Northern Ireland – Eastern County Down

Top 10 places

Top 100 places to visit in Northern Ireland

Eastern County Down

1. Mount Stewart House and Gardens

Mount Stewart House is a Neo-classical house with celebrated gardens and dramatic views across Strangford Lough from the Temple of the Winds. It was former home to a fascinating array of political leaders and society figures and contains a huge George Stubbs painting voted one of Britain’s 100 Greatest Works of Art. See the 22 chairs used at the landmark Congress of Vienna, called to redefine Europe’s frontiers after the fall of Napoleon. Facilities include a shop, plant sales and a licensed restaurant.

2. Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Set in over 170 acres of rolling countryside, the outdoor Folk Museum tells the story of life in early 20th century Ulster. Almost 50 exhibits have been acquired by the Museum from all over Ulster and restored and authentically furnished. The Transport Museum, one of the finest in Europe, displays Ireland’s largest and most comprehensive transport collection, from horse-drawn carts to Irish built motor cars.

3. Exploris Aquarium, Portaferry

Ideally sited on the shores of Strangford Lough, the Exploris Aquarium at Portaferry focuses mainly on fish found in Irish and British waters. Marine communities have been recreated to enable visitors to gain an understanding of the complex inter-relationships between different species, and the Seal Sanctuary provides the opportunity to view the process of rehabilitation of rescued seal pups from their arrival through to full health when they are re-introduced to the wild.

4. Castle Ward

Explore this exceptional 820-acre property dramatically set overlooking Strangford Lough and marvel at the quirky mid Georgian mansion. An architectural curiosity, it is built inside and out in distinctly different styles of classical and gothic. Children can dress up and play with period toys in the Victorian Past Times Centre or learn about local wildlife at the Strangford Lough Wildlife Centre. There’s miles of winding woodland, lakeside and parkland walks, and facilities include a gift shop and a tea room.

5. Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetland Centre

Castle Espie Wetland Centre is set on the shores of the stunning Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland where almost the entire population of Light-bellied Brent Geese reside during the winter months. Hides and nature walks allow you to get close to wild birds and the collection of endangered birds from around the world. This is a tranquil and friendly centre for all the family where you can find out more about Irish wetlands, and how you can save them for future generations.

6. Downpatrick and County Down Steam Railway

Downpatrick and County Down Steam Railway is a rare survivor of the old Victorian Irish rail network. Now staffed and run entirely by volunteers, it is a great day out for kids and adult steam enthusiasts. It was formerly known as the ‘Belfast and County Down Railway Company’ which operated for 100 years between 1848 and 1948 and covered a network of 80 miles. Vintage steam trains run from Downpatrick to the ancient Inch Abbey, passing through the beautiful countryside of the Downpatrick Marshes.

7. Scrabo Tower and Country Park

Walk up the 122 steps of Scrabo Tower and take in the views across Strangford Lough. Scrabo Country Park is centred upon the tower built on the summit of Scrabo Hill. It includes the woodlands of Killynether, the disused quarries where Scrabo stone was once quarried, a pond and a prehistoric hill fort with adjacent enclosures and hut-circles. A ten-minute audio-visual show, ‘Ebb and Flow’ has been installed in a display on the upper floor of Scrabo tower and tells the story of Strangford Lough and its wildlife.

8. Crawfordsburn County Park and Grey Point Fort

The former family estate of Crawfordsburn Country Park contains exotic conifers, beeches, cypresses and conifers. It’s full of variety, with several miles of rugged and rocky coastline, a deep wooded glen and wildflower meadows with excellent views over Belfast Lough. One of the most scenic waymarked trails through the park marks the path to Grey Point Fort, an impressive coastal battery and gun emplacement updated during World War II. The park’s visitor centre has a cafe and information on local ecology and wildlife.

9. The Somme Heritage Centre

The Somme Heritage Centre examines Ireland’s role in the 1st World War with special reference to the cross-community involvement in the three local volunteer Divisions. The Front line experience shakes with the noise of the tremendous artillery barrage of the Battle of the Somme. Make your way along the trenches in the early light of 1st July 1916. Look out across ‘No Man’s Land’ with the troops, before they go ‘over the top’. Experience the events of the battle through the eyes of the soldiers who took part.

10. Ardglass

Ardglass is set on the side of a lovely natural inlet. Its domestic buildings, rising steeply from the harbour, are interspersed with seven fortified mansions, the best preserved of which is Jordan’s Castle, the most elegant and highly developed of all the Down town houses. Today, aside from the prawns, herrings and whitefish brought in by the fishing fleet, there’s very good rod fishing to be had off the end of the pier and the supermarket on the quay is wonderfully stocked with a vast range of seafood. Overlooking the sea is one of the North’s most attractively set golf courses.

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