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To understand Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle is a good place to start. This is the Queen’s official Northern Ireland residence, and the site of some of the region’s biggest discussions and decisions; past, present and future. At Hillsborough, you are experiencing history in the making.
On a 45-minute tour of the elegant Georgian castle, in the charming village of Hillsborough, County Down, you follow in the footsteps of world leaders, through plush and lovingly restored State Rooms including the Throne Room, State Drawing Room, Lady Grey’s Study, State Dining Room, Red Room and Stair Hall. There are many layers of stories here, and your guide will share hundreds of years’ worth of tales, about celebrations, entertainment, diplomacy and negotiations. Standing in these rooms, where pivotal decisions have been made, you get a true sense of Hillsborough Castle’s importance.
History aside, this is a working royal residence which has hosted members of the Royal Family as a ceremonial and personal base since 1922. It’s an intimate glimpse behind the scenes of a real royal household. There’s the magnificent Throne Room where, in 1953, the Queen received guests at a ball to celebrate her coronation, and still used for ceremonies today. And the sumptuous Red Room, with paintings by famous artists lining the red silk-covered walls. This is where the Queen met Irish President Mary McAleese in 2005 – the first time the two heads of state had met on the island of Ireland.
Outside, you’ll find stunning gardens dating back to the 1760s. There are ornate formal gardens, tranquil woodland, and beautiful meadows. The walled garden features crop rotations, an apple orchard and seasonal produce which often finds its way onto the menu at the delicious Hillsborough Castle Café. It’s in summer that the walled garden really comes into its own, the herbaceous borders in full bloom and the scent of irises in the air. There’s the photogenic Moss Walk, which is framed by a canopy of lime trees, and the Yew Tree Walk, named after the Irish Yew trees that bedeck the path. Here, in the ever-changing and ever-evolving gardens, you get a real sense of new life and new chapters for this important castle. Hillsborough’s story, and its history, continues to be written.