One of the six counties of Northern Ireland, County Down is located in the northeast of Ireland, bordering the Irish Sea to the east and Counties Antrim and Armagh to the north and west. Containing the highest mountain range in Northern Ireland and one of the country’s longest sea borders, Down is a diverse county both in terms of geography and people, being only one of two Northern Irish counties with a Protestant majority. But it is also the final resting place of Ireland’s mot famous saint, St. Patrick. If you find yourself in the area, these are the five best activities to do in County Down.
HIKE THE MOURNE MOUNTAINS
For outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of a good view, you can’t beat traveling around the Mourne Mountains (also known as the Mountains of Mourne). Offering the highest peak in Northern Ireland with Slieve Donard and several other easily hikeable summits, the mountains have been proposed as the site of Northern Ireland’s first national park and it’s not hard to see why. Covered with lush grasses, heather, and gorse, the mountains are formed from ancient granite and offer gorgeous vistas and beautiful hidden valleys. C.S. Lewis, who was born in Belfast, even cited them as an inspiration for the mythical land of Narnia.
CONQUER THE BACK 9 AT ROYAL COUNTY DOWN
Opened in March of 1889 where the mountains meet the sea in Newcastle, the Royal County Down Golf Club is among the oldest golf courses on an island practically overflowing with them. It also consistently ranks among the best golf courses on the planet and even topped Golf Digest’s 2017 list of the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Landscaped along the shores of Dundrum Bay, the course cuts through beautiful scenery that changes with each hole. In fact, according to Discover Northern Ireland, the ninth hole is the most photographed hole in the world, where golfers must hit the ball over a large mound some 260 feet to the fairway 60 feet below the starting point. The second shot must clear two bunkers and a second rise back to the putting green. The current record for the course is 66, set in 1939 by Jimmy Burren.
TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AT THE ULSTER FOLK MUSEUM
The Ulster Folk Museum, located less than ten miles from Belfast and overlooking Belfast Lough, is actually two separate museums, though both can be accessed with a joint pass. Officially the Ulster Folk and Transportation Museum, the organization merged with the Ulster Folk Museum and Ulster Museum in 1998 to form the National Museums Northern Ireland. The Ulster Folk Museum takes visitors back to the early 20th century with its meticulously reconstructed Irish cottages flown in from all over the island. While there, you can chat with reenactors costumed in the clothing of the time, buy authentic traditional crafts and snacks, and wander working farms. The Transport Museum houses a collection of all things related to transportation in Ireland, including locomotives, horse carts, and even an original DMC DeLorean, made famous by Back to the Future and built in the company’s Belfast plant just down the road.
GET LOST IN THE CASTLEWELLAN PEACE MAZE
Castlewellan Forest Park is home to the National Arboretum of Northern Ireland covering some 460 hectares, including a mile-long lake. For tree lovers, its nearly two-century-old collection of shrubs and trees from around the world is a massive draw, but those uninitiated to the forest sciences, the largest selling point of the park is the Peace Maze, opened in 2000 and one of the largest permanent hedge mazes in the world. The maze is meant to represent the pathway of Northern Ireland from the Troubles to peace and the hope for a conflict-free future.
PAY YOUR RESPECTS AT THE GRAVE OF ST. PATRICK
The town of Downpatrick is both the capital of County Down and the heartland of Ireland’s original patron saint. The remains of St. Patrick are said to be buried on the grounds of Down Cathedral, where a large, flat Mourne granite boulder and smaller granite plaque mark his final resting place. Less than 500 feet away is the Saint Patrick Centre, where a wonderful exhibition chronicles the legacy of St. Patrick from early medieval times through Irish missionaries in Europe to the present day. For anyone interested in the life and influence of Ireland’s most popular saint, there is no better place to start.
Have you visited any of these iconic places in County Down? Did we leave your favorite thing to do in Down off our list? Let us know in the comments below!