If you’re looking for things to do in Louth, you can’t beat the stunning Cooley Peninsula.
Ireland’s craggy coastline is home to tons of coves, promontories and peninsulas, but few can contend with the regularly overlooked Cooley Peninsula.
Taking up an area of around 155 square kilometres, the Cooley Peninsula is home to some gorgeous towns and villages and heaps of things to do.
In this guide, you’ll find out a bit about the peninsula along with what to check out while you’re there (there’s also a map of the scenic drive at the end).
Some quick need-to-knows about the Cooley Peninsula
Although a visit to the Cooley Peninsula is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The Cooley Peninsula juts out from County Louth’s northeastern coast and is separated from County Down in Northern Ireland by Carlingford Lough. Taking up an area of around 155 square kilometres, it’s a handy one-hour drive from both Dublin and Belfast.
2. Home to endless things to do
As I mentioned above, the variety of things to do means you can spend a good few days here before you come close to seeing everything! Whether it’s spectacular hikes, coastal cycles, spectacular castles or cracking towns, simply pick your poison and see what the Cooley Peninsula has to offer.
3. Scenic towns and villages
Surrounded by beautiful mountains and a rolling coastline, the towns and villages that populate the Cooley Peninsula are among the prettiest in Ireland. From the lively town of Carlingford to Ballymascanlon’s bucolic green surroundings, this is a seriously scenic corner of the country.
4. The Cooley Peninsula Drive
With the ability to get from place to place quickly and efficiently, the best way to see the Cooley Peninsula is by road. So jump in your car and take on the Cooley Peninsula Drive! We’ll take a closer look at the drive towards the end of the article but whether you’re here for a few hours or a few days, this is the best way to do it.
5. Where to stay
It’s hard to beat Carlingford as a base for this road trip. There’s some great hotels in Carlingford and there’s plenty of excellent restaurants in Carlingford, too. Then, at night, you’ve your pick of endless pubs in Carlingford to nip into for a night cap.
About the Cooley Peninsula
From the soaring Cooley Mountains to its windswept beaches, the Cooley Peninsula is an ancient land full of myths (read about the Cattle Raid of Cooley) and stunning scenery.
In fact, the Silurian greywacke sandstones in the northwest and southwest date back over 400 million years and the volcanic rocks that form the Cooley Mountains come in at a not-too-shabby 60 million years old!
And while the land has largely been agricultural over its lifespan (Irish rugby international Rob Kearney grew up here on a dairy farm!), it’s now dotted with hotels and small towns that are great bases for exploring.
Things to do on the Cooley Peninsula
So, there’s plenty to see and do here, depending on what you’re into, with a mix of hikes, historical sites and lively coastal towns.
There’s also some stunning beaches, great pubs and a hidden gem or three. Dive on in!
1. Cú Chulainn’s Castle
Ok so this one isn’t technically part of the Cooley Peninsula but if you’re driving up from the south then stopping by Cú Chulainn’s Castle near Dundalk could serve as a nice little apéritif on the way!
An Irish folk hero and mythological warrior, Cú Chulainn is said to have been born at the castle here, though all that remains is the tower or ‘motte’ (despite its Medieval appearance, the tower was actually built in 1780 by local Patrick Bryne).
Still, this area is full of ancient myth and legend and is a good warmup for the peninsula.
2. Hill of Faughart
What was once an Iron Age hill fort is now a tranquil graveyard that offers some gorgeous views across the Louth landscape. But the Hill of Faughart wasn’t always a quiet place. In fact, there’s been some pretty fierce fighting in this spot over the last 2000 years, culminating in the famous Battle of Faughart in 1318 (Robert the Bruce’s younger brother Edward was killed here and his grave still remains!).
As well as the lovely views, there’s also a small ruined medieval church, St. Brigid’s bed, St. Brigid’s Pillar and St. Brigid’s Well (a local place of pilgrimage).
3. Templetown Beach
Sandy, sheltered and a curious name. What’s not to like about Templetown Beach? Taking its name from the Knights Templar who, after the Norman invasion, took ownership of the area and used the Cooley Peninsula as a centre for their operations, Templetown Beach is a beautifully unspoilt stretch of coast looking out toward the Irish Sea.
Fully lifeguarded during the bathing season, there’s plenty of opportunity here to go swimming, stroll the shore and even kite surf! Or you simply hop up onto one of the dunes that protect the beach from the wind and take in the fine views.
4. Slieve Foye
At 1,932 ft, Slieve Foye is the tallest mountain in the Cooley Mountains and as such is the tallest in Louth while its Irish name – Sliabh Feá – means “mountain of the woods”. Whether obscured by low cloud or rising up on a clear blue day, Slieve Foye certainly has one of the more dramatic locations of Ireland’s mountains, regardless of the weather.
With its position overlooking both the town of Carlingford and the Lough, Slieve Foye is picturesque and is home to a fair few hikes if you fancy a good walk (the lengthy Slieve Foye and Barnavave Loops will give your legs a workout alright!).
5. Carlingford Lough
Flanked to the north by the Mourne Mountains and the south by the Cooley Mountains, loughs don’t come much more picturesque than Carlingford Lough! It’s probably no surprise then that this area has been popular with visitors since the 19th-century (its convenient midway position between Belfast and Dublin helped too).
With the Carlingford Lough Ferry making it easier than ever to see the area, this vast body of water is one of the finest in the country. And best of all, the lively town of Carlingford is right at its heart so make sure to visit and sample all of its colourful character!
6. Proleek Dolmen
I mentioned earlier about this being an ancient landscape and the Proleek Dolmen certainly qualifies under that description! Composed of two portal stones (a lower backstone and a massive capstone), the Proleek Dolmen is an imposing portal tomb that weighs around 40 tonnes.
Located 4.3km northeast of Dundalk, it dates back to the Neolithic Period (3000BC) and its unique shape has something of a Stonehenge-esque quality to it. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of local legends swirling around this site and one suggests that a wish will be granted to anyone who can throw a pebble on its capstone so that it stays there. Make of that what you will.
7. The Carlingford Greenway
While there are plenty of walking trails around the Cooley Peninsula, there’s also plenty of scope for heading out on two wheels and nowhere is better for that than cycling the Carlingford Greenway. Stretching 7km down the peninsula’s northern shoreline, the smoothed-over disused railway line runs between Carlingford and Omeath and offers some stunning views of the distant Mourne Mountains along the way.
As well as those vistas, it’s also a very eco-friendly way of exploring the region and you’ll pass by plenty of wildlife too. You can walk the Greenway as well, but heading out by bike is the best way to experience it. This is one of the best things to do in Carlingford for good reason.
8. Carlingford Lough Ferry
Surrounded by rising mountains and a vast body of water, taking the ferry across Carlingford Lough is one of the best ways to appreciate this cinematic landscape. Running between Greenore in County Louth and Greencastle in County Down, the scenic Carlingford Ferry has a fairly short journey time of 20 minutes but unique views from the water are well worth it.
And don’t forget that during the summer months there are also exclusive cruises in the lough that take you to within 400 metres of the historic Haulbowline Lighthouse (still active after almost 200 years!).
9. Carlingford Adventure Centre
As great as Carlingford’s pubs are, we shouldn’t forget that the Cooley Peninsula comes alive outdoors as much as it does indoors! If you’re ready to get your hands dirty and the adrenaline going, then The Carlingford Adventure Centre offers almost everything you can imagine for outdoor thrills.
From archery combat to kayaking to rock climbing to frisbee disc golf (this one looks really fun), there’s a load of cracking activities to enjoy here that’ll definitely get you out of your comfort zone! Call or email to book and prepare to enjoy something new.
10. The Cooley Mountains
Situated right in the heart of the Cooley Peninsula, the Cooley Mountains dominate the views of almost any scenes of the peninsula from afar. Consisting of two ridges running northwest to southeast and separated by the valley of Glenmore, the mountains’ highest peak is that of Slieve Foye at 1,932 ft.
Along with their soaring craggy peaks, the Cooley Mountains are also the setting for Táin Bó Cúailnge – arguably the greatest epic story in old Irish literature. But whether you’re here for the views or the legends, the Cooley Mountains are a huge part of the character of this region.
11. The Annaloughan Loop Walk
A beautiful forested trail with some deadly views of the Cooley Mountains and Dundalk Bay, the Annaloughan Loop Walk is an 8km looped walk that should take just under three hours to complete.
While the length could prove quite a challenge, anyone who takes on this walk can be heartened by the knowledge that it starts and ends at one of the best pubs in the county!
Once you’ve successfully conquered the Annaloughan Loop Walk, you can head over to the de facto trailhead of Fitzpatrick’s Bar and Restaurant for a hearty and well-earned post-walk feed.
12. Ravensdale Forest
OK, so, Ravensdale Forest isn’t technically on the Cooley Peninsula, but it’s very close to it, so I’m going to pop it in as it’s one of my favourite walks in Louth.
The walk here takes you up into the lush Ravensdale Forest, along a trail that’ll take you around 2 hours in total to complete.
The trail is easy enough to follow, but have a nosey at this guide for more info on the route.
An overview of the Cooley Peninsula drive
As we spoke about earlier, getting about by car is the most efficient way of seeing the Cooley Peninsula regardless of the length of your stay.
Depending on the number of stops you want to make, the drive can be done in around two hours if you wish though realistically it’ll probably take 7-8 hours if you want to see as many sights as you can on a flying visit.
We’d recommend staying for a few days though as that means you can take things at a more leisurely pace and spend more quality time doing what you planned, whether that’s hiking, cycling, boat trips etc. This beautiful location is not a place you’ll want to rush, believe me!
FAQs about the Cooley Peninsula
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Where is the Cooley Peninsula?’ to ‘ Which is the best hike in the Cooley Mountains?’.
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.
Is the Cooley Peninsula worth visiting?
100% yes! There’s loads to see and do on this peninsula, from the Cooley Peninsula Drive to lots of walks, hikes and much more.
What is there to do on the Cooley Peninsula?
You have the Cooley Mountains, Carlingford, Slieve Foye, Proleek Dolmen, Carlingford Adventure Centre, King John’s Castle and much more (see above).