town in County Down, Northern Ireland, UK

Newtownards is a town at the head of Strangford Lough, historically in County Down. In 2011 had a population of 28,050. It has visitor amenities but few sights of its own, but the area around the lough is dotted with natural and historic attractions. This page therefore covers the entire Ards Peninsula down to Portaferry, and the northern half of the lough. For the southwest shore of the lough see Downpatrick and Strangford.

Understand

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"New" means from 1226 AD, when the Normans founded the "New Town of Blathewic". The old town was built from 540 AD around Movilla Abbey but was torched and razed in the 1570s, by Irish clans trying to keep out the English. What they got instead was the Scots, especially from Ayrshire, who settled in large numbers during the 17th century Plantations. At the dawn of the industrial age, places called "new town" were springing up all over, so this one became specified as Newtownards. It was a large market town but growth was hampered by lack of a port — the lough was too shallow — so goods had to be lugged to and from Donaghadee. But in 1860 the railway connected it to Belfast and the population increased rapidly, sharing the ups and downs of Northern Ireland's economic heartland.

The counties of Northern Ireland have been abolished so since 2015 it's been part of Ards and North Down "super-district".

The challenge for Newtownards ever since is to be more than just a commuter town for Belfast. Its industries were never traditional smoke-stack, and the Council sees its future in niche areas of agri-business, engineering, and IT such as cyber-security. But in 2022 many industrial lots lie vacant, and its principal employment sector of services and hospitality has been hard hit.

Get in

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Scrabo Tower

Ulsterbus 7 runs from Belfast Laganside via Dundonald to Newtownards (40 min), Donaghadee, Millisle and occasionally to Ballywalter. It runs M-F every 30 min, Sa Su every two hours. It doesn't serve Belfast Europa station except on Sunday, and M-Sa for the last bus towards 9PM. Bus 5 only takes 20 min between Laganside and Newtownards, but only runs every two hours.

Bus 6 runs every 30 min from Bangor (20 min), which has frequent trains from Belfast via Holywood.

Bus 9 / 10 runs M-Sa hourly from Newtownards down the Ards Peninsula via Mount Stewart House and Grey Abbey to Portaferry, for ferries to Strangford. (Some of these buses start from Belfast Laganside.) There's only four on Sunday.

Newtownards 1 Bus Station is central on Regent St.

By road from Belfast follow A20.

Get around

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Take Bus 6 towards Bangor for the Somme Museum.

Buses 9 and 10 follow A20 down the west (lough) side of Ards Peninsula past Mount Stewart and Grey Abbey (15 min). Bus 10 then stays on A20 through Ardkeen to Portaferry, while Bus 9 crosses east to follow A2 via Ballywalter, Ballyhalbert, Portavogie and Cloughey to Portaferry. See Strangford for ferry details.

 
The 3rd Marquess of Londonderry
  • Newtownards Priory is the ruin of a 13th-century Dominican priory. The 4th Marquess of Londonderry and Marchioness are buried here. It's on Court St, a block south of town centre. Also in the centre note the market cross and market house.
  • 1 Movilla Abbey was active for 1000 years until dissolved in 1542. What you see now is the ruins of the 15th-century Augustinian church. Enter via Movilla Cemetery, which is still in use.
  • 2 Scrabo Tower. This grand Folly is a 135-ft (38-m) turreted tower, completed in 1859 as a memorial to Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. It's in Scottish Baronial style imitating a pele tower, and the interior is occasionally open. It's built over a prehistoric hill fort, so nothing remains of that. You mostly come for the view from the hill, and the surrounding country park.    
  • 3 Somme Museum, 233 Bangor Road, Conlig BT23 7PH, +44 28 9182 3202. M-Th Sa 10AM-5PM. The most terrible loss of life was on the Somme in 1916, but this museum commemorates Ireland's role throughout the First World War. It's a guided tour, usually on the hour. They also manage the Ulster Memorial near Thiepval, midway between Amiens and Arras, where the Ulster Division captured the German Schwaben Redoubt. Adult £8.50, child & conc £6.    
  • 4 Helen's Tower is a Folly, a Baronial tower built 1848-1861 to house a poetry collection for the 5th Baron of Dufferin and Claneboye. (Was he unaware of paperbacks? Simms & McIntyre of Belfast pioneered the format from 1847.) A similar design was later used for the Ulster Memorial on the Somme. The interior is now a quirky self-catering apartment so you can't look in. You come for the woodland walk, approach from Crawfordsburn Rd to the west.
  • 5 Kempe Stones or Greengraves is a portal tomb dolmen near A20 two miles west of town.
  • 6 Drumawhey Junction is a 7.25-inch gauge miniature railway. It's just a kiddie-ride.
  • 7 Ballycopeland Windmill, built circa 1790, is a functioning stone tower mill where the cap rotates to keep the sails facing the wind. In late 2020 it's under restoration. It's one mile west of Millisle.
  • See Bangor for Donaghadee, a small port with boat trips to the Copeland Islands.
  • The sea coast south of Donaghadee has a string of caravan parks and small resorts: Millisle, Ballywalter (with the fine Italianate Ballywalter Park, but you can only visit by special tour), Ballyhalbert (where Burr Point is the most easterly mainland point in Ireland, at longitude 5.433 west; and half a mile offshore is the most easterly point of all, the rock of Big Bow Meel Island), then Portavogie and Cloughey, where the main road crosses the peninsula to Portaferry.
  • The A20 runs down the west side of the peninsula facing Strangford Lough.
  • 8 Mount Stewart, Portaferry Road BT22 2AD, +44 28 4278 8387, . Daily 10AM-4PM. Grand 19th-century house and gardens, the lavish creation of the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. Having spent £150,000 on the makeover of what had been a Georgian mansion, he fortunately had £30 spare to donate to famine relief. He's the fellow commemorated by the Scrabo Tower; he also has a fancy statue in Durham where he furiously opposed laws against child labour down his coal mines. Mount Stewart slumped under later descendants until revived by the 7th Marquess, then it passed to the National Trust. Adult £10, child £5, NT free.    
  • 9 Grey Abbey, 129 Main St, Greyabbey BT22 2NQ (5 miles south of town). M-F 9AM-8PM, Sa Su 10AM-8PM. Substantial ruin of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1193, with a small physic and kitchen garden. The exhibition centre is only open Feb-Nov Sa Su 1-4PM, but you can stroll around the ruin any time in daylight. Free.  
  • 10 Portaferry is the village near the tip of the peninsula. See Strangford for details of the ferry that shuttles across the strait at the outlet of Strangford Lough. In Portaferry are the ruins of a tower house and a windmill, but the main attraction is Exploris Aquarium, open daily 10AM-5PM.
  • 11 Kearney is a picturesque fishing village by a shingle beach. Its windmill is just the sorry stub of a tower. Quintin Castle[dead link] to the south has a 12th-century core engulfed by Victorian prettifying; it's now an event space, e.g., for upmarket weddings, and you can't visit. Millin Bay Cairn south again looks like a stone circle but is the tops of stones of a neolithic burial site. Those buried here were related to burials at Newgrange in County Meath and at Carrowmore in Sligo.
  • 12 Rough Island is a wildlife reserve (dogs on lead permitted) reached by a causeway at low tide. Use Easytide for a free prediction 7 days ahead, select Killyleagh as the reference point, then Rough Island tides are 10 min later (or 2 hr 15 min later than Belfast).
  • 13 Castle Espie is a wetland wildlife reserve on the shores of Strangford Lough, 2 miles southeast of Comber on Ballydrain Rd. The castle is long gone; the area was quarried, which created lagoons. It's open daily 10AM-5PM.
  • 14 Magee Island within Strangford Lough has the ruins of a tower house built 1570, and of Nendrum Monastery founded in the 5th century. Remarkably, the monastery had a tide-driven mill. The island is reached by a public road off Ballydrain Rd south of Castle Espie.
 
The lough islands are drumlins
  • Ards Arts Centre is within Town Hall on Conway Square. It has two galleries with rotating exhibitions, concerts, other performances, and classes, tel +44 28 9181 0803.
  • Scrabo Golf Club, Scrabo Rd BT23 4NW (south side of tower), +44 28 9181 2355. Parkland course on the hillside, the first hole is especially admired. White tees 6270 yards, par 71. Round M-F £20, Sa Su £30.
  • Comber Greenway[dead link] is a walking and cycle path along the route of a disused railway. It runs east from Dee St near Titanic in east Belfast to Dundonald and Comber. From there, hug the west bank of Strangford Lough to reach Downpatrick. National Cycleway 99[dead link] runs from Newtownards down the peninsula to Portaferry, Strangford, Downpatrick and Newcastle. It's all on-road.
  • Watch motor racing at Kirkiston Circuit two miles southeast of Kircubbin on Rubane Road. It's laid out on an old RAF airfield.
  • Ards Shopping Centre is west end of town by the hospital. Asda is open M-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 1-6PM and its filling station usually has the cheapest fuel.
  • Comber Farmers Market is by St Mary's Church in Comber 10AM-1PM first Thursday of the month.
 
Nave of Grey Abbey
  • 1 Chef and Manager, 23 High St BT23 4JN, +44 28 9180 0932. Tu-Th noon-9PM, F Sa noon-10PM, Su noon-8PM. This gets the best reviews in town for its Med-style cuisine.
  • Molly Brown's Eatery, 45-47 South St BT23 4JT, +44 28 9182 1444. M-Th noon-11PM, F Sa noon-midnight, Su 12:30-10PM. Pleasant central eating place and bar.
  • 2 Hickory's Smokehouse & Grill, 96-98 Frances St BT23 7DY, +44 28 9181 4711. Tu-Su noon-9:30PM. Great for barbecue food but otherwise little choice.
  • Tuk Tuk, 6 William Street BT23 4AE (a block west of town centre), +44 28 9181 2101. M W-Sa noon-2PM, 5-9PM; Su 1-8PM. Popular place for Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine. It's not licensed, BYOB.

Drink

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  • The Spirit Merchant, 54 Regent St BT23 4LP, +44 28 9182 4270. Su-Th 8AM-11PM, F Sa 8AM-1AM. Good reliable JD Wetherspoon pub.
  • Other town bars are Parlour Bar, The Pub (how do they think up these wacky names?) and Tudor Bar.
  • Distillery: Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin 10 miles south of Newtownards produces whiskey and gin, and offers tours.

Sleep

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  • 1 Strangford Arms Hotel, 90-92 Church St BT23 4AL, +44 28 9181 4141. Value-for-money mid-range hotel, with LeWinters Bistro and bar. B&B double £80.
  • 2 Edenvale House, 130 Portaferry Rd BT22 2AH (2 miles southeast of town), +44 28 9181 4881. Smart B&B in a Georgian house. B&B double £60.
  • Bangor being a resort town has a much better choice of accommodation.
  • Portaferry Hotel[dead link] by the pier might be your life-saver if you got stuck for the Strangford ferry.

Connect

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As of Jan 2022, the town has 4G and mobile coverage from all UK carriers. The signal from Three and O2 extends down the main road along the lough to Portaferry, but there's no coverage on the east coast. 5G has not yet reached this area.

Go next

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  • Belfast needs several days to explore, don't just hurry through its transport hubs. Stormont is especially easy to reach as the bus from Newtownards runs past the foot of the approach avenue.
  • Bangor is an agreeable seaside town looking onto Belfast Lough.
  • Holywood has the Ulster Transport Museum and Folk Museum side by side. By bus or train, get off at Cultra.
  • Strangford, reached from the Ards peninsula by ferry, has a dilapidated collection of old castles.



This city travel guide to Newtownards is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.