To be honest, Belfast Castle is a bit underwhelming when it comes to castles, as it doesn’t have the old motte and bailey design, or the battlements, or even an interesting story to tell. And when compared to the great castles of Britain it is more of a big house. In fact, it was only built in the 1800s (completed 1870). And the only interesting tidbit I took from its history was of the original Belfast Castle which was located smack in the centre of Belfast before burnt to a crisp. And this is now where Castle Street and the Castlecourt Shopping Centre are found. Anyway, there is at least a lot more interest in Belfast Castle’s surroundings, where it is found in Cave Hill Country Park overlooking Belfast Lough, with pretty gardens, hill climbs, forest walks, and a Belfast Castle Tour.
The Cat Garden
The highlight for me at Belfast Castle was the surrounding Cat Garden, as I’m a big fan of treasure hunts, and of course cats. So there has always been a resident white cat at Belfast Castle, and it is said that good fortune will come to those visiting the castle as long as the tradition of the castle cat is kept. And so 9 cats have been added to the surrounding “Cat Garden” in the form of sculptures, topiaries and mosaics. So it’s a bit like a treasure hunt to find them, and some (the giant cat topiary) will be slightly more obvious than others. Note, no dogs allowed (other than guide dogs).
Belfast Castle Tour
Belfast Castle is more of a venue for wedding receptions, and meetings and whatnot. At the same time, anyone can just call in for a self-guided Belfast Castle Tour. And we kind of did one by mistake when we boarded the elevator for the basement restaurant, only the lift was going up at the time, so we made the most of the mishap to tour the different floors of the building. Although I can’t remember much of major interest. Other than the Cellar Restaurant and Castle Tavern located in the basement of Belfast Castle (menus here). In short, if you’re looking for nice gardens, scenery and views then Belfast Castle works well. But, if you’re looking for a proper historical castle experience, the not-so-far Carrickfergus Castle (in Carrickfergus) would be the better choice.
Cave Hill Country Park
Belfast Castle is also the easy starting point for walks in Cave Hill Country Park, with waymarked routes, and an easyish walk up to Cave Hill’s famous Napoleon’s Nose (rumoured to have inspired the giant in Gulliver’s Travels). So we even made close it to the top, only to stop at the benches just below the final stretch, where there are decent views over Belfast lough as well as the hills above (full route here). We also did this in wintertime, which is obviously not the best season for walks in Belfast or Northern Ireland, as the colours of Spring, Autumn and Summer will be much better in the Cave Hill Country Park.
Getting to Belfast Castle
Belfast Castle is not the easiest tourist attraction to reach as it’s located a good 4-miles outside of Belfast City Centre in the back hills of the city. So it is best to have personal transport, and, when driving, there are a number of parking areas on the road up from Antrim Road including a car park at the end of the main driveway. It is also possible to reach by bus from Belfast City Centre (Metro Bus Route 1: Strathmore Park Bus Stop) including a walk from Antrim Road.
Belfast Castle Address?
Belfast Castle, Antrim Road, Belfast, County Antrim, BT15 5GR, Northern Ireland
Belfast Castle Opening Times?
Admission is free to Belfast Castle and the surrounding grounds of Cave Hill Country Park.
Sunday to Monday 09:00 – 18:00
Tuesday to Saturday 09:30 – 22:30