A view looking up at Dunluce Castle from the rocks below.
Impressive picture-postcard castles pepper the Northern Ireland landscape, perched atop dramatic cliff edges and overlooking tranquil lakes and rivers.
Here are eight stunners to look out for on your next holiday.
1. Belfast Castle
The fairy-tale beauty of Belfast Castle is rivalled only by the sublime sea and city views looking out from its ornate towers and gardens. Originally completed in 1870 in the Scottish baronial style, this was always intended to be an exquisite mansion rather than a defensive fort. It now boasts an antiques shop, restaurant, visitor centre – and even a cat garden with a good story behind it.
Open daily 10am – 4pm.
2. Carrickfergus Castle
Visually striking and on the edge of Belfast Lough, Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best-preserved Norman structures still standing today. A Norman knight, John De Courcy, built this castle in 1177 and it is the only one in Ireland that has been used continuously throughout its existence. Guided and self-guided tours, historical displays, frequent events and fun days make it a must-visit.
Open daily 10am – 4pm.
3. Glenarm Castle
The picturesque Glenarm Castle watches over an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Glens of Antrim, and is still a working farm estate. It has been occupied as the family seat of the McDonnells, Earls of Antrim, for some 400 years. The castle opens occasionally to the public, but the glorious walled garden, one of Ireland’s oldest, and a charming tea room, both hosting various events, exhibitions and workshops, are available daily.
Check for castle open days; walled garden and tea room open daily 30 March – September: 10am – 5pm; Sunday 11am – 5pm.
4. Dunluce Castle
Not to be missed on a trip through the Causeway Coastal Route, Dunluce Castle is one of Northern Ireland’s most famous and most photographed landmarks. The medieval ruin stands on the edge of a cliff and can be approached only by a bridge. Dating from 1500, it has a fascinating history – it was once owned by Winston Churchill – tea room, café and amazing sea views. Well worth a trip.
Open daily 10am – 4pm.
5. Crom Castle
A magnificent neo-Tudor pile with turrets and crenelated towers stretching skywards, Crom Castle sits amid almost 2,000 acres of enchanting parkland managed by the National Trust. The castle is privately owned by the Earl of Erne, but you can still book tours, hire the West Wing and even have Sunday lunch in the Victorian Conservatory. Crom Estate is wonderful for lakeside walks – it contains the ruins of a previous castle, excellent wildlife, forestry and more.
Private pre booked group tours of castle for 10 – 20 people are available, personally conducted by the seventh Earl of Erne. Crom Estate open April – March. Visitor centre, cafe and shop open daily from 12 March to 30 September. Visitor Centre open weekends in October
6. Enniskillen Castle
Perched dominantly on the banks the River Erne, Enniskillen Castle is a reminder of the might of the ruling Gaelic Maguires, the first occupants of this imposing structure almost 600 years ago. This historic site now houses two museums, Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Museum, which trace the story of the building from prehistory to its use as a Plantation castle and military barracks. A must-see.
Open Monday – Friday: 9.30am – 5pm; Saturday: 11am – 5pm; Sunday (June to September): 11am – 5pm
7. Hillsborough Castle
Originally completed in the 1790s, Hillsborough Castle is now a working royal palace, the official residence of the royal family when they are in Northern Ireland, and the base for the Secretary of State. A tour guides you through the elegant state rooms, the majestic throne room and graceful drawing room, and reveals stories of its fascinating history. The glorious gardens are open all year.
Castle tours available on selected dates March – September. Private group guided tours can be arranged throughout the year.
8. Brownlow House
Brownlow House is a distinctive mansion known in the surrounding area as ‘Lurgan Castle’. Built in 1833 of Scottish sandstone, it is a building of tremendous character and individuality. Its array of intricate chimney pots, each a different design, are surmounted by a beautiful lantern-shaped tower, with the whole site commanding superb parkland and lake views. It was a military base during World War II and has great stories to tell about the American and British troops stationed there, plus an excellent tea room.
Open Mon – Sat: 10am – 3pm