Recently we have been spending more time in the (sometimes) sunny, seaside town of Bangor Northern Ireland, my hometown, which I admittedly did lose love for many years back. Due mostly to boredom, as it really is not the centre of excitement when it comes to the global stage. But, now, as an almost mature 30-something-year-old, I have found myself taking a break from the somewhat extreme climates of Asia, and spending more time back home in Bangor Northern Ireland. It’s like 6 months on each side. The best of both worlds. And while I originally moved to Thailand for warmth and sunshine, it is now the winter months and Christmases I love in Bangor. And the overall changes through the seasons. Anyway, here are some of the top tourist attractions in Bangor Northern Ireland.
Starting with Bangor Marina, as I assume most visitors to Bangor will be arriving by yacht, and therefore Bangor Marina is the first port of call for most. At the same time, it probably is the main highlight in this scenic seaside town, meaning it will likely top most people’s to-do list for attractions in Bangor. Then, for the plebs arriving by bus or train, just follow to the bottom of Main Street and you’re pretty much there. So Bangor Marina is just really nice for a walk around, and it’s somewhat central to the other seafront attractions that surround it. And while the seaside facing promenade is rather delightful, unfortunately, the old Queen’s Parade opposite is just a bit of a disaster these days. Just ask any Bangorian about it, and you’re guaranteed an hour or two of whining, so be sure to tell them “… those there art pods look fantastic”.
Eisenhower North Pier
Found pretty much next to the Marina is Bangor’s Pier, known officially as the Eisenhower Pier, although some locals are having none of it, and continue to call it the North Pier. I have no idea why. Anyway, Bangor’s Pier is the berth place of the larger boats visiting the town, and in the sea opposite was once a huge gathering of ships led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as they readied to storm the shores of Normandy during D-Day. Hence, the Eisenhower Pier. The Pier is also home to some rather flaky Guillemots, who seem to come and go as they please (they’re migratory I think). And there’s also a smaller pier at the entrance, known as the long hole, which was once used to berth smaller boats, only it seems more for dog walkers and seagulls these days. Fishing and coastal boat tours are also an option and are organised from the Pier (as well as Pickie Fun Park) by Bangor Boat Tours.
Pickie Fun Park
Pickie Fun Park is found on the opposite (south) side of Bangor Marina, and the venue was in fact once an outdoor swimming pool (Pickie Pool), which really is a bit nuts considering the ‘Baltic’ temperatures (as they say) around here. I definitely wouldn’t recommend swimming in the sea. But nowadays it is a Fun Park, with lots of fun for all the family, or at least the kids, with attractions like the Pickie Puffer (a kiddies train track), Disco Ducks (I dunno) and the main feature of the Swans (Pedalo Swans). Don’t forget your Lemon Top ice cream. (A full list of the attractions here). Pickie Fun Park opens every day from 09:00AM – 09:00PM through Spring and Summer, and on varying dates during the rest of the year. Fun fact, one of my favourite monuments in Bangor, the “Pastie Supper Lover”, is found at Pickie Fun Park. However, there is a campaign for its relocation due to its rather dodgy location right next to a children’s play park.
The Coastal Path
Following along on the coastal path from Pickie Fun Park, you can actually walk right from Bangor up to Holywood. Which is a good 10 miles or so, and 7 train stops along the lines. So you’d probably be best just taking the train there. But there are some scenic spots along the way (as seen in our awesome video below) including rugged coastlines and coves, various pebble and sand beaches, as well as connecting forest parks along the coastal path. This includes Strickland’s Glen, which is a great place for ‘carry-outs’ of beer, Buckfast and cider (2 leets obviously). And further along finds Crawfordsburn Country Park, which is worth a visit alone. Otherwise the iconic Irish coastlines are just a highlight in themselves. We really do live in a beautiful part of the world.
Bangor Main Street
Leading up from Bangor Marina (or down from the bus and train stations. Depending on where you’re coming from) is Bangor’s Main Street. Which has been a bit dead of late, or to be more specific, for the past 10 years. Or 15 years maybe. Which is the same for many/most British town centres to be fair, thanks to out-of-town shopping, and Amazon, and whatnot. But, for tourism, I feel it works more to its advantage, as the typical high street shopping scene of the good ol’ days, has been replaced with a central cafe culture, as well as quaint local charity shops. Although local business owners probably won’t agree. Then there’s the usual stuff, like Subway Sandwich, and Boots and whatnot. The Flagship Centre, an indoor shopping mall at the bottom corner of Main Street, is also a worthwhile visit. Simply because it’s more or less a ghost mall these days as well as a monument of sorts to the UK’s dying economy (now closed).
Castle Park and Town Hall
For those plebs arriving by bus or train, the first image in Bangor will likely be the Town Hall and Castle Park, which sit directly opposite the two stations. Where the Town Hall, or Bangor Castle as it’s also known, is really just hard to miss. So this area makes a decent starting point when exploring the more central town centre of Bangor, starting with the surrounding Castle Park, which really is more of a wooded area, than your typical town park. As there’s not really much when it comes to activities, like ponds, and ducks, and swans. But it is rather nice for a romantic walk, and you’ll probably meet some dog walkers along the way, and dogs, and squirrels, and dogs chasing squirrels. Also, for those big into botany, there’s a ton load of exciting trees scattered throughout the park, including a ‘fine collection of mature conifers and deciduous trees’. Castle Park is also home to the North Down Museum (Full tour of Castle Park Here).
North Down Museum
The North Down Museum connects to the side of the Town Hall, although the name is a bit misleading for newcomers, where it’s named after the local borough council (North Down), just so other areas don’t feel left out. At the same time most people just call it Bangor Museum, because it’s in Bangor. Or the Bangor Heritage Centre, which was its earlier and better name, before it received ‘museum status’ and they wanted to show off. Anyway, I have little interest in even the most exciting of museums (I like food tourism and alcohol), but Bangor Museum probably isn’t the worst I’ve been to. My dad likes it. It’s also extremely convenient to find when in Castle Park. And to share some of the more notable attractions (at least for me) there’s the iconic Bangor Bell, a glass beehive in the upper floor, and a replica of the Town Hall made out of 2011 sugar cubes. The museum is also free of charge, and there’s some added incentive with the on-site Coffee Cure cafe (Full tour of the Museum Here).
The Walled Garden
This restored Victorian Garden is “A real hidden gem”, at least this is how it is touted by the local tourist board. But it is definitely worth a walk around if you like gardens, and flowers, and there’s a fancy fountain smack in the middle. My mum likes it. The Walled Garden also connects to the back of Castle Park, so you really don’t need to go far out of your way to find it. However, it is a seasonal attraction in Bangor, because the UK is pretty much dead for half the year, meaning it only opens for the bloom in Spring through until the end of Summer. Next to the Walled Garden, you will also find Bangor Aurora Aquatic & Leisure Complex (the swimming pool) if you fancy a swim on your visit to Bangor (for some odd reason), as well as the rather retro looking Omniplex cinemas which is also found nearby. They’re just there if you need them. Here for a full bit on the walled garden.
Following a slight detour from Main Street (following Hamilton Road), Ward Park is more like your traditional town centre park, with ponds, and ducks, and people feeding ducks. And there are even aviaries with more exotic birds. And I’ll be lazy here, with a copy/paste from the Discover NI website. “Ward Park covers an area of 37 acres and among its attractions are a children’s playground, all-weather hockey pitches, cricket pitch, bowling greens, putting green and tennis courts”. Other notable attractions include the War Memorial monument and a U-Boat gun which is great for swinging upside down from. Fun fact. A good few years back (2005), some drunken louts broke into the bird cages and slaughtered 24 banty hens and a peacock. So the local media obviously tracked down the otherwise elusive ‘Councillor Dianna Peacock’ to report on it.
It’s now been a good 10 plus years since my last night out in Bangor, partly because I don’t do nightlife, but the town centre is also geared more towards teens (I actually do like Belfast these days). However, were I forced to go anywhere, it would maybe be Jenny Watts on the High Street, or the Salty Dog on the seafront, or I’d probably just continue along the coast (north) to the Jamaica Inn. At least these are the more amiable options when it comes to grub and pints in Bangor. Otherwise the best part of nightlife for me was the kebabs, which I can easily have them delivered directly to my door. So here they are. ‘Spice Island’ top and ‘Chillies’ bottom. It’s a bit of a coin toss between the two (I’d go chillies).
Where to Stay?
The obvious hotel for Bangor town centre is the Marine Court, which overlooks the seafront area and the main Marina buildings (rates etc. here). And hen a few doors down is similar in the Salty Dog (rates etc. here). Otherwise many of Bangor’s seafront hotels have shut up shop (the Royal and Windsor Hotels) due to the whole collapsing economy thing. However, an upturn is expected, with a rather massive (for Bangor) Premiere Inn slated for opening in 2019 opposite the bus and train stations. And then there’s just a bunch of smaller guesthouses and B&B’s along the seafront road leading from the Pier (Seacliff Road) as well as a handful near to Pickie Fun Park. Note, be careful when booking online, as the typical list of Bangor hotels (full list here) includes some that are miles out from the town centre. Which are nice hotels tbf (e.g. the Old Inn), but they’re obviously not convenient for the town centre.