18 Things To Do In County Down In 2020: St. Patrick’s Grave, Game Of Thrones, & More

Another county that's too often slept on by those visiting Ireland

things to do in county down guide
Photo by Bernie Brown

Howaya! This guide is heaving with loads of things to do in County Down.

From the magical Mourne Mountains and the Ards Peninsula to Castle Ward and much more, there’s something to tickle every fancy.

There’s no filler attractions in the guide below – just stuff to do and places to visit that I know you’ll enjoy.

What you’ll get from reading this guide

  • Advice on things to do in County Down 
  • Recommendations on where to spend the night
  • A dash of inspiration on where to eat and drink

Things to do in County Down in 2019

Murlough National Nature Reserve with mountains
Photo by Bernie Brown

County Down is another part of Ireland that people often miss when planning their visit.

Which is a shame, as Down is home to some of the best scenery in the country.

In the guide below, we’ll be giving you tonnes of things to do in County Down that’ll make you happy.

1 – Kick-start your visit with breakfast at the Poachers Pocket

The Poachers Pocket breakfast
Photo via The Poachers Pocket

We kick-off each of our guides with a big fat coffee and/or breakfast recommendation.

Just look at the plate in the photo above…

This is what’ll be laid in front of you if you nip into the Poacher’s Pocket for an early morning feed.

This place was originally established back in the 1800s as an old coaching inn and is now a Michelin recommended restaurant and pub.

Get in and get fed.

2 – Explore a chunk of the Mourne Mountains 

mourn mountain
Photo by Rob Hurson (Creative Commons)

The Mourne Mountains are the highest mountain range in Northern Ireland.

Now, if you’re not a seasoned hiker and you’re beginning to worry, don’t – you don’t have to climb the highest peak here to enjoy the dramatic beauty of the Mournes.

While yes, there are many long walks here (here’s a guide to all of the walks), there are several shorter walks along the foothills that are much less strenuous.

My favourite hike in the Mournes is the one up Slieve Donard.

Climbing to the top is reasonably challenging (it’s 850m high), but the views from the summit are out of this world. 

3 – Take a trip out to Castle Ward (one of the best things to do in County Down for GOT fans)

castle ward exterior
Photo by Brian Morrison

Yes, yes, yes, Castle Ward is where you can visit the Winterfell Castle movie set.

For those of you that are reading this and scratching your head, Castle Ward and its estate were used extensively during the filming of Game of Thrones.

Visitors here can expect sprawling medieval walls, an imposing castle tower gate, gorgeous surrounding landscapes, and seemingly never-ending views out across the nearby lough.

Castle Ward Game of Thrones Tour

Some of the tour features on offer at Castle Ward include meeting the real-life Direwolf Dogs and exploring over 20 key Game of Thrones filming locations, including:

  • Winterfell Castle
  • The tower window Bran Stark ‘fell’ from
  • The Winterfell Crypt
  • The courtyard where the Stark family greeted King Robert
Related Read: Check out this guide to 90+ off the beaten track tourist attractions in Ireland.

4 – Spend the night in a swanky spa beside the sea

slieve donard resort

I’ve been trying to carve out some time to spend a night in this place for a while now.

You’ll find Slieve Donard Hotel and Spa nestled at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne, beside the sea.

Boasting an award-winning spa, six acres of immaculate private grounds, 180 luxurious bedrooms, and more, this place is a very fancy base to explore County Down from.

Imagine chilling back in a room with a view of the sea and the Mournes… magic!

5 – Head for a ramble along the magnificent Murlough Beach

murlough beach in down
Photo by Bernie Brown

There’s no better way to start a morning or round off a days exploring than with a walk along a finely kept beach.

Stop number 5 takes us to Murlough Beach, a 6km long Blue Flag beach that offers walkers incredible views of the Mourne Mountains.

Interestingly enough, the dune fields at Murlough are the most extensive example of dune heath in Ireland, with more than 720 species of butterflies and moths calling them home.

Ramble along the sandy shores or walk along the boardwalk that takes you through the dunes.

6 – Gulp down fresh air at Tollymore Forrest

a bridge in Tollymore Forrest
Photo by Chris Hill

Next up is Tollymore Forest Park.

This place covers an impressive 630 hectares of land at the foot of the Mourne Mountains and is the perfect spot for walking, camping, horse riding, and orienteering.

There’s also a big nature play area for kids.

If you’re looking for things to do in County Down and fancy exploring Tullymore, there are 4 different trails that you can head off on here.

Traveller Tip: Give The Red Trail a bash. It’s a three-mile-long trail that passes through woodland and offers dramatic views of the Pot of Legawherry.

7 – Nurse a pint in the 200-year-old Maghera Inn

The Maghera Inn Down
Photo via The Maghera Inn on FB

As you’ve probably gathered if you’ve read any of our guides on this site, I love old pubs.

Especially ones that are known for great service and even better Guinness.

The 200-year-old Maghera Inn in County Down sounds like a grand aul spot for a post-adventure pint.

Here’s what the lads that run it have to say:

‘The Maghera Inn may look like a quaint, understated Northern Ireland pub restaurant, but inside we’re special. We’ve a bar that’s packed with exotic brands; we’re renowned for the quality of our Guinness; and we’ve a menu that will titillate the taste buds of even the most demanding gourmand.’

8 – Visit Down Cathedral (the burial place of St. Patrick)

exterior shot of Down Cathedral
Photo by Brian Morrison

I’ll be completely honest with you – up until I was researching things to do in County Down for this guide, I never knew St. Patrick was buried there.

Which is terrible on my part!

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.

Traveller Tip: If you’re visiting St. Patricks grave, make sure to drop into Down Cathedral. There’s a rare 18th-century organ, beautiful stained-glass windows, 2 ecclesiastical stone figures dating back to 1150, and more inside its walls.

9 – Head for a walk around Dundrum Castle

Dundrum Castle in county down
Photo by Bernie Brown

If you’re looking for a cracking 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.

10 – Tantalise your tastebuds with an Ice cream from Nugelato

Nugelato ice cream
Photo via Nugelato on FB

Good God the stuff this crowd produce looks UNREAL.

Nugelato is an award-winning, independent ice-cream boutique based in the town of Newcastle.

They pride themselves in dishing out classics with a modern twist.

I don’t know what exactly that is in the top photo above but MY GOD it looks tasty!

Gimme alllllllll the calories!

11 – Step back in time at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

inside the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum in down
Photo by NearEMPTiness via Wiki Commons

I’ve never visited a folk museum, but a quick glance at the reviews for this place have me easily convinced that it’s well worth the visit.

Welcome to the Ulster Folk Museum.

Set in 170 lush acres of rolling countryside overlooking Belfast Lough, the Ulster Folk Museum gives visitors a taste of what life was like in Ulster over 100 years ago.

According to their website, the museum brings a typical Ulster town from the early 1900s to life via ‘homes, shops, workplaces, churches and schools. Step on board majestic steam locomotives and explore horse drawn carriages, electric trams, boats, motorbikes, fire-engines and vintage cars in the Transport Museum.’

Traveller Tip: Feeling peckish? Nip into the nearby Cultra Inn restaurant for a bit to eat. If the reviews are anything to go by, this place will make your belly happy!

12 – Watch the sun drop over Strangford Lough

Strangford lough
Photo by Bernie Brown vi Tourism Ireland

Strangford Lough is the largest sea lough in the British Isles.

If you’re hankering for a bit of active exploring, you can try your hand at kayaking, diving, canoeing, or windsurfing here.

If you fancy exploring the Strangford Lough area by foot, there’s plenty of walks you can head off on that take in coastline castles, scenic views, and much more.

Or, if you want to sit back and see the Lough up close and personal, you can hop on the ferry (it departs on the hour and half hour from Strangford).

A grand aul fact: Strangford Lough is one of Europe’s most bio-diverse regions, with 2,000+ marine species spread across 150km2.

13 – Grab a big aul feed by the sea 

Villa Vinci Newcastle
Photo via Villa Vinci on FB

I tend to get easily distracted when writing these guides.

One of the things that kills my concentration the most is when I stumble upon a restaurant that looks ridiculously good.

Places like this one!

Villa Vinci can be found in the popular seaside town of Newcastle, making it the perfect stop-off point for some refueling.

Their menu is inspired by the owner’s Mediterranean origins and the menu offers something for even the pickiest of eaters.

14 – Dive into the story of St. Patrick at the St. Patrick Centre

exterior shot of The Saint Patrick Centre
Photo via Discover NI

Next up, more of St. Patrick!

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.

15 – Spend the weekend exploring, eating, and drinking (responsibly, of course!) on the Ards Peninsula

 

‘Why do you never mention the Ards peninsula in any of your guides, FFS!’

This message landed in my DMs on Instagram a while back. Up until that point, I’d never heard of the Ards Peninsula.

I made a note of it and promised that I’d check it out while creating our guide to County Down.

The ards peninsula
Photo via visitardsandnorthdown.com

In a nutshell, the Ards Peninsula is magnificent.

This peninsula separates Strangford Lough from the North Channel of the Irish Sea and is called home by several towns and villages.

If you visit, start your adventure in Newtownards and follow the winding coast along the edge of the Lough.

What to expect: Castles, sea views, stately homes, and plenty more to keep you occupied.

16 – Soak up some more history at Down County Museum

inside down county museum
Photo via Discover NI

Often, when I recommend museums, people tend to react negatively, saying that they’d rather spend their trip outdoors.

Which is fair enough.

However, Ireland is home to some excellent museums, and Down County Museum is one of them.

It’s here that the rich heritage of County Down is brought to life via fascinating exhibitions, lively events, hands-on activities, and award-winning education programmes.

Well worth dropping by when you’re in Downpatrick.

17 – Enjoy one of the finest views in the county from Scrabo Hill

scrabo hill
Photo by John Clarke Photography (Shutterstock)

While researching this guide, I text a friend that’s from Newcastle in Down and asked him if he knew of anywhere in Down, aside from the Mournes, that offers a deadly view. 

‘Scrabo Hill. Savage view, but you rarely see people not from Down putting stuff online about it!’

I gave it a quick Google and couldn’t find any snaps of the view, which is a solid indication that this place is a hidden gem.

You can take a walk to the summit of Scrabo Hill where you’ll find Scrabo Tower, which was built in 1857.

From here, you’ll be treated to spectacular views out over Strangford Lough and North Down.

Related read: Check out our guide to 59 of the best things to do Northern Ireland.

18 – Lace up your walking boots and head for a stroll at Castlewellan Forest Park 

Castlewellan forest park
Photo by Brian Morrison via Tourism Ireland

We’re going to round off our guide with another ramble.

You’ll find one of Northern Ireland’s most famous lakes, a Victorian Castle, and spectacular panoramic views just minutes from the lively little village of Castlewellan.

The forest park at Castlewellan has a 12-kilometer walking trail network that features breath-taking views out towards the Mourne Mountains.

It’s also home to some of the oldest and rarest trees in the British Isles.

A grand aul spot for a walk with mountain views.

What things to do in County Down have we missed?

The guides on this site rarely sit still.

They grow based on feedback and recommendations from readers and locals that visit and comment.

Have something to recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

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