Here in Northern Ireland we have such a wealth of historic sites right on our doorstep that are well worth a visit. I love nothing more than following the brown tourist signs when out and about with my own family and discovering hidden gems and fascinating places to learn about, explore and spend some quality time together. While there are so many to choose from, we’ve narrowed down our own personal ‘Top 5 Castles, Ruins and Abbeys to Visit in Northern Ireland’ to share with you all!
Here they are in no particular order!
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1. Kinbane Castle
This is such a stunning little spot to visit and because it’s quite a popular tourist spot we love to visit in the evenings during the summer so that we have more chance of getting the place all to ourselves – makes us feel like proper royalty!
Located around 5km from Ballycastle on the way to Ballintoy, Kinbane Castle is situated on an impressive jutting headland that makes it one of the most striking destinations to go see. From the carpark follow the long set of narrow steps down to the pathway, taking care as you go as they are extremely steep, and follow the winding paths around the beautiful section of coast with glorious and far-stretching views.
Kinbane Castle itself is perched dramatically high above the sea so hold onto little hands while you explore, listening to the wild waves crashing on the rocks far below. Once you’ve enjoyed the castle ruins and spectacular vistas a little trip to the nearby pebble beach is the perfect location to sit back awhile, tuck into a picnic lunch and look across to the majestic castle – kick back with a nice cuppa and let the kids make up their own games of kings and queens because their little imaginations will undoubtedly by inspired by this picturesque castle!
Getting there: 81 Whitepark Road, Ballycastle, BT54 6LP
2. Layd Church
Can you find the wizard’s headstone?! Layd Church was introduced to us a number of years ago by a good friend and it is a spot we return to time and time again and simply love. The church ruins and graveyard are a fab place to explore with kids in tow and offer the most gorgeous views around the Causeway Coast and Glens of Antrim. Although it is a small spot, the undulating terrain, set in lush greenery is full of interesting ruins and headstones which are super to examine with kids. We can spend hours here after enjoying lunch at the picnic tables situated next to the carpark, and we then often follow the winding trail which hugs the coastline around towards Cushendall beach enjoying the striking scenery along the way. A perfect day out that doesn’t cost a penny!
Getting there: Layd Church, Cushendall, Ballymena, BT44 0NH
3. Nendrum Monastic Site
Another great spot to visit with the kids – Nendrum Monastic Site near Newtownards is another firm family favourite of ours and a place we venture to often with a flask of hot chocolate when we’ve a few hours to spare. The wide-open space in which the ruins are situated provide lots of space to run wild and free, roll down hills and generally burn off some steam! There are church ruins, a round tower and graveyard to explore which are simply beautiful – set the kids the task of finding the sun dial and watch as they set off on their mission with glee! If you visit during good weather there is an abundance of beautiful trees to take shade beneath and enjoy a picnic while the kids can safely explore the enclosed space and the views across Strangford Lough only add to this most idyllic location. There is also the added bonus of having Mahee Castle a 2-minute dander away on the same road which is well-worth a wee visit too of you have time.
Getting there: Mahee Island, Comber, Newtownards, BT23 6EP
4. Bonamargy Friary
No visit to Ballycastle is complete without a stop-off at Bonamargy Friary in our humble opinion. ‘Bonamargy’ translates as ‘foot of the Margy river’ and if you listen carefully as you wander around you will hear the gentle rush of the nearby Margy River. The Franciscan Friary is a lovely place to take so time out from the hustle and bustle, to dander amid trees and greenery and is super fun to explore before going for a windswept walk along the beautiful stretch of Ballycastle Beach which is located close by. The cloister, gatehouse, altar and church of Bonamargy are really well preserved and are the ideal spot for young adventurers to learn and have some fun…but watch out for the Black Nun who reportedly haunts Bonamargy Friary to this very day! Spooky!
Getting there: 43 Cushendall Road, Ballycastle, BT54 6QR
5. Inch Abbey
Located on the north bank of the River Quoile, Inch Abbey is a large and most striking monastic site that is guaranteed to make you smile. About 1km from Downpatrick the early Gothic architecture of Inch Abbey is nestled in beautiful greenery and makes for a superb place to explore for a few hours. There are lots of interesting features to examine at this pre-Norman site which was originally on a marshy island before it was plundered by Vikings. While away some time learning about the fascinating remains and enjoy some peace and quiet at this beautiful historical treasure set in a truly tranquil location – don’t forget to pack a few treats to enjoy as you will want to hang out at this spot for a little while and savour it!
Getting there: Inch Abbey Road, Downpatrick, BT30 9AT