Discover and explore our beautiful borough, where the countryside meets the seaside
Let us take you on a journey . . . . . . . .
Leave the hustle and bustle of Belfast behind and explore the captivating coastline and the rolling drumlins of Ards and North Down. We will introduce you to the towns and villages along the way, each with something special to offer and together representing a rich and diverse heritage, with stories of early Christianity, castles and conflicts. For more details, be sure to click on the place name of interest to you.
First stop Holywood, known for its Maypole, the town is on Belfast’s doorstep and is full of charm and character with many boutique shops, delicious eateries and wonderful history.
Next stop Bangor, full of places to be explored and adventures to be had! From the castle to the Abbey, North Down Museum to Pickie Funpark and the wonderful shopping and eateries or the picturesque marina there is plenty for the day you go to Bangor! There is also many an activity for those wanting to let of some steam to take in the great outdoors – off road driving, karting, sailing and golfing to mention a few! Conlig on the outskirts of the town is home to Helen’s Tower and the Somme Museum where you can step back in time and learn of this areas involvement in the two World Wars.
Back on the coastal road and the next village is Groomsport and the home of Cockle Row Cottages, a traditional fisherman’s cottage opened as a Visitor Information Centre during the summer months – be sure to pop by you might even be lucky to get some soda from the griddle!
The next town along the coast is Donaghadee and its iconic lighthouse standing guard on the harbour keeping ships right in times of trouble with its beam and fog horn. This little town is a hub with many shops, restaurants and you many even come across the oldest pub in Ireland.
You on now heading down the Ards Peninsula, Millisle is the first village you will come across, given the name due to the number of mills which operated in days gone by! Today there are still a few which you can see, the most obvious being Ballycopeland Windmill just a few miles inland.
From the windmill, further inland you will find Carrowdore, a sleepy village that if reputed to have one of the widest streets in Ireland!
Heading back to the coast, the next village is Ballywalter with beautiful beaches and harbour, it is the perfect stop to stretch your legs and enjoy an icecream by the sea!
Ballyhalbert is the next village and a bronze sculpture of a giant ‘E’ hightlights the fact that you are at the most easterly point in Ireland – Burr Point.
A little further south is the fascinating working fishing port of Portavogie and if you are lucky enough you can view the fleet of colourful boats in all their glory.
Cloughey is the next village on the peninsula and would be considered a holiday resort with many of the homes here being holiday houses – and you will see why if you park up and take a walk over the dunes and on to the magnificent stretch of beach!
Travelling on round the very tip of the peninsula, the next village you come across is Portaferry. This picturesque village is steeped in history and has strong ties with Strangford Lough with the Strangford Ferry service crossing the narrows every half hour. It is also home to Exploris, Norther Ireland’s only aquarium where you discover what creatures live on these shores and further afield.
As you head north along the winding road catching glimpses of the Lough, the next village is Kircubbin, stop off here to take in the stunning views across to the Mourne Mountains in the distance.
Greyabbey is next on the route, be sure to park up and explore some of the quirky antique shops and perhaps even pick up a little treasure to take home.
As you leave the peninsula behind and continue north, you can’t help but notice Scrabo Tower standing tall above the town of Newtownards, a traditional market town with many family owned boutiques, department stores and eateries.
From Newtownards follow the signs to Comber, another traditional market town with a lovely square in the centre. Comber if famed for the Comber Early potato which has now gained PGI status and celebrates this with and annual Potato Festival.
Climb the steep hill of Comber’s High Street, passing the mill owned by the Andrews family of Titanic fame, on your way to Ballygowan. Ballygowan is now a commuter base for Belfast but was formerly a busy railway town. Its most visible landmark is the rather forbidding former orphanage built in 1886, now used as a church and community hall.
Leaving Ballygowan, your drive takes you through typical Co Down countryside to the village of Lisbane with its well known roadside pub and restaurant and pretty thatched café housed in a former post office.
A few miles further you reach Balloo in the heart of Co Down’s fertile farmland where a cluster of shops and a pub and restaurant cluster around a crossroads. The nearby Presbyterian church, one of the oldest congregations in the area, also has an unusual cruciform shape.
Turn towards Strangford Lough at Balloo, where a rollercoaster road follows the ridges of the rolling drumlins to Killinchy village, high on its hill, before dropping to sea level at Whiterock, home to one of Strangford Lough’s renowned yacht clubs and a centre for sailing and water based activities in the area. The ruins of Sketrick Castle, a 15th century towerhouse, stand guard on the island of the same name and a former Irish Lights lightship, the HQ of the local Cruising Club is moored in the Bay.
There is so much to see and do in an area that is seven centuries deep in history, perfectly surrounded by stunning scenery and friendly hospitality. Enjoy great shopping and lively eateries… be sure to seek out the oldest pub in Ireland! Whether it’s a relaxing getaway, an adventure or a family holiday you are looking for, you will take away happy memories.
We have put together a map of picnic spots - download this hand map and let it inspire you to get out, explore and enjoy our beautiful borough