If you’re in search of the best castles in Northern Ireland, this guide is a good start.
The 6 counties of Northern Ireland (Antrim, Armagh, Tyrone, Derry, Fermanagh and Down) are home to many an ancient castle.
Some, like Dunluce Castle, are in ruins while others, like Belfast Castle, have been carefully maintained.
In the guide below, you’ll discover what we think are the best castles Northern Ireland has to offer.
The best castles in Northern Ireland
Magnificent postcard-perfect castles pepper Northern Ireland’s landscape. You’ll find them perched atop crumbly cliff edges and overlooking picturesque rivers and lakes.
Some lay in complete ruin, like Kinbane and Dunseverick, while others, like Castlewellan and Belfast Castle, look as mighty as they did hundreds of years ago.
1. Dunluce Castle
Like many castles in Northern Ireland, Dunluce has a fine bit of legend attached to it. It’s said that on a stormy night back in 1639, part of the castle’s kitchen fell into the icy water below.
Apparently, only the kitchen boy survived, as he managed to tuck himself away in a corner of the room, which kept him safe.
Now, unfortunately a painting from the time has debunked this legend, but it adds a bit of colour to the castle… not that it really needs it, to be fair.
Related read: Check out our guide to 32 of the best castles in Ireland
2. Carrickfergus Castle
Next up is one of the most famous castles Northern Ireland has to offer – Carrickfergus Castle.
You’ll find Carrickfergus Castle in the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim, on the shores of Belfast Lough.
The castle at Carrickfergus was first constructed by John de Courcy at some time in 1177 and he used it as his headquarters. He remained here until 1204 when he was booted out by Hugh de Lacy, another Norman.
The castle saw its fair share of action over the years:
- It was seized by King John in 1210
- It was part of the week-long ‘Siege of Carrickfergus’ many years later, in 1689
- It looted by French invaders in 1760
- It was used to hold prisoners of war in 1797
Then, during the Second World War, the castle was used as an air-raid shelter. It wasn’t until many years later, in 1928, that ownership was given to the new Government of Northern Ireland.
3. Belfast Castle
The castle and its finely-manicured grounds are home to a whole host of animal and plant life, from beautiful long-eared owls and sparrowhawks to Belfast’s rarest plant, the Town Hall Clockto.
The original Belfast Castle was built in Belfast City by the Normans during the 12th century. It was rebuilt again in 1611 on the same site where it sat for many years.
And then it was burned to the ground in 1708. It was decided that the original site would be abandoned and that the new castle would be built on Cave Hill.
Although Belfast Castle is one of the finest castles in Northern Ireland, it’s missed by many that visit the city. Make sure that you add it to your to-see-sharpish list!
Related read: Check out our guide to 28 of the best things to do in Belfast
4. Kinbane Castle
The castle is situated atop a little rocky promontory called Kinbane Head. Kinbane Castle almost looks like something that was created with a bit of Photoshop wizardry.
The promontory upon which the castle sits juts out into the sea, giving the castle an almost other-worldly feel.
Those that visit can expect to find these isolated ruins surrounded by jagged cliffs and a clatter of breath-taking coastal scenery.
There’s also a 12 km walking trail network that boasts views of the Mourne Mountains and the surrounding countryside.
Castlewellan Castle is what’s known as a Scottish Baronial Castle. It was constructed in 1856 and it overlooks the lake and the park.
These days, the castle is used as a Christian conference centre, and it is rarely open to the public. However, you can admire this castle from the outside as you explore the lush grounds.
6. Monea Castle
Another of the lesser-known Northern Ireland castles is Monea Castle, which was built in 1618.
Monea Castle is the biggest and the best-preserved of the many Plantation Castles that can be found in County Fermanagh.
Now, if you’re wondering what the Plantation was, here it is in a nutshell: the Plantation of Ulster took place in the early 17th Century.
It was an attempt by the English to forcefully take control of the province of Ulster. King James confiscated land and handed it over to people from Britain (mainly English and Scotts) that would agree to settle in Ulster and support the crown.
Unsurprisingly, these thieves soon found themselves living amongst a hostile native population. So, they built defensive dwellings, like Monea, to defend themselves from the locals.
7. Gosford Castle
One of the best castles in Northern Ireland for visiting Game of Thrones fans is the 200+-year-old Gosford Castle and Forest Park in County Armagh.
Gosford Castle was used to portray the House of Tully in the blockbuster show and it was inside these walls that certain dark events took place.
Yep, I’m referring to the beheading of Rickard Karstark! Interestingly enough, Gosford Castle is one of the largest castles that was ever built in Ireland.
If you fancy giving the legs a stretch, there are 4 different walks that you can head off on in the grounds, each of which is clearly signposted.
8. Tully Castle
If there are any Northern Ireland castles that are haunted, it’s this one.
Tully Castle was built for a Scottish planter, Sir John Hume, in 1619. Now, if you read the guide above closely, you’ll know what happened during the plantation.
Land was forcefully taken from the Irish and it was handed over (literally) to English and Scottish people that agreed to live here and support the crown.
So, the castle was seized and given to Hume. Many years after he moved into the castle, the Irish Rebellion of 1641 commenced.
It was then that a man named Rory Maguire, whose family originally owned the land, set off to take back what was rightfully his family’s.
However, he did so in the most horrific way imaginable. Maguire arrived at Tully Castle with a large group of mean on Christmas Eve.
When he arrived, he discovered that the castle was full of women and children. Tully Castle was surrendered, but on Christmas Day the Maguires slaughtered 60 women and children and 15 men.
9. Dunseverick Castle
According to legend, Dunseverick was visited by the man himself, Saint Patrick, at some point during the 5th century.
It’s said that Ireland’s Patron Saint visited the castle in order to Baptise a local man who later went on to become the Bishop of Ireland.
If you fancy visiting Dunseverick Castle, park up in the little car park beside it and take the short ramble over to its ruins.
The original stone fort that occupied the area was attacked by Viking raiders in 870 AD. Dip into our guide to the best castles in Dublin to see what other Irish castles the Vikings are linked to.
10. Enniskillen Castle
You’ll find Enniskillen Castle in, unsurprisingly enough, Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. It dates back in the 16th century and it’s now home to the Fermanagh County Museum.
It also hosts the Regimental Museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.
Although the current structure dates from the 16th century, there was a castle on the site long before, in 1428.
The first Enniskillen castle was constructed by Hugh Maguire and it was besieged on a number of occasions over the years.
One of the bloodiest sieges took place in 1594 when Captain John Dowdall, an English military leader, slaughtered the castle’s occupants after they surrendered.
The castle is now an official heritage site and a visit here is widely regarded as one of the best things to do in Fermanagh.
11. Dundrum Castle
There are few castles in Northern Ireland that offer a view as wonderful as Dundrum Castle in County Down.
You’ll find this castle tucked away on a beautiful wooded hill not far from the little village of Dundrum, where it offers breath-taking views of the nearby bay and the Mournes.
Dundrum Castle was built around 1177 and its primary use was to enable the control of the land routes from Drogheda in Louth to Downpatrick.
If you’re in the area and you fancy checking it out, there’s plenty of parking available close by and you can have a ramble around the ruins.
What Northern Ireland Castles have we Missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant castles in Northern Ireland from the guide above.
If you have a place that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about the best castles in Northern Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What Northern Ireland castles are in ruins?’ to ‘Which ones can you visit?’.
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.
What are the best castles in Northern Ireland?
This will be subjective, but in our opinion the best castles in Northern Ireland are Duncluce, Belfast Castle and Carrickfergus Castle.
How many castles are in Northern Ireland?
There doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence around the exact number of castles Northern Ireland has to offer. Some sources say 40 while others say it’s 2-3 times as many.
What is the oldest castle in Northern Ireland?
It’s believe that Killyleagh Castle in County Down is the oldest of the many Northern Ireland castles. Parts of the structure are said to date back to 1180.