Resting in a hollow on its namesake river, the city of Newry is divided between Counties Armagh and Down near the border with Ireland.
There’s breathtaking nature wherever you go, starting with the waters of the Carlingford Lough, which has the sensational Cranfield Beach at its mouth.
To the west are the rounded peaks of the Mourne Mountains, a source of granite for the UK’s industrial revolution and containing the stark beauty of the Silent Valley Mountain park.
In the east is the volcanic Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, peppered with monuments and archaeological sites, infused with Irish Mythology and going back to the Stone Age.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Newry:
1. Newry Cathedral
The most striking monument in Newry is the Grade A-listed Gothic Revival cathedral, constructed from local granite in the 1820s.
The architect was Thomas Duff, one of Newry’s most famous sons, who designed a number of churches and cathedrals in the northeast of Ireland, all with a Gothic Revival design.
Extensions were made over the next century with the addition of the tower, transept and chancel.
Inside, the vaulting, floor tiles and stained glass are all worth a look, while artisans from Italy were hired for the marble dressing and mosaics, which took five years to complete.
2. Newry and Mourne Museum
Bagenal’s Castle has seen a lot of change since it was founded as a fortified house in the 16th century.
The castle was built on the site of Newry’s 12th-century Cistercian abbey, but until the 1980s a lot of its fittings had been lost as the castle had been used as an industrial bakery from the end of the 19th century.
Those excavations in the 80s brought to light the original window frames, fireplaces, gun loops and doorways.
The banquet hall was also restored and now hosts functions throughout the year.
At the museum you can pore over Newry’s folklore and past, learning about the Cistercian abbey founded at the same time as the city and reading up on the record-breaking 18th-century Newry Canal.
3. Slieve Gullion
In the middle of the Ring of Gullion is Armagh’s highest peak, 573 metres high and with a view that will stop you in your tracks.
Up here you can take in the rest of the Ring of Gullion, the Armagh Drumlins and the Mourne Mountains to the east.
The slopes are decked with bare stone, heather and dry heath and at the top are two cairns on either side of a lake.
The cairn to the south is officially the highest passage grave in Ireland.
Pay a visit to the Slieve Gullion Forest Park, which has a visitor centre, walled garden, adventure playpark and the Giant’s Lair, a themed trail in 1.5 kilometres of forest, inspired by Slieve Gullion’s rich Irish Mythology.
4. Derrymore House
In 100 hectares of meadows and woods lies Derrymore House, built at the end of the 18th century in a quaint gentrified vernacular style.
You’ll know what this means when you see the property, now managed by the National Trust.
In the fashion of a “cottage orné”, popular in the period, Derrymore House has a thatched roof made from Shannon reeds.
This belies the high status of the building, which was a summer lodge for Newry’s MP Isaac Corry.
For £2 you can go in to view the drawing room, or amble for free through the blissful grounds, which make up the final stretch of the Ring of Gullion Way.
5. Ballymacdermot Court Tomb
The pick of the Stone Age monuments near Newry is this burial site, which has a stunning vantage point on the south side of Ballymacdermot Mountain.
This monument would have been active between 6,000 and 4,500 years ago and has an inspiring view of the Meigh plain.
There’s a court, almost forming a complete circle, and on one side are three distinct chambers that have long since lost their roofs.
These were once held up by corbels, which you can still see in the middle chamber.
There’s another court tomb nearby at Clontygora, and a portal tomb at Ballykeel, while the Bernish viewpoint a few minutes away offers yet more picturesque views.
6. Silent Valley Mountain Park
The Silent Valley Reservoir was built from 1923 to 1933 to catch the water flowing off the Mourne Mountains in response to Belfast’s sudden expansion at the start of the 20th century.
That immense catchment area is encircled by the Mourne Wall, a 35-kilometre dry-stone construction that took 18 years to complete.
Silent Valley shines for the crucible of mountains surrounding the reservoir, as well as the scenery from those smooth granite peaks.
Since 2014 three new walking trails have allowed walkers to get more from the park, taking you up to the Mourne Wall, which traverses 15 of the peaks in the Mourne Mountains.
7. Moyry Castle
Guarding the Moyry Pass and the Gap of the North not far south of Jonesborough is a campaign fort from the Nine Years’ War at the turn of the 17th century.
Moyry Castle was ordered by Lord Mountjoy, the Lord Deputy of Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I, and has a single tower, three storeys high on top of a “bawn” or outer wall.
The Moyry Pass was the path of least resistance for armies marching through hilly, bog-covered terrain.
Most people who have travelled on the Dublin-Belfast railway will have seen Moyry from the train, and you can come by to nose around and get some atmospheric shots of the tower.
8. Cranfield Beach
Just at the northern lip of the Carlingford Lough, Cranfield Beach is a broad sand and shingle bay on a shallow gradient.
From around the end of June to the start of September this Blue Flag beach is patrolled by an RNLI lifeguard, and if you’re ready to brave the crisp Irish Sea you can swim between the yellow and red flags.
The beach merits a walk at any time of year for the arresting view of the Mourne Mountains to the north.
Behind the beach there’s nothing more than homes and caravan parks, so makes sense to pack a picnic if you’re going to spend the day.
9. Killeavy Old Churches
Enclosed in a historic cemetery are the ruins of two churches built back-to-back at the base of Slieve Gallion.
The west church goes back to the 1000s, while the east church is from the 1400s.
Both were part of an ancient monastery founded in the 6th century by Saint Moninna and functioning for a whole millennium, but closed with the Abolition of the Monasteries.
While you’re visiting this evocative spot you could consider some of the mishaps to befall the monastery, like a Viking raid in 923 and a devastating storm in 1146. In the northern part of the cemetery you’ll see a granite flagstone believed to cover the grave of Saint Moninna.
10. Annalong Cornmill
Right before the Annalong River enters the Irish Sea at the namesake village is a restored watermill in use from the start of the 19th century until the 1960s.
Despite the name, the Annalong Cornmill was in the business of grinding oats into oatmeal, and during more than 150 years only three different families ran the enterprise.
From April to October the mill opens its doors, and you can go in to catch up on Mourne rural culture, see the mill’s mechanism and get the mill’s inside story from a re-enactor.
There’s also an exhibition about Mourne’s “stonemen”, quarrying granite and loading it onto schooners to build England and Scotland’s industrial cities.
11. Narrow Water Keep
Right where the Newry River opens onto Carlingford Lough is an enchanting castle keep raised in the 16th century and enclosed by a bawn.
The earliest fortification at this spot goes back to the 13th century and was devised to protect control river traffic heading to Newry by Hugh de Lacy, 1st Earl of Ulster.
Later, Narrow Water became a “Tower House” for nobility, and there are some fascinating elements to be identified on the outside like arrow loops on the corners to avoid blind spots, and corner quoins made from limestone, contrasting with the granite rubble of the walls.
12. Flagstaff Viewpoint
This treasured scenic lookout is over the right bank of the Newry River, opposite the Narrow Water Keep and a few hundred metres from the Irish border.
There’s a large car park at the foot of the hill, and you can climb through heather to watch the river winding down to the Carlingford Lough.
Up here on Barry’s Rock stands a flagpole, 12 metres in height on the site of a historic flag.
This was hoisted to help sailors entering the estuary work out the direction and force of the wind, but also may have been a way of warning smugglers against customs officers.
13. Newry Canal Way
The now defunct Newry Canal was the first summit-level canal in the United Kingdom, built to channel coal from Tyrone to the Irish Seat at Carlingford Lough.
Now you can walk or ride a 32-kilometre section north to Portadown.
The route follows the restored towpath, once used by horses to pull barges along, and threading through some of Northern Island’s most beautiful landscapes on way.
You’ll pass 13 locks, the remnants of old bridges, a host of informative interpretation panels about the canal, as well as the villages of Jerrettspass, Poyntzpass and Scarva.
At Scarva you could take a detour to see the old Terryhoogan aqueduct and the idyllic Lough Shark, much-loved by fishers.
14. Kilnasaggart Standing Stone
Two kilometres south of Jonesborough there’s a two-metre high carved stone, one of the oldest of its kind in Ireland.
The Kilnasaggart Standing Stone dates to the 8th century and is on the site of an early Christian cemetery: Excavations showed a set of graves positioned radially around this central pillar.
On the stone are 13 Celtic crosses, as well as an inscription that reads “This place, bequeathed by Temoc, son of Ceran Bic, under the patronage of Peter, the Apostle.”
15. Seascope Lobster Hatchery
On the coast in Kilkeel, the Seascope Lobster Hatchery is the only marine laboratory in Northern Ireland to welcome visitors.
From Monday to Saturday you can drop in to find out about the work carried out to preserve stocks of European lobsters, as well as blue mussels and Pacific oysters.
The hatchery rears lobsters from eggs to young adults, and you can learn about this process, handle the lobsters and get some insights on the fishing industry, the marine environment and sustainability.
Kids are also catered for, with child-friendly exhibits, arts and crafts and interactive displays.