The home of Slemish Mountain and Dooey’s Cairn has so much to offer tourists. From award-winning hotels to heritage sites, Ballymena must be on your holiday checklist for Northern Ireland. Check out Culture Trip’s guide to the must-see attractions and locations.
At the Galgorm Castle and Estate, Ballymena, Jacobean architecture has never looked so good. While the castle boasts deluxe rooms and the popular Eagle Bar and Grill, the award-winning golf course is home to the NI Open tournament, which has seen world champion Rory McIlroy play on its grounds. The gardens are beyond beautiful, filled with exotic flowers, and the golf course has an amateur and fun section for those starting out. It’s a great weekend getaway in the heart of Northern Ireland’s golfing town.
The Lissanoure Castle Estate is a true fairy tale, which dates back to Ireland’s Celtic origins where the grounds aided defence (due to its lake surroundings). The structure dates back to 1300 and continues to open for weddings and corporate events. If you want a four-poster bed with log fire facilities, this castle should be on your list. If you don’t choose the life of luxury, visit the estate to view the awe-striking grounds in the traditional Castle Courtyard.
The list of mountains is endless in Northern Ireland, so why should you add Slemish Mountain to your list? This mountain is the supposed first home of patron Saint Patrick (you know, that worldwide celebration of all things green and Guinness), and it lies as the last remains of an extinct volcano. More than the beautiful view of the circling Antrim country, the rich heritage attached to this mountain and its geographical features, including the wild hare population, make this mountain hike a special trip. You can trace the short route through Slemish Mountain here.
In the heart of Cushendun town, Ballymena, Layd Old Church has served its parish since 1306. While the original building shut down in 1790, the Franciscan ruins left behind are a great piece of history to discover. Through the country courtyard and graveyard, which runs beside a stream that flows into Port Obe, you’ll see an original Celtic cross statue – a mysterious artefact which cannot be dated but is nonetheless important to Irish heritage today. The ruins are a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometre) walk from Cushendall village centre, along the beautiful coast.
You absolutely must visit one of Ireland’s oldest walled gardens in Glenarm, Ballymena, which opens annually at Easter to the public. The gardens originally served Glenarm Castle as a place of crop production, and now puts on a fabulous display of flowers and greens for the residents and visitors. Be sure to check out the annual Tulip Festival, which showcases a range of craft and entertainment stalls, and you’ll get the very best gardening advice plus a tour of the entire gardens. You can check out 2017’s festival schedule here, which takes place on April 29–May 1, 2017.
The true lover of ancient history will want to check out Dooey’s Cairn, a Neolithic tomb that dates back to c. 4000–2000 BC. Archaeologists discovered a collection of weapons and pottery through excavations in 1935 and 1975, and the actual site and cremation passage are open to the public – for free. While not a lot is known about this site and court area – which features a semi-circle of basalt rocks and ‘magic guardian’ markers (polished stone axes discovered between the portal stones at the entrance) – the tomb and upper ground area are fascinating to visit.
While the locals are in the loop when it comes to the views of Glenariff Forest, including Mull of Kintyre and the waterfalls within, most visitors will miss out on a stunning walking trail in this enchanting forest, which features 1185 hectares of dense woodland. The top of any visitor’s list will be the three-mile (4.8-kilometre) waterfall walkway, a woodland walking path that takes you along all the visible waterfalls in one of Northern Ireland’s National Nature Reserves.
Cushendun is an idyllic village in the Glens of Antrim, near Ballycastle, and one of the major points on the Causeway Coast. This conservation area is home to a port and Mesolithic flint site – the remains of an Irish clan settlement on the beach near Carra Castle. The village has been described as Ireland’s Cornwall village, as it was designed to replicate the English county on behalf of Baron Cushendun, whose wife was originally born in Penzance, Cornwall.