Hillsborough Castle | Kidadl

Hillsborough Castle

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  • Visit Northern Ireland’s royal residence and learn all about the role the grand family home played in the Peace Process since the 1980s.
  • Experience the opulence of the elegant State Rooms, including the State Dining Room and Lady Grey’s Study.
  • Guided tours are available, where you can learn all about the grandest house in County Down.
  • Explore 100 acres of stunning royal gardens and spot the local wildlife.

Situated in the heart of Hillsborough village in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens has been the home to the Secretary of State since the 1970s and the official royal residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Northern Ireland. Owned by the Crown Estates, the Historic Royal Palaces took over the responsibility of managing the castle since 2014.  

Although named a castle, Hillsborough is actually a large Irish Georgian mansion that dates back to 1770. It was customary in the late 18th century for the wealthy upper classes to call their large country mansions ‘castles’.  The house was built by the first Marquess of Downshire, Wills Hill, and successive generations of the Hill family lived here until the end of the 19th century. In 1925, the Hills family sold the grand house to the British government for around £24,000, which would be equivalent to £1.3 million today. It became the home to the Governor of Northern Ireland and began to develop its royal and political associations for which it is known for today.

The venue has been used as a personal and ceremonial base for members of the Royal Family, and importantly, in the 1980s it played a key role for the Peace Process in Northern Ireland.

A large rectangular dining table standing in the centre of one of the State Rooms at Hillsborough Castle.

At the awe-inspiring mansion in County Down, you can peer into the elegant State Apartments, which are still used by the Royal Family. Explore the grandest room in the house, the Throne Room, where HM The Queen celebrated her coronation in 1953 with a grandiose ball. Get a glimpse of the thrones, which are actually Chairs of State and act as the monarch in absence. Did you know that only the Governor and his wife are permitted to sit on them? Check out the two portraits of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart in the Throne Room, one of which is credited to French portraitist François de Troy from around 1700-1704.

Don’t miss the opportunity to take a look at the splendid Red Room, which has been the setting for many important political meetings and pivotal moments in history since the 1970s. Art enthusiasts will no doubt be impressed by the fantastic collection of art that’s displayed on the walls, including works by William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Anthony van Dyck.

Learn about all of Hillsborough Castle’s fascinating history on a 45-minute guided tour. Enjoy guided access to the stunning State Rooms, which includes the Throne Rooms, Lady Grey’s Study, the Red room, the State Drawing Room and the Stair Hall.The castle also displays many marvellous paintings from the Schorr and Royal Collection and brilliant works of arts from contemporary Irish artists.  

Take a stroll in the breathtaking gardens that surround the castle. Little adventurers will love discovering the ornate formal gardens, the Walled Garden, the undisturbed woodland and the rambling waterways at the royal residence. Keep your eyes peeled for rare plants and wildlife as you explore the grounds.  Can you spot the kingfishers and swans on the lake? You may even get a glimpse of some otters at the pond near Lady Alice’s Temple! You can pick up a garden explorer map on arrival or join a highlights tour with the head gardener and learn more about the Yew Tree Walk, the Moss Walk, Lady Alice’s Temple and the Lake.

From Game of Thrones filming locations to medieval ruins, there are some truly unique castles in Northern Ireland to visit with your family. Some highlights include 600-year-old Enniskillen castle Museums, Shen’s Castle, which has been home to the O’Neil family since 1345 and Castle Ward, Winterfell's exterior in Game of Thrones.

What to know before you go

  • Hillsborough Castle opening times are seasonal. From 1 April until 27 September, the castle and gardens are open from Thursday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm. The last admission is 4pm. From 28 September until 31 March, the gardens only are open from Thursday to Sunday 10am - 4pm. The last admission is 3pm.  
  • The Hillsborough Castle tours are approximately 45 minutes long and start at the castle state entrance. Please arrive 45 minutes before your tour starts so you have time to park and walk to the entrance.
  • The Hillsborough Castle is wheelchair friendly, but some of the paths in the garden are unsuitable for wheelchair users.
  • It’s not possible to take buggies inside the castle State Rooms for conservation purposes. However, they are permitted in the gardens. There are free lockers available for buggy and bag storage.
  • There are toilets with disabled access and baby-changing facilities available in the Weston Pavilion, Pineapple Yard.
  • Guide dogs are welcome.
  • The royal residence has two on-site cafes, the Hillsborough Castle Café and Stable Yard Tea Room. Located in the Weston Pavilion, the Hillsborough Castle Café serves a seasonal menu using produce grown from the Walled Garden, afternoon tea boxes, craft sandwiches and a delicious Sunday lunch. The Stable Yard Tea Room serves cakes, snacks and hot drinks.
  • You are also welcome to bring your own picnic, which can be enjoyed in the royal gardens.
  • Pick up a seasonal produce box grown by Hillsborough’s gardeners in the Walled Garden. You can pay in the Lower Visitor Centre.
  • There are daily programme brochures, family trails and printed maps available at the Hillsborough Castle and Gardens admission desk.
  • The garden walk is 2.1km and takes approximately 30 minutes.
  • Enjoy a spot of shopping at either the Hillsborough Castle Shop or the Stableyard Shop. Both shops sell a range of homeware, souvenirs, gifts and jewellery inspired by Hillsborough Castle and Gardens.
  • The venue also holds a series of show-stopping events throughout the year, including the Hillsborough Castle Food Festival.

Getting there

  • By train, Lisburn railway station is five miles from Hillsborough Castle. From the station, hop on the route 38 bus to Hillsborough castle. Moira railway station is a little further and for bus connections, you would need to travel via Lisburn bus station.
  • If you are arriving by bus, alight at the Hillsborough War Memorial. Bus route 238 operates from central Belfast to Hillsborough. You can expect services every 20 minutes.
  • If you are arriving by car, Hillsborough Castle is accessible via the A1. Just follow the brown tourist signs clearly signposted on the A1 south to the car park entrance.
  • There's free on-site parking with 27 allocated parking spaces for Blue Badge holders. During peak periods, there is a park and ride service. From the car park, the quickest route to the castle is to leave the Walled Garden by the left corner gate. There are signs to the castle.

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