Seven Days in County Down – Helen’s Tower

County Down, Northern Ireland, offers a huge number of attractions and activities – whether you’re keen on exploring historic sites, enjoying the natural beauty of this part of Ireland, or indulging in local cuisine, this region promises a rich and varied experience. From the majestic Mourne Mountains, inspiring the works of C.S. Lewis, to the tranquil shores of Strangford Lough, County Down is a destination that captures both the heart and imagination.

If you appreciate history, the county is home to several notable attractions, including the grand Castle Ward, and the fascinating Down County Museum. Belfast is also a must-see for its vibrant culture and historical significance. For those who prefer a more active approach, the area boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Northern Ireland, perfect for walking and hiking. With well-marked trails and scenic routes, those looking for an active holiday have plenty to choose from.

Helen’s Tower, conserved and cared for by Irish Landmark Trust offers guests unique accommodation and features a cosy sitting room with a fireplace with poetry of Tennyson and Kipling lining the walls.

Where to Stay in County Down – Helen’s Tower

Helen’s Tower is a captivating stone tower located deep in the woodlands of the Clandeboye Estate in County Down, Northern Ireland. Built in 1848 by Frederick Lord Dufferin, this historic property was named in honour of his mother, Helen. The tower’s literary significance was immortalised by the famous poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who penned a poem bearing its name. It makes for an interesting stay, off the beaten path.

The history of Helen’s Tower 

The property is located in the scenic surrounds of Clandeboye Estate. It forms part of the Columban Way, a heritage trail between Comber and Bangor covering 20 miles (32 km); a trail to experience the area’s rich and diverse history, Bronze Age relics, monastic settlements, Viking attacks, industrial heritage and military influences in both the First and Second World Wars. 

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, a training camp was established at Clandeboye estate for the newly formed 36th (Ulster) Division. New recruits trained in military discipline, drill and how to fight with rifle and bayonet, but also in the art of trench digging, which they practised regularly to both improve skills and increase fitness levels. Camp life was basic for the first few months as field kitchens and permanent accommodations were not completed until December 1914. A finished camp plan shows over 90 new buildings on the estate and records over 2100 personnel, officers and other ranks, which could be accommodated within the camp. 

Day One: Explore Crawfordsburn Country Park

After checking in and settling into the Tower, take a drive to Crawfordsburn Country Park ( approx. 20 minutes). Crawfordsburn Country Park is a large green space spanning 190 acres in County Down, located along the coast. It features woodlands, walking trails, meadows, and streams. The Old Deer Park area within the park has fallow deer roaming freely. 

Visitors can walk along the trails, go hiking, cycle, and enjoy picnics. The diverse landscapes cater to visitors of all fitness levels and ages, with a ‘choose your own’ approach to the possible walking routes. There are several routes, ranging from less than one kilometre to three kilometres.

With its natural scenery and outdoor activities, Crawfordsburn Country Park makes for an enjoyable first day out in County Down’s countryside. 

For visitors driving to Crawfordsburn Country Park, there are several parking options available, including a main car park, a lay-by on the exit road, Fort Road Car Park, Grey Point Fort and Sea Park, and spaces along Coastguard Avenue. Entry and parking are currently free of charge – we think this is a must-see!

Day Two: A Day Trip to Historic Belfast

A day trip to Belfast offers a chance to explore Northern Ireland’s capital city and largest urban area. From Helen’s Tower, this is just a 30 minute drive.

Visitors can discover Belfast’s rich history and culture by visiting attractions like the Titanic Belfast Museum, which commemorates the city’s maritime heritage and the construction of the legendary RMS Titanic. The Cathedral Quarter in the city centre features beautiful architecture, including St. Anne’s Cathedral and a lively atmosphere with restaurants, pubs, and shops. For a dose of nature, the Belfast Botanic Gardens provide a tranquil oasis with stunning plant collections and walkable grounds. Other popular sites include the Ulster Museum, City Hall, and the rejuvenated Titanic Quarter along the River Lagan waterfront.

Titanic Belfast

No visit to Belfast is complete without experiencing Titanic Belfast. Located on the site where the famous RMS Titanic was built and launched, this state-of-the-art interactive museum takes visitors on a journey through the construction, launch, and tragic sinking of the legendary ocean liner. With nine immersive galleries, multimedia displays, and a stunning architectural design, Titanic Belfast offers a fascinating glimpse into Belfast’s rich maritime heritage.

St. George’s Market

This historic Victorian market dates back to the late 19th century and is one of the city’s most vibrant attractions. Visitors can indulge in delicious local delicacies, browse through unique crafts and souvenirs, and soak up the lively atmosphere filled with live music and friendly vendors. The market’s stunning Victorian architecture and some of Belfast’s most authentic local producers.

Whether you’re looking to sample some of Northern Ireland’s finest culinary offerings, hunt for one-of-a-kind gifts, or simply enjoy the buzzing energy of a traditional market, St. George’s Market promises an authentic and unforgettable experience in the heart of Belfast.

Other Things to Do and See in Belfast

  • Explore the Cathedral Quarter and visit St. Anne’s Cathedral 
  • Take a black cab tour to learn about the city’s political murals
  • Visit the Ulster Museum to dive into Northern Irish history and culture
  • Explore the exhibits at the W5 Interactive Discovery Centre (great for kids)

Day Three: Mourne Mountains Adventure

The Mourne Mountains are a granite mountain range in County Down offering rugged scenery, clear lakes, and rolling hills. The area is about an hour from Helen’s Tower by car. Slieve Donard, towering at 850 metres, is the highest peak and provides stunning views over the Irish Sea and Isle of Man on clear days.

This picturesque mountain range is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Hikers can challenge themselves on the renowned Mourne Wall trek, which traverses the summits of the highest peaks, offering breathtaking vistas and a sense of accomplishment. For those seeking a more leisurely experience, the Mourne Mountains are crisscrossed by a network of well-marked trails, suitable for all skill levels, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s natural splendour.

Steeped in history and folklore, the Mourne Mountains have long been a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and poets. From the legendary tales of giants and mythical creatures to the enduring beauty of the landscape itself, this region has captured the hearts and imaginations of visitors for centuries.

Enjoying lunch near the Mourne Mountains

Enjoy lunch in the charming village of Newcastle (1 hour drive) before exploring Tollymore Forest Park. Take a leisurely stroll along the river or challenge yourself to a more strenuous hike. 

At Tollymore Forest Park, you can immerse yourself in 630 acres of woodland. The Shimna River runs through it, and the park features numerous walking paths, ornamental gardens, and Gothic-style stone arches. It’s also known for its red squirrels and diverse tree species.

Day Four: Downpatrick and Down County Museum

Downpatrick Cathedral

Downpatrick Cathedral (45  minute drive)  is steeped in history, with its origins dating back to the 12th century. Over the centuries, it has undergone numerous renovations and restorations, each adding to its architectural splendour and cultural significance. Today, the cathedral stands as a living testament to the enduring faith of generations past, providing a spiritual sanctuary for worshippers and visitors alike. This cathedral is believed to be the burial place of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. Visit and see it for yourself!

County Down Museum

Nestled in the heart of Downpatrick, the Down County Museum serves as a captivating gateway into the rich history and cultural tapestry of County Down. This remarkable institution offers visitors an immersive journey through the region’s past, showcasing its unique stories and treasures.

One of the museum’s highlights is the impressive collection of archaeological finds, including the renowned Downpatrick High Cross and the Struell Wells, which provide fascinating insights into the region’s early Christian history. Additionally, the museum’s extensive archives and research facilities serve as invaluable resources for scholars and enthusiasts alike, delving deeper into the rich tapestry of County Down’s past.

Day Five: Visit Castle Ward and Strangford Lough

Castle Ward

Castle Ward,( 1 hour drive)  situated near the town of Strangford, embodies a unique blend of architectural styles. This 18th-century mansion features both Gothic and Classical facades. When you visit, you can stroll through the extensive grounds that include an exotic sunken garden and a tranquil lake, reflecting the beauty of the Georgian estate. It even featured in HBO’s hit series Game Of Thrones.

Strangford Lough

Strangford Lough ( 30 minute drive) is a large sea loch famed for its wildlife and outdoor activities. It’s the United Kingdom’s largest inlet, and it’s classified both as a Marine Nature Reserve and an Area of Special Scientific Interest. With more than 2,000 marine species, it’s perfect for bird-watching, sailing, and spotting harbour seals.

Day Six: Ards Peninsula Exploration

This scenic coastal peninsula in County Down offers rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and quaint fishing villages. Highlights include the dramatic cliffs at Portavogie and Ballyquintin, sandy beaches at Groomsport and Millisle. Outdoor activities like hiking coastal trails, fishing, sailing, kayaking, and surfing are popular. Historic villages like Portaferry and Greyabbey showcase maritime heritage with harbours and old buildings. Fresh seafood features prominently in local restaurants and pubs. The Ards Peninsula (35 minute drive)   provides beautiful coastal scenery and opportunities to experience the region’s natural landscapes and cultural traditions.

Portaferry and Strangford

 Visit the charming coastal villages of Portaferry and Strangford on the Ards Peninsula. Portaferry has a pretty harbour and narrow streets lined with colourful houses and shops. Take the ferry across the narrows of Strangford Lough for scenic views. Strangford is a quaint village known for its mediaeval tower and Game of Thrones filming locations nearby.

Strangford Lough Ferry

 For incredible views, take the ferry crossing over Strangford Lough. This sheltered sea inlet is dotted with islands and ringed by the Ards Peninsula on one side. The ferry ride provides panoramic vistas of the lough’s calm waters, coastal landscapes, and Strangford village. Keep an eye out for local wildlife like seals.

Day Seven: A Relaxing Day at Helen’s Tower

Clandeboye Estate Tour

 Start your day by taking a guided tour of the historic Clandeboye Estate (onsite). Explore the beautiful grounds and learn about the fascinating history of this grand estate. The tours provide insight into the estate’s architecture, gardens, and the family who once called it home. 

For an added adventure, inquire with Walter, the House Manager at Helen’s Tower, about the possibility of an off-road driving experience on the estate’s grounds. This unique opportunity allows you to navigate through the scenic landscapes in a thrilling way.

Leisurely Reading at the Tower

Spend a relaxing afternoon immersed in a good book while enjoying the tranquil surroundings of the Tower. Find a cosy spot, either indoors or outdoors, and let the peaceful atmosphere transport you to the pages of your chosen literary escape.

Places to Eat in the Area

Clandeboye Lodge Hotel is Just a 5-minute drive from the Tower, the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel offers a convenient and delicious dining option. Savour their breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, featuring locally sourced ingredients and expertly prepared dishes.

Our House Manager recommends

 For a wider variety of dining experiences, explore the culinary scene in nearby Bangor. (15 minutes drive)

Café Essence, 17 Hamilton Road

Tuk Tuk, 7 Grey’s Hill, Bangor.  Asian eat in and take away.  

Bangla, 115 Main Street, Bangor.  Indian eat in and take away.  It’s byo which helps with the cost!  

Bokhara, 2A King Street, Bangor.  Indian eat in and take away.  

Bawon, 88 Groomsport Road, Bangor.  Chinese takeaway.

Olive Tree Artisan Café, 9 Bridge Street, Bangor.  Good for breakfast and lunch but closes early. 

Millars Fish and Chips, 117 High Street, Bangor.

Café Cod, 5 Bridge Street, Bangor.  Good fish and chips.  

Creative Gardens Donaghadee, 34 Stockbridge Road, Donaghadee.  Morning coffee, lunch and tea with great puddings, scones and cakes.  

Helen’s Tower is also fully self-catering, should you wish to cook up a meal of your own.

When to visit

County Down offers a wealth of unforgettable experiences for visitors, from its stunning coastal landscapes and picturesque villages to its rich history and cultural heritage. Whether you’re exploring the charming towns along the Ards Peninsula, taking a scenic ferry ride across Strangford Lough, all while discovering the grandeur of Helen’s Tower, County Down promises a wealth of cultural, historical and scenic things to see, do, and learn about.

So, whether you’re seeking outdoor adventures, cultural enrichment, or simply a chance to unwind and enjoy the beauty of Northern Ireland, this remarkable destination promises an experience you’ll never forget no matter when you visit. 

Consider booking an extra night or two to take advantage of lower rates and give yourself more time to explore the many attractions and activities in the region. With so much to see and do, you might just need those extra days to fully enjoy your break at Helen’s Tower. 

Book your visit to Helens Tower

Please note that these suggestions are meant to help you plan your trip and are based on information available as of Spring 2024. Always check individual websites for the most up-to-date opening times and booking details before finalising your itinerary.

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It is possible to reserve dates online at but bookings are not confirmed until a confirmation email is received from the bookings desk.     


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Cancellation Charge 

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50% of total rental 

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100% of total rental 

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On rare occasions Irish Landmark may need access to the property for essential maintenance work, should it be necessary, Irish Landmark will give you as much notice as is possible.   There is no need for you to stay in the property since our House Manager can accompany any such visits. 


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Irish Landmark reserves the right to refuse any booking and cancel any booking already made, if in its absolute discretion it considers this to be necessary. Where a booking is cancelled by Irish Landmark, every effort will be made to offer an alternative holiday at no increase in cost.  If the Hirer does not accept the alternative holiday offered, Irish Landmark will return to the Hirer the deposit paid and any other sum paid to Irish Landmark by the Hirer.  Liability for all consequential loss, damage and disappointments is accordingly limited to such return. 


It is the hirer’s responsibility to ensure they book a specific dog-friendly property if they are bringing a dog.  There are specific terms and conditions that to which the hirer must adhere: 

We allow a dog, but only when they have been booked in and paid for. The “Taking a Dog” option must be selected at time of booking.  A charge will apply.  

Our policy is strictly ONE DOG. If you arrive at the property with more than one dog the House Manger is entitled to deny you access to the property.  If it becomes known during/after your stay that more than one dog is/was with you, you may be asked to vacate the property and a charge of €100/£100 per dog will apply. 

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If there is evidence that you have not cleaned up adequately after your stay, you will be charged a flat rate of €100/£100.   

You must double-check that the outside area around the property is free of any foul. Dog fouling inside the property is completely unacceptable.  Guests will be asked to vacate the premises immediately if this is discovered.  

Your dog must not be left unsupervised in the property.  We ask that you take your dog with you when you go out.  Please be mindful of any livestock nearby. 


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I have read and agree to be bound by the Booking Conditions. 

I agree to be held responsible for the balance of hire for the property due and payable in accordance with these terms. 

I understand that most Irish Landmark properties have no television or internet access; that some have no washing machines or dishwashers; and that many have limited mobile phone coverage. 

I understand that as the Lead Person, I am responsible, before their arrival, for informing all guests of Irish Landmark’s booking conditions, and for their observance of same. 

If I am bringing a pet or having day visitors, I have particularly noted the special conditions that apply in these situations 


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