5 Best Castles in Northern Ireland

If Disneyland isn’t your thing, then you’re missing out on some of the best history Northern Ireland has to offer. The Emerald Isle’s north is home to a stunning array of castles, each with its own tale to tell, tales of battles, feasts, and even mythical creatures (well, maybe not dragons, but plenty of epic tales!).

Let’s get away from the guidebooks and embark on a magical castle tour through the north of Ireland. We’re here to show you how to get from point A to point B with simple, straightforward directions.

1. Dunluce Castle: Where the Sea Meets the Sky (County Antrim)

Getting Here: Dunluce Castle is located on the Causeway Coastal Route, roughly a 50-minute drive north of Belfast city center.  From Belfast, follow the A2 towards Antrim, then take the A8 (Causeway Coastal Route) signs towards Portrush. The castle is well signposted along the route and there’s a car park nearby.

Exploring the Castle:  While the castle itself is a ruin, there’s a designated walking path that allows visitors to explore the site and marvel at the dramatic coastal scenery.  The walk is relatively easy, but be sure to wear sturdy shoes as the path can be uneven in some places.

dunluce castle visit

2. Carrickfergus Castle: A Medieval Time Capsule by the Sea (County Antrim)

Getting Here:  About 30 minutes north of Belfast on the A2. From the city centre of Belfast, take the A2 to Newtownabbey, where you’ll cross onto the M2. Once you’re on the motorway, follow the signs to the castle town centre. There’s plenty of parking nearby, so you’ll be able to park there. 

Exploring the Castle: Guided tours of Carrickfergus castle provide an exciting insight into the life of the Middle Ages. Walk through the castle’s towers, explore the castle dungeons (presumably ghost-free!) and imagine the battles that took place on the very land you’re walking on. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a stroll along the battlements and enjoy panoramic views of the sea.

Carrickfergus Castle in ireland visit

3. Belfast Castle: Fairytale Charm with a City Panorama (County Antrim)

Getting Here:  Belfast Castle is perched atop Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast city center.  You can drive or hike to the castle.  If driving, follow the signs for Cave Hill Country Park from Belfast city center. There’s a car park near the visitor center.

Exploring the Castle: The castle’s grounds are picturesque and ideal for a walk around the grounds. Take a look at the museum exhibitions or grab a coffee from the cafe on-site. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike up Cave Hill and enjoy stunning views of the city and its surroundings.

belfast castle

 

4. Calling All Thronies: Winterfell Awaits at Castle Ward (County Down)

Getting Here:  Castle Ward can be found about 1 hour south of Belfast on the A1. From the city centre of Belfast, take the A1 to Dublin. From there, take the signposted road to Strangford lough and the castle. The castle is well marked from the signposted road.

You can park at the castle.

Exploring the Castle: Game of Thrones fans will instantly recognize Castle Ward as the filming location for Winterfell’s courtyard. Explore the grounds, take photos in iconic locations, and imagine yourself amidst the drama of Westeros.

visit castle ward

5. Dunseverick Castle: Unveiling the Mysteries of the Causeway Coast (County Antrim)

Getting Here: Dunseverick Castle is located on the Causeway Coastal Route, roughly a 1.5-hour drive north of Belfast.  Follow the directions for Dunluce Castle (mentioned above) and continue further north along the Causeway Coastal Route. The castle is well signposted and there’s a car park nearby.

Exploring the Castle: Dunseverick Castle is a ruin, but the dramatic clifftop setting and rich history make it worth a visit.  The climb to the ruins is a bit steep, so wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for some uneven terrain.

visit Dunseverick Castle

 

Beyond the Big Names: Unforgettable Hidden Gems

Northern Ireland’s castle collection extends far beyond these iconic landmarks. Here are a few hidden gems waiting to be discovered, with directions to get you there!

Kinbane Castle (County Antrim): A dramatic ruin on the north coast offering stunning views of the wild Atlantic Ocean. Follow the Causeway Coastal Route north of Belfast and look for signs towards Kinbane Castle. Parking is available nearby.

Mussenden Temple (County Derry): A neo-classical temple perched atop a cliff, offering breathtaking coastal views. Located near Castlerock in County Derry, follow signs for Mussenden Temple from the main A2 road. There’s a car park nearby.

Derry Walls (County Derry): Derry is situated in the north west of Northern Ireland, about 1.5 hours’ drive from the city centre of Belfast. Once you’ve parked near the historic city walls, you’ll be able to walk along the well-maintained city walls, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Derry. You can take your time walking along the ramparts, taking in the historical atmosphere and taking in the views of the city.

Planning Your Northern Ireland Castle Adventure:

Research and Choose Your Castles:

Northern Ireland has a castle for every taste, from dramatic ruins to grand Victorian estates. Do some research and pick the ones that pique your interest, considering factors like travel time and historical significance.

Factor in Travel Time: 

Distances can be deceiving, so plan your itinerary with travel times in mind. Public transport options like buses and trains are available for some locations, but renting a car offers the most flexibility for exploring multiple castles.

Embrace the Outdoors:

Many castles are located in stunning settings, so pack comfortable shoes and be prepared for some walking (and maybe a bit of wind!). Consider packing a raincoat and layers, as the weather in Northern Ireland can be unpredictable.

Unleash Your Inner Historian: 

Research the history of the castles you plan to visit. It will make your experience even more enriching. Many castles offer audio guides or guided tours that provide fascinating insights into the lives of the people who lived and worked there.

Northern Ireland’s castles aren’t just castles – they’re portals to the past! So pack your travel bags, unleash your explorer’s spirit, and prepare to be captivated by these stunning pieces of history. With a bit of planning and these easy to follow directions, you’ll be able to create an unforgettable castle journey through the heart of the country.

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