Best Castles in Northern Ireland

Best Northern Irish Castles-Belfast-Castle

Boasting dramatic landscapes and 2,000 years of history, the castles and country houses of Northern Ireland are a sight to behold. With over 40 castles to see in Northern Ireland, we have picked out the best ones – From medieval ruins to Game of Thrones film locations and a working Royal residence, there’s a castle for everyone to enjoy exploring as they step back into times gone past.

The 15 best castles to visit in Northern Ireland

1. Dunluce Castle

Castles in Northern Ireland-Dunluce-Castle

Accessed via a bridge that connects the coastal outcrop to the mainland, the majestic ruins of iconic Dunluce Castle don’t disappoint. The history of the castle dates back to 1500 when it was built by the MacQuillan family, the castle later being seized by the MacDonnell Clan whose ancestors still own it today. Enjoy the scenery as you learn the tale of two castles, how Dunluce grew to become a town and the story of the castle kitchens falling into the sea one stormy night.

Where: Bushmills, County Antrim
When:
13th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Open daily 09.30 am–5 pm

2. Kinbane Castle

Best castles in Northern Ireland-Kinbane-Castle

Built upon a white limestone headland that reaches out into the sea, the few ruins that remain (part of the castle tower and the outer wall) still make an impressive sight. Originally built by the MacDonnell clan in the 1500s, Kinbane (or Kenbane) castle was rebuilt due to siege damage and later became known as ‘Reubens Castle’ in Victorian times when causeway guides would row to the castle to collect spar, a mineral we now know as natrolite to sell to tourists.

Where: Ballycastle, County Antrim
When:
16th century
Style:
Medieval
Open for visit:
Yes, open 24/7

3. Kilwaughter Castle

Northern Ireland Castles-Kilwaughter-Castle

Originally built as a 4-storey T-plan tower house with bartizan turrets in 1622, by 1806 Kilwaughter Castle no longer needed its defence systems so a major extension took place, turning the castle into an English style mansion. The remodelling was undertaken by architect John Nash who is famous for his work in London, developing Regent Street and turning Buckingham House into a palace. Today the castle stands in ruin, mostly just its outer structure remaining.

Where: Kilwaughter, Larne, County Antrim
When:
17th century
Style:
Baronial
Open for visit:
Only on special days – See events page for open days.

4. Carrickfergus Castle

Famous Castles in Northern Ireland-Carrickfergus-Castle

Built on the shore of Belfast Lough, Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Ireland and truly a sight to behold, the imposing medieval keep reflecting so beautifully in the water. Attacked by the Scots, Irish, English, and then French, Carrickfergus Castle witnessed 800 years of continuous military use right up until 1928 but today visitors can explore the exterior and see historical items in the interior visitor centre along with 17th-19th-century cannons.

Where: Carrickfergus in County Antrim
When:
12th century
Style:
Norman
Open for visit:
Open daily, 9.30 am-5 pm

5. Belfast Castle

Best Northern Ireland Castles-Belfast-Castle 

Built on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park, Belfast Castle enjoys stunning views across the city and out across Belfast Lough. A castle has stood here since the 12th century but what we see today is a  house with semi-circular round towers, built in 1870. Today, Belfast Castle is used as a wedding and event venue but has 2 restaurants open to the public and you can walk in the grounds to admire the castle from the outside.

Where: Belfast
When:
19th century
Style:
Scottish Baronial
Open for visit:
Yes, if visiting for food – Castle Tavern open from 10 am-5 pm, Cellar Restaurant open from 12 pm-3 pm

6. Shane’s Castle

Castles in Northern Ireland-Shane's-Castle

Home to the O’Neill family since 1345, this family were the Kings of Ulster for 1,000 years. Edenduffcarrick Castle as it was originally called became known as Shane’s Castle, or Shanes Castle, in 1722, named after the Grandfather Shane McBrien O’Neill. The castle that stands in ruin today within the country park on the North-East shore of Lough Neagh was burnt to the ground in 1816 and left as a ruin. The O’Neill family still live on-site at the present house built in 1958.

Where: Randalstown, County Antrim
When:
18th century
Style:
Palladian and Georgian Gothic
Open for visit:
By appointment only during the Summer season.

7. Killyleagh Castle

Best castles in Northern Ireland-Killyleagh-Castle-Towers

Built in the same style as the Loire Valley French Château’s, Killyleagh Castle which dominated the town of the same name, is said to be the oldest inhabited castle in the country, with parts dating back to 1180. Home to Gawn Hamilton and family, visitors can access Killyleagh Castle by booking to stay in one of the two towers which have been set up as self-catering apartments.

Where: Killyleagh, County Down
When:
12th century
Style:
French Château
Open for visit:
Only when accommodation is booked.

8. Audleys Castle

Northern Irish Castles-Audleys-Castle

This three-storey tower house built upon a hillock enjoys views overlooking Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside. It takes its name from its original owner, John Audley who sold the tower house and surrounding estate to the Ward family in 1646. If it looks familiar, it was used as a filming location for both Games of Thrones (Season 1 and Season 2) and Dracula Untold.

Where: Portloughan, County Down
When:
15th century
Style:
Norman
Open for visit:
Yes, open for viewing (externally) during the Summer months. Open daily 12.30 pm-4.30 pm July-August and Thursday-Sunday 12.30 pm-4.30 pm September 1st-15th.

9. Castle Ward

Famous Castles in Northern Ireland-Castle-Ward

A grand country house (mansion) of contrasts, see how a marital dispute resulted in one side of the house being built and decorated in the Gothic style and the other half in classic Palladian style with these differences in style visible inside and out. Outside in the courtyard, you’ll be transported to a whole other world as it was here that Game of Thrones created the exterior of Winterfell including the Whispering Wood. Try your hand at archery at the replica of the Winterfell Archery Range imagining yourself as one of the Stark’s, or perhaps even John Snow.

Where: Strangford, County Down
When:
18th century
Style:
Palladian and Gothic
Open for visit:
Yes. Guided tours available Monday-Saturday from 12 pm-4 pm. Free-flow access from 1 pm on Sundays.

10. Dundrum Castle

Best Northern Irish Castles-Dundrum-Castle

Don’t confuse this Dundrum Castle with the castle of the same name in County Dublin. This Dundrum Castle was built by John de Courcy on the site of an ancient fort as part of a coastal defence system. King John took the castle in 1210 making modifications that include the round keep and gatehouse that we still see today, albeit standing in ruin. Admire the views of Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains as you climb to the top the ruins of the castle keep noting the 17th-century mansion, gateway, and outer curtain walls.

Where: Dundrum, County Down
When:
13th century
Style:
Norman
Open for visit:
Yes. Site open dawn-dusk. Keep accessible only on Thursday-Friday 9 am-5 pm or Sunday 12 pm-5 pm.

11. Gosford Castle

Castles in Northern Ireland-Gosford-Castle

Originally the impressive home of the second Earl of Gosford, Gosford Castle is one of the largest castles ever built in Ireland and has had many uses over the years being used in WWII to house troops and prisoners of war, owned by the UK’s Ministry of Agriculture, then being converted into a hotel before, in 2006, being turned into luxury apartments. Gosford Castle made it to fame when it was used as a filming location in Game of Thrones season 3, becoming the exterior of Riverrun.

Where: Gosford, County Armagh
When:
19th century
Style:
Norman Revival
Open for visit:
No but can be seen from Gosford Forest Park 10 am -dusk.

12. Enniskillen Castle Museums

Best castles in Northern Ireland-Enniskillen-Castle-Museums

Located on the River Erne, this 600-year-old castle was built to guard one of the few passes into Ulster. Today the castle is home to 2 museums; the Inniskillings Military Museum and the County Museum but visitors can still enjoy the castle as it was with its exterior including the impressive 17th century Watergate.

Where: Enniskellen, County Fermanagh
When:
16th century
Style:
Gothic
Open for visit:
Yes, Open Monday-Friday from 9.30 am and weekends from 11 am.

13. Glenarm Castle

Northern Irish Castles-Glenarm-Castle

Home of the Earls of Antrim for 600 years, Glenarm Castle now contains a country house rather than a castle but is one of Ireland’s oldest estates, just picture Downton Abbey and you won’t be far off the mark imagining what Glenarm looks like. Step inside on special open days and see the family portraits and Irish furniture from the 17th century or enjoy looking around the 18th-century walled garden during the Spring/Summer months.

Where: Glenarm, County Antrim
When:
17th century
Style:
Palladian
Open for visit:
Yes. Gardens open daily Easter-mid-October 10 am-5 pm (11 am Sundays). Guided tours of the house available on occasion – See opening dates on the castle website.

14. Crom Castle

Famous Castles in Northern Ireland-Crom-Castle

Old Crom Castle lies on a secluded part of the Castle Ward estate on a 19th-century farm with a sawmill. The ‘castle’ is actually a ruined 3-storey tower house that survived 2 sieges by the Jacobites but was then ruined in a fire in 1764. It was built by Michael Balfour and remained in the Balfour family until 1609 when it was acquired by the Crichton family.

Where: Strangford, County Down
When:
16th-17th century
Style: Scottish
Open for visit:
Exterior only. Open 10 am-7 pm March-October and 10 am-4 pm November-December.

15. Hillsborough Castle

Best Northern Irish Castles-Hillsborough-Castle

This beautiful, majestic castle with expansive grounds is the official government residence for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the official residence in Northern Ireland of Queen Elizabeth II. With 300 years of history to learn, you’ll see all of the grand staterooms on a guided tour including the Throne Room, State Dining Room, and Lady Grey’s Studio and be able to explore the stunning gardens that cover 100 acres with a mix of ornamental gardens and woodland.

Where: Hillsborough, County Down
When:
18th century
Style: Georgian
Open for visit:
Yes. Open 9.30 am-6 pm April-October and 9.30 am-4 pm November-March

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