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Perched on the tip of the famous Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland, sits Ballygally Castle Hotel. Dating back to 1625, this stunning 17th Century castle is unique and a fabulous addition to your Northern Ireland road trip adventure.
The only 17th Century building still used as a residence in Northern Ireland today, it overlooks the golden sands and the icy waters Ballygally Bay with uninterrupted views across the Irish Sea.
This 4-star hotel has recently undergone major refurbishment while maintaining the characteristics you would expect of the hotel of this age and status. Original beamed ceilings, period rooms, combined with tastefully contemporary and colourful decor, and a welcome akin to that of an old friend.
Ballygally Castle Location
Ballygally Castle’s location makes it ideal for those wishing to visit Northern Ireland’s top tourist attractions. The perfect base for exploring the stunning Causeway Coastal Route which is what drew me to Ballygally to begin with, along with short drives to Game of Thrones filming locations, Carrickfergus castle, UNESCO Giant’s Causeway site, and the vertigo-inducing Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.
Avid golfers will love the proximity to numerous golf courses including Cairndhu golf course, with its magnificent coastal views, and is just 2 miles from the hotel; and Royal Portrush Golf Course. This private golf club with 36-holes over two links courses, hosted The Open in 2019, one of the oldest and most prestigious golf tournaments in the world.
If that’s not enough, less than an hour’s drive lies a plethora of other excellent courses including Portstewart, Castlerock, and Ballycastle are also dotted along the Causeway Coastal Route.
Ballygally Castle Rooms
There are 54 tastefully decorated bedrooms, full of character and charm, to add to the welcoming atmosphere of the castle. Some have beautiful, original beamed ceilings, and others enjoy stunning views of the sea and mountains.
Superior double rooms come in double or twin configuration, with cloud mattresses and views of the 17th century walled gardens. Whereas the coastal deluxe double rooms are situated in the newly refurbished wing of the hotel, these rooms command a breath-taking view of the beach, and out to the Irish Sea.
From the windows of my beautiful Antrim Suite, I was provided panoramic views over the beach, Ballygally Bay and the Antrim Coastline onto the Irish Sea and the Mull of Kintyre.
Suites are equipped with bathrobes and slippers, which are perfect to slip into after soaking in the separate and roomy bathtub. Before slipping under the covers in the cloud-like king size beds which provide a restful night’s sleep.
For a truly spooky experience, guests can book one of four recently refurbished Tower rooms which are located in the 17th century castle building, and are located off the stone spiral staircase rising from the original entrance, just below the ghost room.
Meet the Resident Ghost at Ballygally
A hotel of this age is bound to come with a legend or two, and Ballygally Castle is no different.
Staff offer free tours up to the ghost room, located in one of the turrets in the oldest part of the castle where Lady Isabella, who purportedly haunts the hotel and occupies this room after being banished to it by her husband Lord Shaw, after she gave birth to a girl, rather than the male heir Shaw so desperately wanted.
Guests looking for hauntingly good fun, perhaps over Halloween, can be assured of a ghoulish good time with the hotel staff fully embracing the spooky spirit.
While these rooms ooze with character and charm with 3ft thick walls, sash windows and exposed wooden rafters, you can be rest assured that these rooms come with all the mod-cons with recently refurbished bathrooms, plus robes and slippers.
As expected, all rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TVs, iPod docking station/radios. A welcome tray with tea, coffee and long life milk though I would much prefer to see fresh milk, alongside cups and saucers as opposed to mugs. There is free WiFi available throughout the hotel, and complimentary onsite parking with a dedicated charging station for electric vehicles available opposite the hotel for guests.
Dining at Ballygally Castle
Dining at the Castle’s garden restaurant provides beautiful views over the grounds and walled garden. Seating capacity in the hotel restaurant has been reduced to 42 upstairs in the main part of the restaurant with socially distant tables.
For breakfast you can’t pass up a delicious and hearty Ulster fry, a traditional Northern Irish hot breakfast, alongside continental options of fruit, cereal, yogurt, porridge with whiskey, and a selection of local breads. All brought to the table which replaces the pre-Covid buffet style.
The homemade poppy seed muffin is definitely one to take on the road for a tasty mid-morning snack on the go.
Prior to Covid, the restaurant at Ballygally Castle offered an excellent set dinner menu, as well as a range of daily specials using local produce including haddock caught off the coast of Ballygally, salmon from the nearby Glenarm, and beef from County Down. Since reopening in July 2020, the chefs have had to tweak the menu for social distancing in the kitchen, resulting in a slimmed down menu which is currently under review.
Stay at Ballygally Castle
Game of Thrones at Ballygally Castle
Game of Thrones is an original HBO series based on best-selling fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin which became a global phenomenon with a broad, active, and international fan base.
Fans of Game of Thrones will surely be familiar with this part of Northern Ireland. With filming all eight seasons taking place at more than two dozen locations around Northern Ireland, some of which are very close to Ballygally.
The Journey of Doors
The Dark Hedges is an avenue of eighteenth century beech trees. This former driveway was used as a backdrop for the Kingsroad for Game of Thrones and as a result of the show, has seen this country road in Ballymoney become an iconic must-see for fans visiting Northern Ireland.
In 2016, a storm swept across the island and several of these beautiful trees fell as a result of the storm. The timber from the fallen trees was salvaged and transformed into unique works of art, intricately carved doors using symbols and key scenes from the show which together tell much of the story of Season 6 which was filmed in the same year.
In total, ten doors were created and disseminated across key sites, pubs, and restaurants with connections to the series, all across Northern Ireland forming what is now known as the Game of Thrones trail.
Ballygally Castle is the only hotel to feature one of the Game of Thrones doors. Door 9 is located inside the hotel, at a prominent location, at the entrance to the hotel restaurant.
Carved on this beautiful door are the crests of House Bolton and House Stark, which depict the famous battle between these houses in the penultimate episode of Season 6.
All are welcome at Ballygally Castle, you do not need to be a guest of the hotel to see, touch, or take a picture of the Game of Thrones door. While you’re waiting your turn to take a picture, be sure to check out the limited edition Game of Thrones duck which can only be acquired from Ballygally Castle and has become a huge collectors item for the world-wide fan base of the show. Also in the lobby are glass display cases which feature jewelry which is locally made by Steensons. Anyone wishing to watch the pieces being made involves a short drive to the village of Glenarm.
Game of Thrones Dining at Ballygally Castle
Transport yourself to a feast at Winterfell with the Game of Thrones banquet (£35 or £55 w/ paired wines) which is held in the atmospheric 1625 Room in the Tower of the original castle building. Dishes are inspired from the Fire and Ice cookbook, with optional upgrade to the locally-produced 20oz ‘Westeros Tomahawk’ served on a wooden platter with a “Valyrian Steel” inspired carving knife which is available for a supplement.
Currently on pause, but sure to return in late 2021, is the famous Game of Thrones themed afternoon tea (£24), with a menu inspired by the TV series including rustic Ironborn focaccia, Little Finger sandwiches, Kingslayer cupcakes, and more.
Visitors to Northern Ireland to explore Game of Thrones filming locations and discovering the Doors, may like to go all-in for the Game of Thrones rate which includes bed and breakfast, and the aforementioned afternoon tea, dinner for a very reasonable £150.
Conferences & Weddings at Ballygally Castle
Ballygally Castle provides a unique setting for special events including corporate functions, banquets and weddings, one of which was taking place at the time of our visit.
The hotel boasts two well-equipped and flexible banqueting and conference suites, as well as the exquisite Kintyre ballroom which boasts panoramic views over the Irish Sea. The setup of, and use of these function rooms have been tweaked in line with Covid restrictions including changes to capacity and social distancing.
As these restrictions are currently very fluid, contact the hotel directly if you’re interested in holding an event at Ballygally Castle.
The uber-popular weekly Sunday lunch Grand Buffet (£27) has and will surely remain a firm favorite with locals and hotel guests alike. It’s currently paused due to Covid-19, and is sure to return once life returns to normal.
Ballygally Castle holds a very popular buffet on Christmas Day (£110/£60 adults/children). This event for 2021 will be different in terms of style and capacity, with the final format still to be decided, but will likely consist of 8 courses. With many returning visitors every Christmas, this one is bound to sell out soon.
Ballygally Castle Brochure
They say location is everything, and if so Ballygally Castle has it all! With a wealth of recreational activities within easy reach it can serve as the perfect base for exploring the Antrim Coast.
Where: Ballygally Castle, Coast Road, Ballygally, BT40 2QZ
Price point: £120 p/n
Stay at Ballygally Castle
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