We are renowned for our beautiful countryside and rich history here in Ireland, Armagh is no different. The ‘Orchard County’ may be the smallest in Northern Ireland, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charisma.
Whether you’re a history buff or a sightseer; there’s more to Armagh than meets the eye and if you’re thinking, ‘Well where do I begin my journey?’ Don’t worry; we’ve compiled a list of the top five things to do while visiting this great county.
Here’s our top 5:
5. St.Patrick’s Cathedral
Located on the hill of Armagh (you can’t miss it), St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a sight to behold. The building of the cathedral began in 1840 but was interrupted from 1845 -1848 due to the Irish famine. It was eventually completed around 1873.
The grounds surrounding it are spectacular offering a beautiful view of Armagh City itself. If you look straight ahead on the opposite side of the hill, you can see the other Cathedral in Armagh (Church of Ireland) also dedicated to St. Patrick. And at only a five-minute drive, you can kill two birds with one stone and visit both.
And for any traveller determined to get the most out of their trip, they can download an app that will provide an audio guided tour of the cathedral, covering all its history & facts. The product is available on both iTunes & Google Play store.
4. Gosford Castle and Forest Park
Gosford Castle is one of the largest castles ever built in Ireland, dating back over 200 years. More recently it has been used to film scenes for the TV series Game of Thrones.
Fans of the popular drama will recognise the castle from season three were Rickard Karstark is executed and perhaps one of the most famous episodes of the entire series, ‘The Red Wedding’. (Great referencing!)
There are four signposted walks of various lengths, a campsite & kids play park. Visitors are also likely to see a diverse range of wildlife including red deer, longhorn cattle, rare breeds of sheep, peacocks and some friendly draught horses.
If you feel like exercising your childhood medieval fantasies anytime soon, you may be in luck. For anyone with pocket change of £500K and a mild appetite for starting a kingdom, this property could be theirs to own!
3. Armagh Astronomy Centre and Planetarium
The majority of people don’t even know this place exists and for that reason alone it had to go on our list. The Armagh Planetarium is a world-renowned astronomical educational establishment whose aim is to promote Astronomy to a broader audience.
There are two digital shows, one presenting a guide of the current sky over northern Europe and another that explains the story of the Christmas Star. It’s nothing too scientific to grasp and fun for the whole family. There are even digital projectors allowing you to time travel through the galaxies. Who doesn’t want to try that?
You end your trip with a virtual reality experience on a roller coaster ride, and on some occasions, visitors can set off an air pressure rocket (for the kids of course). In the past, setting off rockets in Armagh wouldn’t be advised, but they will give you a pass this time!
2. Navan Centre & Fort
The Navan Centre and Fort, perched atop a drumlin, is known as one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites. It is linked in legend with the tales of Cú Chulainn (Irish mythological hero) and Emain Macha (ancient goddess of war and fertility). It is a place where myth and reality meet. (Really great background story & link)
At the Navan Centre and Fort, you gain an understanding of how people lived 2,000 years ago. Their daily tasks, their homes, how they survived, and their clothing are all on show at the Iron Age Dwelling (open April-September). I’m guessing (well hoping) most of us don’t live like this anymore, so it certainly is an eye-opening experience.
You will also get the chance to pay homage to our ancestors by taking part in prehistoric-style gardening, before helping the Celts prepare their meals in this highly interactive and unique experience. Finally, you can relax in front of the fire while watching the show get underway.
1. Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Slieve Gullion, at 573m (1,894 ft), is the highest point in Co. Armagh and one of the first places mentioned when people talk about the Orchard County. It offers an unmissable opportunity to experience the many woodland trails, stunning views across the Ring of Gullion, Armagh Drumlins, Cooley Peninsula, and the Mourne Mountains.
The Adventure Play Park allows visitors to explore the Giants Lair in the Hawthorn Hill Forest Nature Reserve or take a leisurely walk around the Ornamental Walled Garden. Here you will find a wildlife pond with covered seating areas, an outdoor performance stage, picnic benches, coffee shop, and ice cream truck (only in the summer of course).
Once you’re finished with the wonders of the forest area, it’s time to head off on a 10km drive around the slopes of Slieve Gullion. The winding road offers spectacular views of the surrounding woodland and mountain heath, ideal for some pretty incredible photos.
A mountain top trail (the perfect way to burn off that ice cream cone), follows the scenic drive to an ancient passage tomb, the highest passage of its type in Ireland and England. The trail continues on to Cailleach Beara’s Lough (lake of sorrows), the Bronze Age Tomb and down the north side of the mountain.
The ‘Lake of Sorrows’ is the setting for a fascinating myth. The story goes that Fionn Mac Cumhaill (another Irish mythological hero) once swam in the enchanted lake and returned with a head of white hair, which remained for the rest of his life. To this day the superstition survives that if you swim in the lake, your hair will turn white. We suggest leaving your swimming shorts at home for this trip.