The big towns in the north of the county, Newtownards and Bangor, present the least appealing aspect of Down. Better to drive south from Belfast along the coastal route where the breathtaking peaks of the Mourne Mountains increasingly dominate the panorama - it is to the south and east of the county that most of its attractions lie. Here, the natural beauty of the rural aspect is evident everywhere - woodland and rivers, mountains and coastline, interspersed here and there with man's meagre efforts, provide the real charm of County Down. Follow the coastal route past the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, one of the best in Northern Ireland, toward the Ards Peninsula and along the banks of Strangford Lough. Here is a region awaiting discovery, full of hidden sandy beaches, Christian monuments, defensive tower-houses and grand mansions, but above all the area is a haven for birdlife. South of the Lough is St Patrick's Country, so-called because it is possible to follow in the saint's footsteps from Ringbane, where he landed in AD432, to the delightful town of Downpatrick where he instigated the construction of a small church.
Travelling inland from here, toward the heart of Down, brings you to a haunting region known as The Bronte Homeland - this is the locale in which Patrick Bronte, father of the three famous literary daughters, grew up. The countryside around the Bann Valley, from where Patrick originated, is virtually unspoilt and seldom visited.
Numerous small resorts decorate the coastal fringe of the Lecale Peninsula, the largest and most enjoyable of which is Newcastle. The town also doubles as the best base for easy access to the neighbouring mountain range; excursions on foot are most comfortably made from here to the mysterious Mourne Mountains. Photographers, artistes, fishermen, walkers, bathers, golfers, seekers after gemstones - all are catered for in the ‘Kingdom of Mourne'. Carlingford Lough, at the county's southern extremity, maintains a quite serenity watched over by ancient stone sentinels.