Hillsborough Fort and Forest
This artillery fort was completed in 1650 by Colonel Arthur Hill, the founding family of Hillsborough, and was remodelled in the 18th century for feasts and entertainment. The fort consists of a square enclosed by an earthen rampart level to form a parapet wall. Charles II constituted it a Royal Fort and William of Orange spent several nights here on his way south to the Boyne in 1690. The fort is surrounded by Hillsborough Forest, offering visitors 150 acres of mixed woodland in which to walk and relax with nature. Bird life is rich and varied, and larger mammals including foxes and badgers may also be seen. Open from dawn till dusk every day.
Mount Stewart, on the Ards Peninsula, is one of the most inspiring and unusual gardens in the National Trust's ownership. Engaging tours of the opulent house reveal its fascinating heritage and historic world-famous artefacts and artwork. Explore garden rooms recreated using the diaries of Edith, Lady Londonderry, or discover the fascinating history of Mount Stewart mansion whose guests have included Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers and poets. Its picturesque lake is surrounded by beautiful swathes of woodland and unusual statues, making it a pleasant and interesting walk for all the family.
John Ballance, born in Northern Ireland in 1839, was the 14th Premier of New Zealand at the end of the 19th century. He emigrated to Wanganui, New Zealand and entered Parliament in 1875 where he had a great influence on the establishment of the modern welfare state. He was instrumental in New Zealand giving women the right to vote - a world first. The birthplace of John Ballance, Ballance House is a restored farmhouse housing an exhibition on the links between Ulster and New Zealand, including a library, The Parlour Room, and a tea barn serving traditional baking, tea and coffee. The house hosts a number of events and markets throughout the year and offers guided tours.
Bangor Castle Walled Garden
The Ward family designed the Bangor Castle Walled Garden in the 1840s. It was previously closed to the public and was considered by many as a secret garden! North Down Borough Council restored this beautiful garden and it was officially opened as a visitor attraction in April 2009. The garden is divided into four different sections, each with its own horticultural personality. It also boasts two unique pieces of sculpture inspired by the borough's maritime history.
Lagan Valley Regional Park
Between Belfast and Lisburn
The Lagan Valley Regional Park is located between Belfast and Lisburn and covers some 4,500 acres of countryside and riverbank. Home to urban parks, heritage sites, nature reserves and riverside trails, the Lagan Towpath offers miles of tranquil walks in attractive surroundings. The park is recognised as Northern Ireland's only Regional Park and was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its rich local history includes relics of the linen industry, whilst its more distant past is represented by Norman mottes and evidence of early Stone Age settlements, notably the Giant's Ring. It is an ideal place to enjoy the countryside, cycling, running, canoeing or bird watching.
Scrabo Tower and Country Park
Scrabo Country Park offers incredible views over Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside. The tower was built in 1857 and is one of Northern Irelands best known landmarks. Visitors can enjoy plenty of paths through the fine beech woodlands of Killynether Wood and around the disused quarries, which provided building stone since Anglo-Norman times. The Tower will be open on the first Saturday of the month between June and September where you can view a free exhibition and short video detailing its history.
Lisburn Cathedral and Castle Gardens
There has been a Christian church on the site of Lisburn Cathedral for over 400 years, with the current cathedral being built between 1708 and 1719. Close by is Castle Gardens. This beautiful public park is located on the site where Sir Fulke Conway built Lisburn Castle, a fortified manor, in the 1620s. The lovely upper 19th century gardens and the 17th century terraces have been restored to their former glory. Why not book a tour and find out more about the gardens and the unique stories of the manor house.
Crawfordsburn Country Park
Explore Crawfordsburn Country Park, on the coast between Bangor and Holywood. A relaxing natural retreat, Crawfordsburn has two excellent beaches, spectacular scenery and views across Belfast Lough. Enjoy walks through peaceful meadows and wooded glens and call into the visitor centre and café. You'll find a natural play area and a geology garden, as well as a wide range of wildlife including hedgehogs, rabbits, seals, herons and Brent geese in winter. On Saturday and Sunday visit the Grey Point Fort with its enormous guns, a historic monument completed in 1907 to defend Belfast from sea-borne attack.
Hillsborough Castle and Gardens
Follow in the footsteps of presidents and princesses with a visit to Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, a stunning late Georgian mansion built in the 1770s in Hillsborough Village. The official residence of the Royal Family when in Northern Ireland, and home to the Secretary of State, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens is open to visitors for tours from April until the end of September. Take a walk around the 98 acres of beautiful gardens including ornamental grounds, peaceful woodlands, meandering waterways and trimmed lawns as well as modern commemorative trees and exotic plants.
Please note that Hillsborough Castle and Gardens are closed for major project works, reopening in July 2018.
Grey Abbey is one of the best examples of Anglo-Norman Cistercian architecture in Ulster and was founded in 1193 by Affreca, wife of John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman invader of East Ulster. The abbey was dissolved in 1541 but in the early 17th century it was granted to Sir Hugh Montgomery and the nave was refurbished for parish worship until the late 18th century. The remains, in the beautiful parkland setting of the nearby grand house of Rosemount, consist of the church with cloister and surrounding buildings to the south. There is a small visitor centre with displays at the entrance and a reconstructed medieval physic (herb) garden.