I have to admit I didn’t know much, if anything, about Armagh before planning our trip there. However, I quickly discovered that while Armagh is the least populated city in Ireland, it’s not short on things to do and has a lot to offer visitors. We had a great time exploring the city and are definitely keen to go back and discover more of the countryside.
Armagh is a pretty compact city and though hilly in parts, is easy to explore on foot. As long as the weather is in your favour, of course, and thankfully we were lucky on that front. Walking around also allows you to appreciate the stunning Georgian architecture and many fine buildings throughout the city.
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The city of Saints and Scholars
Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. It has been a centre of education since the time of St Patrick, which is why it is known as the city of Saints and Scholars. St Patrick first built a stone church on a hill here in 445AD. On that same hill today, you will find St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. Less than half a mile away on another hill, stands the Roman Catholic Cathedral, also dedicated to St Patrick.
Things to do in Armagh
St Patrick’s Cathedral
Since we’re on the subject of the city Cathedrals, they’re a good place to start on our list of things to do in Armagh. Take a tour of one or both and explore the beautiful gardens too.
We visited the Church of Ireland Cathedral. For the small fee of £3 we took a self-guided tour inside the Cathedral and then we were taken into the crypt at the east end of the building. The crypt measures 60ft by 20ft and contains a number of tombs including those of former Archbishops. There is also a collection of pre-Christian carvings on display inside.
We almost left without spotting the Cathedral gardens which are tucked away a little and could be missed easily. I’m so glad we didn’t miss them as they are just gorgeous to wander through. There are four walled gardens including a herb garden and even an orchard.
If you have even the slightest interest in stargazing then head for Armagh Planetarium. I was keen to see one of the dome shows and thankfully we managed to catch one on Saturday, as the Planetarium is closed on Sundays.
In Beyond the Blue: A Stargazing Story, we were treated to a tour of the night sky as seen from Ireland at this time of year. We observed the constellations and got a closer look at some of the other objects in the night sky. Prepare for a visually stunning treat. The show was about 40 minutes long and even ended with a virtual rollercoaster ride through the galaxy!
If you can’t catch a show, there are plenty of interesting displays in the exhibition area. You can even touch the largest meteorite on display in Ireland, weighing in at 140kg. There are other smaller meteorite fragments on display too, including the Bovedy and Sprucefield meteorites which fell in Northern Ireland on 25th April 1969.
Once a horse-racing course, the Mall is now a beautiful green space in the heart of the city. It was gifted to the citizens of Armagh in 1773 by Archbishop Robinson. This was just one small part of his greater plans to redevelop the city at the time.
We took a stroll along the tree-lined paths, admiring the many beautiful buildings that surrounding the Mall. These include the old Armagh Gaol at one end and the Courthouse at the other.
Palace Demesne and Franciscan Friary
The Palace Demesne is another fabulous public space in the city and also the work of Archbishop Robinson. It’s just a short walk from the city centre to the entrance on Friary Road, near Armagh City Hotel.
Just inside the entrance are the ruins of a 13th century Franciscan Friary. It’s the longest recorded Friary church in Ireland at almost 50m long. Unfortunately, by 1600 the buildings were in ruin. Later, much of the remaining stone was used to build the garden wall within the demesne. So not a lot of the original buildings remain today.
Continue your walk past the ruins and along the drive for about 5 minutes and you’ll come to the Archbishop’s Palace. This was the residence of Archbishop Robinson and subsequent Archbishops of the Church of Ireland up until 1975.
Though the Palace is now a city council office, you can still take a tour of some of the rooms during the summer months. It’s worth taking a walk around the grounds too, which include some beautiful gardens.
Armagh Robinson Library
This incredible library was honestly a highlight for me. Just look at how beautiful it is! We were also greeted by the friendliest woman when we entered. She shared some of the history of the library, showed us a few highlights and thanked us more than once for coming to visit. In fact, one of the things we both remarked on over the weekend was how friendly everyone we met was.
Armagh Robinson Library has been open since 1771 and is the oldest public library in Northern Ireland. It was built for Archbishop Robinsons collection of books and fine art and still functions as a research library. The shelves are packed with so many beautiful old volumes. You can ask to take a look at any particular books you might have an interest in.
There’s even a first edition copy of Jonathan Swifts Gulliver’s Travels, complete with his handwritten corrections in the margins. That was protected in a glass cabinet of course but there’s a replica copy that you can browse through. Seriously, you could easily while away the day here!
Books are lined up according to size only, not in any other order. It would be a massive job to do it any other way now and it seems the current system works well so, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Admission to Armagh Robinson Library is free, though donations are welcome.
No. 5 Vicars’ Hill
It’s a very short walk from the library to No. 5 Vicars’ Hill, which is in turn just across the road from St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. So it’s easy to group these three together. Just check the opening times beforehand to make sure they’re all open. Sometimes the buildings are closed for group tours so check the respective websites for updates.
No. 5 Vicars’ Hill was originally the Diocesan Registry for the Church of Ireland. The records are no longer held here but some examples are displayed inside. There are also old maps of Armagh, collections of old coins and gems and lots of other interesting artefacts.
The interior architecture of the building is also very impressive and not what you would expect from outside. At least I didn’t expect it! Entrance to No. 5 Vicar’s Hill is also free with donations accepted. I’m pretty sure you’ll find something of interest, so it’s definitely worth taking a peek inside.
Armagh County Museum
Armagh County Museum opened in 1937 and was the first county museum in Ireland. In the reception area when we entered there were lots of interesting old photos and postcards of Armagh. Display panels also highlighted some historic buildings around the city undergoing development or restoration.
The main exhibition areas are up on the 1st floor. There is a lot to see and collections range from ceramics to victorian dresses and natural history specimens to folkcraft. There was also an exhibition of paintings by George (AE) Russell, who was born in Armagh, though I’m not sure if that is permanent or not.
The Market Place Theatre & Arts Centre
I can’t really tell you much about the nightlife in Armagh as we didn’t go out on the lash! We did however enjoy a show at the Market Place Theatre. I had spotted there was a Pink Floyd Tribute band playing one of the nights we were there and as José is a fan, I was pretty sure he would be keen to see them. I was right!
Located in the heart of the city, the Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre is a state-of-the-art venue and conference centre. Take a look to see what’s happening when you visit as they have a wide and varied programme of events including music, comedy, workshops and exhibitions.
Armagh Cider Company
I think that’s pretty much everything we got up to in the city centre. However, we did wander a little bit outside the city. There was something that just had to be done before we left Armagh…sampling some cider!
Did you know that Armagh is known as the Orchard County? It turns out this is prime apple growing territory and so there are a lot of orchards. We visited the Armagh Cider Company, which is based on the family farm in Ballinteggart. It was just a 15 minute drive from the city centre, so easy to get to.
We had a great tour with our guide Danny and got to taste pretty much all the ciders available (there are quite a few!), as well as some of their delicious juices. We may have stocked up on some to take home too! The tour was really interesting and worth doing even if you’re not a cider fan. You can still taste the juices and the new range of tonic waters too.
For more about tour and to make a booking, visit the Armagh Cider Company website and contact them directly to organise it.
Where to Stay
We spent two nights at 7 Houses. This beautiful Georgian house is centrally located, perfect for exploring the city. The owner, Roger, is a real character and very friendly and welcoming. We loved the quirky decor in the house and the honesty bar! It was great to be able to come back in the evening and enjoy a glass of wine. Breakfast across the road at Bagel Bean is included and totally set us up for a day of exploring. Check availability for 7 Houses.