What to visit in County Down, Northern Ireland


The Mourne Mountains
I've mentioned these last week so you already now how much I love them. They should, without a doubt, be the very first thing on your list of things to visit in County Down. Make sure to do both the higher mountains scenic route and the mountain coastal route. This way you'll see them all in their glory. Keep aside a whole day to explore as you'll be stopping every 30 minutes to take pictures. Newcastle is a great little town to stop over for some lunch. We ate at Great Jones Craft & Kitchen which was delicious. They offer some great Northern Irish craft beer choices. I recommend the Cajun fish tacos. They went down a treat! 



Castle Ward

I'm a sucker for an old stately home in manicured, fancy grounds. Castle Ward ticks all the right boxes. There a Game of Thrones location to tick off if you're that way inclined, some trails to wander if you like to walk and a lavish home if you want to imagine how the other half lived. There's a lovely little cafe on the grounds to enjoy an afternoon of cake and tea. 




Inch Abbey

If there's one thing Ireland does well then it's an ruin. Be it a castle or an abbey, the island is full of them. Featuring early gothic architecture, Inch Abbey was the place where the northmen rallied behind Robb Stark in Game of Thrones. From the abbey you'll have a gorgeous view of Downpatrick, where St Patrick is buried, and the River Quoile. The ruins are very well-intact and you can definitely tell what it was hundreds of years ago. There are some great signposts scattered around detailing the history. 




Murlough Nature Reserve 

Don't be too alarmed if you hear gunshots. The beach backs onto an army shooting range so you'll be able to hear them practising. There's signs in the sea to warn you not to go too far out just in case. But if you carry on strolling the gunshots gradually due away and you'll be able to swim until your heart's content. Surrounded by the mountains, the nature reserve is a great place to blow away the cobwebs. Pack some comfortable shoes and go for a wander. Follow the wooden broadway to get down to the sea. Wrap up warm as that sea air does get chilly!




Dundrum Castle

Located not too far from Newcastle, Dundrum Castle is believed to have been built in and around 1177. It's fast become of my favourite castle ruins in Northern Ireland, second to Kinbane Castle on the Causeway Coast. Considering it's been around since the Norman invasion, the ruins are surprisingly very well intact. I loved the fact there are stairs allowing you to climb the ruins to explore further. They offer you a great view! A fun fact which actually isn't fun to anyone apart from me. But my boyfriend's family came over to Ireland during the Norman invasion so this castle is as old as their Irish family tree! Crazy right?




Ard Peninsula 

Located on the east coast of Northern Ireland, the Arg Peninsula is only half an hour from Belfast. making it the perfect contrast to city life. Surrounded by the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough, there's some lovely little villages and towns to stop off along the way. Our favourite places were Grey Abbey where you'll find some ruins and Scrabo Tower which offers incredible views.




Hillsborough

We based ourselves in Hillsborough for four days while we explored the county. It's such a charming town and so unlike anywhere I've ever visited in Northern Ireland before. For a small place it has some fab places to eat, lots to explore and cute little houses you can't help but look up on Rightmove. Be sure to take a walk around the pretty lake and grab some lunch at The Parson's Nose.




Ballynoe Stone Circle

I had never been a stone circle before yet ended up at two during this trip! It is a bit tricky to find this and you do have to leave your car in a dodgy place. It won't really work if there's another car already parked. Be prepared to walk through a magical-looking track surrounded by overgrown trees. Once you get to the end, you'll be greeted with an incredible view of the Mourne Mountains. The stone circle was built in the Bronze Age but no one is quite sure of its purpose yet. 




Tollymore Forest Park

If you're a fan of Game of Thrones then you definitely know about Tollymore. You will have seen it! You'll past the place where the Starks found the direwolves, where the Night's Watch found bodies in the snow and where Tyrion and Jon chat on their way to the wall. It really is a beautiful place and you'll need at least half a day to explore. We could only spend an hour and it wasn't long enough. Take a picnic with you and enjoy the scenery.

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Exploring the U.K.: Castle Ward, Strangford, Northern Ireland


National Trust properties are my jam. Call me old before my time but I love wandering round manicured grounds and outrageous stately homes imagining what life used to be like. Castle Ward had been on my Irish bucket list for a while so I decided it was finally time to tick it off. 




Due to the current climate you can't turn up at any National Trust property without pre-booked tickets. They must be booked at least 48 hours in advance and you have to arrive within a designated time slot. We wanted to avoid any crowds so we went for an early time slot in the hope that everyone would be in bed! It worked out just fine and we only saw a handful of people milling around. Tickets are currently priced at £10 which is an absolute bargain in my eyes.

Game of Thrones fans will be keen to know that this is the home of Winterfell. Obviously there has been some insane CGI in the show but you'll be able to make out the bare bones. We noticed they offered special tours (just not in COVID times) and you can book yourself in for a game of archery. There's not too much to see but it's fun to take a stroll and think back to the series. 

Definitely don't skip the grounds. They're one of the best bits of the property! Be sure to pick up a map from the cafe because they have a list of trails to follow. You can walk about the lough, past a castle ruin, alongside an old boat house and through endless woods. It was so quiet and peaceful making it the best place to catch your own thoughts. 

The house is currently offering limited access due to COVID so they only have self-guided tours. The upstairs is out of bounds. I didn't feel like this took away from the experience and we actually enjoyed the recordings in each room outlining the history. The recordings were nice and concise. Sometimes a guided tour can be too long-winded. 

Castle Ward was definitely one of our highlights from County Down! 







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Why you should visit the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland


I've been going to Ireland for the past decade and feel like I'm pretty well traveled in the north. But there was one place where I hadn't been and now I'm gutted I haven't been sooner. The Mourne Mountains in County Down. County Down is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland in the south-east of the country. Home to the highest points in the country, the Mourne Mountain range is spectacular. It's said to have influenced C.S Lewis to write The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. You'll spend your entire trip marvelling at the serene beauty and wondering why on earth its not more popular. But you'll be secretly glad it's not as too many people would spoil it. 




Things to do

Take the high Mourne Mountains scenic route

If you only have time to do one thing, make sure it is this as you'll be blown away. Driving to the top of a mountain is both absolutely terrifying and probably the coolest thing you'll do. We picked it up from Newcastle and it finishes just before Annalong. It will take you past Tollymore Forest Park - see more about this below. Along the drive you'll find various points to spot off with car parking spaces and picnic benches. Definitely don't be shy to stop and snap some pictures or have a wander around. The majority of the time we only had sheep for company. We declined a trek up the mountains this time but we did spot a few more adventurous people than ourselves. On a clear day you'll even be able to see the Isle of Man or the Lake District in England. 





Take the Mourne Mountain coastal route

Nowhere quite has a coastline as beautiful as Northern Ireland. It's wonderfully rugged, delightfully wild and thankfully untouched. The route from Newcastle will take you through the peaks of the east Mournes and past the Bloody Bridge (named after an Irish massacre in the 1600s). Once again you'll pass so many lay-bys and picnic areas where you can stop. Be sure to park the car at the Bloody Bridge and go for a wander along the well-known former smugglers paradise. 





Visit Tollymore Forest Park

If you're a fan of Game of Thrones then you definitely know about Tollymore. You will have seen it! You'll past the place where the Starks found the direwolves, where the Night's Watch found bodies in the snow and where Tyrion and Jon chat on their way to the wall. It really is a beautiful place and you'll need at least half a day to explore. We could only spend an hour and it wasn't long enough. Take a picnic with you and enjoy the scenery.




Stroll along Murlough Nature Reserve

Don't be too alarmed if you hear gunshots. The beach backs onto an army shooting range so you'll be able to hear them practising. There's signs in the sea to warn you not to go too far out just in case. But if you carry on strolling the gunshots gradually due away and you'll be able to swim until your heart's content. Surrounded by the mountains, the nature reserve is a great place to blow away the cobwebs. Pack some comfortable shoes and go for a wander. Follow the wooden broadway to get down to the sea. Wrap up warm as that sea air does get chilly!


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