Top Places in Ireland Visited by the Royals

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Apr. 1 2024, Published 3:21 a.m. ET

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Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were frequent visitors to Ireland. During her reign, they went there 25 times. We can’t list every venue they went to over that period, but we can highlight five top places still open for tourists.

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Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland is the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the royal family’s official residence when they visit. Considered a politically neutral venue, it was a safe haven for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Ireland during ‘the troubles.’

Two of her most memorable and culturally significant stays at Hillsborough Castle were her coronation banquet in July 1953 and again in December 2005, when she met Irish President Mary McAleese. The latter event was the first time a reigning British monarch met with the head of an independent Ireland.

Today, the castle — it’s actually a late-18th-century Irish Big House — is open to the public unless it’s closed for official occasions. The family castle tour, the throne room, and the garden walk are worth taking. A must-visit exhibition is ‘Life Through a Royal Lens,’ which features 200 years of photographs of the royal family, many of which have never been seen.

Hillsborough Castle is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm.

Trinity College

A must-visit on any Ireland itinerary is Trinity College, which was founded in 1592 by her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth II visited in 2011 and, like most tourists, she visited the Old Library to see the world-famous Book of Kells — a 9th-century gospel manuscript. The Queen was given a privileged close-up look at the book inside its protective case.

Today, the Book of Kells Experience is slightly different. The exhibit begins in the Old Library, where cobblestones remind visitors of the era it was built in. Due to its current redevelopment project, this is the only book in the library.

There’s an opportunity to see the Book of Kells behind plate glass before moving on to the highlight of the visit, the 360° journey. Giant images of selected pages are projected onto screens, making it easy to see what’s hidden between the lines.

The Book of Kells Experience is open seven days a week. The times change throughout the year, so it’s best to check the website before attending. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

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The Irish National Stud and Gardens

It’s no secret that Queen Elizabeth II loved breeding and racing horses. On her 2011 visit to Ireland, she went to the Irish National Stud and Gardens in Co. Kildare. She was keen to visit the farm that produced the winners of all five Classics. During her visit, her knowledgeable questions impressed the stud owners.

The Irish National Stud and Gardens is only a 45-minute drive from Dublin. The Irish Racehorse Experience is an interactive tour covering the history of racing in the country and allowing visitors to take turns commenting on a mock race. The stud is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm, with the last entry at 5 pm.

Officially, Queen Elizabeth never placed bets on races. She was always given a race record card with recommended horses to watch. However, many speculate that she quietly did like to have a slight flutter now and again. Who knows, if Nine Casino had a physical location in Ireland, she and her husband may have been tempted to visit.

Game of Thrones Set

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip enjoyed seeing unique places and sites when they visited different countries. The royal couple surprised many when they agreed to visit the Game of Thrones set at Titanic Studios in Belfast. Her Royal Highness did, however, decline an invitation to sit on the Ruler of the Seven Kingdom’s throne. Why? She already has one at home, so why would she?

If, unlike the Queen, you’d like to test out the throne, you’re in luck. Despite Titanic Studios no longer doing live filming of the show, the set has been moved to a permanent location in Banbridge, only 30 minutes away. It’s a major tourist attraction and something to add to every Ireland itinerary.

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The Guinness Storehouse

Ireland and Guinness are synonymous, and a trip to the Emerald Isle isn’t complete without visiting the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip did just that. Master Brewer Fergal Murray showed them how a perfect pint is poured. They were offered one, ‘on the house,’ but both politely declined.

Guinness fans will most likely be less polite, so they should head over to the Guinness Storehouse. While there, they’ll be taught how to pour one perfectly. It’s open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm and on weekends from 9:30 am; booking in advance is advisable.

Plan Your Own Royal Visit to Ireland

You, too, can follow in Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip’s footsteps and create your own Ireland itinerary. If you’re a fan of the family, be sure to include a visit to Hillsborough Castle to view the photography exhibition dedicated to them.

Bookworms and lovers of ancient texts shouldn’t miss a trip to Trinity College and the Book of Kells Experience. Anyone passionate about horses and racing should head to the Irish National Stud and Gardens.

Game of Thrones fans must add the studio tour to their itinerary — winter is coming, after all. Finally, Guinness lovers will enjoy a day at the Guinness Stonehouse, where they could come away as master pourers.

Ireland has so much to see and do. If you’ve never been to or missed these five destinations, it might be time to book a trip.



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