Hillsborough Forest Park: when to visit, what to see, and things to know

Located in the quaint village of Hillsborough in County Down, Hillsborough Forest Park is a great spot to relax on a sunny day, go for a walk, or have a picnic with the family.

Hillsborough Forest Park is located in the picturesque Georgian village of Hillsborough in County Down and is a great place to head for a day out with the family and is one of the best parks for families in Northern Ireland.

Covering an area of almost 200 acres with 150 acres of mixed woodlands, this is the ideal place to relax in nature and proves popular with bird-watchers, dog walkers, photographers, and nature-lovers.

Just minutes from Hillsborough Castle, the official royal residence in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Forest Park and the village of Hillsborough is one of Northern Ireland’s hidden gems – a walk through its streets will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.

So, if you’re planning a visit to Hillsborough Forest Park, here is everything you need to know from when to visit to what to see, things to know, and more.

When to visit – open all year round

The park is open all year round.
Credit: Instagram / @its_a_jenny_thing

Hillsborough Forest Park is open to visitors all year round and is a great place to visit no matter the season. However, if you plan to visit the historic 17th-century fort in the park’s ground, it is essential to be aware that it closes at 3:30 pm during the winter months.

Visiting in summer, Hillsborough Forest Park is perfect for a picnic on the grassy lawn or at one of the picnic benches. In the winter, it’s the perfect spot to stretch your legs for a brisk winter walk and if you’re lucky, see the lake entirely frozen!

What to see – a beautiful historic forest walk

Visit the fort in Hillsborough Forest Park.
Credit: Instagram / @nataliewells_

Walking the loop around the lake, you can enjoy peaceful views out over the water with the trees and the spire of Hillsborough Parish Church in the background – a truly fantastic view.

We recommend visiting the impressive 17th-century fort, which was built on the sight of an old stronghold founded by Peter Hill in 1630. The fort features a parapet wall and was granted Royal Fort status by Charles II.

While you’re in Hillsborough, we also recommend taking a walk through the village, which is filled with coloured houses and local businesses. If you have time, it is also worth heading over to Hillsborough Castle and Gardens to have a tour of the official royal residence in Northern Ireland.

Things to know – parking and amenities

There are plenty of amenities.
Credit: Instagram / @robinsons.icecream

There is a free car park at Hillsborough Forest Park, but on sunny days and bank holidays this can become extremely busy, so you may have to park in the village and walk in.

There is also a coffee van in the car park at which you can buy tea, coffee, cakes, and ice cream to take with you on your walk.

There are toilets in the fort, which are open to public use. However, be sure to take note of the fort opening times to make sure these will be available during your visit.

In 2020, a children’s play park was also open around the back of the park, so the forest park is a great place to take the kids.

To find the play park, turn left at the car park entrance and follow the lake around until you get to a junction where one path goes straight ahead, and one takes you right to follow the lake. Take the path that goes straight ahead and follow this until you see the play park.

Where to eat – Michelin-star restaurants

A meal at the Plough Inn is perfect after a walk around Hillsborough Forest Park.
Credit: Instagram / @theploughinn

Hillsborough is full of fantastic local restaurants and cafes to fuel up before your walk or rest your legs after.

Head to the Plough Inn and the Vintage Rooms for delicious pub grub with an imaginative twist. Or try out the fantastic woodfired pizzas from The Parson’s Nose and grab a pint of beer by the fireplace at the Hillside.

For a Michelin star experience, try out the experimental Hara restaurant for an exquisite menu and fantastic drinks.

For a brunch or lunchtime menu, check out the Humble Pie or Out of Habit for casual dining and tasty sandwiches.

Where to stay – fantastic village B&Bs

Arthur Street Guest Cottage is a great place to stay.
Credit: Facebook / Arthur Street Guest Cottage

For a cosy stay near Hillsborough Forest Park, check out the Lisnacurran Country House B&B. This beautiful home is fitted with all the modern amenities you could wish for including Wi-Fi, Smart TVs, tea and coffee, and designer toiletries.

Set in mature gardens, guests can make the most of the outdoor hot tub and sauna found in the garden pavillion, and for the kids, there is a Wendy house, treehouse, trampoline, jungle gym, and soil pit.

For a self-catered stay in the heart of the village, check out Arthur Street Guest Cottage No 16. This quaint stone cottage has one bedroom, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, an equipped kitchen with a microwave and a fridge, a washing machine, and one bathroom with a shower.

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