Grand Belfast Castle offers panoramic views from its elevated position in Cave Hill Country Park.
This turreted stone building is surrounded by gardens and woodland and it’s arguably one of the most beautiful castles in Northern Ireland.
Wildlife abounds in the park including sparrow-hawks, long-eared owls and the rare Adoxa moschatellina Town Hall Clock plant.
There’s also a Visitor Centre, café, adventure playground, landscaped gardens and eco trails. You’ll find everything you need to know about visiting Belfast Castle below.
Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Belfast Castle
Although a visit to the mighty Belfast Castle is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Situated on the lower slopes of Cave Hill Country Park, Belfast Castle is a short 20-minute drive from Belfast City Centre, a 10-minute drive from Belfast Zoo and a 12-minute drive from the historic Crumlin Road Gaol.
2. Opening hours
Although we’ve tried, we can’t seem to find up-to-date opening hours for Belfast Castle, so you may have to ring in advance. On-site amenities include an excellent Visitor Centre, cafe/restaurant, toilets and a Gift Shop.
Belfast Castle has full car parking facilities but spaces are limited on busy weekends. There is currently no charge for parking.
4. It’s what’s outside that counts
Inside the grand front door, the ground and first floor rooms have retained their original features. However, the outside of the castle building is even more impressive. Surrounded by well-maintained gardens and woodland, the estate offers dramatic views across the Belfast Lough.
A speedy history of Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Northern Ireland. Once the home of the Donegall family, there have been quite a few Belfast Castles over the centuries.
The earliest castle was built by the Normans in the late 12th century. It was situated in Belfast city centre on Castle Place.
It was replaced by a wood and stone castle constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester in 1611. This one was destroyed by fire barely 100 years later, leaving only the street names to mark its existence.
The current Belfast Castle building
This current grand turreted castle was built in 1862 by the 3rd Marquis of Donegall, a descendant of the Chichester family.The Scottish Baronial architectural style was designed by architect John Lanyon, whose father Charles designed the Palm House in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens.
Belfast Castle was completed in 1870 but ran well over the intended £11,000 budget so the Marquis’ son-in-law (later 8th Earl of Shaftesbury) baled him out.
The Donegall name
The castle estate passed down through the Donegall family, hence the coat-of-arms above the front door and on the north wall of the castle. They were very influential in the city as Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1907 and Chancellor of the Queen’s University in 1908.
In 1934, the Donegall family presented the castle and estate to the city. It has since hosted many weddings, dances and events.
In the 1980s, Belfast Castle was totally renovated and continues to be a popular centre for conferences, events and weddings.
Things to do at Belfast Castle
One of the beauties of visiting Belfast Castle is there’s plenty to see and do once you arrive, with both rainy day activities and hikes and walks on offer.
Below, you’ll find everything from the brilliant Cave Hill Walk to the panoramic views of Belfast City to much, much more.
1. Ramble around the castle
Visitors can explore the public rooms on the ground and first floor. The renovations have left many original architectural features intact including the fireplaces.
There’s a small cafe on the ground floor opening onto the terrace. After that, head outside to admire the impressive exterior and the stunning Lough Belfast views.
2. Grab some of the best views of the city on the Cave Hill walk
For more stunning views, don your hiking boots and head out on the Cave Hill Trail. It’s quite challenging underfoot and steep in places but very rewarding. There are some waymarkers but in many places there is no signage at all so you’ll find a downloaded map very useful.
This circular hike is in an anticlockwise direction from the castle car park. It includes many archaeological sites, fantastic flora and fauna, and panoramic views.
It takes you past the Devil’s Punchbowl, several caves and McArt’s Fort as you traverse moorland, heath and meadows. This is regarded as one of the more challenging walks in Belfast for good reason.
3. Then head for a post-walk feed at the castle
Back at the castle you’ll find one of our favourite spots for coffee in Belfast. There are plenty of snacks and drinks available, although the castle is best known for its large-scale catering.
Alternatively, head to the Cellar Restaurant which serves Irish and British favourites within the castle building.
4. Explore the Cave Hill Visitor Centre
Cave Hill Visitor Centre is on the second floor of Belfast Castle. Free to visit, it has four rooms of exhibits and an 8-minute film about Cave Hill and Belfast Castle.
Newly refurbished, it tells the history of Belfast Castle, the people who lived on Cave Hill and how it got its name. The exhibits on Belfast Castle show how it might have looked 100 years ago as a family home. It covers the former Pleasure Gardens, Floral Hall and Bellevue Zoo.
It also features the plants and animals that live in Cave Hill County Park within the woodland, heath, cliffs, caves and two nature reserves.
Things to do near Belfast Castle
One of the beauties of visiting Belfast Castle is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Belfast.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Belfast Castle (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Explore the city
Beyond Belfast Castle and Cave Hill, the city has lots of interesting historical sites, museums, galleries and shops. Don’t miss St George’s Market (Fridays through Sundays) with its musical entertainment and stalls. Belfast City Hall, the Black Mountain, Titanic Belfast and the Cathedral Quarter are all worth a visit.
2. Food and drink
Northern Ireland’s capital is bustling with great food spots, as you’ll discover in our guide to the best restaurants in Belfast. You’ll find everything from vegan restaurants and lively spots for bottomless brunch to great places for breakfast in Belfast.
FAQs about visiting Belfast Castle
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from whether the castle is worth visiting to what to see and do while you’re there.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Belfast Castle worth visiting?
Yes! Even if you just visit for the views out over the city, the short 20-minute drive from the city centre out to the castle are well worth it.
What are the opening hours for Belfast Castle?
We can’t (and we’ve tried!) find opening hours for the castle at the moment. It appears that it has been closed for much of 2021.
Is Belfast Castle free?
Yes, there is no admission fee for visiting the castle.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.