A good easy hike to start off with, and to get a great view of Belfast City is Cave Hill. It can be seen from different parts overlooking the city and is distinguished by its famous “Napoleon’s Nose” which resembles the profile of the famous emperor Napoleon. It’s a short drive out of the city centre and there are many bus services taking tourists on this route.
The short hike begins at the Belfast Castle (car park is outside the castle, or if the gate is closed there is a small car park just beside it), and rises to almost 370 metres (1200 ft). The terrain is gradual with some steep sections but is suitable for anyone with even a little fitness ability. Cave Hill is thought by many to be the inspiration of the famous novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. It’s stated that he imagined the hill as a large sleeping giant safeguarding the city. There are two routes to the summit of Cave Hill, the most famous one is the McArt’s Fort route. This is a 4.5 mile circular route and it covers the crossing of moorland, heath and meadows. The walk starts at the Belfast castle and takes you up through woodland forest and climbs to a plateau, this is a good spot to take a drink and a snack and enjoy the views of the city, with the famous Mourne Mountains visible on a clear day to the south and Titanic quarter to the east of the city and a clear view of Belfast Lough.
The next part of the journey continues around the Devil’s Punch Bowl at the foot of the largest of 3 caves. The first and largest cave is accessible by anyone and is 21 feet (6.4m) long, 18.5 feet (5.5m) wide and is around 8-9 feet (3m) in height. The second cave up is 10 feet (3m long), 7 wide (2m) wide and 6 feet (1.83m) in height. This is accessible using some rope and someone to belay but isn’t advised for beginners. And finally the third major cave is notorious for being very dangerous and it is not advisable for anyone to climb it and has caused the local air and rescue to venture out in the past.
As we continue on our hike we are around half way to the summit when we pass the lower cave and take the path up to the right hand side and follow the rocky terrain up the hill. Recently here the hill has been added with around 50 step’s to help people climb the slippery hill in wet conditions. After the top of the steps we venture to the left and cross the large plateau and continue to the summit (around 20 minutes) and arrive at the top of Cave Hill and McArt’s Fort. Here we can have views of the Glen’s of Antrim, Slemish Mountain, Belfast Lough, Belfast City and the Mourne Mountains in the distance. The route down take’s the same route and the entire round trip would take someone of average fitness 1 hour to complete.