea lough in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Known for the magnificent drumlin topography, exposed coast and sheltered bays, Strangford is a natural haven and known for its rich variety of species habiting there.
What to do next
If you’ve been inspire to visit one, or all, of Northern Ireland’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, why not make a holiday of it and book a short break? Visit: Discover Northern Ireland for more information on our stunning scenic areas and places to stay nearby.