5 reasons to visit Castlewellan, a hidden gem in County Down

Don’t miss out on County Down’s best-kept secret, Castlewellan, nestled near the Emerald Isle’s northeast coast.

5 reasons to visit Castlewellan, a hidden gem in County Down

You’ll no doubt have heard of the iconic Mountains of Mourne, either from that John Lennon song or one of our many articles heralding their beauty. But many tourists miss a well-hidden gem, just a few miles north of these majestic natural wonders.

It may be easy to drive straight through the leafy village of Castlewellan, and perhaps remark on the quaintness of the historic market house, or the beautiful chestnut trees circling the upper square, before speeding on to your next destination.

But take our word for it; by not stopping here, you’re missing out.

Check out our list below of the 5 reasons why this little place is a hidden gem in County Down.

5. The Peace Maze

The Peace Maze is one of 5 reasons to visit Castlewellan, a hidden gem in County Down

Boasting the title of the largest permanent hedge maze in the world until recently, the Peace Maze is a one-of-a-kind adventure for tourists and locals alike.

Located in the spectacular Castlewellan Forest Park, the maze was created in 2000 when over 4000 school children and 1000 adults attended community planting days to plant the 6000 yew trees that make up its walls.

Although it lost its Guinness World Record title to the ‘Pineapple Garden Maze’ in Hawaii in 2007, the Peace Maze is an impressive creation, covering nearly 3 acres of land and 2.18 miles of pathway.

People of all ages will be rushing through the hedges to ring the bell at the coveted centre, but be careful, one wrong turn and it may take you twice as long to get there!

4. The rich history

Castlewellan in County Down is rich with history

Take a stroll through the centuries-old chestnut trees in the village centre, and you’ll be struck by the history this unassuming village holds.

The old market house in the upper square was built in 1764 and now houses the public library. Despite its quaintness, this place also as a dark history. It used to be the site of public executions until this practice was outlawed.

Feast your eyes on Castlewellan Castle, a Scottish baronial castle built by the Annesley family between 1856 and 1858. It stands close to the entrance of the arboretum overlooking Castlewellan Lake and was built on the site of an old church.

The town is also known for carrying on the old Irish tradition of the May Day or ‘Beltaine’ market, which still runs annually around the first May bank holiday Monday. Time your visit around this time and stock up on delicious food, unique Irish crafts and plants.

3. The breathtaking scenery

Castlewellan in Northern Ireland offers breathtaking scenery

Located on a hill, Castlewellan boasts the best of Ireland’s lush, green landscape. From a full view of the magnificent Mourne Mountains to the majestic Dromara Hills in the north, the scenery around the village will take your breath away.

Take the beautiful peak trail of Slievenaslat, which begins in Castlewellan Forest Park, and the views will get even better, all the way to the coast. You’ll be glad you chose to escape the city when you take in the fresh sea breeze from up here.

2. The delicious local food

Nana's Kitchen is a popular eatery in the town
Credit: Nanas Kitchen Castlewellan / Facebook

Whether you’re wrecked from a heavy kayaking session, an uphill hike, or a horse-riding trek, you won’t have far to walk to satisfy your appetite.

Nana’s Kitchen is a highlight here. For a varied and affordable menu, and friendly and welcoming staff, this place is the ideal spot to rest and fuel up for your next adventure.

As well as good pub-grub, Maginn’s of Castlewellan offers a different type of fuel, with a selection of the best Irish beers on tap within an ornate and relaxing environment. Soak up the sun in the sizable beer garden and get chatting to the locals.

1. Invigorating outdoor activities

Cycling along the lake is fun for all the family
Courtesy of Outdoor Recreation NI

Whether you’re a water-sports enthusiast, a keen horseback rider, or a hiker or cyclist, Castlewellan has everything you need and more for a perfect day spent in the great outdoors.

Cross kayaking off your bucket list on the Castlewellan Lake. Ever wanted to try your hand at archery? The Mourne Archery Centre is somewhere you need to check out.

Whether you’re a seasoned horseback rider or have always fancied trekking through the beautiful, winding Irish lanes, you’ll find lessons at an affordable rate at Mount Pleasant Horse Riding and Pony Trekking.

Pack your mountain bike? Try out one of the numerous cycle trails, with varying difficulty ratings to suit every skill level.

Whatever hobby you enjoy, you’ll find an outlet for it here; that’s just one of the reasons why Castlewellan really is a hidden gem in County Down.

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