The buzzy coastal town of Newcastle in County Down makes a great base to explore from.
Below, you’ll discover everything from where to eat (there’s some incredible options!) and drink to what to see while you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about Newcastle in County Down
Although a visit to Newcastle in County Down is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Newcastle is located on the A2, 30 miles south of Belfast on the Irish Sea coast between Dundrum and Glasdrumman. It’s a 40-minute drive from Newry, a 30-minute drive from Rostrevor and a 25-minute drive from Downpatrick.
2. A stunning seaside setting
Newcastle is a charming seaside town with one of the best sandy beaches in Northern Ireland. It is naturally popular as a summer seaside resort for families with plenty of amusements and activities. Murlough Beach is backed by dunes and offers superb bay views backed by the Mourne Mountains.
3. A great base for walkers
Yes, the Mourne Mountain walks are the obvious choice, but this is far from a one horse town – you’ve also the likes of Castlewellan Forest Park, Tollymore Forest Park and much more a short distance away (see below).
About Newcastle in Northern Ireland
The town of Newcastle in County Down has a population of around 7,700 which swells to accommodate an influx of summer visitors.
It was named after the “new castle”, a MacGinnis stronghold built back in 1588, probably on the site of an earlier fortification. It stood at the mouth of the Shimna River and was demolished in 1830.
A former fishing village
Newcastle is a former fishing village with a tiny harbour on Dundrum Bay. The long golden sandy beach and promenade make it popular as a family seaside resort.
Three rivers (the Shimna, Burren and Tullybranigan) converge and flow into the Irish Sea at Newcastle. Part of the Murlough Nature Reserve, the impressive sand dunes are owned by the National Trust.
Home to the renowned Royal County Down Golf Club, Newcastle is at the foot of Slieve Donard (850m elevation), the highest peak in the beautiful Mourne Mountains.
With the 1,200 acre Tollymore Forest Park and Donard Forest nearby, Newcastle is an excellent base for hiking and outdoor activities.
Popular annual attractions include the Festival of Flight Airshow with displays by the Red Arrows, RAF and Irish Air Corps.
Things to do in Newcastle (and nearby)
Now, we’ve a dedicated guide on the various things to do in Newcastle in Co Down, as there’s so much.
However, I’ll give you a quick insight into our favourite attractions, both in the town and close by.
1. Grab a coffee and head for a saunter along Newcastle Beach
There are plenty of cafes along the promenade or Hub for grabbing a coffee to take with you on a scenic walk.
Newcastle has some of the best beaches in Northern Ireland, particularly Murlough Beach which includes Ireland’s first nature reserve. Take time to spot wildlife that inhabits the dunes including 600 species of butterfly.
Enjoy the picturesque views across Dundrum Bay and the mighty Mourne Mountains or explore the National Trust managed dunes on paths and boardwalks.
2. And then explore Murlough National Nature Reserve
Easy to access from Newcastle promenade, Murlough National Nature Reserve is owned and managed by the National Trust.
Bordering the long sandy beach, the reserve is open from 8am to 7pm and has pay and display car parks (£5 for the day in summer).
Facilities include toilets, boardwalks and way-marked nature trails with information panels about the wildlife.
The 6000-year-old dunes are popular for walking along boardwalks and woodland trails with views across Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains further inland.
3. Followed up by a visit to the stunning Tollymore Forest Park
This unspoilt area of woodland covers 630 acres and was the first state park in Northern Ireland, back in 1955.
As well as pleasant forest parks with beautiful scenery, the park also has a play area.
The Tollymore National Outdoor Centre offers many exciting activities including horse riding, camping and orienteering in the forest.
4. Spend a fine morning exploring the Mourne Mountains
The Mourne Mountains are well known for their dramatic scenery and natural beauty. There are various Mountains including Slieve Donard, the highest peak at 850m.
Top walks include the Slieve Donard linear walk (2.9 miles each way) along the Glen River. Starting form Carrick Little Car park, hikers can ascend Slieve Binnian (747m) on a loop walk, returning via Blue Lough and Annalong Forest.
The strenuous 22-mile Mourne Wall Challenge follows the historic Mourne Wall, ascending 15 peaks including some of the highest in Northern Ireland.
5. Visit Dundrum Castle (and soak up the views)
Dundrum Castle is located 4 miles north of Newcastle in the town of the same name. This Norman castle stands on a motte with a defensive curtain wall and a ditch.
It was built in 1177 by John de Courcy following his invasion of Ulster. The early castle was probably built of timber but quickly replaced by this stone structure.
There’s a small admission fee and visitors can explore the extensive castle ruin and enjoy the stunning coastal views from the elevated position. It’s now a stop on the Game of Thrones tour.
6. Tackle the Slieve Croob walk
Hikers can tackle the Slieve Croob “Twelve Cairns” Walk that starts and ends sat Dree Hill car park. The route is part of the Dromara Hills. Head to Finnis then turn right onto Druin Road and after about a mile.
Turn right onto the concrete lane known as “The Pass Loaning”. It provides access to the Slopes of Slieve Croob with a signposted route.
When you reach Transmitter Road, go left to reach the summit and enjoy the views, or turn right and return to your car. Allow 3.5 hours for this 6.5 mile hike.
7. Take a spin out to Tyrella Beach
Tyrella Beach is 11 miles northeast of Newcastle along the A2. It’s a scenic drive to reach the flat wide sandy beach that includes 25 hectares of sand dunes in a conservation area overlooking Dundrum Bay.
The beach has Blue Flag waters and holds the Green Coast Award. Enjoy scenic walks spotting rare flora and fauna and stunning views of the nearby Mourne Mountains.
The beach has a car park which can be busy in summer. Tyrella is popular for watersports with high waves and winds providing excellent conditions for surfing, kite-surfing, windsurfing and fishing.
8. Or tackle one of many nearby walks
Visitors to Newcastle will find numerous walks all less than 30 minutes’ drive away. Popular walks can be found at Tievenadarragh Wood, Bohill Nature Reserve, Drumkeeragh Forest and Kilbroney Park with something for all ages and fitness levels.
Tievenadarragh Wood has 3.6 miles of way-marked trails and loops with panoramic views of the countryside and mountain scenery.
There are two pleasant forest trails near Ballynahinch (15 miles north of Newcastle) including Bohill Wood. Start at the car park for Tievenadarragh Wood on Oldpark Road and follow the wooden posts in an anticlockwise direction.
Hotels in Newcastle
Newcastle is home to some of the finest Mourne Mountains accommodation. Here are three of our favourite spots.
Note: if you book a stay through one of the links below we may make a tiny commission that helps us keep this site going. You won’t pay extra, but we really do appreciate it.
1. Burrendale Hotel, Country Club & Spa
Enjoy a luxurious stay at the four star Burrendale Hotel and Spa in Newcastle. It has 68 beautifully furnished rooms and suites at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. As well as conference facilities, the hotel has a choice of restaurants, bars and a fabulous leisure centre, gym and spa for relaxing treatments.
2. Slieve Donard Hotel
The magnificent Victorian Slieve Donard Hotel offers an unforgettable experience to guests due to its enviable beachside location and sea views. Make your base in one of the hotel’s 150 luxurious rooms with great service, luxury spa, excellent dining and a golf course a short walk away.
3. Harbour House Inn Newcastle
Enjoy a stay at the family-owned Harbour House Inn right on the promenade with mountain and sea views. After a sound night’s sleep in one of the 8 ensuite bedroom, enjoy breakfast cooked to order. The inn has a superb bistro menu for evening dining and the New South Prom Brew Bar serving coffee and light bites.
Pubs in Newcastle
There’s some mighty pubs in and around Newcastle, from The Maghera Inn just up the road from the town to the brilliant Anchor Bar.
1. The Maghera Inn
Located on Ballyloughlin Road, the Maghera Inn Pub and Pantry provide a warm authentic ambience whether you’re dropping in for a pint of Guinness or a family meal. This “Pub of the Year” is one of the finest pub restaurants in Northern Ireland and has been in business over 200 years.
2. The Anchor Bar
The Anchor Bar in South Newcastle serves excellent pub grub (kids welcome!) using fresh local produce. The bar has a host of locally brewed craft beer, cider and spirits including Shortcross and Jawbox Gins. There’s a beer garden, live entertainment, pub quizzes, comedy nights, sports TVs and Friday is Burger Night!
3. Macken’s Bar
Macken’s Bar is a Newcastle institution right on the harbour. On South Promenade. There’s a good choice of food on the menu such as tacos, chowder and mussels along with sports fixtures on TV. Jam sessions and Trad nights provide live entertainment while you down a pint or two in this local gem.
Places to eat in Newcastle
So, there’s endless food options in the town, which is why we’ve a dedicated Newcastle restaurants guide. However, here are three of our favourites.
1. Villa Vinci
If you’re looking for amazing food a hop from the beach, you can’t go wrong at Villa Vinci. This well-established restaurant on Main Street dishes up perfectly cooked steak, seafood, pasta, salads and pizza and the service couldn’t be better. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
2. Quinns Bar
Quinns Bar started out as a 1920s pub-store with a grocer’s shop at the front and a pub at the rear. Many nostalgic features have been retained to recreate the ambience of yesteryear while customers enjoy drinks at the bar and tasty food. From burgers to stir-fry and roast dinners to curries, it has something for all appetites.
3. Great Jones
Great Jones Craft and Kitchen is an understated restaurant with excellent reviews that serves tasty food Wednesdays through Sundays. The contemporary “warehouse” style restaurant serves modern Irish classics with a twist and a list of craft beers to die for. Quality is key to the Great Jones ethos.
FAQs about Newcastle in County Down
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What is there to do?’ to ‘Where’s good for food?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Newcastle Northern Ireland worth visiting?
Yes. It makes the perfect base to explore from and it’s a great day-trip-destination, with a gorgeous beach, mountain views and plenty to see and do.
What county is Newcastle in Northern Ireland?
Newcastle, not to be confused with the place of the same name in England, is located in County Down in Northern Ireland.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.