Scrabo Tower, County Down

If you fancy something a bit different to the hustle and bustle of a city break then head to the south side of Belfast.  Quaint seaside villages and towns, unique experiences, fine dining and exquisite accommodation, are all at your fingertips on the shores of Strangford Lough.  Food tours, a gentle ferry ride and glorious country parks and gardens are all waiting to be discovered.  Below are some of the top picks from the area.  Let us know your favourites.

Where to Stay

Why not immerse yourself completely and take a break from it all with an overnight stay in one of these as part of your trip.

Kick back and relax in the picturesque Portaferry Hotel which overlooks the scenic Strangford Lough. Enjoy dinner whilst watching the Strangford Ferry negotiate the strong currents! After dinner, head to Fiddler’s Green to have a few drinks and check out the Game of Thrones door.

Nestled in the centre of the quaint conservation village of Strangford the four star Cuan Guest House, is the perfect place to unwind and base to explore. Get a second stamp of your Game of Thrones passport as there is an iconic door located here too – go one step further and book in for a Game of Thrones Banquet.

Top Tip

Take the short trip on the ferry between Portaferry and Strangford. Take the scenic Strangford Ferry linking the beautiful Ards and Lecale Peninsulas and the villages of Strangford and Portaferry.  It crosses a stretch of water known locally as the Narrows, where 350 million cubic metres of sea water surge in and out of Strangford Lough with each tide – watch out for the bobbing seals popping up to say hi. 

What to Do

Scrabo Tower (Pictured above) Newtownards – this monument stands proud on a steep hill 540 feet above sea level and 125 feet high, is visible even from Belfast on a good day!   It gives incredible views over Strangford Lough, and the region you will explore.

Mount Stewart

Enjoy a gentle walk on beaches and around gardens.

Take in the splendour of an aristocratic home with five exquisite gardens at Mount Stewart, just outside Newtownards on the shores of Strangford Lough. Or pay a visit to Grey Abbey, the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey and see the traditional plants from which the monks would have made medicinal remedies in its Physic Garden!

Get up close, without getting wet, to a variety of sea creatures at Exploris Aquarium.  Be amazed by a diver’s view of marine life from around the world, from the native species in Strangford Lough to the colourful coral reefs of the Tropical Oceans. If you’re brave enough, meet some inhabitants from the Amazon Rainforest. 

Submerge yourself in the sights and sounds of the Lough and its islands and shipwrecks, getting an up close view of seals and Game of Thrones® filming locations with Strangford Sea Safari.

Make sure and pay a visit to Castle Ward, an eccentric 18th century mansion and estate where Gothic meets Classic.  Walk or cycle the trails on-site, roam the house, enjoy some refreshments in the tea rooms or immerse yourself in Game of Thrones® Territory by visting some of the locations which featured in some of the most famous scenes in the show.

Taste and Try

The Echlinville Distillery – come and explore the history and nature of the ancient art of distilling.  And of course no trip to a distillery is complete without sampling the goods.  Dunville’s Irish Whiskey, Echlinville Gin and Bán Poitín are just some of the current spirits distilled on site and available to try.  (Booking recommended).

Comber Farmer’s Market – held on the first Thursday of every month, this market is well worth a visit and a must for any foodie.  Everything from artisan breads, oils, meats and tray bakes – a real treat for the taste buds.

NI Food Tours – you will discover some of the area’s hidden gems and meet the locals in their homes for a truly authentic experience.  Tasting some award-winning food along the way from oils and chutneys to chocolate and whiskey.  You even get the chance to make your own traditional Soda Bread. 

Make sure and visit:

Delamont Country Park offers peace, beauty and tranquillity in an area of natural beauty. The stunning views across Strangford Lough and a relaxing atmosphere make Delamont a place to enjoy that "away from it all feeling". Home of the Strangford Stone - the tallest megalith in Ireland.

St Cooey’s Wells founded in the 7th century by St.Cooey and reopened in 1977. A drinking well, washing well and eye well are still visited by pilgrims and are reputed to have healing powers.

Donaghadee is a seaside gem.  Home to the oldest pub in Ireland, Grace Neill’s, this village boasts spectacular views across the Irish Sea.

Comber, home to excellent artisan food and crafts, and a monthly food market.

Lisbane is home to a beautifully restored thatched cottage The Old Post Office Tearooms and a Michelin recommended restaurant, The Poacher’s Pocket.

Immerse yourself in history at Nendrum Monastery the best example of a pre-Norman monastic site.   Founded by St. Machaoi in the 5th century, the site was “lost” for hundreds of years, before being re-discovered in the late 1800s and excavated in the 1920s. 

Where to Eat

Balloo House

This area has an abundance of places to eat.  From Michelin starred restaurants to casual eateries there is something for all tastes and budget.

Balloo House (Killinchy) – a beautiful country pub and restaurant that combines history, tradition and comfort with a passion for excellence in food.

The Poacher’s Pocket (Lisbane) – a Michelin recommended restaurant offering modern Irish pub food in a charming country restaurant.

Nestling on Sketrick Island, Daft Eddy’s is the perfect location for a picturesque pint overlooking the stunning shores. You can enjoy their fresh fish al fresco or dine on some locally caught crab claws. 

Set in a dream location and offering a taste of the Lough, the Portaferry Hotel in scenic Portaferry was in the Top 10 Coastal areas to eat and stay in Ireland in the Bridgestone Guide 2017.  In Strangford village choose from The Cuan, The Lobster Pot or the Artisan Cook House all using the best of local produce, with seafood at the top of their menus.

We hope you enjoy these suggestions.  Be sure to tell us your favourites by joining in the conversation online with #discoverni.