WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre is one of the more overlooked places to visit in Down.
This award-winning wetland reserve on the edge of Strangford Lough is a wonderful place to visit with the whole family.
Below, you’ll find info on the various trails, the views, the wildlife and some info to make your visit a hassle-free one.
Some quick need-to-knows about WWT Castle Espie
Although a visit to WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Castle Espie is on the western banks of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. It’s a 35-minute drive from Belfast, a 25-minute drive from Downpatrick and a 15-minute drive from Newtownards.
2. Opening hours
Open every day of the year except Christmas eve and Christmas day, you can visit the wetlands through every season. The Visitor Centre and Reserve is open 10 am to 5 pm, with the Kingfisher Café open until 3 pm.
There are two admission prices, depending on whether you want to include the Gift Aid, which is a small voluntary donation so the reserve can claim the tax back from the government. The prices with the gift aid are:
- £9.70 per adult
- £8.25 per concession
- £5.35 per child from 4-16 years old
- There is a family ticket available for two adults and two children which is £25.60.
4. Plenty to see and do
There’s plenty to see and do around the wetlands, including walking trails through the woodland and birdwatching on the water. You can also relax in the café and let the kids play for the afternoon. There’s a playground area for kids to play on, which has only opened recently.
5. The Kingfisher Kitchen
The Kingfisher Café in the reserve sells a selection of snacks and drinks to fuel your walk around the wetlands. They have plenty of outdoor space with picnic areas for eating. You can also find a gift shop in store, selling gifts, books, bird feeders, children’s toys and stationery.
About WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre
WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre is one of the incredible attractions of the magnificent Strangford Lough. Castle Espie is a wetland reserve looked after by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
The castle that gave the reserve its name no longer exists, and neither does the old quarry and brick and lime kiln from the Victorian era.
However, there are some remains of the kiln which are described in interpretative signs on the walking trails.
Wildlife and flora
The Castle Espie wetlands are home to a number of birds, including ducks, geese, wildfowl, geese and swans.
In fact, it’s known as having the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland. The 60 acres on the western shore of Strangford Lough are covered in woodland waterways, with walking trails connecting the areas for you explore on foot.
The wetlands have become an early wintering site for migratory birds, including the pale-bellied brent geese.
You’ll find a range of landscapes, including tidal lagoons, salt marshes and reed beds and woodland.
Things to see and do at WWT Castle Espie
There’s plenty of things to see and do around WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre, which make it a great day-out-destination. Here are some suggestions:
1. The woodland trail
A popular and family-friendly trail in the reserve, this 1-mile long walk takes you around the most popular lagoons and landmarks in a circuit.
It’s a great way to spot some of the birds in the duckery, freshwater lagoon and salt marsh.
You’ll also pass by some of the remains of the area’s past, including the old lime kiln and brick works building. There are interpretive signs detailing how the area was transitioned from a quarry to a wetland and haven for wildlife.
2. The wildlife wanderer walk
This short circuit is an easy walk from the visitor centre, which takes you past the Plumbs, home to the large collection of waterfowl. The trail then takes you over to Brent Hide, which offers incredible views of Strangford Lough.
Before returning to the visitor centre, you can also wander through the old remains of the brick works and lime kiln to learn about some of the history. It’s great for kids, as it’s just 0.7 miles long.
3. Wildlife galore
There’s plenty of wildlife to spot during your time at the reserve. Birds are the real highlight, with several migratory and endangered birds calling the wetlands home.
It features Ireland’s largest collection of native and exotic ducks and geese from around the world.
There are different birds to spot throughout the year, depending on the season. Winter is dominated by the wildfowl who descend on the waters and fields of the reserve.
Spring is when the courtship rituals begin, and you can spot sea swallows amongst the wildflowers.
In summer, you can spot little ducklings looking to practice their swimming and diving skills, while butterflies, dragonflies and bats are common too. In autumn, the light bellied brent geese make their return journey.
4. Events and exhibitions
There’s always a range of events going on at Castle Espie, it’s worth checking in to find out what’s on. You can expect art galleries, bird watching groups, and ranger days, so you can learn more about the wildlife and reserve during your visit.
They also often have special events for holidays like Easter, so if you plan on visiting it’s worth checking out their event schedule for the kids.
Places to visit near WWT Castle Espie
One of the beauties of WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from WWT Castle Espie (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Nendrum Monastic Site (10-minute drive)
Just a 10-minute drive across the causeway to Mahee Island, it’s worth stopping and checking out Nendrum Monastic Site. The incredible Christian ruins date back to the 5th century, with a fascinating history and rediscovery story.
2. Scrabo Tower (10-minute drive)
At the northern end of Strangford Lough, you’ll likely spot this landmark tower as you drive towards Newtownards. Scrabo Tower was originally built in 1857 and is one of the most standout features of the whole area.
3. The Ards Peninsula (15-minute drive)
The incredible Ards Peninsula is one of the best trips you can take from Belfast. The far eastern peninsula on the eastern shore of Strangford Lough has some outstanding beaches and coastal towns.
4. Delamont Country Park (20-minute drive)
Towards the south of WWT Castle Espie, Delamont Country Park is another popular family activity. You can do a range of activities there, including horse riding, walking, camping and riding the miniature railway.
FAQs about Castle Espie Wetland Centre
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘How much is it in?’ to ‘What is there to do?’.
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.
Do you have to book Castle Espie?
No, you do not need to book your visit in advance. You simply pay the admission when you arrive.
Is WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre worth visiting?
Yes. There’s plenty of trails to head off on here and the area is a joy to explore on foot when the weather is fine.