There’s endless things to do in County Down.
However, for some reason many people pass this glorious county by, despite the fact that it boasts many of the most scenic places to visit in Northern Ireland.
Home to the Mourne Mountains, the Ards Peninsula, breath-taking coastline, spectacular forest parks and… OK, you get the picture.
The best things to do in County Down
From tough and rewarding hikes, like Slieve Donard, to some of the more notable Game of Throne filming locations, Down has a fair bit going for it!
Below, you’ll discover what to do in County Down at any time of the year. Dive on in!
1. Tollymore Forest Park
Next up is Tollymore Forest Park – Northern Ireland’s first state forest park. If you’ve yet to visit Tollymore, you really are in a treat.
You’ll find it finely plonked at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, where it looks like something from a Lord of the Rings movie.
Home to the fairytale-like Foley’s Bridge and some of the finest forest in the land, there’s several trails to tackle, like the Arboretum Path (25 minutes), the River Trail (1.5-2 hours) and the Drinns Trail (3-4 hours)
A visit to Tollymore is one of our favourite things to do in County Down for good reason.
2. Slieve Donard
Our go-to walk up Donard is the linear there-and-back Glen River trail, which stretches for around 4.6km (9.2km in total) and takes 4 – 5 hours to conquer.
While good fitness is needed, this trail is one of the easier to follow in the Mournes. Even so, proper planning and prep are needed.
3. Castlewellan Forest
Castlewellan Forest is a handy option for those of you looking for things to do in County Down with family.
Located, unsurprisingly enough, in Castlewellan, the park is a staggering 460-hectares in sizes and it’s home to plenty to see and do.
For those with kids, there’s the Peace Maze which reputedly takes around 40 minutes to complete. There’s also the 18th century National Arboretum of Northern Ireland and a clatter of walking trails to head off on.
4. Beaches galore
Many of the best places to visit in County Down are the often-missed beaches dotted along it’s coastline.
- Rossglass Beach
- Ballywalter Beach
- Ballyholme Beach
- Tyrella Beach
- Murlough Beach
- Millisle Beach
- Kilclief Beach
- Cranfield Beach
See our guide to the best beaches in County Down for more (there’s plenty!).
5. Slieve Binnian
The Slieve Binnian walk isn’t one to take lightly and solid levels of fitness are needed to conquer the 11.2km trail that takes from 3 – 4 hours to complete.
It kicks off from Carrick Little Car Park and proper planning and prep are needed before you set off.
However, those that climb Binnian on a fine day will be treated to some of the finest views in the Mournes.
6. Castle Ward
Castle Ward near Strangford is a 820 acre estate that boasts finely manicured gardens, trails and a fortified tower house.
And, while it’s arguably now best-known as being the place that was used to portray Winterfell in Game of Thrones, this is a walkers paradise.
The estate is home to a whopping 21 miles (32km) of multi-use trails for exploring on foot, bicycle or on horseback.
7. Slieve Doan
The Slieve Doan hike is one of our favourite things to do in County Down when the weathers fine – the views on a clear day are just something else!
The trail stretches for around 8 km (5 miles) return and should take 4-5 hours to complete, depending on pace.
Those that reach its summit on a fine day will be treated to one of the finest views in Down. Now, a warning – some websites describe this walk as easy – it isn’t.
It might be in comparison to some of the other Mourne walks, but this is still a tough hike that requires good fitness levels.
8. Kodak Corner and Cloughmore Stone
There’s plenty of things to do in Rostrevor but the majority of them centre around the excellent Kilbroney Park.
It’s here that you’ll find glorious views out over Carlingford Lough along with some fairly unique attractions.
The first is the Cloughmore Stone which is a short walk from the car park. As a viewing point, this is hard to beat.
However, it has stiff competition from nearby Kodak Corner that offers a vista that’ll imprint itself on your mind for many a year to come!
9. Delamont Country Park
Delamont is home to the Strangford Stone – the tallest megalith in Ireland along with endless walking trails.
The walks range from short and sweet to medium length. Some to consider are:
- Delamont Corbally Walk (2.5 miles)
- Delamont Garden Walk (0.7 miles)
- Delamont Long Walk (4.3 miles)
10. The Montalto Estate
The Montalto Estate in Ballynahinch is a fantastic spot to whittle away a fine day, regardless of the time of year (although it’s particularly impressive in Autumn).
In 1657 the land was bought by Sir George Rawdon, and his descendants eventually built the impressive mansion house that sits near the lake.
There’s a mix of walks on offer here, each of which is family friendly. Here are a few of our favourites:
- History Trail (2.7km): Follows a figure eight of the property (has some steps and incline)
- Woodland Trail (2.2km): A looped trail with heaps of unique trees along the way
- Garden Walk (1km): Best in Spring when the flowers are in full bloom
11. Crawfordsburn Country Park
Crawfordsburn Country Park is situated along Belfast Lough and an early morning stroll here really is hard to beat.
Home to two beaches (Crawfordsburn Beach and Helen’s Bay Beach), a waterfall and some gorgeous forest trails, there’s something to discover around every turn.
If you’re visiting for the first time we’d recommend giving the Glen Walk a bash – this is a short, 1.5 mile trail that kicks off at the Visitor Centre and that takes you through some of the best the park has to offer (keep an eye out for Lanyon’s Viaduct).
12. Scrabo Tower
Scrabo Tower is one of the more unique places to visit in County Down. It was built during the mid-19th century to commemorate the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.
Now, this is what’s known as a ‘Folly’. A ‘Folly’ is a structure that was built to look like it had some grand purpose, while the reality was it was just for decoration.
If you can, aim to arrive up to Scrabo Tower for sunrise or sunset. The views from here are just something else (note: the walk up, while short, is very steep).
13. The Ards Peninsula
Although you could drive from the top of the peninsula to the bottom in under an hour, there’s a staggering amount of historical sites and attractions to be discovered along the way.
If you start your road trip around Ards at Bangor and drive clockwise, you’ll hit everything from Orlock Point and Ballycopeland Windmill to Burr Point, Portaferry, Greyabbey, Mount Stewart and plenty more.
14. Slieve Meelbeg and Meelmore
The Slieve Meelbeg and Meelmore walk is a tough aul slog. The two peaks are the 6th and 7th highest in the Mournes and they can be tackled in one go, as they’re right beside eachother.
This is a looped trail and it generally takes between 3.5 to 4 hours in total, but it’s challenging and strenuous in places, so keep that in mind when planning.
It kicks off from the Ott car park and offers some stunning vistas to those that conquer it.
15. Mighty places to stay
There’s some excellent hotels in Down for those of you that fancy making the county your base for a few nights.
Now, if you’re planning a hike, see our Mourne Mountain accommodation guide for places to stay near the various trails.
Or, if you fancy a bit of indulgence, there’s several good spa hotels and plenty of great hotels right by the sea, too.
16. The Silent Valley
The Silent Valley Reservoir is another of the more unique places to visit in County Down, and you’ll find it in the Mournes.
The Reservoir was built between 1922 and 1932 as a means of capturing the water that flowed down from the mountains.
The years of hard work paid off and, to this day, the reservoir provides all of the water for Down and a good chunk for Belfast, too.
There are several different trails to head off on here, from the Silent Valley Ben Crom Dam Walk (10.5 km/3.5 – 4.5 hours) to the shorter Heritage Trail (3km/1-hour).
17. WWT Castle Espie
Another handy options for things to do in County Down with kids is WWT Castle Espie, located on the banks of Strangford Lough, not far from Newtownards.
There’s a good mix of things to do in these beautifully maintained grounds, from the 1-mile Woodland Trail to a playground and cafe.
The estate is managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and it boasts an abundance of wildlife along with gorgeous woodland to explore.
18. Murlough Nature Reserve
Murlough Nature Reserve in Dundrum is hard to beat. It’s here that you’ll find some of the finest examples of dune heath in Ireland.
There’s extensive boardwalk and paths that snake around the reserve and you’ll be able to soak up mountain and sea views as you stroll.
There’s a whopping 1,300 acres of upland to explore here. As you ramble, keep an eye (and ear!) out for the 720 species of butterflies and moths that call Murlough home.
19. The Game of Thrones studio
The Game of Thrones studio, which opened in 2022, is one of the newer things to do in County Down, and it’s a perfect rainy-day-activity if you’re a fan of the show.
You’ll find it in Banbridge where it boasts sets, costumes and some of the shows original sketches along with a load of interactive displays.
You’ll also get up close to the costumes from the series while getting an insight into how the show was created,
Now, keep in mind that there are no guided tours at present, so you’re free to wander around by yourself.
20. Slieve Croob
You’ll find Croob in the Dromara Hills north of the Mournes. This is a there-and-back walk that’s nice and easy to follow and that stretches fro around 4km.
It takes 1 – 1.5 hours to complete and follows a tarmac surface from the car park to near the top (you need to cross stiles to get to the summit). There’s a cairn on the top and the views on a clear day are outstanding.
21. Down County Museum
Another handy one if you’re looking for things to do in County Down when it’s raining is the excellent Down County Museum.
Located in the town of Downpatrick, the museum is free to enter (some tours are paid) and boasts several excellent collection and exhibitions.
The museum collects, conserves, researches and displays objects and photographs that immerse visitors in the history of Down.
Down County Museum is located in what was once the county gaol, which opened in 1796 and closed in 1830.
22. Slieve Bearnagh
At 739 metres (2,425 ft), Slieve Bearnagh is the 4th highest peak in the Mournes and it provides a hard day of hiking for the more experienced walker.
If you follow the 9km trail via the Hare’s Gap you can expect to spend a good 3.5 – 4 hours on the go, battling ridges and many a steep climb.
However, for those used to tougher trails, you’ll be treated to unforgettable 360 summit views and a memorable days hiking.
23. John’s Point Lighthouse
St John’s Point Lighthouse near Rossglass is hard to miss. It stands at an impressive 40 metres above the water’s edge and it’s painted in massive black and yellow stripes.
The lighthouse separates Killough Harbour from Dundrum Bay and it was built back in 1844. St John’s has some interesting links to several notable names.
First is the Brendan Behan (celebrated Irish playwright) link. His father, a painter in Belfast, was commissioned to paint St John’s but, by all accounts, the result wasn’t very good!
You might also recognise the lighthouse from its mention in “Coney Island” by Van Morrison.
24. Charming towns and villages
If you’re looking to tackle the various places to visit in County Down, there’s plenty of great bases to explore from. Our personal favourites are Newcastle and Rostrevor and Newtownards.
However, Downpatrick, Bangor, Donaghadee, Newry and Holywood, Banbridge and Warrenpoint are good options, also.
If you fancy a break by the see away from the hustle and bustle, point your nose in the direction of Portaferry on the Ards Peninsula (you can get to it via the Strangford Lough Ferry if you don’t want to drive around).
25. Visit the St. Patrick Centre
The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick is the only permanent exhibition in the world dedicated to Ireland’s Patron Saint.
Here, you’ll be given the opportunity to explore the life of St. Patrick via award-winning interactive galleries and an IMAX experience.
The centre is also home to an art gallery, craft shop and garden cafe that offers views of Down Cathedral.
If you’re looking to learn more about St. Patrick, or if you’re looking for worthwhile things to do in County Down when it’s raining, get yourself here for an afternoon.
26. Dundrum Castle
If you’re looking for a mighty view and a bit of history, then our next stop will be right up your street.
Dundrum Castle is situated on a beautiful wooded hill not far from Dundrum village in County Down.
The castle here, which is believed to have been built around 1177, was used to control the land routes from Drogheda to Downpatrick.
Those that visit will be treated to stunning views of Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains.
27. Down Cathedral
I’ll be completely honest with you – up until we were researching things to do in County Down for this guide, I never knew St. Patrick was buried at Down Cathedral.
You’ll find Down Cathedral standing proudly on the Hill of Down, overlooking the historic town of Downpatrick. It’s here, in the Cathedral’s grounds, that St. Patrick is buried.
Although the stone that marks his grave wasn’t erected until 1900, it’s thought St. Patrick died in 461. The Cathedral itself is impressive inside and out and there’s several Celtic crosses in the grounds.
What to do in Down: What have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant places to visit in Down from the guide above.
If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about County Down attractions
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What’s good for families?’ to ‘Where to go when it’s raining?’.
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 are the best things to do in County Down?
In our opinion, Tollymore Forest Park, the Slieve Donard Hike, Castlewellan Forest and Slieve Binnian are hard to beat.
What are good places to visit in Down when it rains?
There’s the Game of Thrones studio, Down County Museum, the St. Patrick Centre, Downpatrick Cathedral and the Ulster Folk Museum.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.