This late 18th century mansion house is the official residence of both the NI Secretary of State andthe Royal Family. Originally built by Wills Hill, first Marquis of Downshire, the Castle was acquired in 1922 as a home for the Governor of Northern Ireland. The second Governor of Northern Ireland was married to the late Queen Mother's sister. Consequently, the young Princesses Elizabeth - now HM The Queen - and her sister Margaret were frequent holiday visitors.
The Castle has witnessed many important political events, including the signing of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, key negotiations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and meetings between PM Tony Blair and US Presidents Clinton and Bush.
Now under the ownership of Historic Royal Palaces (who also run Kensington Palace and the Tower of London, among others), Hillsborough Castle's extensive grounds and lavish interior have re-opened to the public following extensive £multi-million renovations. Tour guides take you through several State Rooms and regale with regal snippits such as Prince Charles' fascination for clocks and the fact that he and his father, Prince Philip, like their bedrooms nice and cold.
Among the spaces on show are the majestic Throne Room, whose walls display a changing array of artworks, and the less formal Drawing Room festooned with framed photos of royals past and present. The Faces of Hillsborough corridor of photos provides a fascinating timeline of visitors to the Castle, including royalty, heads of state and locals who have attended its many formal events and garden parties.
Visitors can also explore the 96 acres of gardens alone or with a pre-booked tour guide. Marked trails show you round its ornamental grounds, woodland, waterways and manicured lawns. Look out, too, for Lady Alice's Temple, the Granville Garden, Quaker Burial ground and one of the world's second largest rhododendron set within its picture perfect expanse.
Beyond the Castle, Hillsborough Fort, Hillsborough Forest Park & Lake and St. Malachy's Parish Church provide further historic and verdant exploration.