Outstanding in name and nature
Just a stone’s throw from Belfast city, you’ll find a nature lover’s paradise at Strangford Lough. Take a stroll around this tranquil spot: it will seem perfectly silent at first, but listen carefully and you’ll soon hear the voices of the locals. Birds chatter in treetops, seals splash playfully and geese skim their wings on the water.
Strangford Lough is many things: a UNESCO Global Geopark, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an Area of Special Scientific Interest, and one of the most richly bio-diverse regions in Europe, with over 2,000 marine species spread across 150km²*. And yet, with all the birds and badgers, seals and starlings, there’s an unmistakable tranquility to this place – so much so that Strangford Lough has drawn artists, aristocracy, saints and even Vikings over the years.
Spend a day on the water and know you are in good company: St Patrick himself sailed down Strangford Lough in the 5th century! From the lough, you can trace his footsteps to nearby Saul Church – where the saint first worshipped in Ireland – and to his final resting place in Down Cathedral.
Other notable visitors came to Strangford's shores: Nendrum monastic site was founded by St Machaoi and sits on the secluded Mahee Island. And Strangford’s Viking visitors gave the place its name, with Strangford meaning "place of the strong currents".
The Anglo Normans who invaded Ireland in the 12th century also left their mark. Both Inch Abbey and Grey Abbey are fine examples of the Anglo-Norman Cistercian architectural style and were used as places of worship until they fell into disrepair in the late Middle Ages. More recent visitors came from the world of entertainment and gave Inch Abbey a starring role as a filming location for Game of Thrones®.
When you arrive at the lough make sure to stop for a moment, take a deep breath and root yourself in the history of this storied spot.
The shores of Strangford Lough are dotted with ruined castles, soaring towers and grand homes, and they all come with impressive scenery. Scrabo Tower is spectacular by itself, but what is even more awe-inspiring are the fairytale views it offers of County Down’s landscape.
At Mount Stewart House & Gardens, home to a 15,000-strong art collection and world-renowned gardens, you can get lost in the colours, aromas and glimpse of a bygone age of elegance and privilege. And of course Game of Thrones® fans will feel right at home at the impressive Castle Ward – they are in Winterfell, after all...
Get on the water
Don’t just admire Strangford Lough from the shore – get out on the water! Kayaking, sailing, canoeing and surfing are all on the menu here, to either go at your own pace or take part in an immersive tour.
Explore the waters of Strangford Lough with Sunrise SUP & Island Yoga, which will take you on a journey past whirlpools and dozens of islands before finishing up with some light yoga to keep you connected to nature.
Or try Paddle with a Purpose and let your guide teach you about this amazing habitat and its wildlife before you embark on an island cleanup. Hot chocolate with marshmallows will be your reward for a job well done!
If you’re interested in sustainability around Strangford Lough, check out Castle Espie Wetlands Centre. Founded by Sir Peter Scott (son of Antarctic explorer, Captain Robert Scott), the centre is run by a dedicated community of staff and volunteers who want to preserve the character and charm of the wetlands here.
A culinary paradise
With an inland sea and rolling grassy hills, Strangford Lough has all the right conditions for world-class food, complete with dreamy views. Seafood is the star of the show here, where plump Portavogie prawns and refreshing Ardglass oysters bring the tang of the salty Lough right to the table. But take it from us, the local farm favourites are not to be missed – particularly the humble Comber potato, recently awarded European PGI status. Try roast Comber potatoes at Balloo House, or get in on the culinary process with a bread making session at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen!
You can immerse yourself in nature and the local food scene by heading into the woods with Finnebrogue Woods Wild Cooking and learning how to cook foraged wild plants over a crackling fire with chef Dan Carling. Or take a walk along the shore with Clare from A Taste of Castle Ward as she shows you how to identify edible plants and fungi from the woodlands and shoreline.
If you don’t want to catch the local delicacies yourself, you can always pick some up at Indie Füde deli, which sells local artisan food in Comber, County Down.
Afterwards, you can wash it all down at Echlinville Distillery, home of Dunville’s Irish Whiskey – named Ireland’s Best Whiskey at the Irish Whiskey Awards. This spirit is as local as it gets, with raw ingredients grown on the distillery’s own farm. Designated drivers who can’t enjoy a whiskey tasting can stop in at the Distiller’s Rest, the onsite coffee shop, to fuel up for the rest of their day
County Down highlights
Don't miss these things to see and do
Down Cathedral and Saint Patrick's Grave
Down Cathedral, a Cathedral of the Church of Ireland with magnificent stain glass windows, box pews and beautiful organ case was built in 1183 as a Benedictine Monastry. The patron saint, Patrick is believed to be buried in the nearby graveyard.