Carlingford – small but special

Last updated on May 16, 2024

It’s getting dark in this article – literally, because we explored the small but lovely town of Carlingford in the evening, but I’m sure it’s also very beautiful during the day…

Old watch tower in the harbour of Carlingford
Old watch tower in the harbour of Carlingfort (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)


We actually only wanted to stay overnight here on our way to Northern Ireland, which we did. We found a nice B&B on a hill above Carlingford and walked down to the town to find something to eat.

The weather was fine and the temperatures were mild in summer. It rarely gets really hot in Ireland, but there is often pleasant “T-shirt weather” in summer, especially on the east coast.

The ruins of an old monastery stopped us in our tracks – much to my wife’s chagrin, I had to take some photos…

Carlingford Priory at sunset
Carlingford Priory at sunset (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

This was repeated at the town gate, in front of the old Tholsel, as the town hall was called in Gaelic “Irish”, at the harbour, where the towers and the town wall wanted to be photographed – and of course also at Carlingford Lough.

And then there are the little alleyways of the town, where there are beautiful details to discover on every corner.

But don’t worry, we still found something to eat. We sat at the harbour with fish and chips in our hands and enjoyed the view of the bay at sunset. So beautiful!

Gate of Carlingford city walls
Gate of Carlingford city walls (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Carlingford is not one of those mega sights that you absolutely have to see to be able to post on Instagram. Carlingford is small, nice, medieval and beautifully situated on the lake.

It’s one of those places where you can stroll and relax, have a nice meal and enjoy the wonderful location. It’s a place where you can arrive on holiday.

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We come from Germany, but we know the island quite well because we have travelled here many times and have lived here for several years (second home). South of Dublin, we run our motorbike rental business ( and our guest rooms in the summer.

Let’s take a closer look at Carlingford:

Some background to Carlingford

Carlingford is located on the north-east coast of Ireland and right on the border with Northern Ireland. If you drive a little further north, you will come to Belfast.

Carlingford is located directly on the water, on the southern shore of Carlingford Lough. This is not a lake, however, but actually a long bay and the delta of the Newry River.

On the northern shore of the lough you can see the Mourne Mountains, a beautiful low mountain range and nature reserve. So they are already in Northern Ireland. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a green border and completely open to travellers with a valid passport.

Carlingford street in the evening
Carlingford street in the evening (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

The name Carlingford is derived from “Kerlingfjordr”. This is actually written using special characters and comes from the old Scandinavian language Norse.

The Vikings who landed on the coasts of Ireland in the early Middle Ages used the “fjords” or bays as natural harbours for their ships. As the Vikings initially plundered, but later also founded settlements, trading posts and even towns, it can be assumed that Carlingford was a Viking settlement where trade was also conducted by sea.

However, the town began to flourish around two hundred years later. King John’s Castle was built in the late 12th century and probably also the town fortifications, which consisted of a town wall and several towers. Part of it can still be seen today.

Window in the old Tholsel (?) of Carlingford
Window in the old Tholsel (?) of Carlingford (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

If someone goes to the trouble of fortifying a harbour town so well, then it was either rich or important in terms of military strategy. Carlingford was probably both.

The builder of the castle was Hugh the Lacy, an Anglo-Norman who built or extended several castles as part of the Anglo-Norman conquest in Ireland, such as Trim Castle, Kilkea Castle and Dublin Castle, which was originally a Viking castle.

Carlingford therefore has medieval roots, which can still be clearly seen in the townscape today.

Pub facade at Carlingford
Pub facade at Carlingford (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Visiting Carlingford

You can use Carlingford as an overnight stop on your way between Dublin and Belfast, as we did.

Carlinford can also be a good stop on your route if you want to do a tour of Ireland’s Ancient East.

And even if you are less interested in historical sights, but simply want to drive along the north-east coast of Ireland, Carlingford is a cosy stopover.

The old Tholsel (?) of Carlingford
The old Tholsel (?) of Carlingford (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

You can follow the coast further north and continue towards Belfast via Strangford Lough, for example.

The town is small and manageable. If you book a B&B on the outskirts of the city, you can easily explore the city on foot from there. And if you’re just passing through, park near the harbour and walk from there.

The streetscape is very nice and there are restaurants, pubs and a few shops to explore. Take a stroll, eat, drink and enjoy – the place is very cosy.

Street in Carlingford
Street in Carlingford (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Carlingford Lough and area

Hiking in the Mourne Mountains

On the other side of Carlingford Lough you will see a mountain range, the Mourne Mountains. This small low mountain range is a paradise for hikers, see also:

Castle Ward and Winterfell Castle

Follow the coastline to Castle Ward and Winter Castle – two castles on one site. Winterfell was the filming location for the series Game of Thrones and was renamed accordingly. I will write an article about this and link it here later…. See:

Mount Stewart House & Gardens

This is a beautiful manor house with incredible gardens and parks, located directly on Strangford Lough. You can find my article on Mount Stewart here:

Carlingford Harbour
Carlingford Harbour (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Trim Castle

Trim Castle, or rather its ruins, is one of the largest Norman castles in Europe. See also:


This is a very old monastery, or rather its ruins. Of note are the ornate Celtic crosses that can be found here, as well as the typical Irish round tower. See also:


If you want to see a cosy, Irish town with history, then Carlingford is the place for you.

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But even if you just want to enjoy the beautiful Carlingford Lough and the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, you’ve come to the right place.

And if you just want to eat fish and chips at the harbour, this is also the place to be.

And actually, Carlingford is almost always the right place :-).

Have fun on the north-east coast of Ireland!

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Picture credits cover picture: Evening street scene in Carlingford, photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg