Hillsborough Forest Park Near Belfast: Walks, History + Coffee

Hillsborough Forest Park guide
Photos by James Kennedy NI (Shutterstock)

A visit to Hillsborough Forest Park is hard to beat. Especially if you’re staying in Belfast and you want to escape the hustle and bustle for a bit.

The nearly 200-acre park has walking trails, a lake and it’s also home to plenty of animals that you’ll usually spot around Hillsborough Fort. 

There’s also plenty of parking, a place to grab a coffee, toilets and loads to see and do nearby, making it a solid spot for a day out.

Below, you’ll find info on the different Hillsborough Forest Park walks along with what to see while you’re there.

Some quick need-to-knows about Hillsborough Forest Park

 

Although a visit to Hillsborough Park is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Hillsborough Forest is located in the Georgian village of Hillsborough near Belfast. It’s just a few minutes’ drive from Hillsborough Castle. It’s a 20-minute drive from Lady Dixon Park and a 25-minute drive from Colin Glen.

2. Parking

There is free parking available at the forest entrance off Park Street south of town, but be warned that it can get pretty crazy on weekends and in summer. Otherwise, you can also park near the fort and access the lake and forest from there.

3. Opening hours

The park is open from dawn until dusk every day of the week. Again, if visiting on a warm weekend, try and get here early.

4. Toilets and facilities

You’ll find public toilets in the car park area of the Hillsborough Fort closer to town. Percy’s coffee truck is also located here.

Things to do at Hillsborough Forest Park

There’s plenty of things to see and do at Hillsborough Park, making it a great spot for a morning out.

Below, you’ll find everything from Percy’s coffee truck, where you can grab a pre-ramble caffeine fix, to the different walking trails.

1. Kick start your visit with coffee (or ice cream!)

Hillsborough Park walks
Photos via Percy’s Coffee on Facebook

Before you even begin your walk, stop at Percy’s Coffee in the carpark. This food van has plenty of refreshments on offer from coffee to ice cream. 

It’s the perfect spot for a pre or post-walk snack in the car park or you can even head down to the lake with your ice cream for a bit of a picnic.

2. And then head off on the Lake Walk

the trails at Hillsborough Forest Park
Photo by Elle-B (Shutterstock)

The most popular walking trail in the Hillsborough Forest is the lake walk. The almost 2km loop takes you around the lake in either direction that you choose. It’s a great way to spot some of the birds found in the area, including swans and ducks.

You’ll find plenty of seating on the trail where you can have a rest and enjoy the view of the lake. Otherwise, it’s a pretty gentle stroll that can be easily done by most people. From the trail, you’ll also be able to look towards the fort, which is a nice backdrop against the water.

  • Distance: 1.9km
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 45 minutes

3. Discover the story behind the Fort

the history of the fort
Photo by Colin Majury (Shutterstock)

From the forest park, you can access the Hillsborough Fort from the trail. The artillery fortress was built by Colonel Arthur Hill in 1650 and was later remodeled in the 18th century into a tower house.

It’s most famous for having had Benjamin Franklin visit for five days as the guest of Wills Hill in 1771. The story goes that the meeting went so badly that it convinced Franklin that revolution was the only way in America!

While it’s closed to the public, the gardens and grounds are open so you can take a bit of a look around while you’re there.

Things to do near Hillsborough Forest Park

One of the beauties of Hillsborough Park is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Belfast (there’s also several things to do in Lisburn nearby, too).

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the park (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Hillsborough Castle (7-minute drive)

places to visit nearby
Photo by Colin Majury (Shutterstock)

Just a few minutes’ drive from the forest area, a visit to the beautiful Georgian castle is a must. The castle and gardens are still an official government and royal residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Queen when she visits.

It’s only open from June until September from Wednesday to Sunday. You can take a tour of the castle through the state rooms, including the Throne Room, State Drawing Rood and Red Room, and stroll around the gardens.

2. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park (17-minute drive)

 

Just to the south of Belfast City, this park is home to the International Rose Garden. Covering more than 120 acres, the park is a beautiful natural area filled with meadows, woodland and, of course, rose gardens.

While it attracts thousands of visitors in July for the Rose Week Celebrations, it’s equally nice at any time of the year. The park also has a playground, barbeque area and picnic tables.

3. Colin Glen Forest Park (30-minute drive)

 

Spread over 200-acres just five minutes away from Belfast City, Colin Glen is an adventure park for all ages. From laser tag, to golfing to a high ropes course, there’s plenty to do here for everyone.

It’s home to some awesome adventures, including Ireland’s longest zipline and the first Alpine Coaster. It’s open all year round, every day of the week.

4. Belfast City (20-minute drive)

belfast city centre
Photo by Rob44 (Shutterstock)

Belfast City has emerged from its troubled past to become a fun destination with world class restaurants and an intoxicating nightlife. There’s plenty to do in Belfast City, that it’s fast becoming a popular city escape.

While it’s known now for its live music sessions and cocktail bars, there is still an interesting art and cultural scene to explore. Of course, the history can’t be ignored either, with some good tours and museums on offer to learn more about this vibrant city.

FAQs about visiting Hillsborough Park in Belfast

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from are there toilets at Hillsborough Park (there are) to how far is it around Hillsborough Park (it’s 5km).

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 Hillsborough Forest Park free?

Yes. There is no admission to Hillsborough Park in Belfast and car parking is, at the time of typing, also free.

How long is the walk around Hillsborough Forest Park?

There’s a 2km walk around Hillsborough Park that takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour to get around, depending on pace.

Is Hillsborough Park worth visiting?

Yes, the park here is outstanding and, as it’s a short spin from Belfast City, it’s a great way to escape the hustle and bustle for a while.

Elisha is a freelance writer, content creator and blogger and her work can be read in Lonely Planet, Remote Lands and Matador Network. You’ll usually find her travelling in offbeat places or hiking wherever there are mountains; always with a camera in hand.

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