7 Things to Do in Downpatrick – Accommodation, Popular Sights and Days Out

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One of Northern Ireland’s oldest towns, Downpatrick lies on the banks of the River Quoile to the south of Belfast. It once served as the capital of Dal Fiatach (a Gaelic ruling dynasty during the Middle Ages) and is now the seat of County Down.

As a religious center, Downpatrick is the believed burial place of Saint Patrick, a 5th-century Christian missionary who is credited with bringing the faith to Ireland.

If it’s your first visit, you’ve come to the right place as we explore the top things to do in Downpatrick. You’ll find a wide choice of accommodation options online at Rentola Downpatrick, which highlights apartments and homes for rent in County Down.

Whether you’re a couple of history buffs planning a weekend away or a family looking for a kid-friendly stay, you can easily find a comfortable base from which to discover everything that Downpatrick has to offer.

7 Top Things to Do in Downpatrick

Beyond its religious and historical importance, Downpatrick is a vibrant town, characterized by Georgian architecture, winding streets, and an undying charm that draws visitors year after year.

Its proximity to Strangford Lough, a site of special scientific interest, further amplifies its appeal, merging historical intrigue with natural beauty.

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1. Explore the Down County Museum

down county museum
Image: History Ireland

Occupying an 18th-century prison building is this engaging museum, which offers a fascinating insight into the county’s past.

You can journey back thousands of years in the “Down Through Time” exhibit where you’ll find artifacts detailing the area’s farming and fishing industries. Housed within the Governor’s Residence, it also features a display dedicated to the Downpatrick High Cross.

Be sure to explore the restored cell blocks (which come complete with life-size prisoners) to learn about the conditions of their incarceration. Re-enactments, seasonal events and festivities are held in the prison courtyard.

The Down County Museum is more than just a building with artifacts; it’s a living testament to the enduring spirit and history of County Down. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a student, or just a curious traveler, the museum promises a captivating journey through time.

2. Visit the Saint Patrick Visitor Centre

St Patrick visitor centre
St Patrick Visitor Centre

If you’re interested in the life and legacy of Ireland’s patron saint, don’t miss this interactive visitor center in the heart of Downpatrick. In its main exhibit – “Ego Patricius” – the words of Saint Patrick is used to explain the arrival and development of Christianity in Ireland.

Centuries-old artworks from the period are on display, together with displays about the impact of Irish missionaries throughout Europe.

In the purpose-built cinema, you can watch a film about the life of Saint Patrick, which focuses on the facts, rather than the legends surrounding his work. In addition to its exhibits, the Saint Patrick Visitor Centre also features an art gallery, a craft shop and a garden cafe where you can relax after your visit.

The exhibition on the life of St. Patrick offers a comprehensive, multi-sensory exploration of this iconic figure. It seamlessly marries history with technology, and tradition with innovation, ensuring that visitors leave with a deeper appreciation of St. Patrick and the indelible mark he left on Ireland and the world.

3. Admire the Down Cathedral

Down Cathedral
Down Cathedral

Rising atop a hill overlooking Downpatrick is this magnificent cathedral, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity in the 12th century. The current building incorporates part of the 13th-century church of the Benedictine Abbey of Down, which fell into disrepair following the 1541 dissolution of the monasteries.

Many of the cathedral’s current features date from its late 18th-century restoration, such as the beautiful box pews and pipe organ. While touring the property, take note of the granite high cross at the cathedral’s eastern end and the grave marking the believed burial place of Saint Patrick.

Down Cathedral continues to serve as a working church while also standing as a significant tourist and pilgrimage site. Visitors are drawn not only by its connection to St. Patrick but also by its architectural beauty, tranquil setting, and the panoramic views it offers of the surrounding countryside.

4. Ride the Downpatrick and County Down Railway

Downpatrick & County Down Railway
Downpatrick & County Down Railway

Downpatrick is home to the only full-size heritage railway in Northern Ireland, which connects north to Inch Abbey and south to King Magnus’ Grave. It departs from the station near St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with the on-site museum filled with railway artifacts and old rolling stock.

On select days, you can jump aboard one of the vintage passenger cars, which are pulled by steam or diesel locomotives, and enjoy a leisurely ride through the scenic countryside of County Down.

Along the way, you’ll enjoy wonderful views of the Mourne Mountains and reed-lined marshes that attract a variety of waterbirds throughout the year.

5. Wander the Ruins of Inch Abbey

the ruins of Inch Abbey

On the opposite bank of the River Quoile from Downpatrick are the ruins of Inch Abbey, which was established by John de Courcy in the 12th century. It was founded as penance for his role in destroying Erenagh Abbey, which he believed had been fortified against him.

While exploring the stone foundations and walls, keep an eye out for the earthworks of a pre-Roman church that was plundered by Vikings in the early 11th century. From the abbey, there are magnificent views across the Quoile Valley towards Downpatrick.

The landscape around Inch Abbey is quintessentially Northern Irish: rolling green meadows, mature trees, and distant hills that seem to merge with the sky on the horizon.

Inch Abbey isn’t just a historical site; it’s a place where history and nature come together in harmony.

The beauty of the River Quoile, combined with the surrounding landscape, makes the ruins of Inch Abbey a serene and contemplative destination, allowing visitors to step back in time while being grounded in the present beauty of the Northern Irish countryside.

6. Tour the National Trust-run Castle Ward

A short drive northeast of Downpatrick is Castle Ward, an 18th-century fortified tower house that is now managed by the National Trust. It overlooks the waters of Strangford Lough and is surrounded by more than 300 hectares of landscaped gardens complete with a working corn mill.

Aside from being used as a setting for “Game of Thrones”, Castle Ward is famed for its diverse exterior architecture, with one side Gothic and the other designed in a classical Palladian style.

You can stretch your legs on one of the trails that lead through the grounds or let the kids run loose in the adventure playground before relaxing over afternoon tea at the stable cafe.

7. Visit Delamont Country Park

Delamont Country Park
Delamont Country Park

Delamont Country Park is a haven for nature lovers, families, and those seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life. With its expansive meadows, dense woodlands, and picturesque views of Strangford Lough, the park offers a diverse range of landscapes and recreational opportunities.

Its prime location near the village of Killyleagh and along the Lough ensures stunning waterside vistas and a sense of serene isolation, even though it’s relatively close to larger towns and cities.

The park boasts several well-maintained walking trails, suitable for all levels of fitness and age. These trails wind through the park’s varied landscapes, from dense forests to open grasslands.

Apart from walking, visitors can engage in a variety of outdoor activities, including picnicking, bird-watching, and during certain times of the year, boat trips on the lough. A favorite among families, the Delamont miniature railway offers a fun and unique way to explore parts of the park.

St Patrick's Grave at Down Cathedral
St Patrick’s Grave at Down Cathedral

Every corner of Downpatrick has a story to tell, and many of its treasures aren’t in the guidebooks. Discover quaint cafes, local artisan shops, and secret spots that only become apparent when you’re exploring on foot.

Whilst there, make sure you engage with the town’s rich cultural scene. Attend local events, taste traditional foods, and perhaps even catch a local music performance. Downpatrick offers a deep dive into Northern Ireland’s unique blend of traditions and modernity.

Downpatrick, with its charm, history, and warmth, awaits your journey. So, why wait? Pack your bags, set your itinerary, and come experience the enchanting allure of Downpatrick for yourself. See, hear, taste, and feel its charm, and let its magic wrap around you.

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