Cave Hill Walk: best route, distance, when to visit, and more

Rising above Belfast city below, Cave Hill (Cavehill) is an iconic part of the Belfast skyline. Here is everything you need to know about the Cave Hill walk.

Situated in north Belfast, Cave Hill (or Cavehill) can be seen from almost everywhere across the city.

It is a basaltic hill that forms part of the southeastern border of the Antrim Plateau and is distinguished by its rocky outcrop, otherwise known as Napoleon’s Nose due to its resemblance to the side profile of the emperor Napoleon.

Cave Hill is also thought to have been the inspiration for the sleeping giant safeguarding the city in Jonathan Swift’s famous novel Gulliver’s Travels.

As well as being an iconic piece of Belfast’s social, cultural, and political history, Cave Hill (commonly misspelled Cavehill) is also just a great place to go for a walk if you’re in the city. So, from the best route to distance, when to visit and more, here is everything you need to know about the Cave Hill walk.

Basic overview – what you need to know

  • Distance: 7.2 km (4.5 miles)
  • Start / End Point: Belfast Castle
  • Parking: Car parking available at Belfast Castle off the Antrim Road, Belfast Zoo (Hazelwood), Upper Cavehill Road, and Upper Hightown Road.
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
  • Duration: Two to three hours

Best route – how to get to the top

How to get to the top of the Cave Hill walk.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

Begin your hike just before the entrance to Belfast Castle and follow the green waymarked arrows. Take the path on your left until you reach the junction where you will turn right.

Follow this path through the woodland and take a left at any junctions you come to until you reach the open plateau where you can take in fantastic views of Belfast Lough below.

From here, follow the path left along a narrow trail around the so-called Devil’s Punchbowl passing a large cave.

Following this path, you will reach a set of steps. Continue up these steps, and once you reach the top turn left. From here you will pass over a cattle grate to reach the top of the hill and McArt’s Fort.

Once you reach the top, descend the path to the left, which passes the top of Carr’s Glen before reaching the Upper Cavehill Road. Follow the footpath and climb over the ridge before descending into Belfast Castle Estate.

From here, you will follow the footpath that takes you up the driveway and back to your starting point.

An alternative route begins at Upper Hightown Road car park. Ignore the main path and instead veer left to climb over a metal stile and make your way across the field.

Following grassy tracks, you will cross the river and turn right when you come to a grass trail and continue on this path until you see a farm gate on the left.

This gate marks another path where you will turn right and go up the hill bringing you to a pile of stones at the top, which is the highest point of Cave Hill with McArt’s Fort and Strangford Lough in County Down right in front of you.

Descend to the main path where you can either turn right at McArt’s Fort back to Upper Hightown Road car park or left along the top of the hill, which will take you down the upward route described above.

Once you reach the path goes behind the castle, continue towards a clearing to get to the Limestone Quarry bottom steps. Ascend the steps, turn left, and continue straight back to Upper Hightown Road car park where you will finish the Cave Hill hike.

Distance – how long the hike will take

How long will the Cave Hill walk take.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The main Cave Hill (Cavehill) loop walk is 7.2 km (4.5 miles) long and takes on pretty rough and steep terrain at various points, making it a moderate to strenuous climb.

Overall, it should take two to three hours to complete, but we would recommend leaving enough time to enjoy the incredible views from the top and along the way.

When to visit – considering weather and crowds

When to visit.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The rough terrain of the Cave Hill hike means it is best to visit in dry, mild weather, so spring, summer, and early autumn are the best times to visit where the weather is concerned.

Due to its proximity to Belfast, the Cave Hill walk can get very busy on clear days, particularly at the weekends so do bear this in mind when visiting.

For a unique experience, head up Cave Hill on 11 July night to see the bonfires light up across the city from above.

What to see – points of interest

Check out Belfast Castle at the beginning of the Cave Hill walk.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

From the top of Cave Hill (Cavehill), the city below appears tiny and insignificant as you gaze out across Belfast in all directions.

Take in amazing panoramic views the city, of Belfast Lough, and out towards Holywood and Bangor. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Slieve Donard and the peaks of the Mourne Mountains.

If time allows, take a stroll through the surrounding Cave Hill County Park and check out the impressive 19th-century Belfast Castle at the beginning of the Cave Hill hike.

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