Life may take you on many roads and to many towns and cities around the world but one fact is true: you can only have one birth town. You are born in one place and we must try and be proud of our roots. Welcome to Newtownards in Northern Ireland.
Despite sounding like a modern day metropolis due to its misleading name, the little town of Newtownards is quite the opposite. This unknown gem is where I started my journey around this planet and it never loses its appeal or its sparkle to me.
Molly Browns pub, which used to be called the Whiskey Haw, Newtownards, Northern Ireland.
Local shops in Conway Square, Newtownards.
Scrabo Tower (also known as the 1857 Memorial Tower)
This is far and away the main attraction. Scrabo Tower (in local dialect pronounced Scrabbatar) sits on the top of Scrabo Hill. I have reason to believe it’s official name is the 1857 Memorial Tower but nobody calls it that.
Scrabo Tower sits high and proud and is visible from most of North Down and was built in 1857 as a memorial to Charles Stewart, the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry who was one of the Duke of Wellington’s Generals during the Napoleonic Wars. The Third Marquis, or “Warring Charlie” as he was also known, inherited the title and family seat of Mount Stewart after his brother, The Second Marquis, committed suicide.
Scrabo Tower offers incredible views across Strangford Lough over Newtownards and even over to Scotland on a good day. The Tower contains two floors of displays and a climb of 122 steps to the top open viewing level. Scrabo Country Park is always open, however the tower is currently closed so please take note.
Awesome view of Newtownards, Northern Ireland from the hill at Scrabo Tower.
Conway Square (Ards Square)
Every Northern Irish town has a wee square. Newtownards is the same. Ards is proudly British. The Union flag flies here and rightly so, given the obvious Unionist presence in this Northern Irish stronghold.
People fought and died for Britain and Ireland during the two main wars of the last century. Conway Square is the centre point of Newtownards and is bang in the town centre. The main building in the town square houses Ards Art Centre and also has the town clock.
Ards Art Centre and the town clock in Conway Square.
It’s worth checking out the Blair Paddy Mayne statue too. Blair Mayne co-founded the SAS and was a highly regarded member of the British Army. His statue sits in the main square too.
They often have markets and festivals on here too since the town is mostly about kids and family.
Ards War Memorial
As sad as it is to say it, but Northern Irish towns all have War Memorials and I recommend visiting them on your tour. I’ve been to some conflict zones on my travels, such as Palestine, Iraq and Venezuela and I find it important to respect those who fought and died for our freedom today. I hope the Protestants and Catholics of Newtownards can live in peace for eternity – make it a proud wee Northern Irish town. The war memorial however commemorates those who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars.
Ards War Memorial, something to ponder.
The Somme Centre
The battle of the Somme was a major battle during the First World War and this centre is a really really insightful place.
While Irish Music is famous the world over, Newtownards boasts Avalon Guitars. From this tranquil town, guitars are made and sold all over the world. The likes of James Morrison and Bruce Springsteen have used Avalon Guitars down the years. Visitors and welcomed to their workshop and showroom! Something unique and random to do when you backpack your way here. Avalon Guitars Newtownards.
Avalon Guitars, Newtownards.
I’ve been around the world and drank coffee in many places, but my favourite place for a morning coffee and scone is still Knotts. Sitting noticeably on Newtownards High Street, this charming coffee shop ain’t changed in years. And it has no reason to. Top Irish breakfasts are served to perfection. Homemade scones and cakes come in good varieties and you just sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and forget about the world.
Ark Open Farm
Opposite the Somme Heritage Centre on the other side of the carriageway to Bangor is the Ark Open Farm. It’s been there for years and is popular with families and school children. The farm has sheep, cattle, poultry, llamas, donkeys, which offers kids a great opportunity to hand feed animals and experience Ards farm life.
I’m including Wardens on here as it’s a Newtownards institution. Famous for generations, this is a traditional big town department store in a small town. It does the town proud. It’s for buying home decorations, furniture and appliances. For a backpacker, it provides you with an insight into what Northern Irish people do on the weekends when they’re not down the pub. “Aye the locals love a wee bit of shopping so they do”.
“Woolco” (Ards Shopping Centre)
Locals call it Woolco, at least I hope they still do as this was always the local shopping centre in the area. PAsda, Boots, Easons etc. Northern Irish people love a good bit of shopping and you can see it all in action here.
Take my advice and don’t turn up in a Celtic shirt. In fact, you won’t get in.