15 Best Things to Do in Lisburn (Northern Ireland)

This city a few miles out of Belfast was the birthplace of the Irish linen industry, founded in 1698 by the French Huguenot Louis Crommelin.

Until the 20th century Lisburn and its countryside was taken over by flax fields, riverside mills and weaving and spinning factories.

The industry is mostly consigned to the past, but remembered at the much-loved Irish Linen Centre, which also takes you back to the days of Lisburn Castle in the 17th century.

Since 2013 Lisburn has hosted the Balmoral Show, a 150-year-old agriculture extravaganza every May, while the countryside has rivers, glens, Stone Age monuments and a wonderful craft brewery at Hilden.

From the days of the linen trade you can find the remnants of the old Lagan Canal, still with much of its 18th-century infrastructure.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Lisburn:

1. Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum

Irish Linen Centre And Lisburn MuseumSource: Bobby McKay / flickr
Irish Linen Centre And Lisburn Museum

You’ll have an in-depth knowledge of Ulster’s linen industry after a few hours at this textile and history museum.

In the Flax to Fabric exhibition you’ll find out how flax was cultivated and processed, and can watch experienced spinners turning this coarse material into fine yarn.

In the spinner’s cottage you’ll see how every member of the family was employed in the linen business, while at the other end of the spectrum you can view the elegant damask and dresses made with this material.

The museum also has galleries recounting the story of Lisburn, and some riveting discoveries made on the site of the old Lisburn Castle.

2. Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough CastleSource: getyourguide.com
Hillsborough Castle

When Queen Elizabeth or another member of the royal family visits Northern Ireland they’ll stay at this Georgian palace completed by the Marquis of Downshire in the 1770s.

Hillsborough Castle has also hosted diplomatic summits like the talks for the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985. As one of the Historic Royal Palaces, the property is open to tours for a privileged look inside a working royal palace.

You’ll get to see the Drawing Room, regal Throne Room and the splendid State Rooms.

Outside are 40 hectares grounds with formal gardens, the Ionic Lady Alice temple, a monument of the fictional poet Ossian and a preserved Ice House.

In the Downshire Gallery is the Hillsborough Faces exhibition, featuring portraits of the many people who have passed through these walls, from heads of state to castle staff.

3. Ulster Aviation Society

Ulster Aviation SocietySource: Allan LEONARD / flickr
Ulster Aviation Society

The former Royal Air Force Station at Long Kesh is now the scene for the annual Balmoral Show, which we’ll talk about later.

And in an old hangar you’ll come across a supreme collection of almost 40 civilian and military aircraft belonging to the Ulster Aviation Society.

The society has been preserving and restoring historic planes and helicopters since 1968, and as you make your way around the collection you’ll see restoration work in progress.

There are jets like a Phantom FG. 1 and Hawker Sea Hawk, a Grumman F4F wildcat from the Second World War and helicopters like a Westland Scout and Puma HC1. Some of the other cool hardware includes a Spitfire replica, a faithful reproduction of a Ferguson Flier, an Air & Space 18A gyroplane and a Lynx helicopter simulator.

4. Castle Gardens

Castle GardensSource: Bobby McKay / flickr
Castle Gardens

This space was granted to Lisburn in 1903 as a public park.

Castle Gardens’ history goes back much further, as it was the setting for a 17th-century fortified manor house belonging to the Conway family.

Twentieth-century excavations revealed a flight of sandstone terraces from the 1600s, which have been restored and include a handsome double staircase with a balustrade and a grand gateway from 1677. Hidden in the park is an air raid shelter from the Second World War, which has been turned into a community education centre.

There are also memorials for the First and Second World Wars in the upper part of the park, along with a memorial fountain to Lisburn’s turn-of-the-century benefactor Sir Richard Wallace.

5. Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church CathedralSource: JohnArmagh / wikipedia
Christ Church Cathedral

The main church of the Church of Ireland’s Connor Diocese, Christ Church Cathedral was begun at the start of the 18th century after its predecessor burnt down.

The building has a simple, understated charm, but is remarkable in a couple of ways.

One is the pair of wooden galleries running up the length of the nave rather than sitting at the back.

The other is the octagonal spire, which was added to the tower in 1804. In July 1914 the cathedral was bombed by a group of suffragettes, damaging a historic stained glass window.

Four women were arrested but the outbreak of the First World War meant no charges were pressed.

6. Colin Glen Forest Park

SKYtrekSource: facebook
SKYtrek

At the boundary between Belfast and Lisburn, Colin Glen Forest Park is in a wooded valley embedded in the Belfast Hills.

People visit this park for calming riverside walks in a spot once cluttered with flax and beetling mills.

There’s also all-sorts of family-friendly fun: SKYtrek is a high and low ropes activity centre, with zip-lines and rope climbing walls suitable for ages five and up.

You can also go kayaking, take part in a game of laser tag or try “zorbing”, which means entering a giant inflatable ball and running over the river or bouncing off your friends in a crazy game of zorb-based football.

7. Lagan Valley Regional Park

Ballyskeagh High BridgeSource: Albert Bridge / commons.wikimedia
Ballyskeagh High Bridge

This 1,830-hectare park takes in 11 miles of the Lagan River between Stranmills, part of Belfast and the Union Locks in Lisburn.

The park is a patchwork of riverside paths, nature reserves with mixed beech woodland, urban parks and open countryside.

There are hints of Lisburn’s old linen industry throughout, particularly on the disused Lagan Canal where you can jog or stroll along the towpath, traced by willow trees.

One haunting reminder is the Ballyskeagh High Bridge, constructed around 1760 from local sandstone with tall, narrow arches.

Keep an eye out for the Lock Keeper’s Cottage, where you can see one of the original barges that navigated the canal.

8. Giant’s Ring

Giant's RingSource: Eskling / flickr
Giant’s Ring

One of a few prehistoric sites in the Lagan Valley Regional Park is a henge monument at Ballynahatty dating back almost 5,000 years, making it older than Egypt’s pyramids.

You need to take a step back on the surrounding bank to appreciate the proportions of the Giant’s Ring, which is in a circular enclosure 180 metres in diameter.

That circle is hemmed by a circular earthwork bank 3.5 metres in height.

There are five gate-like gaps in this bank, three of which are believed to be original.

Near the centre of the ring is an isolated megalithic passage tomb.

Thanks to the near-perfect circular format of the ring, this site was used for horse racing in the 1700s.

9. Hilden Brewery

Hilden BrewerySource: facebook
Hilden Brewery

This craft brewery in the village of Hilden is based at the Georgian Hilden House.

Built in the 1824 the house was part of a thread mill founded by William Barbour, the man behind the Barbour Thread Company.

William Wordsworth stayed at the house in the 19th century, while the future Edward VIII (famous for abdicating) visited the Barbour mill in 1930. The award-winning Hilden Brewery here now is open for tours by prior arrangement on afternoons from Tuesday to Saturday.

You come to the Tap Room for lunch or dinner and catch live traditional Irish music every Wednesday at 19:00. If you’re in town for the bank holiday at the end of August there’s a beer festival across the long weekend.

10. Island Arts Centre

Island Arts CentreSource: facebook.com
Island Arts Centre

Over 280,000 people visit this modern cultural centre in Lisburn each year, putting it among Northern Ireland’s most popular arts destinations.

The Island Arts Centre stages fine art and applied art exhibitions, a constant programme of workshops and stages dance, drama, talks, musical performances and film screenings.

The centre opened in 2001 and is set in lush grounds complete with its own sculpture trail.

If you’re in Lisburn with kids there’s a breathless schedule of activities for youngsters in the school holidays, from creative story-telling to ceramics and dance workshops.

11. Wallace Park

Wallace ParkSource: Bobby McKay / flickr
Wallace Park

These ten hectares of spacious lawns and mature trees are right next door to Lisburn train station.

The park used to be the property of Sir Richard Wallace, who handed it to the town of Lisburn in 1884. The design hasn’t changed much since it was Wallace’s private gardens and has kept its Victorian English country style.

A few updates have been made recently, like fixing the duck pond, restoring the historic bandstand and turning the playground into a mini-wonderland with fortress-like towers.

The many century-old trees offer a habitat for all sorts of birdlife, and two species of bat: Leisler’s bats and common pipistrelles, which you may spot around twilight.

On a summer’s day the park draws families picnicking, cyclists, dog walkers and office workers on their lunch breaks.

12. Belshaw’s Quarry Sculpture Park

Belshaw's Quarry Sculpture ParkSource: facebook
Belshaw’s Quarry Sculpture Park

In the countryside to the northwest, Belshaw’s Quarry was a source of limestone until it closed down in 1950, when nature took over once more.

The wall of rock left behind is compelling from a geological point of view as it records the time when this area was at the bottom of the sea, or a parched desert, covered with molten lava or encased in ice.

Some interesting species have flourished on the quarry floor, like orchids, wild strawberries and a colony of common blue butterflies.

Recently a sculpture park has been set up at the quarry, with pieces inspired by its unique geology.

13. Golf

Lisburn Golf ClubSource: facebook
Lisburn Golf Club

Look at Lisburn on a map and you’ll be struck by the amount of golf courses surrounding the city.

There are nine within 15 minutes of the city centre, and these are a mix of venerable clubs steeped in history and newer arrivals.

Lisburn Golf Club has been around since 1905, although moved to its current location in 1973 to avoid encroachment from houses.

Each tee and fairway at the 18-hole, par 72 is ensconced in trees and flowering shrubs.

Green fees for visitors are £70 Monday to Friday and £80 on weekends.

Much more affordable, Rockmount Golf Club was opened by Darren Clarke in 1995 and is a tricky parkland course covered with water hazards, with green fees costing £18 on weekdays and £30 on Sundays.

14. Lisburn Square

Lisburn SquareSource: Bobby McKay / flickr
Lisburn Square

Next to Lisburn’s bus station and only seconds from the Linen Centre, Lisburn Square is an outdoor shopping centre set on a Georgian-style square around a glass pavilion.

Most of the businesses at Lisburn Square are local, from barber shops to interior designers, and there are a few places to get food, whether you want crêpes or something quick at Subway.

The best time to come is late-May, when the touring Continental Market shows up for the weekend.

You can get hold of cheese, pastries, freshly cooked food and much more from 26 different countries including France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Morocco.

15. Balmoral Show

Balmoral ShowSource: DUP Photos / flickr
Balmoral Show

Now in its 150th year, the Balmoral Show has been based at Balmoral Park in Lisburn since moving from King’s Hall in Belfast in 2013. This agricultural event has also just been expanded to four days instead of three, and it all unfolds in the middle of May.

A great way to sample rural life in Northern Ireland, the Balmoral Show is a cross between a trade fair and American-style state fair.

There are more than 700 stands showing off agricultural products, machinery and arts and crafts, all accompanied by fairground rides, stunt horse riders and a food pavilion with more than 90 companies represented.

At its soul the Balmoral Show is still a traditional affair, and has livestock competitions for cattle, horses, goats and pigs.

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Lisburn, Northern Ireland
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15 Best Things to Do in Lisburn (Northern Ireland):

  • Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum
  • Hillsborough Castle
  • Ulster Aviation Society
  • Castle Gardens
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • Colin Glen Forest Park
  • Lagan Valley Regional Park
  • Giant's Ring
  • Hilden Brewery
  • Island Arts Centre
  • Wallace Park
  • Belshaw's Quarry Sculpture Park
  • Golf
  • Lisburn Square
  • Balmoral Show