What it's like
The Mournes are the obvious draw to Down, and there are some great walks here. They aren’t high mountains; there’s almost no scrambling. But they’re steep and it’s often hard to get into a comfortable rhythm, so you certainly earn the altitude.
They’re compact, so it possible to get a good feel for the place in only two or three days. Be prepared for wet feet; there are some very boggy areas which leave you with no option but just to plough on through (Castle Bog on Eagle Mountain is a classic example of this).
For more gentle walking, there are a number of fabulous beach and coastal walks in south Down. A good guide is ‘25 Walks in Down District’, published by the Stationery Office. This also covers some inland walking on the ancient green lanes between dry stone walls and rolling green hills.
Elsewhere in the county, it can be frustrating for those used to public rights of way and CROW; there isn’t a large network of footpaths through much of what is wonderful countryside, like there would be in England, for example. Country parks (Scrabo, Redburn and Crawfordsburn) allow good walking and viewpoints, however.
Besides walking, Downpatrick has plenty related to Ireland’s patron saint, plus a working steam railway. In Portaferry, the aquarium and seal sanctuary offers hands-on learning about local sealife. Bangor is a fine seaside town if great appeal and, at Cultra, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is one of the best in Ireland.
- North Down Coastal Path Either follow the well-made path from the outskirts of Belfast along the loughshore to the lovely coastal town of Bangor or vice versa. Return on foot or by train.
- The Mourne Wall Walk A long (32km) and difficult circuit of all the highest Mournes, including Slieve Donard, Ulster's highest point - the only place in the British Isles where you can see England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man.
- St Patrick's Way A gentle stroll through the green lanes and country roads of Co.Down, starting at the point where St Patrick first came ashore.
Must see and do
- A pint of the black stuff and a bowl of stewin Grace Neill's in Donaghadee, Ireland's oldest pub (est.1611)
- Visit the Giant's Ring an earthwork only 8km from Belfast city centre - sit on the Druid's Table and listen out for the faeries.
- Castlewellan Peace Maze - get lost in the largest hedge maze in the world! 2 miles of path between 6,000 yew trees.
Destination County : Down