Stretching from Bangor in the north-east to Kilkeel in the south-west, County Down has plenty of great spots to check out. Here are the ten best things to do in County Down.
One of the most geographically diverse counties in Northern Ireland, County Down is home to plenty of fun activities and sights to see.
From the iconic Mourne Mountains that ‘sweep down to the sea’, to the vast Strangford Lough, and numerous coastlines in both the south and east, you’ll never be bored when visiting Northern Ireland’s south-eastern county.
With interactive museums where you can learn about the history of Ireland, stunning natural landscapes where you can immerse yourself in the outdoors, and gorgeous parks and lakes for a relaxing afternoon, there is something for everyone to enjoy in County Down.
So whether you love hiking, visiting historic sites, or taking the family for a picnic, here are the ten best things to do in County Down.
10. Rostrevor and Kilbroney Park – for the real-life Narnia
The views from Kilbroney Forest Park in Rostrevor are some of the best in Ireland.
Climb up to the giant Cloughmore Stone and look out over the surrounding hills and out over Carlingford Lough for scenery that will take your breath away.
Belfast-born author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, C.S. Lewis, spent a lot of time in this part of the country when he was growing up.
The incredible scenery provided inspiration for his writing.
He famously wrote in a letter to his brother, ‘That part of Rostrevor, which overlooks Carlingford Lough, is my idea of Narnia.’
For a great family day out, make sure to follow the Narnia Trail, which features famous landmarks from the books such as the wardrobe and the lamp post.
Address: Shore Rd, Rostrevor, Newry BT34 3AA
9. Scrabo Tower – for stunning views of north Down
Another great viewpoint, this time in the north of the county in Newtownards, is Scrabo Tower.
Standing at 540-feet above sea level, reaching the top of the iconic Scrabo Tower offers views of Strangford Lough and County Down. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Scotland.
If you fancy the walk, you can park at the bottom of Scrabo Country Park and take the 2.3-mile hike through the gorgeous woodland trail. It features a stunning array of bluebells in the spring.
If you just want to visit the tower and enjoy the fantastic views, you can park in the top car park and take the short walk to the building.
Address: 203A Scrabo Rd, Newtownards BT23 4SJ
8. Castlewellan Forest Park – for a fun family day out
Castlewellan Forest Park is one of the top things to do in Northern Ireland. This 460-hectare park features numerous walking and bike trails, a 40-hectare lake, and the world’s largest permanent hedge maze.
With the Mourne Mountains as a stunning backdrop, Castlewellan Forest Park is the perfect spot for a fun-filled family day out.
The park caters for lots of outdoor activities, including mountain biking, walking routes, horse riding, canoeing, fishing, and many more.
Pack a barbeque or a picnic to enjoy beside the lake with family and friends on a sunny day.
Then head to the beautiful arboretum and Annesley Walled Garden, most of which was planted in the 1850s.
Address: Forest Park View, Castlewellan BT31 9BU
7. Mount Stewart – for a grand Victorian house and beautiful gardens
Mount Stewart is a National Trust property on the east shore of Strangford Lough and is definitely one of the best things to do in County Down.
Reopened in 2019 after a three-year renovation programme costing almost £8 million, Mount Stewart is a must-see historic attraction.
The gardens were voted in the top ten gardens in the world, and their beautiful design reflects the vision of the late owner, Lady Edith Londonderry.
Visitors can enjoy the picturesque lake walk, beautiful walled gardens, and the Temple of the Winds.
Address: Portaferry Rd, Newtownards BT22 2AD
6. Downpatrick – for the reported burial place of Saint Patrick
A trip to County Down isn’t complete without a trip to the county’s namesake, Downpatrick.
Said to be the final resting place of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick, you can visit his grave in the grounds of Down Cathedral.
Immerse yourself in history at The Saint Patrick Centre where you can delve deep into his legacy.
Visit Saul Church, which was built to commemorate Patrick’s first church in Ireland.
Game of Thrones fans can immerse themselves in the land of Winterfell at Castle Ward, where you can enjoy some great outdoor activities like walking, cycling, and horse riding, or check out the ruins at Inch Abbey.
Address: 43 St Patricks Ave, Downpatrick BT30 6DD
5. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens – for a real royal experience
Head to the quaint village of Hillsborough to visit Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, the official royal residence in Northern Ireland.
Book a guided tour, and you’ll get to visit the elegant staterooms, and the beautiful throne and drawing rooms, where you can find out all about the history of the castle.
The decadent gardens are open all year round. They are well worth a wander around, as you will get to visit the beautiful Walled Garden, Yew Tree Walk, and Lady Alice’s Temple.
Before heading home, make sure to grab a bite to eat at the Yellow Door Café and pick up a souvenir from the official gift shop.
Address: The Square, Hillsborough BT26 6GT
4. Murlough Bay and Nature Reserve – for a picturesque beach walk
One of the most picturesque beaches in Ireland, there is nowhere better to head on a sunny day in County Down than Murlough Bay and Nature Reserve.
Offering some of the best views of Slieve Donard and the Mourne Mountains, there is nowhere more tranquil to spend an afternoon – plus you’ll get some great pictures for your Instagram feed!
Behind the beach, you can explore Murlough Nature Reserve, a 6000-year-old sand dune system owned by the National Trust.
Address: Keel Point, Dundrum, Newcastle BT33 0NQ
3. Ulster Folk and Transport Museum – for a look around Ireland of the past
For an insight into the Ireland of yore – not to mention a great family day out – take a trip to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra.
Take a stroll around the village at the Ulster Folk Museum, which is filled with authentic period houses, traditional shops and schoolhouses, and ‘residents’ who are always ready to answer your questions.
Head to the transport museum for an insight into the history of air, sea, and land travel of the past 100 years.
Address: 153 Bangor Rd, Holywood BT18 0EU
2. Strangford Lough – for the largest inlet of Ireland and Britain
This large sea lough in County Down cover 150km2 making it the largest inlet in the British Isles.
Linked to the Irish Sea by a long, narrow channel at its south-eastern edge, the lough is almost entirely enclosed by the Ards Peninsula.
Spend an afternoon driving around the lough and visit all the great towns on your way, including Killyleagh, Newtownards, and Strangford.
Suppose you fancy something a little more adventurous.
In that case, you can hop on the lough and experience any number of water sports from sailing to kayaking and canoeing, or swimming, diving, and fishing.
Address: Strangford, Downpatrick BT30 7BU
1. Mourne Mountains – for one of the best days out Northern Ireland has to offer
Number one on our list of the best things to do in County Down is, without a doubt, the Mourne Mountains.
Home to Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland, and regarded as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, no trip to County Down is complete without a visit to the famous mountain range.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or someone who just fancies a nice walk in nature, there is a route for all abilities in the Mournes.
Even if you just want to experience their beauty from the comfort of your car window, a drive through the range from Newcastle to Kilkeel is well worth it!
Address: 52 Trassey Rd, Bryansford, Newcastle BT33 0QB