Fodor's Expert Review Mount Stewart

Northern Ireland Garden/Arboretum Fodor's Choice

A dynamic three-year makeover, costing £7.5 million and completed in 2015, has opened a new chapter in the history of Mount Stewart, the stately Neoclassical home near Belfast. Now in the care of the National Trust, it was formerly the country estate of the marquesses of Londonderry, whose fame, or infamy, became known around the world thanks to the historical role played by the 2nd Marquess. Known as Castlereagh, this Secretary of Ireland put down the Rising of 1798, helped forge the Act of Union, and killed himself by cutting his own throat. Mount Stewart was constructed in two stages where an earlier house had stood: George Dance designed the west facade (1804–05), and William Vitruvius Morrison designed the Neoclassical main part of the building (1845–49), complete with an awe-inspiring Grecian portico facade. The 7th Marchioness, Edith, managed to wave her wand over the interior—after a fashion: Chinese vases, Louis-Philippe tables, and Spanish oak chairs do their worst to... READ MORE

A dynamic three-year makeover, costing £7.5 million and completed in 2015, has opened a new chapter in the history of Mount Stewart, the stately Neoclassical home near Belfast. Now in the care of the National Trust, it was formerly the country estate of the marquesses of Londonderry, whose fame, or infamy, became known around the world thanks to the historical role played by the 2nd Marquess. Known as Castlereagh, this Secretary of Ireland put down the Rising of 1798, helped forge the Act of Union, and killed himself by cutting his own throat. Mount Stewart was constructed in two stages where an earlier house had stood: George Dance designed the west facade (1804–05), and William Vitruvius Morrison designed the Neoclassical main part of the building (1845–49), complete with an awe-inspiring Grecian portico facade. The 7th Marchioness, Edith, managed to wave her wand over the interior—after a fashion: Chinese vases, Louis-Philippe tables, and Spanish oak chairs do their worst to clutter up the rooms here. Still, the house does have some noted 18th-century interiors, including the central hall and the grand staircase hung with one of George Stubbs's most famous portraits, that of the celebrated racehorse Hambletonian, after he won one of the most prominent contests of the 18th century—this is perhaps the greatest in situ setting for a painting in Ireland. As part of the restoration program, and with the help of 18 people to take it down, the painting was rehung and reframed with a traditional gilt frame at a cost of £35,000 and now has pride of place on the west stairs. Hambletonian was the most famous Thoroughbred horse in Britain in the late 1700s and early 1800s; art experts regard it as the most important equestrian painting in the world and describe its value as priceless. Elsewhere, a team of builders, conservation architects, specialist engineers and joiners, and more than 40 local volunteers carried out important repair and restoration work on the building and its valuable treasures. The result is that eight new rooms previously unseen are now open to the public.

On the grounds, don't miss the octagonal folly Temple of the Winds (open only Sunday 2–5), a copy of a similar structure in Athens, and the remarkable bathhouse and pool at the end of the wooded peninsula just before the entrance to the grounds. There are no fewer than 18 named garden walks—needing more than one day to explore all of them. The exotic plants have survived because of Strangford Lough's mild microclimate. A delightful 3-km (2-mile) stroll around the grounds takes in rare tree species, the lake, rock-garden terraces, the famed statue of a white stag and spectacular views over the house to Strangford Lough. Opening times change here—it's prudent to phone ahead or check the website for the complete schedule. Tours are generally self-guided, but there are some guided tours on selected days.

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Garden/Arboretum House/Mansion/Villa Trail/Path Historical Fodor's Choice

Quick Facts

Newtownards, Co. Down  BT22 2AD, Northern Ireland

028-4278–8387

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mount-stewart

Sight Details:
Rate Includes: £8, Gardens: All year daily 10–6. House: Mar.–Oct., daily 11–5; Nov. 7–Dec. 19, weekends noon–3; closed Jan.–Feb.

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