Up next in the 'Local Favourites' series is Hillsborough in Co. Down, a wee village just 20 minutes from Belfast that makes the dreamiest day trip away from the city. I first visited the village back in 2015 and when I strolled through the pristine, Georgian streets lined with flowers, I could see why anyone, not just the Royal family, would choose base themselves here.
For a village of its size, it's impressive just how much Hillsborough has to offer. There are parks, castles and forts to get lost in all before eating some of the best food you can get in the north.
Here are a few ideas to get you started...
Hillsborough Castle & Gardens
While not technically a castle, this Georgian country house is still pretty darn fancy! An official residence of the Royal family since 1922, the castle was built for the Hill family in the 18th century with over 100 acres of gardens and park surrounding it.
Luckily for us, the castle and grounds are open to the public to explore and after its recent renovation work, it would be easy to spend an entire day there without getting bored. Lady Alice's Temple is a favourite of mine because no matter where I am in the grounds (Yew Tree Walk, Lime Tree Walk or Moss Walk), my eyes are always drawn to the white dome shining amongst the green.
*Please note: the castle is now closed for winter however the grounds are still open to the public.
Hillsborough Fort is where the town started when Colonel Arthur Hill built it back in 1650. It's a good place for a view of the town and the countryside around it as well as some creepy gothic additions.
Hillsborough Forest Park
Like the nearby castle and grounds, the forest park has also enjoyed major redevelopment in the last few years with a state-of -the-art woodland-themed outdoor children's play area being the highlight for many families.
There are plenty of forest trails for all fitness levels for those who want to stretch their legs and Percy's coffee truck offers the fuel for any parent chasing their child or pooch around the lake.
Arthur Street Cottages
There are dozens of beautiful townhouses in Hillsborough but my favourite street has to be Arthur Street where, as it turns out, my Aunt used to live when she was a young thing! The cottages and their colourful front doors are a good place for a photo opportunity (if you're anything like me and can't resist a pretty house).
St. Malachy's Church
Of course you can't visit a town in Ireland without seeing a church or two and St. Malachy's is a symmetrical dream. It's a good place for a dander up to the fort and then on to the lake.
Eat & Drink
After all that hill-walking, you'll deserve a big feed and luckily there are plenty of places to choose from in the village!
Out of Habit is a great spot for a scone and cup of tea if you need something light and with a door that pretty, you can't help but walk in!
The Hillside has been doing a roaring trade since the 16th century and it's no wonder, really. With it's cobbled beer garden and cosy fires, it's a charming place to gather for a meal no matter the season.
The Parson's Nose is another quaint pub with plenty of space to choose from. Eat in the bar, sunroom or attic depending on your mood. The restaurant was featured in the 2020 Michelin Guide so wherever you do decide to eat, you can rest assured that the food will be delicious.
Every time I'm in Hillsborough I have to call in to the Cheshire Cat to have a gander at what's new. It's the best place to pick up a gift for someone - usually for myself!
Twig & Twine is another place to buy things you have to have but don't really need. The shopfront alone makes me feel giddy with the flower arrangements and styling, it's impossible to not take a peak inside.
In Klöver is an Irish design shop showcasing some of the best local artists and makers from across the country.