Portaferry seaside

Quirky villages, pockets of history and welcoming locals

The Ards Peninsula is sprinkled with quirky villages, pockets of history, abbeys and castles and welcoming locals all with a story to share.

Located on the east coastline of Northern Ireland, the area is surrounded with the sparkling waters of the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough and boast miles of coastline.

Start you journey in Newtownards and follow the winding coast road along the edge of the Lough and you will soon come across Mount Stewart.  This popular visitor attraction is managed by the National Trust and comprises of a stately home, fabulous gardens, a woodland play area, farmland trails and restaurant. 

Greyabbey, the first village you will come across as you leave the town of Newtownards behind.  Here you will find spectacular 12th Century ruins of Grey Abbey and be taken back to the time when Monks live there with a visit to the Visitor Centre.  Be sure to wander through the little village following the Heritage Trail, popping into the antique shops or recharging with a coffee or bite to eat.

Travelling on, Kircubbin is the perfect stop to pull in and take in the stunning vista and natural beauty, with the Mourne Mountains in the distance, Killyleagh Castle on the far shores and Scrabo Tower at the top of the Lough.  Is it any wonder Strangford Lough is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty!

Just past Kircubbin, tucked away in the rolling hills is Echlinville Distillery who recognise the importance of their location and the Peninsula’s unique topography, rich soil, climate and salty air.  Local produce is an important part of their brewing and distilling processes and tours are now available to experience these processes.

Portaferry is the next village, steeped in history and heritage, with wonderful buildings and architecture it is definitely worth a walk round it streets.  Take time to sit on the shore front and watch the ferry crossing the narrows and the little boats wrestle with the currents of this ‘Strong Fjord’ or walk up Windmill Hill where you will be rewarded with amazing panoramic view of the Co Down country side.

Portaferry Visitor Information Centre, located in the grounds of Portaferry Castle and open from Easter until the end of September is full of inspirational ideas of how to spend your time and make the most from your visit – be sure to pop by.

Portico Arts and Heritage Centre, in the heart of the town is a striking building, it is a Grade A listed Greek Revival Temple dating back to 1840.  The centre has been lovingly restored and houses exhibitions and has a wide ranging programme of concerts, shows and performances throughout the year.

In Exploris Aquarium you will encounter some of the residents of the Lough and also those from a little further afield, join a touch tank session to hold a starfish or tickle a flat fish.  Visit the Otter family and see the recuperating seals in the sanctuary and hear how they are doing.  Check out their websites for special events and opening times.

Close to Portaferry and further along the coast are Kearney, a small village of white washed, fisherman’s cottages.  The site is managed by the National Trust and is a popular spot for walkers to enjoy the rouged beauty of this seascape.  Further along are St Cooeys Wells where it is believed St Patrick visited, three holy wells can still be found – a drinking, washing and eye well, still visited today and reputed to have healing powers.

The next village is Cloughey, where a walk through the dunes and along the long sandy beach is a must. This is the picture perfect beach for kite flying, sand castle building or paddling or perhaps golf is more your thing and with an 18hole links course there’s no time like the present!

Once back in the car, make your way to Portavogie, where the hub for the village is the busy fishing harbour with its colourful fleet of trawlers and nautical history. Portavogie prawns feature on many menus throughout Norther Ireland along with locally caught cod being a popular treat in the many fish and chip shops. Either side of the harbour are coves and bays to explore, along the east shore is a promenade ideal for prams and buggys.

Leaving Portavogie and heading along the east coast of the Peninsula toward Ballyhalbert you will see a wonderful sculpture of a large E – this marks Burr Point Ireland’s more easterly point.  This little harbour has seen many sights, from the titanic passing to Battle of Britain Squadron 303 during WW2.

Ballywalter, is a popular spot for holiday parks with many flocking to its sandy shores over the summer. Along the sore you can spot two old lime kilns, would have been use to produce lime for the residents of the village.

Millisle is a renowned seaside village, with many day trippers coming to its shores throughout the decades from the towns and city to enjoy a day beside the sea.  The Ballycopeland Windmill is perhaps they symbol of village and a wonderful sight to behold in the sky line, it is the only surviving windmill of its kind in the world.  Away from its shores and set in the country side is the hidden treasure of Eden Pottery, where visitors can see the vibrant pieces on display, relax over a sweet treat and coffee or even have a go a decorating their own piece to take home.

Close to Eden Pottery and in the middle of the peninsula, is the sleepy village of Carrowdore, once famous for it short circuit motor bike races and the only village which is landlocked. Christ Church Carrowdore, is the burial ground of the famous poet and playwright Louis MccNeice.

For more information go to ardspeninsula.com