Things to See and Do
The outskirts of Belfast and its two southerly neighboring counties of Armagh and Down have much in the way of things to see and do. Belfast is home to one of the United Kingdom's finest zoos and extravagant botanical gardens. Farther out are country parks, interactive museums, mythic monuments, noble mountains, and adventure centers.
If you will be in Belfast for more than a day or two, the outlying areas of the city have all sorts of recreational diversions to keep you moving. The Belfast Zoo (028 9077 6277,
On a sunny day, head for the Belfast Botanic Gardens (028 9031 4762), located near the renowned Queen's University. The Botanic Gardens are home to the Palm House, which has an impressive iron and glass conservatory, a stately rose garden, children's play area, and the Tropical Ravine with banana trees and orchids. The grounds play host to a variety of musical presentations. Open daily, 7:30
Last but not least, the Belfast Castle (028 9077 6925,
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Located across the street from one another, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum (028 9042 8428,
Arguably, the coolest item on display in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is a DeLorean DMN replica. The car is a reproduction of the famed auto that was used as the time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy. The stainless-steel car was produced in a factory outside of Belfast.
Navan Fort, County Armagh
Just a few kilometers outside of Armagh city is the most prominent historical site in Northern Ireland, Navan Fort (028 3752 5550). Akin to the Hill of Tara in County Meath, this area is shrouded in alluring mystery. Thought to be the high throne of the primeval kings of Ulster and the Knights of the Red Branch, the place is often referred to as Emain Macha (Twins of Macha).
Mythically, it is the setting of the battle between Queen Maeve and Cúchulainn. Site open all year round. Navan Visitor Centre open June–August: Monday–Saturday, 10
A lot of events are centered on North Ireland's massive Lough Neagh. Accessible from Antrim Town or Oxford Island is the Lough Shore Trail (
Mount Stewart House, County Down
Northern Ireland's most regal mansion and garden combo, Mount Stewart House (028 4278 8387) has become one of the focal points of interest on the Ards Peninsula. The house itself was constructed in the eighteenth century for the Londonderry family, but the real draw is the eminent gardens with its subtropical plants and tree species. Of special note is the Shamrock Garden, with an ornamental shrub designed in the form of a harp, and the Dodo Terrace representing Lady Londonderry's curious social club known as the Ark Club. The Temple of the Winds pavilion sits ashore the lough and was built by the neoclassical architect James Stuart, who was inspired by the similar house of worship (of the same name) in Athens, Greece. House open daily May–September, excluding Tuesdays in May and September; Easter–October, Saturday–Sunday only, noon–6
Greyabbey Ruins, County Down
Located a few kilometers from the Mount Stewart House and the old-fashioned town of Greyabbey are the Greyabbey Ruins (028 9181 1491). This Cistercian abbey is a pre-Gothic delight founded originally in 1193 by Affreca, the daughter of Godred, the Norse king of the Isle of Man, and her husband, John de Courcy, a Norman knight. It was settled by monks thereafter. Two thirteenth-century effigies mark separate domains; one in the chapel resembles a knight, while the other in the chancel is thought to depict Affreca herself. Guided tours available. Open April–September, Tuesday–Saturday, 9
Tollymore and Castlewellan Forest Park
Outside of Newcastle and Bryansford off of the B180 is Tollymore Forest Park (028 4372 2428). There are three main trails — Blue, Red, and Black — each with its own highlights. The Blue trail is7km (.4 miles), the Red is 5.2km (3.2 miles), and the Black is 8.8km (5.5 miles). The red and black offer more in the way of scenery, passing burbling brooks and the foothills of the spectacular Mourne Mountains. A wonderful picnic spot, parking for cars, and camping for recreational vehicles is offered. Park open daily, 10
Nearby Castlewellan Forest Park (028 4377 8664) is centered on the castle grounds. Not nearly as worthwhile as Tollymore for walking or picturesque ruggedness, this parkland does have a lake with trout fishing available. Be sure to investigate the Peace Maze planted in 2000 to symbolize a path to peace for Northern Ireland. Open daily, 10
Tollymore Mountain Centre
Great for the young and old, the Tollymore Mountain Centre (028 4372 2158,
With walks explained in greater detail in Chapter 19, the Mourne Mountains are the backdrop to the coastal town of Newcastle. Overshadowed and undervisited by those speeding north to the Glens of Antrim and the Giant's Causeway, these granite hills are one of North Ireland's best-kept secrets. An area of profound beauty, locals in the area are attempting to ensure the eternal existence of their jewel through the formation of a national park.