County Down is located south east of Northern Ireland. The neighbouring counties include borders with County Louth, County Armagh and County Antrim. County Down is known for its mysterious Mourne Mountains and the city which famously built the Titanic: Belfast.
In this article I am going to highlight 3 beautiful locations to visit in Co. Down. Places which aren’t considered ‘popular’, although I strongly believe are worthwhile visiting due to the picturesque views, historical links, and very few crowds.
Newcastle is a small town, which lies on the coast by the Irish Sea and guarded by Slieve Donard (the tallest mountain in the Mourne Mountains). Newcastle is more than a coastal town, it is very well known for its natural environments which include sandy beaches (Murlough Beach and Newcastle Beach) forest (Tollymore Forest Park) and its access to the beautiful Mourne Mountains.
The town has historical links to Irish poet Percy French (born in Co. Roscommon) today you can visit its statue on the Newcastle central promenade and enjoy dinner at the Percy French restaurant at the Slieve Donard Hotel. Newcastle is a twin town with New Ross in County Wexford.
Why you should visit Newcastle?
As a location which appears to be quite popular in the spring and summer months, due to the fact it accommodates you no matter who you are or what you are looking for. Newcastle is a friendly environment therefore if you’re a hiker, looking for a friendly family environment or wanting to enjoy coffee/tea and food, you can find that here.
Newcastle is a gateway to the following locations in this article. If you are visiting Newcastle, do consider visiting the next locations below. Visiting Newcastle is just the beginning of exploring hidden gems in Co. Down.
How to get to Newcastle?
If you are coming from Newry City, Newcastle is situated to the east – this journey should take you approximately 40 minutes. Belfast City is located north of Newcastle, if you are coming from this area, the journey will approximately take you an hour.
Things to do in Newcastle
Murlough National Nature Reserve
Often described as one of Co. Down’s best beaches. If you are looking for a sandy beach, take in the views of the Slieve Donard and the sound of wild waves. This place is for you. Murlough is located on the main road (Dundrum road) between the towns of Newcastle and Dundrum.
Located in the centre of Newcastle. The beach stretches the full length of the town. The central promenade is beside the beach, located on the upper ground. A great place to walk and admire the beauty of this area.
Tollymore Forest Park
A very popular site, among locals and people who are familiar with this area. Tollymore might be better known as a filming location for the famous TV show ‘Game of Thrones’. What to get lost in nature? This place is for you!
Conquer the highest peak in the Mourne Mountains. At the top, the views include seeing miles of the Irish Sea, an aerial view of Newcastle and you will be able to see as far as St. John’s lighthouse (the last location in this article).
Coffee, Food, Ice-Cream
The cafe is a popular eating spot in Newcastle. Railway offers Everything from Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch and more. It is located across the street from the old railway station which is now a lidi.
Want to feel that you’re in Italy? This restaurant is for you. With a 4.7/5 rating on Google, you cannot go wrong here. It is located on the main street and around a three minute walk from Railway Coffee.
Percy French Restaurant at the Slieve Donard Hotel
Slieve Donard Hotel formerly owned by the Hasting Hotels NI and a five star hotel. The Percy French Restaurant could be for you if you wish to fine dine in Newcastle or wish to experience extra luxury for dinner.
Nugelato Ice Cream
Looking for dessert? Enjoy one of Northern Ireland’s most loved ice cream chains with over seven stores located throughout NI. Newcastle is where Nugelato was born.
Located beside Nugelato, and native to Newcastle. If you are looking for a Gelato treat, this place is for you.
Percy French Statue
You can visit the statue today, it is located on the central promenade approximately a three minute walk from the Percy French Restaurant. William Percy French, or more commonly known as Percy French, was an Irish poet, songwriter, painter and entertainer. He famously wrote about the magic of the Mourne Mountains. Percy had famously expressed that visiting Skerries, in Co. Dublin inspired him to write about the Mournes back in Co. Down.
History of the Castle
Dundrum Castle was founded approximately in the year 1117 by John de Courcy- who was believed to be a Norman knight. The castle was constructed as a result of John de Courcy’s invasion of Ulster. Dundrum Castle was established to control access into the Lecale barony from the west and south, standing on the top of a rocky hill commanding fine views south over Dundrum Bay to the sea and the surrounding views of the Mourne Mountains.
Why should you visit the Castle?
Today Dundrum Castle can still be visited by the public, and it is free to access. From visiting the castle previously myself, I would definitely recommend it. While it is considered a ruin, the structure that is left is well maintained with some of the buildings having newly installed stairs for you to enjoy the views surrounding the castle.
Throughout the castle site there are information boards. These provide additional information and important factual information about the castle of the site.
If you decide to visit this location, please be aware of your surroundings. If you wish to go up the stairs at the castle – wear suitable footwear and mind your step. There is a railing provided for your safety, but it can be steep going up.
How to get there?
Dundrum Castle is situated in the town of Dundrum, which is a ten minute journey north of Newcastle. If you are coming from the Ballynahinch area which is north of Dundrum, this journey will take you thirty minutes.
Toilets are available to visitors on the castle site. Due to Covid-19 If there is a queue or quite a few people around the castle, please be mindful of others and wear a mask if you can.
Parking your car is free of charge at Dundrum Castle and is located beside the entrance of the castle site.
There are a number of picnic tables provided in the car park. The view from this area overlooks the breathtaking views of Dundrum Bay.
St. John’s Point
History of the Lighthouse
The name St. John comes from the ruins of an old church nearby which had the same name. Built in 1844, the lighthouse was designed by George Halpin Senior and was originally painted white. By the year 1902, the colour black was added and in 1954 the current markings of black and yellow were put in place.
During its original construction the lighthouse was only 14 metres high, but was later extended to 40 metres in the 1880s. Today St. John’s Point is said to be the tallest onshore lighthouse on the Irish Coast – while Fastnet in Co. Cork is the tallest offshore lighthouse. In 1981, St. John’s Point lighthouse became automated and continues to provide a vital role in maritime safety today.
How to get there?
St. John’s Point is located approximately ten minutes from Killough town. If you are travelling from Newcastle Town, this journey will take you around thirty five minutes. In Newcastle you can see the lighthouse from across the ocean.
If you decide to visit this location, please be aware of your surroundings. If you wish to walk around the lighthouse – wear suitable footwear and mind your step. There is no railing, therefore please be careful near the water’s edge.
I hope you have found this insightful, inspiring and enjoyable. If you choose to visit any of the locations mentioned above, be careful, and bring suitable footwear when necessary. Feel free to take as many photos as you wish and to document your adventures.