Spending a long weekend at Strangford Lough

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Strangford Lough, located just 30 minutes from the busy streets of Belfast, is one of the many beautiful hidden gems that Northern Ireland has to offer, and sits conveniently in Killyleagh’s back yard. Selected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1972, the Lough is a must-see destination for both local and international visitors, boasting relaxing tranquil shores and spectacular sea views, a range of coastal and parkland walking routes, and stunning rolling scenery filled with wildlife.

Whether you are travelling by yourself, with friends or a loved one, or perhaps have the entire family in tow, Strangford Lough has something for everyone, and Dufferin Coaching Inn is the perfect home base for when you’re exploring this gorgeous part of the world.

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Experience some of the finest locally sourced produce

The Strangford Lough area is sure to delight the taste buds of its visitors with its abundance of premium local produce. From the famous Portavogie pawns which are often described as a ‘must eat’ for foodies, to the mouth-watering Strangford oysters and flavoursome Finnebrogue venison and sausages, visitors are spoilt for choice in this local area. If you happen to fall in love with the local offerings and want to stock up, then make sure to pay a visit to artisan food shop Indie Fude based in Comber. The range of fine local produce on offer can also be easily found on menus across the Lough including The Poacher’s Pocket, Lisbane, Balloo House Restaurant, Newtownards, and on Dufferin’s very own breakfast menu. Just a stone’s throw away from Dufferin, The Dufferin Arms provides its visitors with a fantastic selection of local food as well as live traditional music from 4pm on Saturdays. Meanwhile, The Smuggler’s Table, which can also be found in Killyleagh, has a unique craft gin and whiskey snug bar running alongside its extensive menus – just make sure to book well in advance for Saturday and Sunday lunch!

Helping you wash down the selection of foodie delights, the Strangford area also offers a host of locally-brewed tipples. Farmageddon Brewery, also located in Comber, boasts a range of top class beers crafted through a combination of both modern and traditional techniques, which feature local malt and some of the finest and rarest hops found worldwide. Visitors can also enjoy a tour around the Echlinville Distillery, home to widely acclaimed spirits including Dunville’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Jawbox Gin and Echlinville Pot Still Gin. The distillery also offers unique tours which give a behind the scenes, sneak peek to the inner workings of one of Northern Ireland’s first licensed distilleries in over 125 years.

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Immerse yourself in the world of fiction

If you’re a fan of fiction and – in particular – Game of Thrones, then Strangford Lough is the place to visit. In addition to the myriad of walking trails available at Castle Ward, the estate grounds also play host as a filming location for the acclaimed series.

With its sprawling medieval structure and stunning surrounding landscape, it is easy to see why Old Castle Ward was chosen as Winterfell, the home of the Starks. Fans can step into the world of George R.R. Martin thanks to Winterfell Tours who provide archery movie set experiences, filming location cycle tours, and ‘The Narrow Sea’ boat voyage on the Lough.  Check out our blog post on Game of Thrones sightseeing for more Game of Thrones action.

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Embrace the endless opportunities to enjoy the beautiful scenery

Strangford Lough offers its visitors an abundance of gorgeous landscapes which can be explored by foot or as part of a road trip in the car. As we approach warmer months, the time is certainly approaching to get out and explore!

Delamont Country Park offers a variety of parkland, coastal and woodland walking trails which range from 1km-7k. The park also features a playground, fresh air gym, BBQ area and a visitor’s centre.

Nearby National Trust Property Castle Ward also offers six trails which give you the chance to take in the beautiful surroundings and views of Audley’s Castle, Old Castle Ward and the Farmyard.

If you prefer to sightsee by car, make sure to check out the National Trust’s guide on driving tours which range from Reagh and Gibb’s Island on the west shore of the Lough, to Glastry Clay Pits and Horse Island on the North side of the Ards Peninsula. For handiness, why not hop on the ferry to Portaferry and take in the stunning views and fishing villages around the Ards Peninsula.

Credit: David Hawgood

Credit: David Hawgood

Steep yourself in the local history

The Lough and its surroundings areas are full of great local history, dating back thousands of years. It is believed that in 432AD, St Patrick sailed through the Strangford Narrows and up the Quoile Estuary to bring Christianity to Ireland. Moreover, in the 9th and 11th centuries, the Vikings were regular visitors to the Lough, giving it the Norse name ‘Strangfyorthe’. The Lough also has a series of centuries-old castles dotted along its coast, such as Castle Espie, Mahee Castle and Strangford Castle – the perfect components to a castle sightseeing road trip! Another excellent addition to this road trip is Killyleagh Castle, one of the oldest inhabited castles in Ireland – which is located right on Dufferin’s doorstep.

Killyleagh is also most notably recognised as the birth place for Sir Hans Sloane, a major figure of the 18th Century.  Recognised as a physician by trade, an extraordinary collector of objects from around the world, and the man credited for bringing the recipe for drinking chocolate to Europe in the 1680’s, throughout his lifetime Sir Hans Sloane collected an impressive 71,000 objects which he donated to the British Museum in his will. Commemorating his work, Killyleagh now features ‘Sir Hans Sloane Square’, and a memorial at Killyleagh Castle as well as a biennial Hans Sloane Chocolate & Fine Food Festival.

Indoor and outdoor adventure for all

Strangford Lough and its surrounding areas also provide their visitors with a range of both indoor and outdoor activities, perfect for Northern Ireland’s changeable weather.  For the slightly gloomier days, Exploris Aquarium, located in Portaferry, is Northern Ireland’s only public aquarium which offers an exciting and educational family day out.

For those looking to explore their adventurous side, Strangford Lough also gives its visitors the chance to the explore the glimmering gentle waters with a range of canoe trails led by Clearsky Adventure Centre. In addition to canoe trails, Clearsky also hosts high speed rib trips in the area, letting you explore the various islands nestled within the Lough. To view these gorgeous sights by air, organise an aerial tour of the area with Ulster Flying Club, based in Newtownards.

With no shortage of things to do for all ages and interests, there’s no surprise that Strangford Lough and its surrounding areas continue to grow in popularity among international tourists and locals alike!