Portaferry seaside

Quaint villages, pockets of history and welcoming locals - explore this beautiful region

***Re-opening dates vary, if you are planning a day out, please check individual provider websites before you leave the house to confirm if they are open or closed and avoid any disappointment. Many providers have pre-booking systems and new regulations in place to keep you safe, to enjoy your visit safely please adhere to the public health guidance and latest NI Executive guidance, found on the NI Direct website and Public Health Agency website***

Discover the Ards Peninsula with its unspoilt villages, tranquil abbey and castles and welcoming locals, all with a story to share. 

Located on the east coastline of Northern Ireland, only half an hour from Belfast, the area is surrounded by the sparkling waters of the Irish Sea and Strangford Lough and boasts miles of coastline. 

Start your journey in Newtownards and follow the winding coast road along the edge of Strangford Lough and you will soon come to Mount Stewart. This popular visitor attraction is managed by the National Trust. Discover the fabulous gardens, historic stately home, farmland trails, woodland play area, shop and restaurant of this fascinating site. 

Greyabbey is the first village you will come across as you leave Newtownards behind. Here you will find the spectacular 12th century ruins of Grey Abbey and be taken back to the time when monks lived there in the Visitor Centre and Physic Garden. 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 view the stunning vista across Strangford Lough with the Mourne Mountains in the distance, Killyleagh Castle on the far shore and Scrabo Tower standing guard 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 drumlins is Echlinville Distillery who recognise the importance of their location and the Peninsula's topography, rich soil, mild climate and salty air. Local produce is at the heart of their distilling process so why not book a tour to explore the distillery and find out about their "field to glass" products? 

Portaferry is the next village on your journey, steeped in history and heritage. With interesting buildings and architecture it is definitely worth taking a stroll around its streets. Take time to sit on the sea wall and watch the ferry cross the Narrows and the little boats wrestle with the currents of the "Strong Fjord" or walk up to Windmill Hill where you will be rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the Co Down countryside.  

Portico Arts and Heritage Centre in the heart of the town is a striking Grade A listed building dating back to 1840 and modelled on a Greek Revival Temple. The centre has been lovingly restored, 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 as well as sea creatures from further afield. Join a session to feed the sharks, visit the otter family and see how the recuperating pups in the Seal Sanctuary are faring. Check out their website for special events and opening times. 

Follow the road south from Portaferry to Ballyquintin Point, a beautiful area of windswept shore and farmland managed for nature by the National Trust. Here you have reached the end of the peninsula and will start your journey north. 

Along the narrow country road, look out for the entrance to St Cooey's Wells where 3 holy wells shelter in a hollow overlooking a stretch of rugged coastline. The drinking, eye and washing wells are still visited today and are reputed to have healing powers. Nearby Millin Bay Cairn is another enigmatic place, a neolithic burial site overlooking the sweeping sands of Millin Bay towards the Isle of Man on the horizon. 

Further along the coast is Kearney, a quaint cluster of whitewashed fisherman's cottages. The site is managed by the National Trust and is a popular spot for walkers to enjoy the wild beauty of this seascape. 

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. If golf is more your thing, the 18 hole links course will beckon. 

Once back in your car, make our way to Portavogie, where the hub of the village is the busy fishing harbour with its colourful fleet of fishing trawlers and nautical history. Portavogies prawns feature on the menus of top restaurants around the area and much further afield and freshly landed cod is a popular treat in the local fish and chip shops. Either side of the harbour are coves and bays to explore and along the east shore is a promenade ideal for prams and buggies. 

Leaving Portavogie and heading along the east coast of the Peninsula toward Ballyhalbert, you will travel to Burr Point, Ireland's most easterly point. It has seen many sights, from the Titanic sailing past to the planes of the Battle of Britain Squadron 303 flying overhead during WW2. 

Ballywalter is a popular spot for holiday parks with many flocking to its sandy shores over the summer. Along the shore you can spot two old lime kilns which were used to produce lime for the residents of the village. 

Millisle is a renowned seaside village, with many daytrippers coming to visit throughout the decades from the towns and city to enjoy a day beside the sea. Ballycopeland Windmill is perhaps the symbol of the village and a wonderful sight to behold on the skyline inland. It is the only surviving windmill of its kind in the world. Away from its shores and set in the countryside is the hidden treasure of Eden Pottery where visitors can see the vibrant pieces on display, relax over a sweet treat and a coffee, or even have a go at 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 its short circuit motor bike races and the only village on the peninsula which is landlocked. Nearby Christ Church Carrowdore is the burial place of the famous poet and playwright Louis MacNeice. 

For more information download The Ards Peninsula Guide (pdf) or visit ardspeninsula.com