Touring Northern Ireland in a Campervan: Top Tips

It was fantastic to visit Northern Ireland and, for us, a new part of the UK. We spent two weeks touring around the country, from the stunning Antrim coast to the Mourne Mountains. We explored Derry and Belfast and were enchanted by the Fermanagh Lakeland. Two weeks was good but it isn’t really long enough to see everything in Northern Ireland; there were parts we didn’t reach and places we didn’t spend enough time in.

We sailed to Northern Ireland with P&O from Cairnryan to Larne. At £351 return for our campervan for a trip that is around 41 miles one way this has to be the most expensive mile-for-mile ferry crossing we have ever taken [about £4.28 a mile]! It is surprising the ferries are not subsidised by the Northern Ireland Government to encourage tourists in the way the Scottish Government have used the Road Equivalent Tariff. Once I got thinking about this I had to compare the costs. Uig to Tarbert on Harris is about 30 miles and would cost around £46 one way [£1.53 per mile] making it is easy to see why motorhomers make the choices they do. Our favourite way to reach mainland Europe, Hull to Zeebrugge, is also with P&O [they only sail to Rotterdam now]. That sailing is overnight and includes a cabin. It usually costs us about £250 on way for the approximately 320 mile trip. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that this is less than a £1 a mile [actually 78p]!

My first top tip is bite the bullet and cough up for the ferry as Northern Ireland is well worth visiting but take a picnic for onboard! The journey to Northern Ireland only takes two hours and on the ship there are places to sit inside and outside, although the amount of outside seating varies depending on which ship you are on and our return ship had much more. We made the mistake of deciding to eat lunch onboard on our outward journey. You might think the high cost of the ferry would subsidise the cost of the food but apparently not. There was little choice for two vegetarians and the two cheese toasties we had were an expensive snack.

Top Tips for a Campervan Trip in Northern Ireland

Height Barriers – There are more car parks with height barriers and so inaccessible for a high-top campervan along the Antrim coast than I really like to see. The most annoying for us was the large National Trust car park for Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We did eventually find parking in nearby Ballintoy and when I spoke to the National Trust parking wardens at Carrick-a-Rede they said there is a telephone number at the entrance for you to ring and they will come and open the height barrier.

Wild camping – When we asked the knowledgeable people of Facebook quite a number of them suggested we were best not to wild camp in Northern Ireland and so we booked campsites. The popularity of wild camping is why there are so many height barriers on car parks along the Antrim coast but there are parking spots where people do overnight such as the lovely seaside village of Cushendun. In some popular walking areas farms have car parks where you can overnight. We spotted one good example of this in the Mourne Mountains near Carrick Little, it was a gorgeous peaceful place with mountain and sea views.

Campsites – These varied from the excellent Ballyness campsite to Kilbroney Park that we couldn’t wait to leave [see below for more details]. We travelled in June and most of the campsites were full [with the exception of the one in Belfast] and booking ahead was worthwhile.

School holidays – You can’t really call 2021 normal so this may not happen in other years. Although we were travelling outside of school holidays in England and Northern Ireland, the holidays in Ireland can start in June and by the end of our trip the campsites were busy with Irish families.

Commemoration of the Revolution of 1688 – Although the Orange Order walks and parades often pass without incident, some advised us to avoid the period around 11 and 12 July when there are bonfires and marching bands in the streets.

Places to visit – some highlights

There is more to the Antrim coast than Giant’s Causeway, although that is spectacular. Take the time to walk along some cliffs, visit a castle and stroll along one of the many beaches. The harbour at Ballycastle is pretty and the short but steep walk to Kinbane Castle is stunning.

Derry / Londonderry’s 17th century city walls are just 1.5 km long but they are packed with history and interest. We took the scenic train journey from Castlerock, rather than drive into the city.

Portstewart is a perfect seaside resort. It has a prom for strolling, a walk around a craggy headland, an interesting sculpture alongside a tiny harbour and, most importantly of all, Morelli’s that sells delicious Italian ice-cream.

Crom Estate near to Enniskillen was another memorable outing. This estate and nature reserve, owned by the National Trust, has a ruined castle, a quaint boat house and summer house and idyllic walks along the shores of Upper Lough Erne.

Our love of hiking was inevitably going to take us to the Mourne Mountains, south of Belfast. These hills have a comprehensive network of footpaths that are well used and it is worth getting to a car park early if you have a specific walk in mind. The highest peak is Slieve Donard at 853m but there are valley and hilltop walks for most abilities. You can download a walkers guide here.

The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast was another highlight of our trip. The bar is a unique masterpiece in pub architecture that has to be seen to be appreciated. I’m sure, like us, you will be amazed by the mirrors, tiles and carvings. It is worth booking one of the private snugs for the full experience.

Here is the list of campsites we stayed at in Northern Ireland.

Campsite nameComments
Cushendun Holiday Park, Northern IrelandThe site only had ten touring pitches, all hard-standing and in a small area with the rest of the site made up of statics.  The site is by the village & sea. Showers are £1 each and the site is popular with families.
Ballyness Caravan Park, BushmillsA lovely tidy site with pitches off-set and in small areas. Reception was friendly & helpful and the facilities were good and clean with roomy showers that were warm. The site had a large indoor wash up area.  We had good phone signals for EE & Three Mobile.
91 Bishops Road CL, CastlerockA hillside & grassy CL with some hard-standing and a friendly & helpful owner (he offered us a lift to Castlerock) & water by each pitch.  No facilities but fantastic sea views over Downhill Demesne [see top pic].  EE and Three both had a good 4G signal.
Riverside Farm Marina & Caravan Park, Enniskillen, Northern IrelandA small site by the river run by a friendly owner the site has a few statics.  The pitches are not huge and are mostly hard-standing with grass available in dry weather.  The three showers are £1 for 4 minutes and are good and hot. There is one indoor sink for wash up in a kitchen that also has a microwave.
Dungannon Park, DungannonIn a park on the edge of Dungannon, good sized hedged pitches with grass & hard-standing.  Clean facilities, hot showers and only one wash up sink.
Kilbroney Caravan Park, RostrevorBusy & popular site on a hillside with many sloping pitches and we struggled to get the van level.  The facilities are kept clean and the showers are warm but no adjustment for the temperature and push buttons.  There was a nighttime security person. We both had a good phone signal.
Tollymore Forest Park, NewcastlePleasantly situated site with space between pitches that are hard-standing and surrounded by grass.  There were lots of families here in the good weather and with no reception staff, just occasionally drive-by wardens it can have a wayward air, depending on your neighbours.  The facilities are very dated & scruffy but the showers were excellent, hot, adjustable and continuous. The campsite is in a woodland country park with lovely riverside walks that you can follow into Newcastle.
Dundonald Caravan Park, BelfastThis site was eerily quiet, only our campervan, one caravan and one tent were on this small site which has secure gates and security staff.  There is traffic noise but you are surrounded by trees and this is a great spot for catching a bus into Belfast.  The facilities are clean and roomy with hot showers & there is a kitchen.  The bus stop into Belfast is 10 mins walk away and there is a cinema nearby.

Comfortable & Quick-Drying Women’s Underwear for a Campervanning Hiker

My search for good quality, comfortable and quick drying underwear for hiking and cycling when we are away in our campervan should have ended long ago. Over ten years ago when we set off on our twelve month tour of Europe in our ‘van I purchased six pairs of Lowe Alpine Dry Flo pants that did the job perfectly. They were comfortable to wear even in temperatures over 30C, they dried overnight when I hand washed them and they out-lasted the year we spent away and are still going strong. When we returned home these were the only underwear I wanted to wear and I got online to buy some more for everyday use. Imagine how devastated I was to find that Lowe Alpine had stopped making them. They reappeared a few years ago in the same perfect shape but different [and less sturdy] fabric and I stocked up on four more pairs but they have now once again disappeared from the shops. I should have stashed away a lifetime’s supply!

With my 13-year old Lowe Alpine underwear starting to show signs of age I once again began a search for good underwear. After hours online and at some expense, I purchased four different brands of underwear to try. I have tested these smalls in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District fells and hand washed them and dried them overnight. Below are my reviews of these four pairs of knickers that I chose from the many available. Please note, I have not received any of this underwear as a gift from a retailer [I wish] and my reviews are honest but do relate to my shape [I am a women’s size 12] and the activities I enjoy when I wear them.

In our campervan we usually wash our underwear out each evening and maybe socks, unless we are only away for a couple of nights. On longer trips we will hand wash t-shirts too, only using a washing machine when we need to wash towels and sheets. If it is sunny this washing can hang outside but unfortunately we don’t always get fine weather and we end up with knickers dripping over the sink. This isn’t something you ever see on those Instagram images of campervan life but it is our real vanlife! Having quick drying undies is as important as comfort for me.

The underwear tested:

  • Runderwear Women’s Running Hot Pants
  • Ortovox Women’s Hot Pants
  • Athlecia Women’s Mucht Seamless Hot Pants
  • Microfibre Boxers Ladies High Waist Shorts

Lowe Alpine Dry Flo – the original and the best. These are still keeping me comfortable after thirteen years! I am gutted that Lowe Alpine have stopped making them.

Runderwear Women’s Running Hot Pants, around £18. These are designed for runners and have a boxer-style fit. I find the seamless design is comfortable to wear and chafe free on long hikes. In many ways these are closest to my much-loved Lowe Alpine underwear. I haven’t tried them in extremely hot weather yet but my guess is they will perform well. The waistband is elasticated and feels substantial and I thought this might affect their quick drying properties but after handwashing they dried overnight in our ‘van.

Ortovox Women’s Hot Pants with Merino wool, an extravagant £30+ worth of knicker. These are a good generous pair of pants, they feel soft and are like wearing what I imagine gossamer to feel like. I like to wear and buy natural fibres and the breathability of merino wool is refreshing to wear. They claim to be durable for years of use but only time will tell how robust they will be, they feel so delicate. I have had merino wool t-shirts that have lasted decades and others that haven’t done so well. They are a tad loose around the legs and I don’t think they would be great under lycra cycling shorts. They wash well and dry overnight too.

Athlecia Women’s Mucht Seamless Hot Pants. At £25 for a pack of two, these are good value. The lightweight synthetic fibre fabric feels cool to wear and they are seam-free but the cut isn’t generous. These would suit you if you want more discrete underwear that isn’t high waisted and might be better on someone with a flatter stomach. I find I am constantly having to readjust this underwear around the crotch, not an attractive look! They wash easily and dry quickly but are not comfortable enough for hiking.

Microfibre Boxers Ladies High Waist Shorts. For everyday use at home, when quick drying isn’t the most important thing, I find these are comfortable pants. They are seamless and at just £3.75 a pair extremely good value and last for years. They are fine for short walks. The big downside is that they don’t dry quickly enough for hand washing and drying in our campervan. I wear these when we are at home and would suit you if you use the laundry facilities when you are away or take all your washing home.

What are your experiences of good hiking underwear and quick drying smalls? Maybe there is a pair of amazing pants out there that I have missed. If so, do let me know in the comments below.