Three villages in Northern Ireland have been named among the best to live in the UK.
The Sunday Times list of the top 50 village locations has been compiled to recognise how the villages' diversity, prettiness, and grittiness have survived and thrived over hundred of years.
Post-pandemic, they argue many of us are prepared to pay a premium to swap the city for a village, whether it's in the countryside or by the coast.
But not all villages are created equal, according to The Sunday Times, with only a select few offering everything – attractive houses, good connections, decent schools, and friendly neighbours who come together at the pub, shop and village hall.
The list covers all corners of the UK, selecting those spots that can deliver on all these different elements.
The three villages in Northern Ireland featuring on the top 50 list include Cushendall in Co Antrim, Helen's Bay in Co Down, and Strangford, Co Down.
Cushendall, Co Antrim
Cushendall in Co Antrim is located 20 miles, or just a 30-minute drive, away from Ballymena and is an hour's drive from Belfast.
Those who are fans of Game of Thrones will be all too aware of the drama on display along the rugged Antrim Coast, where this stunning village is situated. However, in Cushendall, it's more likely that rivalries are resolved in the golf or sailing club, as opposed to a head on a spike.
This seaside settlement is a great place to live or visit, with house prices averaging £146,750.
It's set by the River Dall at the meeting point of three glens, and the historic centre is packed with painted Georgian houses in the shadow of the red stone Curfew Tower.
This historic tower at the heart of the village is owned by artist Bill Drummond, but was built by then landlord of the town, Francis Tumley, in 1817 to confine riotous prisoners.
In Cushendall, there's a lively pub scene, whether you want quizzes and karaoke at the Lurig or open fires and traditional Irish music at McCollam's Bar, known to all as Johnny Joe's.
For coffee fans, take a stroll down to the North Coffee trailer just off the Coast Road, where you can enjoy excellent lattes and a beautiful view of the Mull of Kintyre.
Helen's Bay, Co Down
Right in between Bangor and the sophisticated Holywood, Helen's Bay is a picturesque enclave that's very popular with residents in Northern Ireland during those rare days of sunshine and heat.
Just 10 miles, or a 20-minute drive, from the middle of Belfast city centre, this relaxing village is a peaceful spot to get away from it all.
As a result, it's a well connected spot, with a train station in the heart of the village getting you into the city in just 30 minutes.
There’s a popular golf club but the sandy beach is the star attraction with its wildlife, views across Belfast Lough and clear swimming waters.
This is one of Northern Ireland’s swishest addresses, with picturesque period homes, as well as a wine importer and organic grocer. House prices in the area reflect this, with the average price around £189,950.
There’s little in the way of nightlife in the calm village, as the nearest pub is a mile away in Crawfordsburn the centre of Belfast is just 30 minutes away by train and 20 minutes by car.
Strangford, Co Down
Grab a pretty pastel cottage by the water and you’ve got a grandstand view of the comings and goings on Strangford Lough, whether it's geese in the winter or paddleboarders and kayakers in the summer.
With stunning views of the Mourne Mountains, too, this Co Down village has the best of both worlds. It's a peaceful place to live, and in demand, with the average house price coming in around £219,950.
There are thriving rowing and football clubs, as well as three excellent restaurants, all making good use of the fresh local seafood.
Well-known family-run restaurant, The Lobster Pot, is located in the heart of the village specialising in Kilkeel lobster and mussels from the nearby Strangford Lough.
You can get all your essentials in the village, with a convenience store, doctor, and dentist right on your doorstep. For everything else, Downpatrick is a 15 minute drive while Lisburn is located 30 miles away.
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