County Down splits Belfast with County Antrim, but this region has a great deal more to offer. Armed with car hire in County Down, you'll have free reign of the countryside, where you'll find some of the best venues in Northern Ireland for wildlife watching. Elsewhere in the county, rolling farmland intersperses with historic castle country, world-class golf courses and a few high-profile resort communities.
On an international scale, Hillsborough may be the most important city in the county next to Dublin. The local castle is fit for royalty, and it's still the preferred residence of the Queen when she pays a visit to Northern Ireland. Heads of state from other countries also stay here when they're in the area.
The Ards Peninsula is an ideal place to escape with your hire car, especially if you're keen on seeing traditional towns, barley fields and a little slice of the coast. If you'd rather grow closer to Ireland's patron saint, then Downpatrick is the preferred base. It's an amalgam of 18th-century Georgian architecture, ancient proto-ruins and one after another heritage site with a claim on the life of St Patrick. Come on 17 March to join the pilgrims en masse.
Most of the hotels in County Down are in Newcastle resort. Highlights range from bed and breakfasts like Oakleigh House to a host of seaside guesthouses. The main avenue running through Newcastle boasts a heady mix of pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues that light up at the weekend. Here the Mourne Mountains back the seaside promenade and gold-sand beach./p>
OThe easiest way in is to fly into Belfast and set out with your County Down hire car. Buses also run to Newcastle and Downpatrick, but you'd miss a great deal of scenery in the backcountry.