The Best Castles near Belfast in Northern Ireland
Belfast is the largest and capital city of Northern Ireland. The city has played an important part in the Industrial Revolution, once it was the biggest linen-producer in the world and the world’s largest shipyard was located in Belfast. It’s no surprise that the world’s most famous ship, the RMS Titanic, was built in Belfast.
Today, Belfast is a vibrant city with welcoming locals, culture, food, and stunning nature. In and near Belfast you can also find an abundance of historic castles and country houses.
These castles played an important part in Northern Irish history. Some of these castles histories go as far back as 5th century AD and Norman times. They were built, besieged, rebuilt, or left to ruin. You can visit the beautiful abandoned castles of Northern Ireland that tell many stories or visit grand estates built in Victorian times. Or perhaps you want to visit one of Northern Ireland’s Game of Thrones filming location?
Whatever your style is, you can find a stunning castle near Belfast that can be visited on a day trip from the capital. And as we’re in Northern Ireland, you can be assured that these castles are set in beautiful landscapes. (at the end of the article you’ll find a map with the castles near Belfast)
Located in a prominent position in Cavehill Country Park in Belfast stands the spectacular Belfast Castle. The castle is located 400 feet above sea level giving superb views of the City of Belfast and Belfast Lough.
The original Belfast Castle date back to Norman times. In the 12th century the Normans built a castle in Belfast city center. In 1611, a stone and timber castle was constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast to replace the old Norman one. This structure didn’t last long as it burnt down less than 100 years later. Street names like Castle Place mark the location of this castle.
In 1862, the third Marquis of Donegall (the seventh earl of shaftesbury) decided to build the new castle in his deer park on the slopes of Cave Hill. The castle was built in Scottish Baronial style after a design by John Landyn. Lord Ashley, the son-in-law of the Marquis helped finance the castle. The Baroque stone staircase in the garden was added by the 9th earl of shaftesbury.
Since the 20th century, the castle is a popular venue for wedding receptions and events. The Cave Hill Country Park is a popular walking and cycling spot. There’s a Cave Hill Adventurous Playground for children and at the Cave Hill Visitor Centre you can learn more about the history of the Cave Hill.
Inside the castle are two restaurants, the Cellar Restaurant and the Castle Tavern.
Style: Scottish Baronial
Visitor information: for more information on opening times of Belfast Castle you can visit the website.
Castle Ward is an 18th century country house near Strangford. The estate has been owned by the Ward family since 1570. They built several homes on the estate but (besides the current country house) only a tower house and the Old Castle Ward, a 16th century castle, has survived.
The current house was built in the 1760s and is an architecturally interesting building. The dual architecture represents the different tastes of Barnard Ward, Lord Bangor and his wife Lady Ann Ward. The entrance of Castle Ward is designed in a classic Palladian style with columns supporting a triangular pediment. On the other side they designed a Georgian Gothic facade with pointed windows, battlements, and finials.
Style: Gothic and Palladian
Visitor information: The castle is owned by the National Trust and it’s now a museum. Visit the website for current opening hours.
Audley’s Castle is a three-story Tower house named after his 16th century owner John Audley. The tower house was built in the 15th century on the grounds of Castle Ward. During the Middle Ages many tower houses were built in Northern Ireland for the lesser lords and gentry.
In 1646, the tower and the surrounding estate were bought by the Ward family who used it as an eye-catching feature of the long vista along Castle Ward’s Temple Water (an artificial lake).
Audley’s Castle is also used as a filming location for the tv series Games of Thrones.
Built: 15th century
Visitor information: the castle is open to visitors in the Spring/Summer period. Visit the website for more information.
Dunluce Castle is a ruined medieval castle on the Antrim coast. The ruins of the current castle date back to the late Middle Ages and 17th century. It was the seat of Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and the riveling Clan Macdonald of Dunnyveg in Scotland.
Following the Battle of the Boyne the castle was left to ruin with parts of the castle used to built other buildings nearby. At the castle you can find historical and archaeological exhibitions.
Built: 16th and 17th centuries
Visitor information: the castle is open to visitors throughout the year. Visit the website for more information.
The history of Dunseverick Castle goes as far back as the 5th century AD when Saint Patrick is recorded to have visited the castle. Here, he baptized Olcán who would later become a bishop of Ireland.
The castle is an ancient Royal site as it as the seat of Fergus Mor MacErc (Fergus the Great) who was King of Dál Riada and brother of the High King of Ireland, Murtagh MacErc.
In the 1650s, the castle was destroyed by General Robert Munro and his Cromwellian troops. Only the ruins of the gate lodge have survived. A small residential tower fell into sea in 1978.
Built: 5th century
Visitor information: the castle is open to visitors.
Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. The castle is located in a strategic location as three-quarters of the castle is surrounded by water.
The castle was built in 1177 by John de Courcy who used the castle as his headquarters after he conquered eastern Ulster and ruled as a petty king until 1204.
The English King John sieged the castle in the 13th century. In this century a Romanesque chapel and a gatehouse were built. In later centuries, the castle was improved however this did not stop the castle from being sieged as in 1689 Marsal Schomberg sieged the castle in the week-long Siege of Carrickfergus. The castle is also the place where King William III first set foor in Ireland one year later.
Prince William was made Baron Carrickfergus on the day of his wedding in 2011.
Visitor information: the castle is open and shows what life in the castle was like in medieval times. Visit the website for opening times.
Dundrum Castle is a ruined castle in County Down. The castle was built by John de Courcy in Norman Times after his invasion of Ulster. The castle stands on a rocky hill and controlled access into Lecale from the west and south.
From the castle, you have spectacular views over Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains in the south and Slieve Croob on the west.
The castle changed hands several times. It was Crown property after King John captured the castle in 1210. Later it was managed by the Magennis clan and the Marquess of Downshire.
Built: 13th century
Visitor information: the castle is open to visitors. Visit the website for more information.
Killyleagh Castle is considered the oldest inhabited castle in Northern Ireland. The oldest part of the castle dates back to 1180 when Norman knight John de Courcy built a castle. But the castle was redesigned in the mid-19th century by architect Sir Charles Lanyon in Loire Valley chateau-style.
The castle has been owned by the Hamilton family since the 17th century. They added new towers and the courtyard walls. During the troubles in the 1920s, the castle came under attack by the Irish Republican Army.
Built: 1180 (mid-19th century remodel)
Style: Loire Valley chateau
Visitor information: the castle is a private residence and not open to the public.
See also: The Best Castles in the Loire Valley
Gosford Castle is a 19th century country house that was built for Archibald Acheson, 2nd Earl of Gosford. King James VI & I granted the estate to the Acheson family in 1610, at the start of the Plantation of Ulster.
The family built several houses here, but the current house was built in the 19th century in Norman revival style, after a design by Thomas Hopper.
During the Second World War the castle houses troops and it was made into a prisoner-of-war camp. In recent years, the castle was also used as a filming location for Game of Thrones.
Built: 19th century
Style: Norman Revival
Visitor information: the castle is not open to the public.
Shane’s Castle is a ruined castle near Randalstown in Northern Ireland. The castle was built in 1345 by a member of the Clandeboy O’Neill dynasty. In 1816, a fire destroyed the castle, the ruins (including a Camellia house) are a striking feature in the landscape.
The castle was the subject of a John Neal poem fittingly called “Castle Shane”. Shane’s Castle has also been a filming location for Games of Thrones.
Visitor information: the castle is open to visitors by appointment only from April to September. Visit the website for more information.
Kinbane Castle is a 16th century castle built by Colla MacDonnell on a headland between Ballycastle and Ballintoy. During English sieges, led by Sir James Croft, the castle was partly destroyed but it was rebuilt afterward.
Under the castle is a hollow called “Lag na Sassenach” which means Hollow of the English. The story goes that a garrison of English soldiers were surrounded here and killed when they tried to siege the castle.
The castle was later granted to the MacAlisters for their loyalty and it remained in their hands until the 18th century. The castle is now a ruin but from the site you have views of Rathlin Island and Dunagregor Iron Age fort.
Where: County Antrim
Built: 16th century
Visitor information: the castle ruins are open to the public
Castlewellan Castle is a Scottish Baronial style mansion built in 1856. The castle was built by the 4th Earl Annesley after a design by Scottish architect William Burn. The castle was built on the site of a church and it stands close to the entrance of the arboretum in Castlewellan Forest Park.
The castle itself has been a Christian conference center since 1974. But surrounding the castle lies a 460 hectares park with a 40 hectare lake. The park features the National Arboretum, the Peace Maze, and the castle.
Style: Scottish Baronial
Visitor information: the castle is a conference/event venue. But you can walk in the Forest Park.
Enniskillen Castle is a 15th century castle in County Fermanagh, approximately 1.5 hours from Belfast. The castle was often under siege and it was remodeled several times.
The castle is currently houses the Fermanagh County Museum and a museum for the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Built: 15th century
Visitor information: Visit the website for current opening hours of the Enniskillen Castle Museums.