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Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle is a 19th Century Scottish Baronial style mansion sitting in a prominent position in Cavehill Country Park. It has spectacular views out across Belfast Lough and the city.

Belfast Castle was built in 1862 to replace an earlier castle in the city centre which was destroyed by fire. All that remains of that 12th Century Norman castle is a few street names like Castle Place and a shopping centre name.

The castle in Cavehill Park was constructed by Sir George Chichester, 3rd Marquess of Donegall. The castle was constructed from 1811 to 1870. By the time of its completion the costs had far exceeded the original estimate of £11,000 and the Donegall fortune had dwindled. The castle was finally completed when Lord Ashby, the Marquess's son-in-law stepped in.

The area around the castle was originally farmland, but in the 1880s a major planting exercise transformed it into attractive wooded parkland.

The castle subsequently passed, via marriage, to the Shaftesbury family. In the 1890s the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury added an Italian-style serpentine staircase as a gift to his mother, the Dowager Countess.

Public Ownership

The Shaftesbury family presented the castle and its estates to the Belfast Corporation in 1934. During the Second World War it served as a base for the Royal Navy Admiralty. The slopes of Cave Hill were also used as a refuge by local families during the blitz.

In 1978 Belfast City Council undertook a decade-long refurbishment and restoration project at the castle and it officially reopened to the public in November 1988.

The castle sits in its own formally landscaped gardens, including the Cat Garden. Tradition has it that good fortune will come to those who visit the castle, as long as the castle has a resident white cat. The Cat Garden celebrates that will no fewer than nine depictions of the cat in paving, sculpture and garden furniture.

Part of the Country Park

The castle's estate now forms part of Cave Hill Country Park. The park has three way-marked trails running through it. One of the trails takes you up the hill past the man-made caves to McArt's Fort which is an old Iron-Age ring fort.

Belfast castle is open free of charge to visitors. Down in the basement you'll find the castle antique shop and the Cellar Restaurant and Bar.

The second floor has the Cave Hill Visitors Centre. It has displays on the history of Cave Hill; the area's geology and wildlife; the story of Belfast Castle and its history and a recreation of a 1920s bedroom where a bride-to-be prepares for her wedding. As the display reveals, Belfast castle has a long history as a wedding venue and it is licensed for both marriage and civil partnership ceremonies.

Status: Visitor Attraction / Wedding Venue
Owner: Belfast City Council
Tel: +44 (0)28 9077 6925
Opening Times: Open Daily Monday to Saturday 9am to 10pm / Sunday 9am to 6pm

Belfast Castle viewed from the gardens
Belfast Castle viewed from the gardens

The gardens at Belfast Castle
The gardens at Belfast Castle

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