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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Exploring Europe: Sagrada Familia, Barcelona


Since the pandemic happened I realised just how much I missed writing about travel so I'm bringing it back. It might help you get some ideas for when it is fully safe to leave the country again and explore cultures different to our own, I'm not ready to leave the UK just yet (even if we could) but I am excited to see the world again soon.

Five years ago I was too hungover to make it to the Sagrada Familia so this time I made sure it was top of my list when I visited Barcelona back in February. The queues to buy tickets are insane so I fully recommend being organised and buying tickets online before hand. It costs around £17 for a fast-track ticket with a timed entry. I follow recommend paying a bit more and buying the audio guide as the information offered is invaluable. It can get confusing as to what section they're talking about so pay close attention.




Gaudi's Sagrada Familia is famous for being unfinished, by the time all construction has been completed in 2026, it will have taken 146 years to build. It will be completed on the centenary of his death. At the time of Gaudi's death less than a quarter of the cathedral was finished. As you stand outside in awe, you can clearly see exactly why it has taken this long. The detailing is absolutely insane and I find it so hard to comprehend how an idea as intricate as this has come from someone's head. One side of the cathedral is based on the Nativity section of the bible which is the New Testament and the other side is the Passion, the Old Testament of the bible.

It's not very often that I feel blown away by a building as I've been lucky enough to see some pretty spectacular architecture. But the Sagrada Familia really is on a whole other level. The amount of dealing really does blow your mind away. Oh to have that amount of creativity! If you only see one sight in Barcelona then this is the only place to buy tickets for. You'll be thinking about the cathedral long after you have left. It stays with you forever!




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Exploring Europe: Bunker Del Carmel, Barcelona


Last weekend I went to Barcelona for a girls trip and wanted to do something that was new for all of us. Enter the civil war anti-aircraft bunkers aka Bunker Del Carmel. Located at the very top of Gaudi's Parc Guell, the bunkers are now pretty derelict and covered in graffiti. But you aren't visiting to see the bunkers, the reason everyone makes the trek is for the stunning vantage point at the top. You can literally see the whole of the city! Be sure to do a loop as you won't want to miss any of the views.

Make sure you wear some sensible shoes because the trek is pretty full on. Our Fitbit registered we walked up 42 flights of stairs. Flip flops just won't do! You can get a bus most of the way which leaves you with only a ten minute walk to endure. We got the bus from Sagrada Familla to the entrance of Park Guell and did the walk from there. Although at times it seems back-breaking, I'm really glad we did it as it was lovely to walk through the park. I'd recommend downloading the FREE NOW taxi app as Uber doesn't work. You can wait for a bus to take you back to the city centre but we opted for a taxi because it was pretty dark and we couldn't be bothered to navigate the public transport. Taxis are in short supply in the area which is why the app comes in handy.




We raided the supermarket before to put together a picnic and treated ourselves to a couple of bottles of cava to enjoy when we got to the top. We arrived around 5pm for the sunset which was happening around 6.30pm. It was pretty busy with people who had the same idea as us - lots of people were tucking into snacks and beer! We found a spot to lay down a blanket and set about making ourselves comfortable. It is pretty dusty up there so I'd recommend brining something to sit on. Don't forget to bring a bag to keep your rubbish in one place. Don't leave anything behind!

Sadly it was a cloudy day so the sunset wasn't the best but it was 100% worth it. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be if the clouds had played ball! We ended up sitting around chatting for over three hours until it got completely dark. It was such a lovely way to finish our trip and talk about everything we had done. It was still pretty busy by the time we left but I'd keep your wits about you as soon as it gets dark because it isn't very well lit.

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Where to spend the day in London Bridge

The London Bridge area is one of my favourite places in London. You have the River Thames to enjoy, Borough Market to stuff your face, numerous pubs to enjoy a beer and landmarks such as the Shard to enjoy. If you can find hotels near the Shard to stay, you won't have to worry about catching the last train home. 



First up on any itinerary should be a trip to the incredible Borough Market. Yes it can sometimes feel like a tourist trap but it is 100% worth a visit. You'll be greeted with some incredible food and will want to go with empty bellies. I recommend heading to Borough Kitchen and sampling some of the food stalls. All under cover, get there early so you can grab a seat and table. You should seek out the juicy jerk chicken from Rudies and have a huge scotch egg from Scotchtails. If you love Spanish tapas than Brindisa Kitchen Bar is perfect for all your croquette needs. 




You'll never be able to sample all of the food on offer in one day so I like to go around my favourite stalls to buy products to take home. Nothing beats a picky tea right? I always have to make sure to pop into Spice Mountain. They do an insane amount of different spices, lots of which you'll never find in your local Tesco! The Brindisa shop is perfect for cured meats and unusual cheeses. If you're a fan of olives then you must take a detour to Borough Olives for a pot. The sweet peppers are also worth trying. It's essential to buy a cinnamon swirl from Bread Ahead to save for later. Controversially I prefer them over their doughnuts!  


When the crowds of the market get too much, sneak down the side roads and make your way to the Anchor pub. Although it looks directly over the river you'll nearly always find a seat as it is pretty big. Take your time to walk upstairs to seek one out. It also has a fantastic terrace overlooking the Thames, a fab place to enjoy a glass of wine during the summer months. Or even the winter months if you're prepared to wrap up warm!



Once you've quenched your thirst and had a wander along the river, no doubt you'll build up your appetite again. Flat Iron Square is a pretty new food market. They often show sports on a large screen so it's great if you want to catch a match. It's filled with a few bars and a undercover selection of food stalls. It's a lot less busy than Borough Market so you should be ok to get a seat. This time we opted to hunt down Mother Clucker for their chicken strips. Make sure you ask for their Guinness gravy. You won't regret it!

Do you have a favourite place to visit in the London Bridge area?



The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com but all views are my own
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Exploring Ireland: Monea Castle, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland


We did the drive from Derry to Dublin back in July and passed through a few places in Northern Ireland we had yet to visit. We stopped off halfway at Enniskillen for some lunch. After a quick search on Tripadviser to see what was nearby, we stumbled across Monea Castle and decided to give it a whirl. As with so many attractions in Northern Ireland, the castle was deserted and we luckily had it all to ourselves.




Dated back to 1618,  it became the residence of the governor of Enniskillen in 1688. The castle was gutted by a fire in the 1700 and abandoned, that is the ruin you see today. It is free to enter and to be honest there isn't too much to do. But on a dry day, its a little gem to walk around and explore. There really is something special about having a ruin all to yourself. It feels as if you are on a secret that no one else knows about. I wouldn't go out of way to visit it but it's well worth a stop over on a road trip. I imagine it would be lovely in the summer sunshine with a picnic! It's not too far from the Fermanagh Lakes so would be good to combine the two.



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