Located in the spectacular south-eastern corner of Northern Ireland, counties Armagh and Down are home to some of the region’s most beautiful countryside. Armagh, Northern Ireland’s smallest county, is a place with so much going for it. While Down, the home of Saint Patrick, has it all in equal measure. With so much to see and do in Armagh and Down, why not visit both? 

Here’s your guide to Armagh, Down and everything in between.  

Visit royalty 

Let’s kick things off with a royal welcome. In the heart of the enchanting village of Hillsborough sits the impressive Hillsborough Castle & Gardens, the official residence of the Royal Family when they visit Northern Ireland. The castle is closed for the winter and will reopen in the spring but visitors can still enjoy a stroll in the impressive gardens and stop for refreshements in the cafe.

How do you like them apples? 

After your royal visit, it’s time to wet your whistle. Why not try something local? Armagh is also affectionately known as the Orchard County, so it’s no surprise to find cider and apple juice brewing around these parts. Started in 2005 by husband and wife duo Philip and Helen Troughton, Armagh Cider Company is the first commercial cider company in Northern Ireland. The couple started off supplying apples to the world famous Magner’s Brewery. After a few years, they decided to go it alone. Take their cider tour and they’ll tell you all about their story and talk you through the craft of cider fermentation, from blossom to bottle. And of course, you’ll get to sample some of the apples in action too. 

Meet the Patricks 

There are two hilltop cathedrals, Saint Patrick's Cathedral and St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral that overlook Armagh city, both of which are dedicated to the same saint, St. Patrick. As the story goes, this is where he founded his original stone church in 445AD. Today, the city continues what St. Patrick started, being the ecclesiastical capital of Northern Ireland - the seat of two Archbishops – the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland Primates of Ireland. Both cathedrals are just as impressive as each other, so be sure to pay both Paddy’s a visit.  And just over an hour away, in Downpatrick you can uncover more of St Patrick's legacy with a visit to the cathedral where he is buried. 

A magical morning trail 

It doesn’t get more magical than a morning walk through a forest, and Slieve Gullion Forest Park woodland area is as enchanting as they come. Take a leisurely stroll through a mile-long trail of fairy houses, dragons, giants and, of course, fairies. It’s the perfect place to leave the world behind, without spending a penny. 

More magic in Narnia 

And if that wasn’t enough free magic for one day, why not head west to the land of Narnia, Kilbroney Forest Park in Rostrevor. The Narnia Trail weaves through a forest path, with citadels, tree people and a beaver’s house along the way. C.S. Lewis’s inspirational county of Down has no shortage of things keep kids and grown-up kids enthralled. 

Magnificent Montalto 

Next stop on our trip is a magnificent one. Nestled in the heart of the picturesque countryside, Montalto Estate in Ballynahinch has a colourful history dating back to the 1600s. Today, Montalto offers visitors the use of 400 acres of rolling Irish countryside where you’ll find the tranquil walks as delightful as your surroundings. The views around the Garden Walk and Lake Walk are just stunning. 

For peat’s sake 

If Armagh has cider, Down’s got whiskey, Killowen whiskey to be precise. Before starting Killowen Distillery, Brendan Carty travelled the globe in search of the secrets for distilling premium whiskey. Today, Ireland’s smallest distillery is in full flow right in the heart of the Mourne Mountains. Brendan and the team at Killowen are as passionate as they come, and they tell of their unique whiskey making process with a rare enthusiasm. After they take you through their craft, you can sample their delicious peated or non-peated dram. Cheers! 

Your kind of place 

Next, somewhere amazing to rest your head. Between Armagh and Down, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, camping, glamping and more. 

A place on the promenade 

Sitting pretty on the shores of Carlingford Lough, surrounded by the beautiful Mourne Mountains and Cooley Peninsula, The Whistledown Hotel (3*) in Warrenpoint is an ideal base to explore from. Just metres from the seafront, you can enjoy a relaxing stroll to the beach or along the seaside promenade in next to no time. 

Or maybe its elegance you desire. Newforge House (5*) in the village of Magheralin is as elegant as any. Run by John and Lou Mather, this idyllic country house has all the ingredients to make your stay a memorable one. The exquisite period furniture, four poster beds and the most beautiful of dining rooms will take you back to the days of old, but with all the comforts of today. You’ll also wake up to their famous breakfast, which includes wonderful eggs laid by their very own chickens. 

A grade A stay 

At the foot of Slieve Gullion, you’ll find the stunning Killeavy Castle Estate (4*). A grade A listed castle, Killeavy offers a variety of unique experiences. The hotel is a beautiful marriage of old and new. The original mill and coach house have been wonderfully reimagined to create a 45-room boutique contemporary hotel with a fine dining restaurant, bar, spa and meeting facilities. If you prefer the independence of self-catering, the Gate Lodge is the ideal base for activity holidays, providing a 3 bedroom cottage for up to 6 guests. You won’t have to go far for fresh produce either, the Estate’s farm and walled garden supply them daily. And it doesn’t get much fresher than that. For that special occasion, you can go all out and book the exclusive use of Killeavy Castle itself with its 4 bedrooms, dining and drawing rooms plus library and lounge. Suitable for up to 8 guests. A plus.

Beautifully secluded 

If you enjoy your privacy, Narrow Water Castle is your safe haven. A privately owned home, Narrow Water Castle is in a picturesque setting overlooking Carlingford Bay and Warrenpoint. The Elizabethan revival style castle was built next to the existing home, Mount Hall (1680) and completed in 1836. Here, you’ll have a choice between staying in the cosy cottage and the exquisite apartment, both of which are self-catering. The cottage sits pretty over the original hub of the castle itself (Mount Hall), while the apartment opens into an elegant open plan, living room and dining room with an open fire. Outside, you can go exploring with a leisurely stroll around the stunning grounds. If you’re no stranger to horses, you can also take to the grounds on horseback if you’d prefer, as there’s an excellent equestrian centre within the estate. 

Just the start of it 

Now that should be more than enough to get you going, so add some or all of these fantastic places into your own itinerary and see how you go.