At the Saint Patrick Centre, a one-hour drive from Belfast, a new and exciting 21st-century interactive experience tells the fascinating story of Ireland's patron saint. En route from the ship, you'll pass through the city of Downpatrick, the burial site of Saint Patrick and medieval capital of County Down. At the Centre, an excellent 20-minute audio-visual presentation takes you across Ireland with some stunning aerial photography on a 180-degree virtual helicopter ride.
You will then transfer the short distance to Down Cathedral. The cathedral stands on Cathedral Hill, a fortified place, which has been continuously occupied since Neolithic times. The Cathedral guide relates a fascinating tale of the origins of the building and through its history from a monastery established in the early Christian period to its present status as a memorial. A feature of the cathedral includes the unique box-pews, which are characteristic of the Regency period. The bishop's throne in the middle of the worship area faces the Judge's Box, a reminder of the close link between the church and the legal system when certain kinds of legal trials took place in the cathedral.
Outside, you will visit Saint Patrick's gravesite. Traditionally, emigrants leaving Ireland took a handful of "old sod" with them from Patrick's grave. Today a massive granite stone marks the grave and it is here that people from all religions leave wreaths every March.
Then head into central Downpatrick, a traditional Northern Ireland town featuring old and new in close proximity. As lunch is not included on this tour, some free time will be allowed for you to explore independently and choose a snack in a typical pub, or one of the many cafés.
Next, travel to nearby Saul-the first ecclesiastical site in Ireland. There is a monastery here, which was restored around 1140, and two stone buildings from the same period. Visit the church, which is surrounded by the gentle countryside with views across to Strangford Lough. Your two-hour return drive to Belfast takes you to Strangford, followed by a short ferry crossing to Portaferry at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula. This is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, acknowledged as one of the most important conservation sites in Europe. Traveling alongside the shore of Strangford Lough, you'll see rural countryside and small farming communities. Soon you will approach the outskirts of Belfast and onwards to the port and your awaiting ship.
Important Notes: Tour may not be available on all sailings. There will be an opportunity to purchase lunch at your own expense during the tour.