Bangor is a town on the south shore of Belfast Lough, historically in County Down in Northern Ireland, but nowadays in Ards and North Down District. It was a holiday resort from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century but is now chiefly a commuter town for Belfast.
Bangor in Irish is Beannchor, a horned or peaked curve, referring to the shape of its bay. In the 6th and 7th centuries its monastery rivalled Armagh as the religious and cultural centre of Ireland, but Viking raids finished it off, and its Norman revival under St Malachy was never so important. It remained a small place until the Ulster Plantations of the 17th century, when it grew as a port. Over the next 200 years a major linen industry developed across Ireland, however Bangor's speciality was cotton, with steam-driven mills lining the sea front. But as the scale of production processes grew, Bangor couldn't compete with the Lancashire mill towns and this industry faded. The railway arrived in 1865 and the town morphed into a seaside resort and commuter town for Belfast, acquiring its Victorian architecture.
It remained a tourist resort into the 1960s, but its cool climate and bracing sea temperatures were no match for the Med. "The Troubles" then set in: there were murderous bomb attacks in Bangor but the town escaped more lightly than most, though it suffered from the blight that descended on Belfast. Conversely, it has benefited from the revival following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The counties of Northern Ireland have been abolished and since 2015 Bangor has been the administrative centre of Ards and North Down Borough, so local government is a significant local employer. in 2011 its population was 61,011, which makes it the third largest town in Northern Ireland.
The Tourist Information Centre is on Quay Street near the marina's pier. It's open M-Sa 09:30-17:00.
Most long-distance routes by air, sea, rail or bus involve travelling via Belfast. One exception is George Best City Airport, where most flights are from the UK: you walk or take the free shuttle bus to Sydenham station for the Bangor train, and don't travel via the city.
Trains from Belfast run every 30 min and take an hour to Bangor, for a single fare of £6. They start from Portadown and run via Lurgan, Lisburn, several Belfast stations including Great Victoria Street (for Europa bus station), Botanic (for Queen's University), Lanyon Place (for trains from Dublin) and Titanic; then Sydenham (for City Airport), Holywood, Marino, Cultra (for the Transport and Folk Museums), Seahill, Helen's Bay (for Crawfordsburn), Carnalea and Bangor West (just residential, don't get off here), terminating at 1 Bangor railway station on Abbey Street.
Ulsterbus 502 runs hourly M-Sa from Belfast Laganside, taking just under an hour via Lanyon Place, Holywood, Cultra, Kilcooley and Crawfordsburn. It doesn't serve Europa bus station except the last bus of the day towards 21:00, and the four buses that run on Sunday. Bangor Buscentre is south side of the railway station.
Bus 3 runs hourly, daily, east along the coast to Donaghadee.
Taxis can be found by the railway and bus stations.
National Cycleway 93 / 99 runs from Bangor down the peninsula to Newtownards, Portaferry, Strangford, Downpatrick and Newcastle. It's all on-road. You can also cycle to Downpatrick by hugging the west bank of Strangford Lough.
- 1 Bangor Marina is the attractive centrepiece of town. It has 530 berths and is navigable at all tides with at least 2.2 m depth. If you're meeting someone in Bangor, the standard rendezvous is the McKee Clock, built 1915, at the foot of High Street.
- 2 Bangor Abbey, Abbey St BT20 4JF. M-F 10:00-13:00. This was founded by St Comgall in 558 AD, and became a great centre of scholarship until destroyed by the Vikings. Prayers and hymns were chanted non-stop. (One of its priors, St Mirin, founded the abbey in Paisley and gives his name to that town's football club.) The remarkable Antiphony of Bangor was written here in the 7th century, a collection of prayers, hymns and sacred readings: it was sent to Bobbio Abbey in the hills above Piacenza, and is now in the Ambrosian Museum in Milan. St Malachy rebuilt the abbey from 1121 but it was never so important as before. It passed to the Franciscans then the Dominicans until the dissolution. Only one wall has survived, incorporated into the later church, which is mostly from 17th century and is C of I. Free.
- 3 North Down Museum (Bangor Castle), Town Hall BT20 4BT. Tu-Sa 10:00–15:00, Su 12:00-15:00. The "castle" is a mansion built in 1852 in the grounds of the former abbey, which in the 1940s became the Town Hall. The museum displays local history and culture. To the south is attractive parkland and a walled garden. Free.
- Beaches: closest is Ballyholme, a long sandy expanse east edge of town. Others are Helen's Bay and Crawfordsburn.
- 4 Grey Point Fort, Helen's Bay BT19 1PU. Sa Su 10:00–16:00. This battery was built 1904-07 to defend Belfast Lough; the guns were never fired in anger. The fort was disarmed in 1954 but in the 1990s similar guns were obtained from County Cork and re-mounted. There's now a small volunteer-run museum. Free.
- Crawfordsburn is an attractive little village west of Bangor, where the main attraction is The Old Inn, see Sleep. There's a beach, and a pleasant forested country park, bounded by an impressive railway viaduct. Trains stop nearby at Helen's Bay, while buses run through Crawfordsburn itself.
- 5 Helen's Tower: see Newtownards for this Victorian Folly, approached by a woodland walk.
- 6 Somme Museum: see Newtownards for this museum of World War I.
- 7 Donaghadee is a small port which in the 17th century became the main route to Great Britain as ships outgrew the channel and harbour at Belfast. It was popular with couples eloping to Scotland in the 18th century, when Ireland had the same restrictive marriage laws as England: you could sail to Portpatrick, get hitched, and return to Ireland same day. The town acquired its fine harbour and lighthouse in the 19th century, and the Moat or Motte was built as a mock-castle to store explosives used in constructing the harbour.
- 8 Copeland Islands were inhabited until their lighthouses were automated. They're now a birdlife reserve, reached by boat trips from Donaghadee.
- Pickie Funpark, Marine Gardens BT20 5AG, ☏ . M 09:00-16:00, Tu-Su 10:00-18:00. Amusement park for younger children, no white-knuckle rides. Genteel attractions are the miniature railway, adventure playgrounds, paddling pool and swan-shaped pedalos. Adult or child £12.50.
- Omniplex Cinema is east side of Castle Park.
- The Coastal Path Walk stretches west to Holywood and east to Orlock. From Bangor marina:
- - west: pass Pickie Funpark, Jenny Watt's Cove, Smelt Mill Bay (for Strickland Glen), Carnalea (trains), Crawfordsburn (for beach, Old Inn and country park), Helen's Bay, Grey Point Fort (an Edwardian gun emplacement), Royal Belfast Golf Club, Cultra (museums, trains) and so to Holywood.
- - east: to Ballyholme Bay, Ballymacormick Point and Groomsport to Orlock Point where you join the main road. You can follow it into Donaghadee or catch a bus back to Bangor.
- Aurora Leisure Complex on Castle Park only has memberships of 3+ months, no walk-up facilities.
- The town shopping mall is Flagship Centre on Main St, southeast corner of the harbour. Asda a block south is open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 13:00-18:00 and has a filling station.
- Edge of town on the ring road are Springhill to the west, and Bloomfields to the south.
- Wolsey's, 26 High St BT20 5AY, ☏ . M-Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 12:30-00:00. Hearty pub grub in a lively restaurant and bar.
- The Salty Dog, 10-12 Seacliff Rd BT20 5EY, ☏ . Food daily 07:00-22:00. Dog-friendly hotel and restaurant east side of marina. Cuisine is a mix of traditional Irish and modern. B&B double £100.
- Tom's Dining Rooms (formerly Papa Joe's), 7 Hamilton St BT20 4JP, ☏ . M-F 11:00-20:20, Sa 10:00-21:30, Su 11:00-20:30. American-style diner, cuisine is nominally New Orleans but all the US favourites.
- Star of Bengal, 108 Abbey St BT20 4JB, ☏ . Daily 17:00-22:30. Reliable Indian restaurant and takeaway next to the Abbey. Unlicensed so BYOB, no corkage charge.
- Bokhara, 2A King St BT20 3AH (1st floor, corner of Main St), ☏ . Daily 17:00-23:00. Popular Indian restaurant with all the standard offerings.
- Donegans, 37-39 High St BT20 5BE, ☏ . W Th 11:30-21:00, F Sa 11:30-22:00, Su 12:30-21:00. This pub is now primarily a restaurant, standard offerings but gets good reviews.
- Jenny Watts, 41 High St BT20 5BE, ☏ . M Tu 11:30-23:00, W-Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 12:30-00:00. Bangor's oldest pub, established 1780. Downstairs is traditional décor and occasionally live music, with a small beer garden to the rear. Upstairs is a modern lounge with a dance floor and cocktails.
- Fealty's, 35 High St BT20 5BE, ☏ . M-Th 14:00-23:00, F 14:00-01:00, Sa 12:00-01:00, Su 14:00-20:00. Highly regarded trad pub.
- Jamaica Inn, 188 Seacliff Rd BT20 5HA (On headland half a mile east of marina), ☏ . Th-Sa 10:00-21:00, Su 10:00-20:00. A brisk coastal walk away from main drag, this pub has good bar food and great sea views from the beer garden.
- Betty Blacks, 13-15 High St BT20 5BG, ☏ . Th-Sa, M 12:00-01:00, Su 12:00-00:00, W 21:00-01:00. Cocktail and party bar.
- Local whiskey: Echlinville Distillery, 10 miles south of Newtownards, has produced whiskey since 2016. No tours.
- Lots of B&Bs around the marina. There's no camping locally, but many caravan sites strung along the coast.
- 1 Ennislare House, 7 Princetown Road BT20 3EA, ☏ . Smart welcoming B&B in a Victorian house with 10 rooms en suite. B&B double £60.
- 2 Cairn Bay Lodge, 278 Seacliff Rd BT20 5HS, ☏ . Quirky comfy B&B in Edwardian villa, with five rooms en suite and Starfish Cafe. B&B double £100.
- 3 Marine Court Hotel, 18-20 Quay Street BT20 5ED, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Decent mid-range place, some tired decor but value for money. B&B double £80.
- 4 Premier Inn, Castle Ave BT20 4TH, ☏ . Reliable budget chain hotel near the railway station. Double room £50, breakfast £10 pp.
- 5 Clandeboye Lodge, 10 Estate Road BT19 1UR (3 miles southwest of town), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 4-star hotel in extensive grounds, comfy and good service. Helen's Tower is a mile south. B&B double £120.
- 6 The Old Inn, 15-25 Main St, Crawfordsburn BT19 1JH, ☏ . Beautiful atmospheric coaching inn dating from 1614. It was where the stagecoach from Belfast changed horses on the way to Donaghadee ferry port, so many famous periwigged or petticoated gentry broke their journey here, including Peter the Great of Russia, Charles Dickens, and George H Bush. It gets great reviews for room comfort and dining. Assistance dogs only. B&B double £110.
Usual advice about road safety, care of valuables, and avoiding antisocial drunks around the pubs.
Mobile connections are poor, especially considering that Bangor is a prosperous commuter town for the nearby city. As of Oct 2020, only O2 has a good 4G and mobile signal throughout town; EE, Three and Vodafone have lots of dead spots. 5G has not reached this area.
- Belfast is only 20 min by train, but deserves several days to explore.
- Holywood has the Ulster Folk Museum and Transport Museum side by side. By bus or train, get off at Cultra.
- Newtownards has the lavish house and gardens of Mount Stewart. Continue down the Ards peninsula to Portaferry, which has a car ferry to Strangford.