Take a bite out of the Orchard County on a weekend adventure

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The Armagh Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage. Founded in 1790 by Archbishop Richard Robinson, the Observatory is one of the UK and Ireland's leading scientific research establishments. Around 25 astronomers are actively studying Stellar Astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System astronomy, and the Earth's climate.

Armagh might be the smallest county in Northern Ireland, but it packs an enormous punch when it comes to interesting and fun things to do. The rolling hills and rich farmland of the Orchard County offer an idyllic rural escape allied to a wealth of must-see historical treasures and attractions. Couples and whole families alike should take a bite of the county that gave the world the Bramley apple and head there for a weekend adventure.

 

For somewhere nice to lay your head in County Armagh consider Newforge House, which offers a five-star country guest house experience in a tranquil setting. The luxurious rooms are complemented by outstanding breakfasts and dinners featuring delicious seasonal food. Alternatively, beautiful self-catering accommodation in the heart of the countryside can also be found at Crannagael House in Craigavon. This Grade 2 listed Georgian house has a self-contained apartment in its east wing, comprising three bedrooms, one king, one twin and one single, and is surrounded by an orchard, parkland and mature woodland.

 

Once settled in, you can jump right into the heart of the Armagh’s apple-growing heritage at one of the local cideries. The McKeever family has been growing apples for three generations on Longmeadow Farm, and a tour of their cidery offers an unforgettable experience of bountiful orchards, cider presses, apple storage facilities and more. The tour includes obligatory samples of Longmeadow’s award-winning ciders and apple juices.

 

The Orchard County is famous as the home of Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. In this world-renowned centre for astronomy and education, a journey through of the night sky in the 3-D digital dome theatre is a must. Wonder at the distant stars and constellations, and afterwards see and touch the largest meteorite to ever crash land in Ireland. At an amazing 4.6 billion years old, it is probably the oldest thing you will ever touch.

 

A ten-minute walk from the planetarium, taking in Armagh city’s treelined Georgian Mall, will bring you to the historical delights of 3 Victoria Street, a beautiful restored Victorian townhouse housing the renowned Milford House Collection. Explore the collection and find out all about Milford House, the most technologically advanced in nineteenth-century Ireland and home to important paintings, elegant interiors, ceramics and books.

 

To treat your partner or family to a special Saturday night dinner, look no further than Clenaghans restaurant in Craigavon, which holds the prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand award. The menu is traditional Irish fare using the finest local produce, and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options as well as a good choice on the kids menu.

 

Make it an outdoorsy Sunday and take a walk through a blanket of snowdrops – a seasonal pleasure at The Argory, the delightful Irish gentry house managed by the National Trust. The house is surrounded by a wooded riverside estate with scenic walks full of sweeping vistas. After a snowdrop stroll, enjoy a hot drink or something tasty in the courtyard coffee shop, or take a guided tour of the house.

 

For further outdoor fun, it’s only a quick 20-minute hop in the car to the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, located in the middle of Oxford Island Nature Reserve. This haven of beauty is one of Northern Ireland’s best spots for nature lovers. View the over-wintering wildfowl from one of the bird hides spread around the shore or enjoy the miles of walks through different kinds of habitat. Finish off back at the centre, which houses an exhibition on the history, culture and wildlife in and around Lough Neagh, and before heading home enjoy a full lunch or a sweet cappuccino and scone.

 

Discover more ideas for short breaks at www.discovernorthernireland.com

 

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Other nearby attractions

Armagh’s cathedrals

As the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, Armagh city has two impressive cathedrals dedicated to St Patrick. Both are well worth checking out for their interesting architecture and wonderful interiors. St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral is built on the site of Patrick’s first stone church on the hill from which the city takes its name – Ard Macha. The more recent Catholic cathedral stands on the hill opposite. Both cathedrals offer serene experiences of St Patrick yesterday and today.

 

Navan Centre & Fort

County Armagh is home to one of the most important archaeological sites on the island of Ireland. You can visit the evocative Navan Fort earthwork, one of Ireland’s ancient royal sites, and enjoy watching living history characters demonstrate cooking and preparing for battle at the replica Iron Age dwelling. Suitable for all ages, the visitor centre has an excellent exhibition area and housing artefacts, weaponry and information on the myths and legends of the ancient Celts.

 

Tayto Castle Factory Tour

See the magic behind the production of Northern Ireland’s most famous potato crisp on a factory tour of Tayto Castle in Tandragee. Watch as thousands of tasty crisps and snacks whizz past, then try them as you probably never have – fresh off the production line. The tour will bring you through the potatoes’ arrival to the factory, and right through the cleaning, slicing, cooking and packaging of what many regard and the finest potato crisps in the world.