About Belfast, Loughs and Legends
Enjoy Northern Ireland's rich and varied landscape: the Mourne Mountains sweeping down to the sea; Armagh, ancient cathedral city of Ireland; rural Tyrone; Enniskillen, centre for the Fermanagh Lakeland and Belfast with its wealth of history.
Activity code: NIFD01
Duration: 11 Days
START / FINISH - Belfast.
For such a small country Northern Ireland is incredibly blessed by historical sites, stunning scenery, long golden beaches, lakes, mountains and the friendliest people you will ever meet.
This trip is designed as an introduction to the slightly lesser known areas of Northern Ireland, primarily in the south of the province. On this fly drive there is ample time to explore mountains, lakes, beaches, stately homes and natural wonders. Belfast is the gateway to this fly drive and you'll have time at the end of the holiday to get to know this extremely popular and friendly city.
We can also arrange a private Belfast city guide, should you wish.
Arrive into Belfast Airport (Belfast International or George Best Belfast City Airport), pick up your hire car and drive outside Belfast for an overnight stay at the prestigious Culloden Hotel near Holywood in Co. Down.
Depending on your time of arrival you can enjoy the facilities of the hotel spa or go the very short distance to the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. Set amidst 170 acres it comprises several areas: the outdoor folk museum features Ballycultra Town, a collection of over 30 exhibit buildings removed from their original sites from all over Ulster and re-erected. There is also a rural area, again with buildings dating from the beginning of the 20th century. The Transport Museum houses one of the best rail galleries in Europe as well as road and aviation galleries. All in all an excellent introduction to your stay in Northern Ireland.
Depart Culloden to drive down the very scenic Ards Peninsula towards Portaferry. There are two routes you can follow: along the coast, passing through seaside towns such as Bangor and Donagadee, the closest point to Scotland (if you are fortunate to have a clear day then the Scottish coast is easily visible) or down the shores of Strangford Lough ('strong fjord' in Old Norse). Studded with over 100 small islands this is the largest sea lough in the UK & as well as being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is one of only three Marine Nature Reserves in the UK. You may wish to break your drive by calling into Mount Stewart - its famous gardens were planted in 1920 by Lady Londonderry. Due to its position in the mild climate of Strangford Lough you will find many rare plants here.
At Portaferry take the car ferry the short distance across the lough to Strangford and onwards to Newcastle. You can travel via the coast road or via Downpatrick, with its strong connections to Ireland's patron saint. Downpatrick has the burial site of Saint Patrick and is now home to the Saint Patrick Centre, the only exhibition in the world dedicated to telling the story of this universally-known saint. A steam train runs from Downpatrick to Inch Abbey, founded in the 1180s by John de Courcy. This is where the legend of St. Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland was written and is a location for 'Game of Thrones'.
Your accommodation for two nights will be at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle. This magnificent 115 year old building, formerly a railway hotel, is a neighbour to the world-renowned Royal County Down golf course. The hotel overlooks a long, sandy beach and the views are simply gorgeous, after all Newcastle is where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.
There is a myriad of things which you can do today....
You might like to take a scenic drive or a walk in the Mourne Mountains; the highest, Slieve Donard, inspired Belfast-born C. S. Lewis to pen the Chronicles of Narnia. Nearby Tollymore Forest Park was Northern Ireland's first Forest Park and is another of the locations in Game of Thrones. A few miles away is the unspoilt scenery of Murlough Nature Reserve - Ireland's first nature reserve, home to 6000 year old sand dunes. If you're down this way why not call into the imposing Norman castle at Dundrum (another de Courcy construction!). The views from the castle over Dundrum Bay are well worth the short detour.
Leaving County Down behind make your way across to County Armagh. It was here that Saint Patrick began his mission in Ireland, established his first church and created Armagh as the spiritual centre of the island. Stop awhile in the county town with its elegant Georgian streets and tree-lined malls. Continuing your journey westwards you might like to stop just outside Armagh city to visit Navan Fort, once the royal seat of the Kings of Ulster and the ancient capital of the Province.
On to your next hotel for a two night stay - Corick House Hotel, a charming 17th century William and Mary listed house set in beautiful grounds with a Victorian walled garden, manicured lawns, fountain and terrace with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
A day at leisure to explore this really unspoilt part of Northern Ireland. There are three golf courses within a ten mile radius of the hotel and the hotel can arrange for day licenses if you wish to go fishing. Cycling the quiet country lanes will invigorate your senses - or go exploring as there are many delightful secrets in this part of Co. Tyrone: Knockmany Chambered Cairn with its view of seven counties; Lumford's Glen with its waterfall; Augher Castle and lake, Clogher Cathedral and hillfort; Fardross Forest Park.
You are also not far from the Ulster American Folk park near Omagh which tells the story of Irish emigration.
Into Fermanagh today and there really is so much to see in this scenic county so this will be your base for three nights. Enniskillen Castle, once home to the Gaelic Maguire chieftains; Crom Castle estate, which includes the largest surviving area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland; Castle Coole, a magnificent neo-classical house designed by James Wyatt; the Palladian style Florence Court; the nearby Marble Arch caves, one of Europe's finest show caves with an underworld of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and lofty chambers; not forgetting the world-famous Fermanagh lakes.
Let's not forget Enniskillen itself - independent shops sit alongside larger ones and a visit to the Buttermarket Courtyard is a must. Its early 19th century buildings have been beautifully restored and house such diverse crafts as pottery, ceramics, handmade jewellery, textiles, picture framing and original art, making it one of Ireland's premier craft centres.
Head back to Northern Ireland's capital, Belfast, for two nights to explore all the city has to offer. Belfast was voted one of the world's top destinations in 2012 by the National Geographic Traveller magazine which called the city a "treasure" with an "incredible atmosphere". There is superb shopping, a vast choice of restaurants to suit every taste and budget, pubs galore including the oldest landmark in Belfast (Crown), the award-winning Titanic Centre, seriously cool nightclubs, scientific exhibitions and literary inspirations. After all, this is the city that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia and Gulliver’s Travels.
Belfast is very compact so is easy to get around by foot or by local bus.
Drop off your rental car at the airport prior to departure.
"Well organised - excellent communications - all went like clockwork. Weather atrocious, but not your fault."
R Fowler, June, 2015
"All went extremely well thanks to your arrangements though you could not be held responsible for very limited visibility on the day driving to the Causeway inhibiting glen viewing en route. The Hedges and the Causeway were spectacular and the outside of Dunluce Castle [closes at 5!] interesting. Too wet for intrepidity on the rope bridge. Titanic exhibition interestingly focuses on the trials and tribulations of those building it. Belfast hotel was well located while the Derry was outstanding in all respects, the grounds and room in particular. Surprised how many shops within the Derry walls were boarded up. Return flight delayed as attendants had a newsworthy altercation at Gatwick forcing their ejection from the flight. We chanced on the’Made in Belfast’ restaurant in Talbot street which was truly outstanding."
B Ackerman, August 2016