Strangford Lough towns and attractions

Warm afternoon light on the houses of Strangford village at the edge of the water at Strangford Lough

Strangford Lough is a haven of unique little towns and villages steeped in history which are just waiting to be discovered. We've compiled a list of our favourite places to help inspire your journey.

Comber

The confluence of two rivers, which gave the town its name, is that of the Glen River and the Enler River which meet here. There is believed to have been a church here since the time of St Patrick, while a Cistercian abbey was founded in around 1200 on the site of the present Church of Ireland church, a site likely chosen to take advantage of the good access to Strangford Lough.
 
After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1541, the abbey fell into ruins and its stone has since been used in other buildings.
 
During the influx of Scots in the early 1600s, a settlement grew up at Comber, although it was focused about a mile further south than at present, in the townland of Cattogs, and there is evidence that the settlement was a port used by traders and fishermen.
 
By the 1700s, however, the focus of the town had moved to the area of the present main square and Comber became established as an industrial centre with several mills.
 
Traditionally Comber was mostly a town of local shops and family run businesses, however a recent increase in more well-known shops has taken place. Comber has also started to become increasingly popular with visitors and tourists and this has led to art galleries as well as numerous cafés proving to be very successful in the town.
 
Comber is most famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Andrews, the RMS Titanic's shipbuilder, who died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
 
Don’t miss – Castle Espie
 

Downpatrick

As the largest town in the Lecale area, Downpatrick is a commercial, recreational and administrative centre for the locality and serves as a hub for the nearby towns and villages.
 
Downpatrick is one of Ireland's most ancient and historic towns. It takes its name from a dún (fort), which once stood on the hill that dominates the town and on which Down Cathedral stands.
 
The old name of the town was Rath Celtair named after the fictional warrior of Ulster called Celtchar (in modern Irish: Cealtachair) who resided there and who fought alongside Ulster King Conchobar mac Neasa (anglicised Conor Mac Nessa) and is mentioned in the Ulster Cycle and, in particular, the Táin Bó Cuailgne.
 
The name was superseded by the name Dún Lethglaise then Dún Dá Lethglas which in turn gave way, in the 13th century, to the present name of Dún Phádraig (anglicised as Downpatrick) from the town's connection with the patron saint of Ireland.
 
Saint Patrick was reputedly buried here in 461 on Cathedral Hill, within the grounds of Down Cathedral. His grave is still a place of pilgrimage on St Patrick's Day (17 March each year). The Saint Patrick Visitor Centre in Downpatrick is purpose-built to tell the story of St Patrick.
 
Don’t miss – Quoile Countryside Centre, The St Patrick Centre
 

Greyabbey

The village (and townland) derives its name from Grey Abbey, a Cistercian abbey-monastery located on the north side of the village, dating from 1193. Historically it was also called Monesterlee or Monesterlea, which are anglicisations of its Irish name Mainistir Liath.
 
It was founded by Affreca, daughter of Godred Olafsson, King of the Isles, and wife of John de Courcy, Anglo-Norman conqueror of the province of Ulster.
 
The site of the abbey was on the Ards Peninsula, 7 miles (11 km) from Newtownards, at the confluence of a small river and Strangford Lough. Architecturally it is important as the first fully gothic style building in Ulster; it is the first fully stone church in which every window arch and door was pointed rather than round headed. The abbey is located in the parkland of Rosemount House, home of the Montgomery family, to the east side of the village.
 
Greyabbey is often associated with the antiques trade, there being several specialist antiques shops in the village, as well as some interesting Georgian and Victorian buildings.
 

Killyleagh

On the western side of Strangford Lough, it is best known for its 12th-century Killyleagh Castle.
Killyleagh Castle is a riot of turrets and battlements rising like a fairytale vision above Killyleagh as this amazing Loire-style chateau completely dominates the small village.
 
It is a private family home, claimed to be the oldest inhabited castle in Ireland. It has been the home of the Hamilton family since the 17th-century Plantation of Ulster and acquired its fairy-tale silhouette in the 1850s when the turrets were added, however it is mostly the same castle that the second Earl of Clanbrassil rebuilt in 1666.
 
Don’t miss – Delamont Country Park
 

Kircubbin

Kircubbin (then known as Cubinhillis) and nearby Inishargy are mentioned in early medieval records. This possible translation of the Irish name is the only evidence that connects the Irish Saint Goban to the village.
 
John de Courcy, a Norman knight who invaded Ulster, brought Benedictines from Stoke Courcy in Somerset and Lonlay in France, for whom he founded Black Abbey (St Andrews in Ards), near Inishargy in the 1180s.
 

Newtownards

The town of Newtownards is overlooked by the 100-foot (30 m) high Scrabo Tower. The tower is 41 metres high, and was erected as a memorial to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, in recognition of his concern for the plight of his tenants during the great potato famine.
 
It's open to the public and houses a historical and local environment exhibition. The basalt-topped sandstone hill at Scrabo is one of the dominant features of North Down. The tower now stands tall in Scrabo Country Park with its woodland walks and parkland through Killynether Wood.
 
The Somme Heritage Centre, which is situated a little north of the town, is the Somme Association's flagship project. The centre is a unique visitor attraction of international significance showing the reality of the Great War and its effects on the community at home.
 
The centre commemorates the involvement of the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions in the Battle of the Somme, the 10th (Irish) Division in Gallipoli, Salonika and Palestine and provides displays and information on the entire Irish contribution to the First World War. Historically, the 36th (Ulster) Division trained on Clandeboye estate during the first few months of the war and German prisoners of war were interned there.
 
Also to the north of the town is the Ark Open Farm, specialising in rare and endangered species of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry, many of which are no longer seen in Ireland today. Facilities at the farm include a petting zoo, pony rides and a restaurant.
 
On the east shore of Strangford Lough, a few miles outside Newtownards and near Greyabbey, stands Mount Stewart, an 18th-century house and garden and home of the Londonderry family. The house and its contents reflect the history of the Londonderrys who played a leading role in British social and political life.
 
The 98-acre garden at Mount Stewart has been proposed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Largely created by Edith, Lady Londonderry, wife of the 7th Marquess, in the 1920s, it has an unrivalled collection of rare and unusual plants.
 
To the south of the town lies Newtownards Airport, home of the Ulster Flying Club - Northern Ireland's largest, non-commercial training and flying organisation. Many private pilot owners base their aircraft in the airfield's several hangars. The airport is used for an air display show every June. This is one of the largest in Northern Ireland with displays by the Red Arrows, Territorial Army and Royal Air Force.
 
Don’t miss – Mount Stewart, Scrabo Tower and Country Park, Somme Heritage Centre
 

Portaferry

Portaferry (from Irish Port a' Pheire, meaning 'landing place of the ferry') is a small town at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula, near the Narrows at the entrance to Strangford Lough. It has an aquarium and is well known for the annual Galway Hookers Regatta.
 
It hosts its own small Marina, the Portaferry Marina. A passenger/car ferry service operates daily at 15-minute intervals (8am to 11pm) between the villages of Portaferry and Strangford, less than a mile apart, conveying about 500,000 passengers per annum.
 
Don’t miss – Exploris
 

Strangford

Strangford (from Old Norse, strong fjord) is a small village at the mouth of Strangford Lough.
 
Strangford Castle, near the harbour in Strangford, is a 16th-century tower house with a drop hole at roof level to defend the door.
 
Don’t miss – Castle Ward