If you’ve ever visited the Cooley Peninsula in Louth, the chances are you’ll have caught a glimpse of Carlingford Lough.
Carlingford Lough is a beautiful coastal inlet sandwiched between the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland and the Cooley Peninsula in the Republic of Ireland.
In the guide below, you’ll find everything fro things to do on Carlingford Lough to what to expect from a visit.
Some quick need-to-knows about Carlingford Lough
Although a visit to Carlingford Lough is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Straddling the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, Carlingford Lough is just south of the beautiful Mourne Mountains, right in front of Carlingford town. It is actually an inlet from the Irish Sea, 27km northeast of Dundalk and 100km north of Dublin. County Down lines the north shore and County Louth is on the southern bank.
2. One of three fjords in Ireland
Along with Killary Fjord and Lough Swilly, Carlingford Lough is on of three fjords in Ireland. A fjord is a long, often narrow and deep inlet that was created by a glacier.
3. Immense natural beauty
Carlingford Lough is stunningly beautiful, especially when viewed from the southern side with the Mountains of Mourne as an impressive backdrop. The Cooley Mountains lie to the south, adding to the natural beauty of this sheltered glacial fjord.
4. Plenty to see and do
When there’s water, you’re never short of things to do. Go kayaking and canoeing or take a scenic boat tour on the lough from Carlingford Harbour, just beneath King John’s Castle. More on things to do below.
5. Parking nearby
So, if you’re visiting Carlingford Lough from the town itself, you’ve several parking options. There’s this one in the town, this one near King John’s Castle and there’s several spaces across from the lough in the town, too.
About Carlingford Lough
The sheltered waters of Carlingford Lough are actually a rare glacial fjord or sea inlet marking the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Irish name Loch Cairlinn come from the Old Norse Kerlingfjǫrðr, meaning “narrow sea-inlet of the hag” or old woman. This may refer to the three mountain tops, known locally as The Three Nuns. They are used as pilot points for boats navigating the entrance to the lough, along with the Haulbowline Lighthouse.
Carlingford Lough is 16km long and up to 9km wide. To the northwest, it is fed by the Newry River and connected by canal to the town of Newry.
On the south shore, the scenic Cooley Peninsula includes the Cooley Mountains and the towns of Omeath, Carlingford (with a small harbour and marina) and the port of Greenore. To the north of the lough are the Mourne Mountains and the coastal towns of Warrenpoint and Rostrevor. The mudflats and marshes are popular feeding and breeding grounds for terns and Brent Geese.
The area has been popular with visitors since Victorian times due to its dramatic natural beauty. Located midway between Dublin and Belfast, it is within easy reach of many visitors.
Things to do around Carlingford Lough
There’s endless things to do in Carlingford, and it just so happens that many of the best activities revolve around the lough.
Below, you’ll find everything from water-based activities and boat trips to cruises and more.
1. Take the Carlingford Ferry to Greencastle
The Carlingford Lough Ferry connects the Cooley Peninsula with the Mourne Mountains, the Gateway to Northern Ireland. It’s a pleasant way to enjoy the stunning coastal scenery and you may even spot Finn, the lough’s resident dolphin.
The crossing takes about 20 minutes and ferries depart every hour, on the hour, from Greencastle, Co. Down and on the half hour from Greenore, Co. Louth. In peak season, sailings are more frequent.
Prices start from just €2.50 for foot passengers and around €13 for a vehicle and passengers. Tickets can be purchased online or onboard.
2. Take to the water on a 1940’s tug boat
For a more historic vessel, take to the water in a historic restored tug boat, Brienne. Tours last about one hour and depart from Carlingford Harbour, beneath the landmark King John’s Castle.
This powerful fully licensed tug heads out into the lough and offers panoramic views and plenty of birds and wildlife sightings. The tour includes a commentary about the history and legends of the area, including how the Vikings arrived.
Brienne tours currently cost €20 per adult and €10 for children.
3. Explore by kayak
Enjoy Carlingford Lough with a guided tour on sit-on kayaks with Carlingford Adventure Centre. The package includes a wetsuit, helmet and buoyancy aid. You get to paddle along the lough spotting seals, birds and possibly the resident dolphin as you head to the secret waterfall.
The experience includes water sports and the chance to use the water trampoline and pontoon, weather and tide permitting. You can also try a daring pier jump into the water for even more fun.
Single and double kayaks can also be rented independently for you to enjoy a quiet paddle with fabulous views of the Mourne Mountains and Slieve Foy. Prices are €50 for a three hour session. Just bring a towel, swimwear and an old pair of running shoes to wear in the water.
4. Or give SUP a crack
If you fancy something a little different, Carlingford Adventure also offers stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) around the harbour and coastline. Finish your fun water adventure with a session on the water trampoline.
The activity includes coaching and assistance to get you up and paddling around in next to no time. Book a half day session or try the Pay and Play taster session on weekends and school holidays. Prices are €50 for a 3 hour session for the over 18s.
5. Followed up with some Canadian Canoeing
Round off your watersports experience on Carlingford Lough with some Canadian Canoeing. These spacious canoes can carry a team of people who paddle together as a great team-building experience. It’s ideal as a family experience.
Sit or kneel and learn the right way to paddle and what to do if the boat capsizes. As well as getting up to speed, you can spot local wildlife, try out the water trampoline, swim from the pontoon or take a daring pier jump into the sea.
Things to do near Carlingford Lough
One of the beauties of Carlingford Lough is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Louth.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Carlingford Lough (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Food in the town
2. Slieve Foye
If you fancy a hike and some superb lough views, explore the Slieve Foye Loop. It is a steep 3km trail (each way) with many wild flowers. This out-and-back walk is accessible all year round and includes 380m total elevation gain. Allow 2-3 hours to complete.
3. The Carlingford Greenway
The Carlingford Greenway is a pleasant route extending for 25km around the lough and peninsula. It connects Newry City with Omeath, Carlingford and Greenore. Enjoy the walk or hire a bicycle and enjoy the peaceful ride taking in Victoria Lock, the Albert Basin, superb views and wildlife.
FAQs about Carlingford Lough
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is Carlingford Lough freshwater?’ to ‘How big is it?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What is there to do around Carlingford Lough?
There’s boat tours, water-based activities, summer cruises, walks along the water and lots more (see above).
Where can you get parking around Carlingford Lough?
There’s parking in the town right across from the lough and there’s also some just up past King John’s Castle.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.