Carrickfergus is a large town 12 miles northeast of Belfast, historically in County Antrim. The counties of Northern Ireland have been abolished so since 2015 the town has been part of Mid and East Antrim District. It's often abbreviated to "Carrick" but that's a common place name in Ireland, so always specify "Carrickfergus" when organising transport.
Carraig Fhearghais means "The rock of Fergus" - Fergus the Great (430-501 AD) was King of Dál Riata and it's said his ship hit a rock here. It became a substantial walled town in the Norman period, acquiring the fine castle which today is the main reason to visit. It long pre-dates Belfast, which only outgrew it in the 18th / 19th century as metal-bashing industries developed, and ships needed deeper harbours. Until then, Carrickfergus was the place you had to capture to land your troops in Ulster, and the English, Scots and Irish took turns doing so. King William of Orange landed here to campaign against James II / VII, and in 1760 the town was even seized for a few days by French privateers.
The modern town's fortunes have ebbed and flowed with those of industry and civil stability in Northern Ireland. It's become a commuter town for the city, with a population in 2011 of 27,998. The TIC is within the Museum & Civic Centre, see below.
See Belfast for long-distance travel from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Trains run every 30 min from Belfast Great Victoria Street via other city stations, Yorkgate (for ferry port) and Whiteabbey (for Newtownabbey), taking 35 min to Carrickfergus; a walk-up adult single is about £5. Most trains continue to Larne.
Carrickfergus 1 railway station is north side of town centre. Trains also stop at Clipperstown a quarter of a mile west, and Downshire half a mile east towards Larne.
Ulsterbus 563 runs from Belfast Laganside bus station via High St, Ulster University, Yorkgate, Skegonell, Greencastle, Whiteabbey and Greenisland, taking 40 min to Carrickfergus and continuing up Larne Road to Kilroot. It's every 30 min M-Sa and every 90 min or so on Sunday.
By road from Belfast follow M2 onto M5 then A2 the Shore Road.
There's free parking at Harbour Car Park next to the castle.
The town is walkable, but you'll be wanting a car to explore Islandmagee and the Antrim glens.
- 1 Carrickfergus Castle, Marine Hwy BT38 7BG, ☏ . Daily 09:30-16:30. The best-preserved Norman castle in Ireland, built in 1177 when the site was almost surrounded by water. It was besieged and captured several times, including by French privateers in 1760. (They only wanted provisions not possession, and left as soon as the winds were favourable; the Royal Navy destroyed them off Galloway.) The castle remained in military use until 1928: Victorian and other additions were then taken away to restore the Norman appearance.
- Carrickfergus Museum is in the Civic Centre behind Town Hall. It's open M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 10:00-16:00.
- St Nicholas Church (C of I) near Town Hall was established by the Normans but the present building is 19th century.
- 2 Andrew Jackson Cottage & US Rangers Centre, 2 Boneybefore BT38 7EQ. Replica of the thatched cottage home of the parents of US President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), the one on the US$20 bill. They emigrated to Carolina, where Andrew's father was killed in a logging accident three weeks before the birth. A small museum also commemorates the US Rangers, who trained here in 1942 before combat in Europe.
- 3 Whitehead is a village at the entrance to Belfast Lough that developed as a seaside resort in the 1890s. Not much has happened here since so it retains its period atmosphere, and it's an access point for The Gobbins and Islandmagee - see Larne.
- Cinema: Omniplex is within Rogers Quay shopping centre.
- Carrick Rangers play soccer in the NIFL or Danske Bank Premiership, Northern Ireland's top tier. Their home ground is Taylors Avenue, capacity 6000, half a mile east of the railway station.
- Amphitheatre Wellness Centre is on Prince William Way between the golf course and the railway tracks.
- Golf: Carrickfergus Golf Club is on North Rd, quarter of a mile north of the railway station. White tees 5713 yards, par 68.
- Slieve True is a 312 m / 1024 ft hill three miles northwest of town. Park on Slievetrue Rd to its east and walk up the firm track to the telecoms mast near the summit, reckon 15 min each way. Half a mile southwest of the top are the "Three Brothers" standing stones, but they've been incorporated into a field wall.
The main shopping centre is Rogers Quay by the harbour, with Sainsbury's open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 13:00-18:00.
- Windrose, 5 Rodgers Quay BT38 8BE, ☏ . Su-Th 10:00-00:00, F Sa 10:00-01:00. This marina-side bistro is probably the best eating option in town.
- Josh Macs, 3 Rodgers Quay, ☏ . Daily 09:00-21:00. Flame grill; it had poor reviews in 2020.
- Little India is at 75A Belfast Rd, west of the marina. It's open Su-Th 16:00-22:00, F Sa 16:00-23:00.
- Central Bar at 13 High St is a JD Wetherspoon, open Su-Th 08:00-00:00, F Sa 08:00-01:00.
- Jacques Bar on North St has live TV sport and is open M-Sa 11:30-23:30.
- 1 Premier Inn, Alexandra Pier, Rodgers Quay BT38 8BE, ☏ . Well-run mid-range chain hotel on harbourside. B&B double £50.
- 2 Dobbins Inn, 6-8 High St BT38 7AF, ☏ . Trad pub with rooms in town centre. B&B double £65.
- 3 Keep Guesthouse, 93 Irish Quarter South BT38 8BW (off Davys St), ☏ . Small comfy B&B, the first floor room has more space. B&B double £60.
- 4 Loughshore Hotel (formerly Clarion), 75 Belfast Rd BT38 8PH, ☏ . 68 rooms en suite and fitness centre, comfy enough but tired decor. B&B double £100.
As of Feb 2021, the town and highway from Belfast have 4G with EE, O2 and Vodafone, but a poor signal from Three. 5G has not reached this area.
- Belfast is a fascinating city that needs several days to explore.
- Larne town is ugly and industrial, but you go that way for the scenic Antrim glens.