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Dublin to Belfast – the Scenic Mournes Driving Route

An itinerary taking in Newgrange, the Mournes, Carlingford Lough, Downpatrick, the Peace Maze, Tollymore... and more

It’s true that you can drive from Dublin to Belfast in just under two hours, but you will be zooming past many truly amazing visitor sites – ancient Stone Age tombs, the Mountains of Mourne, St Patrick country, Game of Thrones filming locations, forests, a Royal Palace, the Peace Maze and both Carlingford and Strangford Loughs.

If you have time, slow down and take a leisurely drive up North, picking and choosing a few sites to visit along the way. At the very least you should loop through Rostrevor and over the Mournes but in fact, with so much to do, you could consider spending a few days in this beautiful area.

Although you will be crossing a country border from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom, the only indication will be a change in the road signs from kilometres to miles. While there are no border checks, you should ensure that you are entitled to enter into the UK.  Visit the Visit Britain website to learn more.   You should also note that while the Republic uses Euros, Northern Ireland uses sterling (pounds and pence). At the moment, the exchange rate for sterling against the US$ and Euro makes Northern Ireland an economical place to visit!

Dublin to Belfast Scenic Driving Route

 


Please also see our more detailed guide to the Mournes area.


1. Dublin to Newgrange / Brú ná Boinne

44 min (51 km / 32 miles)

Visitor Centre, Donore, Drogheda, Co. Meath, Republic of Ireland, A92 EH5C – website

Newgrange, also known as Brú ná Boinne (Palace on the Boyne), is a 5,200-year-old passage tomb and is designated as a World Heritage site. The tomb is particularly remarkable as the central passageway is aligned so that the winter solstice (22 December) sun shines directly down this central passageway to the core of the structure in an amazing example of Stone Age ingenuity.

You can only visit the site by taking an organised tour from the the newly refurbished Visitor Centre, which is located a little distance from the tomb itself. You’ll also find an exhibition at the Visitor Centre that explores the seasonal nature of Stone Age society, the significance of the solar cycle, ceremonies and the monument building process.

Tickets for individuals or small groups of 14 or fewer people are issued on a daily first come first served basis only and at the moment, will not be available for pre-booking. Tickets are limited and tours fill up so this makes the process a bit hit and miss. However, in early 2020 we are promised an online booking system for new tour options from 1st March 2020.

 

2. Newgrange to Rostrevor

Head toward Rostrevor (58 min (77 km / 48 miles)) via Newry, a cathedral city. You will cross the border into Northern Ireland (the UK) on this sector of your journey although the only significant indication is that the speed signs change to miles per hour not kilometres, so watch your speed.

After Newry you will drive past  Narrow Water Castle (for me this is The Narrows from Game of Thrones). It guards the entrance to the Newry river as it enters Carlingford Lough. The Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland border runs down the centre of the Lough. You will be driving along the Northern shore, looking over the Lough to the Cooley Mountains of the Republic, and with the Mournes above you to your left.

Image result for the narrow water castle newry

Rostrevor is an attractive town on the Lough with a pretty river running through it. We’ve stayed at the Rostrevor Inn on one of our Mourne hiking weekends  – comfortable rooms, hot showers, a great breakfast and live traditional music in the downstairs bar most evenings.

However, you do not need to go into Rostrevor but can continue your drive along Carlingford Lough.

3. Rostrevor to Tollymore Forest Park via the Mournes scenic loop

Via High Mournes Driving Route (pass through Attical) head to Tollymore Forest Park, Bryansford Rd, Newcastle BT33 0PR – 1 hr 6 mins (37 km / 23 miles)
The dramatic Mournes landscape was the inspiration for Belfast-born writer C.S. Lewis’ magical Kingdom of Narnia from the Chronicles of Narnia, or as is often better known,  ‘The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe’ series. Passing Rostrevor you will continue along the Lough shore until you see a signpost for Attical. Turn left and head on up over the High Mournes Driving Route. This is quite a short stretch but gives you a taste of the Mournes, a popular hiking area for visitors and residents alike.
If you are spending a while in the area, a side trip from this route would be to the dramatic Silent Valley reservoir. See our guide to the Mournes area.
This is truly what I think of as the Real Ireland. This road climbs up the mountain and around the mountain and loops back around and down into the lovely seaside town of Newcastle. If you do nothing else, take this drive.

Options

Rather than taking the High Mournes Driving Route, you can continue to follow the Lough shore towards Kilkeel and follow the coast line up to Newcastle. The Mournes will tower above you, sweeping down to the shore, and you’ll have the opportunity to visit the harbour-town of Annalong with its pretty 19th century cornmill.
You may also consider driving along the southern shore of Carlingford Lough, passing through Omeath and Carlingford, and taking the Carlingford Lough car ferry across from Greenore, in the Republic, to Greencastle in Northern Ireland. No passports required!

Tollymore Forest Park

£5 / car entry fee

The 6.3km square park is a pleasant place for a walk or a picnic, but the main attraction for visitors is that the forest was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. The particular scene in question was filmed near the Altavaddy Bridge where in Episode 1, Series 1 the direwolf pups are found by Ned, Robb, Bran, Jon and Theon. View a map of the park here.

 

4. Tollymore Forest Park to The Peace Maze at Castlewellan Forest Park

9 minutes (6.5 km / 4 miles), Castlewellan, Co. Down  BT31 9BU – £5 / car entrance

Peace Maze

The Peace Maze is a thing of beauty with the Mournes as a backdrop. The whole maze covers nearly 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway and until 2007 the Peace Maze was the largest permanent hedge maze in the world. It was opened in 2001, and was largely funded by the European Union Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

If you decide to stay in the area, or have a little more time you can explore the parkland and get active. Castlewellan Forest Park  features a 40 hectare lake, forests, gardens, a kids’ activity centre, a campsite, a coffee shop as well as The Peace Maze. There is also an outdoors activity centre where you can hire Stand Up Paddle boards, canoes and mountain bikes for reasonable fees. The elegant stately home on the site is now a Christian conference centre and is not open to the public, but it is pretty to look at. For MTB fans, there are 27km of trails, and walkers will find a network of forest trails to explore.

5. Castlewellan to Downpatrick (St Patrick’s Country)

17 min (17.7 km / 11 miles)

There’s a lot going down in Downpatrick with its cathedral and St Patrick’s grave, the St Patrick’s Visitor Centre and the Down Museum.

St Patrick's Grave
Saint Patrick’s Grave at Downpatrick Cathedral

The Down Museum (free) is set up in the buildings of the old County Down Gaol. It was from this prison that many ‘convicts’ were transported to Australia and there is a fascinating exhibition about the transportation which includes stories about descendants of some of these people who have visited the museum in recent years. The museum also contains exhibits of early Christian artefacts including the fascinating Downpatrick High Cross.

It was also here that co-founder and leader of the United Irishmen, Thomas Russell, was hung then beheaded in 1803 for his role in the insurrection against English rule.

The massive St Patrick’s Visitor Centre will update you on all you need to know about St Patrick. Other St Patrick’s attractions include Saul Church, said to be built on the site where St Patrick built his first wooden church when he returned to Ireland (after escaping his first tour in Ireland as a slave), and Slieve (mountain) Patrick – a small hill with a massive St Patrick’s statue on top. Read more about the Mournes area here.

If you fancy something to eat, or even a bed for the night, consider the famous Denvirs Coaching Inn established in 1642.

 

Image result for down county museum
Down County Museum, set in an old prison
Hillsborough Castle
Hillsborough Castle, the Northern Ireland residence for the UK Royals

6. Downpatrick to Belfast

From Downpatrick it is a 35 km / 22 mile drive (40 minutes approx) through the rolling farmland of County Down along the A7 to Belfast. You can also travel a longer route along faster roads going via Lisburn. This route is 27 miles and will also take about 40 minutes, but this route allows you the option to take a slight detour to visit Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland’s own Royal Palace where the British Royal family stay when visiting Northern Ireland. We recommend the guided tour of the palace which is fascinating – so much history!

 

 

 

 

 

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Northern Ireland Holidays

After more than quarter of a century spent living and working in Hong Kong, David Donnelly and his wife Katie McGregor are now living in, and loving Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Holidays website came from our passion to let people around the world, and even on the British mainland, know about Northern Ireland. As a country it has much to offer in natural beauty, the people are just simply amazing, and as a holiday destination it’s second to none. Even though this is now our home, we feel like tourists as we discover the region, and it is this knowledge and these experiences we want to share.

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