A couple dinning at the Mourne Seafood Restaurant, County Down
They say the jewel in County Down’s crown is the Mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea. True, yet there are many more hidden gems to explore.
Here are a few that are sure to charm.
Get out on Carlingford’s waters
Enjoy a whole host of watery adventure on Carlingford Lough, from the quieter pursuits of angling, sailing, sea kayaking and canoeing to some raucous banana boating, jet skiing and pier jumping. You can also charter lough cruises for deep sea angling, bird-watching or for just taking in the scenery around Warrenpoint and Rostrevor, backed by Mourne Mountain views.
Eat up the miles on a food and film cycle tour
Serve yourself some gentle downhill cycling, stunning filming location scenery and delicious artisan foods. The Mourne Foods Cycle Trail pulls these three Mournes temptations together, with even a free shuttle bus to get you to the Spelga Dam start point and a bike pannier to carry anything you buy. Don’t miss the Mourne Honey or Dundrum Bay mussels.
Step into the realm of Narnia
If you are anywhere near Rostrevor and Kilbroney Forest Park, you must climb to see the giant Cloughmore Stone and views of Carlingford Lough that will take your breath away. Or, if you have children, Kilbroney is lovely for the C.S. Lewis-inspired Narnia Trail. The author spent boyhood holidays in the area and said this was his idea of Narnia.
Cook fish fresh from the harbour
Have fun learning to cook the freshest fish and seafood right on Kilkeel harbour, the home of Northern Ireland’s largest fishing fleet. Kilkeel is the seafood capital of the Mournes and Mourne Seafood Cookery School is its master chef. Learn to buy, handle and cook seafood – and be prepared for some very fishy stories.
Get your claws into a lobster hatchery
Grab the chance to explore a unique lobster hatchery in Kilkeel. Marine biology centre Seascope focuses on rearing and studying lobsters, oysters and mussels. It's tours and interactive activities let you hold the resident lobster and see the baby lobsters. Make it a full day at the nearby Nautilus Centre and learn all about the local fishing and maritime heritage.
Tour the Brontë Homeland
While the famous literary Brontë sisters grew up in Yorkshire, their family originated from just outside of Rathfriland. Take a signposted drive through the Brontë Homeland, starting at the village of Drumballyroney, and the school where the sisters’ father, Patrick Brunty – he changed his name later – taught. It has been restored as a small museum.
Figure out the art of sculpture
Pay homage to Banbridge-born sculptor F.E. McWilliam, a giant of the twentieth century art world in Britain and Ireland. The F.E. McWilliam Gallery in the town has a wonderful collection of his works and a replica of his Dutch studio. Be inspired by the exhibitions and get lost in the thought-provoking sculpture garden. Afterwards, have a coffee or take home something from the craft shop.
Don’t miss Daft Eddy’s
Set off for Sketrick Island, situated on the shores of Strangford Lough and you’ll soon stumble upon Daft Eddy’s bar and restaurant. People from far and wide make the trip for a picturesque pint overlooking the stunning shores. You can enjoy their fresh fish al fresco or chow down on some locally caught crab claws.
See Dundrum Castle
Leave plenty of time for a visit to Dundrum Castle, as you must also take in the shops and fine restaurants in the picturesque village. The medieval coastal castle stands on the top of a rocky hill commanding fantastic views over Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains. Explore, and then drop back to the village for lunch at Mourne Seafood Bar.
Find your County Down ancestors
Adventures down country lanes, pondering over old headstones and listening to yarns from yesteryear can all be part of a County Down ancestor search. Plenty of local places can help. Try Banbridge Genealogy Centre, which holds 750,000 indexed records, or Bagenal's Castle in Newry, which has a reading room for local and family history research. In Kilkeel you can explore local family names at collections in the town's Nautilus Centre.
Step up to Scrabo’s stunning scenery
Scale the stairs to the top of County Down’s most iconic monument, Scrabo Tower. Standing 540 feet above sea level and 125 feet high, it has incredible views of Strangford Lough, County Down and even Scotland. The tower also houses an exhibition detailing its history. A perfect setting for a family day out and some tall tales over dinner.
Mill around in Annalong
Stroll around the quaint Annalong fishing harbour and marine park, then take in Annalong Corn Mill to experience the County Down of the past. Meet the miller, see the mill’s inner workings, and follow the progress of the oats through the milling process. There’s plenty more heritage to explore, including that of the famous Mourne granite and the men who worked it.
Feel time standing still in Kearney
Explore the simple dwellings and unspoilt timelessness of the National Trust village of Kearney. Remote but picturesque, this old fishing community is now a seaside showpiece snapped up as a film location for the BBC drama My Mother and Other Strangers. A walk here is truly special.
Sail the Seven Seas and see the Seven Kingdoms
Let Strangford Sea Safaris show you why the Vikings named some of the fastest tides in Europe as Strangford Lough – strong ford. Jump into a RIB and soak up everything Strangford has to offer. Submerge yourself in the sights and sounds of the surrounding coastal towns, islands, shipwrecks, up close views of seals and Game of Thrones film locations.