The incredible Strangford Lough in County Down is the largest inlet in Ireland.
The vast coastal lake is known for its unique biodiversity and landscape and is a special conservation area thanks to the wildlife it boasts in abundance.
There’s plenty of ways to explore the incredible waterway, including out on a boat tour, or walking on the shoreline. There’s also plenty of history to uncover from notable estates to abbey ruins.
Some quick need-to-knows about Strangford Lough
Although a visit to Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The large sea inlet of Strangford Lough is in County Down. Many towns are located along the lough, including Portaferry, Killyleagh and Newtownards.
2. Breathtaking beauty
It’s an incredibly beautiful place, with at least 70 islands, as well as, coves, bays, and mudflats making it a very unique landscape to explore. It’s classified as both an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Special Scientific Interest for its rich biodiversity. You’ll find a range of incredible flora and fauna, including sea birds, seals, geese, and basking sharks.
3. Heaps of history
The lough has attracted countless characters over the years including artists, saints, and Vikings. There’s plenty of history to explore there including, retracing the footsteps of St Patrick himself who sailed down the lough in the 5th century.
4. Endless things to do
There’s plenty of things to do while exploring Strangford Lough. From getting out on the water by kayak or sailing boat to exploring the history on the islands or having a drink in the waterside towns, you’ll find something for everyone while exploring the lake.
About Strangford Lough
Strangford Loch was originally formed at the end of the last ice age. It’s the largest inlet in Ireland, covering 150 square kilometres. It can be up to 50-60 metres deep in some parts but is generally just under 10m deep.
The name Strangford comes from Old Norse Strangr Fjörðr, which means strong sea inlet. The Vikings were active around the area in the Middle Ages and this name was used to refer to the narrow channel linking the lough to the sea.
Up until the 18th century, the main body of the lake was actually known as Loch Cuan meaning loch of the bays or havens. The name was later changed to reflect the historic Viking period.
The lough is recognised as a special protective area, particularly for conservation efforts. There’s plenty of interesting flora and fauna that makes the lake one of the most biodiverse places in Ireland.
The lake and islands are an important bird area, especially as it’s a destination for winter migratory birds. Other animals you can find at the lough include common seals, basking sharks and brent geese.
Things to do around Strangford Lough
One of the reasons that a spin around Strangford Lough is one of the more popular things to do in Northern Ireland is due to the volume of things there are to see and do.
Below, you’ll find everything from castles and scenic boat rides to tours, walks and some of the most unique places to visit in County Down.
1. Castle Ward
On the southern shoreline of the lough, you’ll find the National Trust Castle Ward. Not far from Strangford Ferry and other nearby castles, the classical Gothic mansion is one of the most popular attractions in the area.
It was one of several Northern Ireland Game of Thrones filming locations, so if you’re a fan you’ll definitely want to make a stop to explore this estate.
The building is only open limited hours, but this doesn’t stop you from exploring the grounds. The grounds are open daily with plenty of walking trails, a tearoom and retail shop open to visitors.
2. Strangford Sea Safari
For a fun and adrenaline fuelled way of exploring the water, the Clearsky Adventure Centre offers sea safari trips on a 12 seater high speed jet boat.
Over the hour long trip, you can explore the islands, a shipwreck, famous whirlpool of the Narrows, and wildlife including seals.
These tours generally run on Sundays across the warmer months, and include an informed staff who can provide some insightful info as you jet around the lough. It’s a great way to see most of the highlights in a short time.
3. Strangford Lough Ferry
At the southern end of the lough, you can take a ferry between Strangford and Portaferry. It provides a connection with the beautiful Ards Peninsula and the Lecale Peninsula, making it a very convenient option.
It crosses over the stretch of water called the Narrows in just 10 minutes, which saves a 50-mile drive around the entire body of water. It’s a nice option to take in some of the scenery of the lough, including some of the popular animals like seals and seabirds.
The ferry runs at 30 minute intervals throughout the day, every day, leaving Strangford on the hour and half hour and leaving Portaferry at a quarter past and a quarter to the hour.
4. The walks
If you prefer to explore on foot, then you’ll find a few great walks to explore around the lough.
Nugents Wood on the shores of the lough in Portaferry offers the perfect place to have a leisurely stroll, with beautiful views.
There is also a coastal walk at Orlock on the North Down Coast which offers stunning views of the Copeland Islands and is also steeped in interesting history of Vikings and smugglers.
Kearney Coastal Walk is another short walk on the spectacular lower coast of the Ards Peninsula. The timeless village is a pretty spot to wander along the coast in a far less busy part of the county.
5. Strangford Lough Activity Centre
On the western side of the lake, this outdoor activity centre is a fun experience to try out some new activities. From paddle boarding to kayaking and boat tours, you can explore the waters of the lough in a group or at your own pace.
However, if you prefer something that’s on land, the centre also offers archery, climbing, walking, laser tag and orienteering for all ages.
Whether you’re travelling as a family or hoping to plan a fun weekend away for a hens or stag party, the activity centre near Whiterock can help you experience the best fun in the area.
6. Delamont Country Park
Located on the southwestern shores of Strangford Lough, Delamont Country Park is a popular family-day-out-destination.
You can get involved in countless things at the park, including horse riding, walking, camping and riding the miniature railway. The huge 200-acre park is perfect for kids of all ages.
The park is also home to the Strangford Stone, which is the largest monolith in Ireland. Standing on the shores of the lake for over 20 years, it’s a great attraction in the area.
If you want to stay a little longer, there’s also a caravan park and camping ground inside the park grounds, which is great for a family vacay.
7. Nendrum Monastic Site
Situated on Mahee Island, Nendrum Monastic Site is believed to have been founded by St Mochaoi in the 5th century. It consists of three round dry stone walled enclosures within one another.
There is evidence of a church and sundial and a graveyard.
It’s considered to be one of the best examples of a pre-Norman monastic site in Northern Ireland.
You can access the site on a series of causeways and roads across to the island. It’s just 15 minutes away from Comber town, and you can easily stop at WWT Castle Espie on the way.
8. WWT Castle Espie
Castle Espie is a natural wetland reserve on the western banks of the Strangford Lough, just a few miles south of Comber.
The protected reserve is next to a former castle and quarry area, which has become a habitat for ducks, swans, and brent geese.
It’s particularly popular with bird watchers, who come for the incredible population of geese and swans.
There’s a paved footpath around most of the wetlands, so you can admire the beauty and tranquillity on foot. However, kids will equally love the wetlands with an outdoor play area for them to burn off some energy.
9. Mount Stewart
On the northeast coast of Strangford Lough, Mount Stewart is home to a stunning 19th century estate. It has formal gardens, nature trails, a tea room and bookstore, making it a lovely afternoon out and about.
At the heart of the estate is the neo-classical house home to the Londonderry family for many generations.
It’s the most visited National Trust house property in Northern Ireland, mostly due to the world class garden and the Irish demesne.
From house tours to exploring the gardens on foot, Mount Stewart is open every day, with varying opening times throughout the year.
10. Grey Abbey
Just 15minutes south of Newtownards on the eastern side of the lough, Grey Abbey is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1193. The historic building is one of the most impressive examples of early Gothic architecture in Ireland.
The well-preserved remains of the abbey are surrounded by beautiful parkland looked after by volunteers.
You’re free to wander around the ruins and graveyard, which has plenty of historical information so you can learn a bit more about the history of the place.
The small town of Portaferry is on the southern shore of Strangford Lough where the Narrows begins to rush out to sea. It’s connected to the other side of the peninsula by ferry to Strangford which runs throughout the day.
The town is a lovely little place to visit though. There is the family friendly Exploris Aquarium and the ruins of the Portaferry Castle, as well as the Portaferry Windmill just outside of town.
It’s a nice spot for a stroll too, with Nugents Wood on the shore road. You can enjoy views across the water and to Strangford across the other side.
Strangford Lough hotels
If you want to stay nearby to the lake, check out some of our recommendations for hotels below!
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. The Old Schoolhouse Inn
This quiet inn overlooks Strangford Lough just a few miles south of Comber. It’s perfectly located to explore Castle Espie, which is within walking distance, or you can drive out to the Nendrum Monastic Site on Mahee Island within minutes.
The cosy place offers twin and double rooms, with full breakfast offered each morning by the friendly hosts. Surrounded by lovely green paddocks, it’s perfect for a relaxing weekend away.
2. Strangford Arms Hotel
Located right in the heart of Newtownards, this is a very neat and polished hotel with a casual bistro. Housed inside an old Victorian building, it’s easily accessible off the A20, and a great location to explore the Ards Peninsula.
The comfortable rooms come in all different options, including twin, family and double rooms, so you can find something to suit your group and budget. The bistro is also the perfect spot for a meal, with a kids menu available.
3. Denvir’s Hotel
Right in the middle of Downpatrick at the southern tip of the lough, this charming hotel is housed inside a 17th century pub. The traditional place is clean and comfortable with double and family rooms to suit your holiday.
It’s within walking distance from many restaurants, but the on-site pub also serves a delicious a la carte menu and kids menu too.
4. The Cuan Licensed Guest Inn
Just steps from the Strangford Ferry Terminal, the Cuan Hotel is a wonderful 4-star place beautifully decorated in old school glamour style. With single, double and family rooms, it’s ideal for a range of stays.
The popular hotel also has an onsite restaurant which serves local produce, including seafood and traditional Irish meals.
FAQs about Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What is there to do?’ to ‘Where’s good to stay?’.
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.
What is there to do at Strangford Lough?
There’s Strangford Lough Activity Centre, Castle Ward, Strangford Sea Safari, Strangford Lough Ferry and much, much more.
What is Strangford Lough famous for?
Strangford Lough is famous for its beauty, its many ancient sites and the weath of history and scenery that the area boasts.