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A grand castle residence overlooking its city


Castle Exterior & Interior
Cellar Restaurant
Antiques Shop
Adventure Playground
Castle Grounds
Cave Hill Country Park
The original Belfast Castle was a 13th-century stronghold in the centre of town that played its part in dozens of battles. However it burned down in 1708. Some of Northern Ireland's ancient fortresses still survive as ruins, but this one has completely disappeared. The only traces of its former existence are street and place names.
By the time it burned down, the building wasn't really being used as a military stronghold anyway. Still, its distinguished and wealthy owners certainly needed a new residence. It took a while to get it completed but a new Belfast Castle was eventually constructed in the 1860s. However, the location was entirely different. Instead of the busy, crowded city centre, the project was shifted to the roomier Cave Hill, a steep slope looming over the northern side of Belfast.

The view from Cavehill Country Park
Photo donnamarijne
The man to finally finish off the construction work was the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury. Despite the fact that many of his relatives had been almost bankrupted by the horrendously expensive project, his family didn't hang on to the castle for too long. In 1934, the 9th Earl donated it to the city. Thankfully, the council were prepared to look after their new property. A few decades later they enhanced the building with an extensive refurbishment that cost 2 million pounds and took a further 10 years!
Since the public reopening on 11 November 1988, Belfast Castle has received plenty of visitors. It's fairytale turrets and green surroundings lend a dramatic atmosphere that would rival any other building you'd care to mention. Inside, you can view all the finery that the previous owners enjoyed, from antique furniture to sombre artwork. A restaurant in the cellar recreates the past, with Victorian style streets and gas lamps.

Belfast Castle
Photo Stubacca
Outside, meanwhile, are the moors and meadows of Cave Hill. Its conquerors are rewarded with famously expansive views of Belfast, and the Lough it sits next to. On clear days you can see all the way to the Isle of Man. Visitors to the summit can also get a good look at Napoleon's Nose, a rock outcrop that supposedly resembles the pointy facial features of the French leader. It's rumoured to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's novel "Gulliver's Travels".

Cavehill and Napoleon's Nose
Photo donnamarijne
The area's history is thoroughly explained at the Cave Hill Visitor Centre, on the second floor of the castle. Its exhibits range from prehistoric settlers to the local wildlife.
There's a wider selection of animals housed at Belfast Zoo, which also resides on the hill. Most of the creatures, such as giraffes and elephants, are most certainly not native creatures. Children who grow jealous of the acrobatic monkeys will enjoy the adventure playground, inside the castle estate. Its ropes and slides make them feel like they're turning into a primate themselves.
Visitor Information
Belfast Castle is open daily, 9am to 10pm (reception). The castle contains a Cellar Restaurant, Antiques Shop, Adventure Playground and Cave Hill Visitor Centre. Belfast Castle, Antrim Road, Belfast, BT15 5GR. Tel: 028 9077 6925
Belfast Zoo is open daily, 10am to 7pm (4pm in winter). Entry costs around £8 for adults, £4 children, £20 families. Belfast Zoological Gardens, Antrim Road, Belfast, BT36 7PN. Tel: 028 9077 6277
Cavehill Country Park is open all year round. Admission is free. It's on the A6 road, just north of Belfast. Cave Hill Visitor Centre: 028 9077 6925

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