Northern Ireland has many castles scattered throughout each county, from grand houses to fortresses.
Some castles are well preserved, with their turrets, tapestries, and banquet halls still intact. The landscape around them slowly changed through the centuries while they stood strong.
Other castles in Northern Ireland lie in ruins with a remaining tower or wall still firmly in place. Some you will see at the side of the road, with the town built up around them.
What are the best castles to visit in Northern Ireland?
These castles are an insight into the past, detailing the tumultuous times between Gaelic Kings and invaders. For those who live near the castles, these buildings offer a peaceful place to refresh and rediscover the wonders on your doorstep.
Carrickfergus Castle is in the town of Carrickfergus, one of the oldest towns in Ireland. The castle is located on the shores of Belfast Lough, half an hour from Belfast.
Carrickfergus Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval structures in Ireland and is the only castle in Ireland that has been continuously in use from when it was first built in 1177.
The impressive structure sits on a rock that juts out into Belfast Lough. The great stone walls loom over the water, a tower emerging from the centre and rising above the walls, 90 feet high. Little boats bob in the waters surrounding it.
A ramp leads you to the great wooden door, a bright yellow and purple banner proudly hanging above it. Through the double doors and the portcullis, its spikes looming above your head, you arrive in a courtyard with buildings on either side. Seventeenth-Century cannons point towards you.
Around the walls, the statue of a lady in green stares out to sea through arched windows. Inside is a warren of rooms. The great hall with fireplace and high ceilings displays tapestries on the walls, their bright colours only partly faded.
There are many medieval artefacts on show to display the rich history. Ruled by Scots, Irish, English, and French, the castle once loomed over a walled town.
Used as a military base for over 800 years, a garrison in the First World War, and an air shelter during the Second World War.
There is a small entrance fee and it reopens for socially distanced tours in October.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus Castle is situated on the north coast. The ruinous remains of Dunluce Castle are perched precariously close to the edge of the basalt cliffs as if it has risen from the land itself.
The white crest of the wave’s crash on the rocks 200 metres below. A bridge, 25 metres above the lush green hills takes you to the entrance.
Walk amongst the buildings with their chimneys still perched on top. Parts of the pebbled stone floor remain to walk in the footsteps of the many people from centuries ago.
Cannons from the wreckage of the Spanish Armada are mounted in the castle. Perfectly intact bay windows look out into the dramatic landscape.
It is said that in 1639 during a storm with the wind howling and rain attacking the castle that part of the kitchens fell into the sea, killing some of the staff. There are tales of a banshee roaming the castle, but you are not likely to find a castle in Northern Ireland that doesn’t have tales of a banshee or spirits.
Built around 1500, Dunluce Castle has seen many turbulent times, including being used as a lookout during World War II. The town of Dunluce was established beside the castle in 1608. Remnants of the cobbled streets and merchants’ houses remain.
There is a fee to get inside but it is inexpensive. Or, you can admire it for free from the pebbled beach below or the cliffs surrounding it.
Dunluce Castle is among three castles along the north coast, the others, Dunseverick and Kinbane Castle, are not as well preserved but are in beautiful scenic spots.
The beaches stretching around the coast with dome shaped temples overlooking them on the cliffs above. The only sound is the rhythmic sound of the waves and birds overhead as they swoop to the cliffs.
And, of course, the UNESCO Heritage Site of the Giants Causeway is 10 minutes away from Dunluce, with its flat hexagonal stones stretching out to sea.
Dundrum Castle is situated in County Down. The remaining stone structure sits proudly over Dundrum village.
Steep, winding lanes take you towards Dundrum Castle, a fat ginger cat sprawled on the windowsill of a cottage surrounding the castle. Walking along the path to the castle that curves uphill, trees are dotted here and there, rising as high as the walls.
Most of the outside wall remains, inside is a large circular tower, the top now gaping open to the elements. Inside the tower, a narrow stone staircase spirals around the structure, names and dates of long ago etched into the stone.
Small red flowers poke out through the cracks, reaching towards the sun that filters through the now non-existent roof. At the top the views are stunning across Dundrum Bay.
The coastal areas of Northern Ireland can get pretty windy so you’ll want to pack a cozy fleece like this or a windbreaker like this from Scott E Vest. Each layer has over 12 concealed pockets to keep everything you need on your trip handy.
The golden sands of the beach sweeping along the shore to the Mourne mountains that rise to the right of the castle.
The castle was built in 1177 by John De Courcy, the same man who built Carrickfergus Castle. Various parts of the structure were added to by each owner. Once home to the Knights Templar, the castle was left in ruins by 1652 by Oliver Cromwell.
Although, this is the only castle in this area, there are many beautiful places to see nearby. The national nature reserve of Murlough Bay is five minutes from Dundrum village. Its wooden boardwalks weave through the sand dunes, and the beach looks out to the English Channel with the Mourne Mountains towering to the right.
Audley’s Castle is a three-storey tower sitting atop a hill overlooking Strangford Lough. The tower is all that remains of this structure.
There is a stone inset running around the perimeter where walls would have been, protecting the domestic buildings inside. Although you can’t get into the tower, the viewpoint is beautiful.
Boats rock rhythmically on the calm waters of the lough. Surrounded by woods and fields, a soft mooing from the cows carries on the breeze as they lazily chew on grass.
Bright yellow gorse surrounds the wall and a winding lane leads down to a peddled beach. The only sound is the chirp from a bird or the lap of the water.
Audley’s Castle is situated on Castle Ward Estate, a National Trust property. Nearby is Castle Ward, only a castle in name.
The manor house, which was built in the 18th century, is a mix of gothic and classical architecture. It is located in acres of land with woods, among 34 kilometres of trails, a Victorian sunken garden, an artificial lake, and a 16th-century tower and farmyard that was used as Winterfell on Game of Thrones.
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Enniskillen in County Fermanagh is in the west of Northern Ireland. Fermanagh has the most surviving ruins of any 17th-century castles in the whole of Ireland. There is Monea Castle, Castle Caldwell, Tully Castle, Castle Balfour, Castle Archdale, Crom estate, and Portora Castle.
All are in various states of preservation. The best preserved is Enniskillen Castle.
Enniskillen Castle sits majestically in the centre of Enniskillen. The rounded stone walls and turrets are reflected in the calm waters of River Erne, so close, that it almost touches the water. The castle was renovated in recent years and includes a new stone and glass building housing a museum, a café, and visitor attraction.
The 600-year-old castle was built by a Gaelic family and in the 17th century it became an English garrison fort and later a military barracks.
There is a small entrance fee, but the castle can also be admired from outside or on boat trips on the River Erne.
Fermanagh has many historic sites across the county. Devenish Island in Lower Lough Erne is home to a monastic site with a 12th century round tower and Augustinian abbey.
White Island situated in Castle Archdale Bay includes a 12th century church and eight archaic carved stone figures sitting in a line and set into a wall dating back to 6th century.
The Marble Arch Caves, natural limestone caves, are a global geopark. The depths can be explored either by boat or by a walking tour.
Stay in a Castle and Live Like a Lord
There are seven castles dotted around Northern Ireland where you can spend the night, from towers to sprawling estates by the water, including Crom Castle in Enniskillen, Helen’s Tower in Bangor, and Killyleagh Castle in County Down.
Most of castles are decorated in the medieval style but have modern facilities so you can enjoy living like a Lord or Lady.
The castles scattered amongst the Northern Irish landscape are steeped in history, their structures enduring throughout centuries.
Their scenic surroundings protected from encroaching modernity. In this changing time, it is relaxing to walk among these buildings that have endured many conflicts and troubled times. They will endure many more years to come, just like us.
What To Do in Northern Ireland:
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