Categories: things to do

Spoiled for choice with Castles and Gardens for families

Across Northern Ireland there’s plenty of amazing castles and gardens to visit, with entertainment for all ages. In this blog we've rounded up some of the best options for each county, with suggestions of nearby attractions and places to eat too, because as any parent knows... it's only a matter of time before you hear "I'm hungry!"

Belfast and Antrim

In the Belfast Hills, the wee ones love the Gruffalo Trail at Colin Glen where they can bump into their 8ft-high hero. Try multi-sensory play at Stormont Castle Estate or have both sides of the river as your playground at Lagan Valley Regional Park which also links to loads of other city parks and attractions. And young sea dogs love Antrim Lough Shore Park where nautical themed play areas guarantee they sleep sound later. To quell the hunger pangs, you’ve oodles of choice in Belfast like the rustic Italian Il Pirata and seafood favourite Deanes Love Fish.

Head north-east from the city and you come to Carrickfergus where Carrickfergus Castle has been guarding Belfast Lough since 1177 and will wait as long as it takes for your giant ghost and pirate adventure to begin inside. The virtual experience is worth checking out too. There’s a perfect pit-stop for pub grub at Ownies or PaPa Browns Grill near the castle or try The Bank House‘s tasty family fare in the centre of Whitehead.

Causeway Coast and Glens

Head north from Carrickfergus, hug the coast and you’ll find yourself on the magnificent Causeway Coastal Route. Make Glenarm Castle your next stop because it’s as enchanting as they come with its Walled Garden and Castle Trail but you’ll also stay for the delicious lunches in the Tea Room or the dazzling programme of family events throughout the year.

You then get to follow the Causeway Coastal Route as it winds its spectacular way along the northern coast. If you fancy a pitstop midway between Cushendall and Ballycastle, Ballypatrick Forest’s short forest drive has gorgeous views of Rathlin Island. The coast road eventually brings you to Castlerock. This is where you’ll find Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-edge. The spectacular views here are a must-see and worth the entrance fee alone if you’re not already a National Trust family member.

A short drive from Castlerock leads to Roe Valley Country Park near Limavady, offering spectacular riverside views and woodland walks while nearby Binevenagh Forest is home to the Finn MacCool Finger Stone, relating to the famous giant reputed to have lived nearby.

If you’re peckish, Ritters Tea Room at Roe Valley Country Park is a treat, go all indulgent with lunch in Glenarm Castle’s Tea Room.

County Down

Venture a little south from Belfast and you never know who you might see at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, the official residence of the royal family in Northern Ireland. For a fee you can explore its throne room or grab a coffee and a treat in any of its two on-site cafes, but on sunny days there’s nothing like setting out a family picnic on its stunning lawns. Nearby, the picturesque village also has terrific play parks on either side of the Hillsborough Lake. From there you can head east in the direction of Strangford Lough, and reconnect with nature at the magnificent Montalto Estate near Ballynahinch. Continue your journey from there and beyond Downpatrick and step into Castle Ward and delight in the flora and fauna around Temple Water, spot the rare green woodpecker around the Boundary Trail or explore the ruined castle on the Loughshore Walk. The best way to head north from here is by crossing Strangford Lough on the ferry to Portaferry – an experience in itself - and then working your way up to Crawfordsburn Country Park outside Bangor. This is a real treat for the kids with two lovely beaches, stunning waterfall and loads of hedgehogs and rabbits to spot, not forgetting Grey Point Fort which is open to visit on Saturdays and Sundays. Let their imaginations run wild on the Narnia Trail at Kilbroney Forest Park where they enter through a wardrobe door or let them play free at ‘Animal Wood’ in Castlewellan Forest Park which also has a great maze to explore plus excellent mountain bike trails and a lake for kayaking or SUPing when the weather’s fine.

For nibbles, the Loaf Pottery and Coffee Shop in Crawfordsburn is worth a visit after a day in the country park while Little Wing pizzeria in Holywood on your way back to Belfast from Crawfordsburn Country Park is uber kid-friendly too. Meanwhile in Downpatrick, try Norma J’s Grill Bar for an American-style diner nosh-up.

County Armagh

The Navan Centre and Fort outside Armagh city, is where myths come alive. Meet Iron Age Celts, then learn about the bravest of them all – Cúchulainn and his warrior gang.

You can’t leave the Orchard County without a trip to Slieve Gullion Forest Park where the Giant’s Lair story trail will keep young minds enthralled for hours. At Oxford Island in Craigavon, you’re spoiled with miles of walking paths, birdwatching hides and meadows, as well as a brand new play park to run around. And don’t forget the hidden gem of Lurgan Park – if it’s possible to keep 259 acres hidden! Go rowing on the lake or stick to the walking paths if you’re more of a landlubber. Nip to the nearby, quaint Brownlow House Tea Room if you’re peckish where everyone from primary school age and upwards can also get a taste of local and world history.

To satisfy the hunger pangs, get fed and watered at Uluru in Armagh city centre, Café IncredABLE in Lurgan or Craigavon’s Loughside Café on Lough Neagh’s shores while Chimes Coffee House in Portadown is another great spot for quick bites.

County Fermanagh

County Fermanagh, the capital of lakelands country, has a whole host of castles and beautiful gardens dotted in between its lakes, rivers, canals and streams. Perched dominantly on Lough Erne’s banks, Enniskillen Castle harks back almost 600 years and its fascinating story unfolds inside its own museum. Castle Archdale outside Irvinestown not only boasts beautiful lough shore walks, but also its former WW2 flying boat base. For stately grandeur, Castle Coole is a total treat with a stunning wooded park sloping down to Lough Coole – and check out its quirky servant's tunnel. Cladagh Glen Walk near Belcoo features cascading waterfalls and cave springs while Lough Navar Forest is a jewel in the awesome crown of the Marble Arch Caves geopark system.

You’ll be hungry after all that, so The TapHouse in Enniskillen serves great value family fare as do The Firehouse and Franco’s in the town, while the Customs House Inn in Belcoo will hit the spot with your gang.

Derry-Londonderry

If you’re looking for a castle in Derry-Londonderry, you’re surrounded by one! The City Walls form a walkway around the inner city with unique views of the original town. No visit is complete without completing this magnificent circular trail where you’ll find numerous bastions, cannons, battlements, gates and wonderful vantage points over the old and new city.

In the city, The Playtrail is a real fun place to bring your gang with something for all ages in the adventure areas, sensory garden and fairy walk. Or pop into Ness Country Park near Killaloo, named for one of the highest waterfalls in Northern Ireland including its magnificent waterfall walk. Or head to Garvagh Forest for walking, cycling and mountain bike trails for all abilities.

If you’re ravenous in the city, you won’t go wrong at Caterina’s Bistro or Solo. There’s a big Italian welcome at Nonnas Wood Fired Pizza and Spaghetti Junction while further afield White Goose Tea Room in Garvagh will do you the power of good.

County Tyrone

Take a tour of Killymoon Castle on the outskirts of Cookstown and learn how its designer also just happened to design London’s Regent Street and Buckingham Palace… or how a former owner once lost it in a bet! History buffs can’t miss a visit to Harry Avery’s Castle in Newtownstewart , a stone castle built in the 12th century by an O’Neill clan chieftain and very rare for its era. Meanwhile at The Argory in Moy riverside trails, snowdrop walks and adventure playground await.

If you’re near Cookstown, head straight to Drum Manor Forest Park and let the kids pedal their bikes or hit Gortin Glen Forest Park just outside Omagh with its network of woodland trails nestled in the Sperrins. If you’re in Omagh, The Grange Park is a family-friendly green space with picnic facilities, playground and an eco-trail. Don’t forget to make a wish at the wishing well in Dungannon’s Parkanaur Park.

Feeling famished? Enjoy afternoon tea and award-winning scones in Lady Ada’s Tea Room at The Argory. Sallys in Omagh has everything to keep hangry demons at bay. If you find yourself in Cookstown, the renowned Time Bar and Venue has a bit of a hidden secret: its bistro offers one of the best children’s menus in the mid-Ulster area, and in a very contemporary setting.

As you can see there’s no shortage of castles and gardens from all eras and with an appeal to all ages here in Northern Ireland. And that’s just flavour of what your family can discover on a trip around Northern Ireland. We’d love to hear just how much you enjoyed them using our hashtag #EmbraceAGiantSpirit

Gruffalo & Stickman Guided Walk
Forest Parks
Gruffalo & Stickman Trail - Colin Glen, River Entrance

It’s Ireland’s only official Gruffalo Trail; a Julia Donaldson-endorsed walk. Step into the glorious world of the Gruffalo. Enter the deep, dark wood, meet the clever little mouse, the fox, the owl, the snake, before stumbling upon those knobbly knees and turned out toes and that poisonous wart on the end of his nose: The Gruffalo!

Colin Glen
Forest Parks
Black Bull Run, Ireland's First Alpine Coaster. Colin Glen, Mountain Entrance.

Colin Glen is Ireland’s leading adventure park - a land of storytelling and a state of the art sports park with world class attractions. From Alpine coasteering to laser tag, golfing to the Gruffalo Trail, Colin Glen has adventure for everyone.

Stormont Estate
Nature and Wildlife
Stormont Estate

Stormont Estate is a Green Flag Award winning public park recognised as one of Northern Ireland’s best green spaces. On a visit, you can enjoy the beautiful gardens, walking and fitness trails and children’s play park.

Lagan Valley Regional Park
Public Park
Lagan Valley Regional Park

Lagan Valley Regional Park is recognised as Northern Ireland's only Regional Park. It covers an area of 4,200 acres and extends 11 miles along both sides of the River Lagan between Stranmillis, Belfast to Union Locks, Lisburn.

Antrim Lough Shore Park
Public Park
Antrim Lough Shore Park

Situated on the shores of Lough Neagh, the Lough Shore Park in Antrim is a popular destination for visitors and residents at all times of the year. It is an area steeped in history and natural beauty with many attractions and activities to enjoy.

Il Pirata
Restaurant
Il Pirata

Simple rustic, tasty Italian food is the order of the day at this popular and casual East Belfast eatery, inspired by the Italian restaurants on Manhattan's Lower East side and named after veteran cyclist Marco Pantani (‘The Pirate').

Deanes Love Fish
Restaurant
Deanes Love Fish

Love Fish is not just another restaurant; it is a totally different eating out experience in Belfast. The 100 seater dining space is flooded with light from a conservatory style roof.

Carrickfergus Castle
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
Carrickfergus Castle

For more than 800 years, Carrickfergus Castle has been an imposing monument on the Northern Ireland landscape whether approached by land, sea or air. The castle now houses historical displays as well as cannons from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Ownies Bar and Bistro
Restaurant
Ownies Bar and Bistro

Ownies Bar and Bistro is one of Irelands finest Gastro Pubs, it offers the highest standards of service and food and drink while maintaining the warm atmosphere of an Irish Pub. It is famous for its seafood chowder and its home made Deserts.

PaPa Browns Grill
Restaurant
PaPa Browns Grill

Relaxed colonial-style diner and bar serving an all-day menu, within easy walking distance of Carrickfergus Castle and located on the main Causeway Coastal Route.

The Bank House Whitehead
Café
The Bank House Whitehead

The Bank House café, shop and deli is a lively, warm, inviting destination, specialising in good, quality, local food, crafts, art, live music and craic. Find this hidden gem in the centre of Whitehead, on the beautiful Causeway Coastal Route.

Glenarm Castle
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
Glenarm Castle

With its own special place in local history, Glenarm Castle is a true national treasure. One of Ireland's oldest estates, and home to the Earls of Antrim, Glenarm Castle is a 'must see' destination and one of N.Ireland's top tourist attractions.

Glenarm Castle Walled Garden Tea Room
Café
Glenarm Castle Walled Garden Tea Room

This charming Tea Room, situated in the old Mushroom House of Glenarm Castle Walled Garden is open daily to visitors - one of the few places in Northern Ireland to enjoy Glenarm shorthorn beef and organic salmon!

Ballypatrick Forest
Forest Parks
Ballypatrick Forest

Five-mile drive through peatland forest with many fine views of Rathlin Island and Ballycastle. A variety of picnic sites, a short walk and toilets on site.

Rathlin Island
Nature and Wildlife
Rathlin Island

Amidst the rugged landscape of this isolated island, you can let your mind wander and discover a tranquility and beauty that is so unexpected.

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne
The National Trust
Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Mussenden Temple is located in the beautiful surroundings of Downhill Demesne near Castlerock in County Londonderry. Awe inspiring views, colourful gardens and woodland walks.

Roe Valley Country Park
Nature and Wildlife
Roe Valley Country Park

This scenic and tranquil park on the outskirts of Limavady offers spectacular riverside views and woodland walks along with opportunities for salmon and trout fishing, canoeing, rock climbing and orienteering.

Hillsborough Castle and Gardens
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
Family take a selfie at the Hillsborough Castle and Gardens sign

Hillsborough Castle is one of the most beautiful, and interesting historic properties in Northern Ireland, and the official residence of the Royal Family when they are in Northern Ireland.

Montalto Estate
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
Montalto House, Montalto Lake and Boathouse

A mystical and enchanting estate, set in magnificent natural surroundings. Visitor experience includes access to the estate's beautiful gardens; historic walks and trails and an exciting play area where children can engage, explore and learn.

Castle Ward
The National Trust
A family walking towards Castle Ward house

Discover a place of contrasts and creativity at Castle Ward, an eccentric 18th century mansion and estate looking out over the tranquil waters of Strangford Lough in County Down.

Strangford Lough Ferry
Boats & Ferries
Strangford Lough Ferry

The ferry links the beautiful Ards and Lecale Peninsulas and the villages of Strangford and Portaferry across the Narrows of Strangford Lough. The 10 minute ferry journey allows you to take in the stunning scenery of this Marine Nature Reserve.

Crawfordsburn Country Park
Public Park
a photograph of waves hitting the rocks at the shore

With tranquil walks through peaceful meadows and wooded glens and a stunning waterfall, Crawfordsburn Country Park provides a relaxing natural retreat.

Grey Point Fort
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
a photograph of a canon pointing towards the water

Grey Point Fort is one of the best preserved early 20th century coastal forts anywhere in the British Isles. Situated in Helen's Bay, Grey Point Fort houses a most unusual hands-on military museum.

Kilbroney Park
Forest Parks
Group of friends enjoying the sunshine in Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor

Kilbroney Park Forest features riverside walks and an arboretum. There is a two-mile forest drive which showcases panoramic views over Carlingford Lough. There is also a Play Park with children's play area and tennis courts, an Information area and a café all on site.  Wheelchair accessible in some areas.  Dogs welcome on leads.

Castlewellan Forest Park & Peace Maze
Forest Parks
View of Castlewellan Forest Park

Located in a dramatic setting of mountains and sea, this is one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe. The beauty, vigour and perfect shape of the trees in the National Arboretum attract tree enthusiasts from around the world.

Loaf Pottery and Coffee Shop
Café
Front exterior to cafe with Tulips in the forefront

Our arts centre features a working pottery with an in house potter, pottery for sale, arts classes and activities for children. While our Café offers delicious artisan wood fired pizza, sharing deli boards and a range of sweet treats.

Little Wing Pizzeria, Holywood
Restaurant
Little Wing menu

Why Little Wing pizza?… …Because our passion for pizza shines through! Just taste one of our yummy, traditionally made Naples style pizzas and you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Norma J's Grill Bar
Restaurant
Norma J's Grill Bar

Norma J’s Grill Bar, located at Downpatrick’s Eclipse Cinema, is an authentic American-style diner which is heavily influenced by former pin-up girl and screen goddess Marilyn Monroe.

The Navan Centre and Fort
Visitor Centres & Museums
The Navan Centre and Fort

The Navan Centre, located just two miles from the Cathedral City of Armagh, interprets one of Ireland’s most important ancient monuments, Navan Fort; the ancient capital and seat of the Kings of Ulster.

Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Adventure Playpark and Fionn's Giant Adventure
Nature and Wildlife
Children playing around a giant book in Slieve Gullion Forest Park

Slieve Gullion is Ireland's Mountain of Mystery. The Forest Park offers walking trails, a scenic drive, an Adventure Playpark, Giant's Lair children's story trail and Courtyard with coffee shop.

Oxford Island
Nature and Wildlife
Oxford Island

Oxford Island National Nature Reserve is a peninsula created by successive lowering of Lough Neagh. Four miles of footpaths, five birdwatching hides, woodland, ponds, wildflower meadows, picnic and play areas.

Lurgan Park
Public Park
Lurgan Park

Lurgan Park is the second largest public park in Ireland, and is enjoyed by as many as 2000 people every day. The beautifully landscaped parkland contains a number of well maintained paths which provide excellent walking and running ground.

Brownlow House Tea Room
Café
Brownlow House Tea Room

Brownlow House Tea Room is situated in Brownlow House and serves breakfasts, freshly baked scones, tray bakes, chef special lunches, specialised teas and coffees.

Café IncredABLE @ Jethro
Café
Café IncredABLE @ Jethro

Breakfast menu available all day. Delicious lunch and light bite dishes. Wide range of gluten free options. Slimmers menu. Homemade traybakes and desserts. Kids play area and kids menu. Afternoon tea available (pre-book!) Warm, friendly service.

Loughside Cafe
Café
Loughside Cafe

Enjoy a meal at the Loughside Cafe with picturesque scenery situated on the shores of Lough Neagh. Wide range of fayre on offer to cater for everyone.

Chimes Coffee House
Café
Chimes Coffee House

Chimes Coffee House is a family run cafe in Portadown just opposite the town church. We offer gourmet coffee, homemade cakes and traybakes and hot food. Relaxing surroundings and that all important atmosphere make it the place for coffee and a chat.

Enniskillen Castle
Visitor Centres & Museums
Enniskillen Castle

Situated beside the River Erne in County Fermanagh, was built almost 600 years ago by Gaelic Maguires. It was strategically important throughout its history. In the 17th century it became a garrison fort and later a military barracks.

Castle Archdale Countryside Centre & War Museum
Visitor Centres & Museums
Castle Archdale Countryside Centre & War Museum

The country park boasts beautiful woodland and lough shore walks, an insect garden and wildflower meadow. Castle Archdale was the main flying boat base during WWII, highlighted in an exhibition in the visitor centre entitled ‘Castle Archdale at War’.

Castle Coole
The National Trust
Castle Coole

Castle Coole one of Ireland's finest Neo-classical houses, allowing visitors to glimpse what life was like in the home of the Earls of Belmore. Discover the story of the people who lived and worked below stairs as you explore the servants quarters.

Lough Navar Forest
Forest Parks
Lough Navar Forest

Seven-mile drive through the forest to a magnificent panorama over Lough Erne. Viewpoints, picnic sites. Red deer, wild goats. Marked trails. Wheelchair access limited.

The TapHouse
Restaurant
The TapHouse

The TapHouse is Fermanagh’s newest ‘Gastro-Pub’. With a passion for top-quality, down-to-earth, great value food and a commitment to everything local, we are proud to offer a warm and inviting drinking and dining experience. Situated in the leafy suburbs of Enniskillen, we uniquely offer ample on-site parking and a cosy yet sophisticated atmosphere suitable for any occasion. Call in, we have saved you a seat!

The Firehouse
Restaurant
The Firehouse

The Firehouse Bar & Grill is one known by the locals and visitors to be one of Enniskillen's best eateries and cocktail bars in the town. Boasting a menu full of flavours and great choice, cooked from a stone baked pizza oven and famous bertha oven, perfect for grilled steaks, burgers and more!

Franco’s Restaurant
Restaurant
Franco’s Restaurant

Franco's Restaurant in Enniskillen is a vibrant, buzzing restaurant run by the Sweeney family for over 30 years.

Customs House Inn
Pub / Nightclub
Customs House Inn

Situated in the idyllic border village of Belcoo, overlooking Lough Mac Nean is the Customs House Country Inn, combining the charm of an olde earthen bar with a hint of modern class.

17th Century City Walls
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
17th Century City Walls

Derry~Londonderry is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and is one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in Europe. A walk around the walls reveals a city crammed full of history, heritage, interest and a vibrant cultural scene.

The Playtrail
Public Park
The Playtrail

The Playtrail is an outdoor play & educational resource that hosts an on-going programme of activities for children.

Ness Country Park
Nature and Wildlife
Ness Country Park

In the steep, wooded Glen of the Burntollet River, south-east of Derry/Londonderry, lies Ness Country park. Enjoy over 7km of riverside walks and there's a visitor centre, a natural themed play park, stunning waterfall and picnic tables.

Garvagh Forest
Nature and Wildlife
pyramid in garvagh forest

Covering 200 hectares, Garvagh forest is situated on the Western outskirts of Garvagh, with trees from over 80 years onl to those only planted at the turn of the century.

Caterina's Bistro - Da Vinci's
Restaurant
Caterina's Bistro - Da Vinci's

Enjoy a foodie experience like no other at Da Vinci's Hotel, Derry. Caterina's Bistro offers award winning food & service in a stunning & modern setting.

Solo Restaurant & Bar
Restaurant
Solo Restaurant & Bar

A modern, cosy restaurant in Eglinton village. Serving locally sourced ingredients in contemporary flavoursome dishes along with pintxos, cheese boards, fine wines & cocktails. The perfect setting for all events

Nonnas Wood Fired Pizza
Restaurant
Nonnas Wood Fired Pizza

Traditional Italian style pizzas from our wood fired oven. Nonnas is a casual family owned restaurant that uses only the best local and artisan Italian ingredients, as well as having a range of local craft beers and wines.

Spaghetti Junction
Restaurant
Spaghetti Junction

Spaghetti Junction is Derry's first truly authentic Italian restaurant. There's a few things that we hold close to our heart and we show it through our restaurant.

The White Goose Tea Room
Café
The White Goose Tea Room

Arkhill Farm shop supplies organic eggs, sausages, bacon, gammon, lamb, fruit and vegetables. The homemade food in The White Goose Tea Room is made from local produce. A holiday chalet on site is perfect for a break in the beautiful countryside.

Killymoon Castle
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
Three girls walking through the doors of Killymoon Castle

Killymoon castle sits in picturesque surroundings overlooking the Ballinderry River on the outskirts of Cookstown just 50 miles from Belfast by car. The castle is a grade A listed building designed by the famous architect John Nash.

Harry Avery's Castle
Historic Sites, Houses, Castles & Buildings
Harry Avery's Castle

Thought to have been built around 1320 by a local chieftain of the O’Neill clan, but named after Harry Avery O’Neill,a local chief who died in 1392, this structure is considered unusual in that Irish chieftain’s of the time rarely built stone castle.

The Argory
The National Trust
The Argory

The Argory was built in the 1820s and its hilltop location offers wonderful views over the gardens and 320 acre wooded riverside estate.

Drum Manor Forest Park
Forest Parks
A family walking through the forest.

The attractive eighteenth-century demesne is now a forest park. Colourful in spring and autumn with a shrub, butterfly and Japanese garden, arboretum, ponds and mixed woodlands.

Gortin Glen Forest Park
Nature and Wildlife
Gortin Glen Forest Park

There are over 10km of walking trails, a 6km scenic drive, wildfowl enclosure and deer enclosure and a new children's playpark to enjoy and explore.

The Grange Park
Public Park
The Grange Park

A family friendly play park in Omagh Town with parking, toilets, play park, outdoor gym, picnic tables, etc.

Parkanaur Forest Park
Nature and Wildlife
Parkanaur Forest Park

Colourful in spring with daffodils and rhododendrons and home to a herd of white fallow deer. Nature trail runs through oak and beech trees, passing a Victorian garden, wishing well and old archway. Free access. Wheelchair access.

Sallys of Omagh
Restaurant
Sallys of Omagh

One of Northern Ireland's most celebrated venues, Sallys has been trading under the brand name in Omagh for 30 years building up a reputation for excellence in food, drink and live entertainment.

Time Bar and Venue
Pub / Nightclub
The restaurant area in Time Bar and restaurant, Cookstown

Mid-Ulster’s most premium Bar and Nightclub with three floors offering a unique bar and nightclub experience under one roof. TIME offers an opulent bar and bistro offering on the ground floor 5 days a week.