Inside Hillsborough Castle as King Charles III pays his first visit to Northern Ireland as monarch

Hillsborough Castle was the Queen's official Northern Ireland residence

Hillsborough Castle/CLODAGH KILCOYNE/WPA Rota/Press Association Images
(Image credit: CLODAGH KILCOYNE/WPA Rota/Press Association Images)

Hillsborough Castle was Queen Elizabeth II's official residence in Northern Ireland and has played a key role in King Charles III's first days as monarch. 

  • Hillsborough Castle was the Queen's official residence in Northern Ireland and hosts the royal family on multiple occasions throughout the year.
  • The stunning property was bought by the British government in the early 20th century and has played a part in King Charles' first engagements as sovereign, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 
  • King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla arrived in Belfast to pay a visit to Hillsborough Castle to meet the country's political leaders and meet with mourners.

While Queen Elizabeth II famously spent much of her time at the likes of Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle, Windsor Castle, and Sandringham Estate during her reign, Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland was her official residence in the country and hosted her multiple times a year. The regal building played a key part in the days after King Charles ascended the throne, following the Queen's death.

King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla arrived in Belfast ahead of the Queen's funeral on Monday in order to complete a walkabout to meet with royal mourners paying their respects and pay a visit to Hillsborough. 

Hillsborough Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

At the castle, King Charles vowed to continue his mother's legacy in Northern Ireland, saying, "The Queen made a pledge to dedicate herself to her country and her people, and to maintain the principles of constitutional government.

"This promise she kept with steadfast faith. Now, with that shining example before me, and with God’s help, I take up my new duties resolved to seek the welfare of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland," the new monarch added. 

With Hillsborough Castle marking a monumental moment in royal history, we look at the inside and the must-know details of the residence.

Where is Hillsborough Castle? 

Nestled in the historic village of Hillsborough in County Down, this grandiose property is just a twenty-minute drive outside of Northern Ireland's capital city Belfast. 

A brief history of Hillsborough Castle 

We'll let you in on a little secret: Hillsborough Castle isn't technically a castle. 

Built in the 18th century for an Irish noble family, the Georgian house was bought by the British government in 1922 after it acquired six out of the nine Ulster counties. It was used as the office for the Governor of Northern Ireland up until 1972 when the post was abolished entirely in favor of direct rule from London. The Queen's Secretary of State moved in as her representative and the house continued to host royal visitors, along with political guests like George W. Bush and Tony Blair. 

Hillsborough remained as the official Northern Irish residence for the Queen , who clocked up 25 state visits to the UK province over her reign. 

How much is Hillsborough Castle worth? 

Hillsborough Castle is not on the housing market, but if it was, it would still be way out of our budget. 

The 100-acre property unveiled a five-year-long renovation in 2019, which saw a total overhaul of its interior architecture. The £24 million project, spearheaded by British design studio Kinnersley Kent Design, included the addition of a shiny new visitor center, along with more retail and dining spaces. 

It also featured a restoration of Hillsborough Castle's Stable Yard, which was originally built in 1780. The site has been converted to install a learning center, which will provide facilities for activities with young people and community groups. 

Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment/PA Media

Queen Elizabeth II talks with Irish President Mary McAleese at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast. 

(Image credit: Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment/PA Media)

Who lives at Hillsborough Castle? 

It may surprise you to find out that the royals share Hillsborough Castle with non-royal housemates. When the monarch is not staying, the property is occupied by Northern Ireland's Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis. 

What is it like inside Hillsborough Castle? 

While there may not be any turrets or moats, Hillsborough Castle still is still incredibly lavish. 

The plush manor includes several decadent State Rooms, all of which are gleaming with royal artefacts and elegant furnishings. Its grandest attraction is by far the Throne Room, a saloon that hosted a celebratory ball for the Queen's coronation in 1953. With its green silk damask fabric and colossal crystal chandeliers, the room is the perfect setting for regal weddings and classical concerts. 

There's also the State Dining Room, which continues to be used to serve meals to VIP guests. It can seat up to 40 guests for dinner and host 60 for a reception, making it ideal for medium-sized banquets and galas. 

The Red Room, which unsurprisingly follows a red theme, is the go-to conference space in the house. 

Originally a drawing-room, it was converted in the 1970s to hold high-profile meetings with political leaders. Its crimson walls are decorated with 40 portraits of British monarchs, as well as several royal consorts. A round table sits in the center of the room, reinforcing its function as a space for discussion and debate. 

Hillsborough's outdoors are also brimming with subdued elegance. A walled garden, Yew Tree Walk, and tranquil temple can all be found in its well-maintained outside grounds. 

Is Hillsborough Castle open to the public? 

In the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, all royal residences are closed to the public. Residences will remain closed until after the Queen's funeral, as part of a national period of mourning. 

Under usual circumstances, Hillsborough is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, with adult tickets costing £9.90. The price includes full access to the house and its gardens, and there's no time limit on the visit. 

Emma Dooney
Lifestyle News Writer

Hailing from the lovely city of Dublin, Emma mainly covers the Royal Family and the entertainment world, as well as the occasional health and wellness feature. Always up for a good conversation, she has a passion for interviewing everyone from A-list celebrities to the local GP - or just about anyone who will chat to her, really.

Emma holds an MA in International Journalism from City, University of London, and a BA in English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.