The most beautiful lakes in Northern Ireland are hubs of wildlife and botanical diversity, making them popular with birdwatchers, watersports enthusiasts, hikers, and fishers. In Belfast, the nation’s capital, you can visit lakes with sandy shorelines and a variety of protected habitats. To the west near the Irish border, you can explore loughs that provide a home to rare and endangered species.

    Whether you want to admire natural vistas, catch a glimpse of unusual migratory birds or fill up on maritime history, Northern Ireland’s most beautiful lakes have you covered. Here are the nation’s best lakes to add to your to-visit list.

    1

    Lough Neagh

    Canoe on the largest lake in the British Isles

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    Loch Neagh is the largest lake in the British Isles, with a total area of nearly 40,000 hectares spanning across 5 of Northern Ireland’s 6 counties. Popular activities include canoeing, banana boating and windsurfing. You can also rent boats and enjoy snacks at various marinas and watersports centres that surround the lake.

    Head to Allen Park, a lakefront golf course, to enjoy a round while admiring views of the water. Or, head to Peatlands Part for picnics, hiking and cycling. Nature lovers will appreciate the diversity of wildlife in the area. Watch out for birds such as grey herons, mute swans and tufted ducks.

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    2

    Lower Lough Erne

    Navigate a wildlife-rich lake with around 90 islands

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    Lower Lough Erne is Northern Island’s second-largest lake system, surrounded by woodlands that attract local birdwatchers and hikers. Popular activities include canoeing and kayaking around the lake’s 90 islets as well as tours to nearby landmarks such as The Boatyard Distillery, Headhunters Barber Shop & Railway Museum, and the 16th-century Enniskillen Castle.

    Some of the best walking trails along the shoreline of Lower Lough Erne include the Magho Cliffs Walk and the Castle Archdale Country Park. If you’re visiting to see the diverse wildlife, head to the Ely Lodge Forest. If travelling with the kids, try water trampolining at the Lough Erne Resort.

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    3

    Lough Beg

    See a medieval church in a protected nature reserve

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    Lough Beg is a small but picturesque freshwater lake on the border between Country Antrim and County Derry. The lake’s main draw is Church Island, where visitors can see the site of a pre-Viking monastery and a church believed to date from the 15th century. As a protected nature reserve, wildlife watching is also popular with the locals.

    During spring and autumn, keep your eyes peeled for migrating birds such as the green sandpiper, black-tailed godwit and greenshank. Throughout summer, breeding waders put on an impressive show above the water. If you consider yourself a botanist, try to spot the rare hooded lady's tresses, which are orchids characterised by their numerous white flowers.

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    zdjęcie: Kenneth Allen (CC BY-SA 2.0) zostało poddane edycji

    4

    Portmore Lough

    Look out for grazing ponies while walking the trails

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    Portmore Lough attracts a diverse array of wildlife every season. In winter, you can see thousands of ducks as well as whooper swans and greylag geese by the water’s edge. Throughout summer, you can watch dragonflies, damselflies and a variety of colour butterflies dancing in the air in the lake’s surrounding hay meadows.

    Portmore Lough is one of the only places in Northern Ireland where you can watch ponies grazing freely in the protected nature reserve. For the best views of the meadows complete with a few cascading waterfalls, head over to Crumlin Glen, where you’ll see kingfishers and sand martins playing in the streams and rivers.

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    zdjęcie: HENRY CLARK (CC BY-SA 2.0) zostało poddane edycji

    5

    Ballysaggart Lough

    Enjoy coarse fishing and see over 100 species of bird

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    Of all Northern Ireland’s lakes, Ballysaggart Lough is probably home to the most diverse range of wildlife species. To date, over 100 bird species have been identified on the lake, and 18 of them are considered endangered. For a day of coarse fishing, head to the northern end of the lake to catch species such as pike, rudd, perk, bream, eel and perch.

    Ballysaggart Lough is peaceful throughout the year, making it an ideal place to visit for a quiet day out with the family surrounded by natural vistas. If visiting during the migratory seasons, look to the skies to see unusual birds like Iceland gulls, yellow-legged gulls and glaucous gulls.

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    zdjęcie: Kenneth Allen (CC BY-SA 2.0) zostało poddane edycji

    6

    Upper Lough Erne

    Admire diverse landscapes while sailing by reed-fringed shores

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    Upper Lough Erne boasts dozens of satellite lakes, miles of reed-fringed shores, and a handful of wooded islands. Its habitats include grassland, parkland, mature oak woodland and wet woodland, making it a hub of botanical diversity. On top of around 400 plant species, Upper Lough Erne is also home to red squirrels, pine martens and around 8 species of bat.

    Head to the fields that surround Lisnaskea to see thousands of grey geese arriving from Iceland during winter. For a more colourful display, visit the nearby Crom Estate conservation area, where dragonflies and damselflies take centre stage. When you need to relax, you’ll find many public jetties with picnic areas by the water’s edge.

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    zdjęcie: Andreas F. Borchert (CC BY-SA 3.0) zostało poddane edycji

    7

    Larne Lough

    Golf by the coast near a charming sea inlet

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    Due to its protected wetland environment, Larne Lough has been designated a Special Protection Area and an Area of Special Scientific Interest. Each year, Swan Island attracts an internationally important population of breeding roseate tern, though you can also see swarms of light-bellied brent geese and common terns. On a clear day, you can admire views of the Porte of Larne and the Scottish west coast from Larne Golf Club.

    Head to the edge of the Irish Sea in Larne to see the Chaine Memorial Tower, which resembles a tall stone pencil and was constructed in 1888. You can reach Larne from Belfast via the Belfast-Larne railway line, which straddles the shoreline before arriving at Larne Harbour.

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    8

    Belfast Lough

    Spot rare wildlife in Northern Ireland’s capital

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    If you want to escape the bustle of Belfast for the day, head to Belfast Lough, a protected nature reserve comprised of mudflats, lagoons, rocky shorelines, and a scattering of sandy bays. Because it’s usually free of strong tides, Belfast Lough is popular for sailing and yachting. Visit during winter to see bird species such as waders, wildfowls and common redshanks.

    After viewing Belfast Lough, head to the nearby Titanic Quarter of Belfast to learn about the region’s maritime history. Top-rated landmarks and museums include Titanic Belfast and the Belfast Harbour Marina.

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    9

    Lough Melvin

    One of Northern Ireland’s best fishing lakes

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    Lough Melvin is internationally renowned for its array of rare animals and plants. As a famous angling lake, Lough Melvin is popular with fishers searching for salmon, ferox trout and the gillaroo, a species believed to be endemic to the lake. Besides fishing, water-based activities include canoeing, jet skiing and kayaking.

    You will need to obtain a permit to fish for trout in the Rossinver Fishery near Southern Ireland, but you can get a permit and a boat for a fee. Head to Lough Melvin between February and September to make the most of salmon and trout season.

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    10

    Silent Valley Reservoir

    Hike the waterside trails and surrounding mountains

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    The Silent Valley Reservoir was constructed during the early 20th century and is the main source of water for many parts of Belfast and County Down. Ringed by the Mourne Mountains, the Silent Hill Reservoir is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Visitor facilities include an information centre and an education centre, both of which occupy colonial-style bungalows with sweeping views over the reservoir and parkland.

    The Silent Valley Reservoir is popular with local hikers and wildlife watchers. For some of the best views of the area, attempt a walking route such as the Viewpoint Loop or the Reservoir Loop. Don’t forget to check out the famous Mourne Wall, which spans a distance of 22 miles and passes over 15 mountain summits.

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    Joshua Saunders | Autor

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