WITH the summer holidays drawing to a close we’re all trying to pack in a few activities with friends or family.
And while we all know how amazing our wee Norn Iron is, sometimes it can be hard enough to think of something new to do.
So, why not immerse yourself in the history and heritage of the many stately homes and country houses throughout the country.
Tourism NI’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley said a visit to a stately home or country house is the perfect way to spend a day.
She added: “Historic homes allow visitors to uncover interesting links to the past as well as explore lavish surroundings and stunning gardens and walking trails.
“A visit to a country house is a great way to spend a day with friends or family especially if you love to learn more about the history of the area or like to appreciate the stunning gardens that usually accompany these beautiful houses.”
Here are Tourism NI’s top 12 stately homes and estates worth checking out:
1. The Argory, Co Armagh
This is a beautiful Irish gentry house surrounded by a 320 acre wooded riverside estate with grounds that include sweeping vistas, scenic walks and fascinating courtyard displays.
The home was once owned by the MacGeough Bond family and has remained largely unchanged since 1900 and visitors can spend the day exploring the second hand book shop, adventure playground and Lady Ada’s award-winning tea room.
2. Mount Stewart, Co Down
If you are looking for a place to spend a whole day exploring beautiful surroundings then you should consider Mount Stewart House which is known for its inspiring and unusual garden as well as its fascinating heritage and history.
The building has recently undergone a three year, £8million restoration project to bring the house back to its former glory and visitors can experience previously unopened rooms and hundreds of previously unseen items on display.
Those who embark on a tour of the house will learn more about the opulent house, its heritage and world famous artefacts. Visitors can view beautiful gardens, a picturesque lake as well as woodlands and dramatic views across Strangford Lough.
3. Hillsborough Castle, Co Down
Built in the 1770s by the first Marquis of Downshire and later remodelled in the 19th and 20th centuries, today, the Castle is used as the official residence of the Royal Family when they are in Northern Ireland and has been the home of the Secretary of State since the 1970’s.
The picturesque building boasts 98 acres of beautiful gardens which include ornamental grounds, peaceful woodland, meandering waterways and trimmed lawns.
4. Florence Court House, Co. Fermanagh
This is a warm and welcoming 18th century property which is the former home of the Earls of Enniskillen.
The stunning property offers a peaceful setting with a dramatic backdrop of mountains and forests. There is a range of glorious walks, play areas as well as a charming walled garden to discover and lavish interiors and exquisite decorations.
Florence Court House is also famed for its beautiful gardens and is the home of the Irish Yew which was discovered in 1760.
5. Colebrooke Park, Co Fermanagh
Once home of Viscount and Vicountess Brookeborough Colebrooke is one of the region’s most important and historic stately homes.
This unique house is set in a lush 1,000 acre working estate and as it is only a short distance from the wonderful tranquility of Lough Erne, it is the ideal setting for a family picnic.
6. Downhill Demesne, Co Derry/Londonderry
Set on the wild, rugged coast Downhill Demesne is one of the best known features of Mussenden Temple, the ruined palace of the nobleman Frederick Hervey, the Earl Bishop of Derry.
Visitors can soak up the stunning scenery as they take a drive along the coast.
7. Springhill House, Co Derry/Londonderry
Once described as ‘one of the prettiest houses in Ulster’, Springhill House is a 17th century plantation home.
The charming house offers visitors the chance to explore family portraits, furniture and decorative arts that bring to life the many generations of Lenox-Conynghams who lived there from 1680.
The old laundry houses one of Springhill’s most popular attractions, the Costume Collection with some exceptionally fine 18th to 20th century pieces. Interestingly, Springhill has a beguiling spirit that captures the heart of every visitor.
The house herb garden is designed around a scented Camomile Lawn which was first introduced by the Elizabethans who enjoyed the sweet fragrance as they went on walks.
8. Castle Ward, Co Down
Famed for its unique architectural style, Castle Ward is a unique 18th century mansion which boasts 820 acres including walking and cycling trails, exotic gardens, stunning vistas and a picturesque farmyard.
The parklands are ideal for those interested in garden history and heritage.
9. Lissan House, Co Tyrone
Following extensive redevelopment, Lissan House reopened in 2012 and now offers a range of interesting things to view such as modern interactive exhibits and original family furnishings which take visitors on a unique journey through the history of the estate and the family characters that have shaped it.
The stunning country residence is set within a 250 acre demesne of ancient woodland and forestry and also features a playground for children, a wooded picnic area, walled garden and secluded walks. Lissan house is perfect for exploring on a sunny summer day and is ideal for families.
10. Sentry Hill, Co Antrim
11. Benvarden Garden, Co Antrim
This is a historic estate built in the 1630s and has been owned by the Montgomery family since 1798.
Visitors can explore the stable yard, stables, coach houses, cart houses and a tea room which was converted from a stable.
12. Derrymore House, Co Armagh
This elegant 18th century thatched cottage in Bessbrook boasts a rich history and delightful walks.
For information log onto www.discovernorthernireland.com.