The concept of spa resorts in Europe are historically quite old – some of the oldest ones were built up around natural mineral springs and thermal pools that were thought to be good for the health. (People have been “taking the waters” in towns across Europe since the Roman times!)
Spa towns in Europe like Spa (Belgium), Bath (England), and Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic) saw a resurgence in popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, and today the spa resort concept has expanded into full hotels and resorts dedicated to blissful relaxation.
In the 21st century, a spa resort usually refers to a fancy hotel or resort that offers health and beauty treatments. Sometimes these resorts are sleek and entirely modern with all the latest technologies and amenities. But sometimes they can still hearken back to some of those early spa towns centered around natural springs and thermal pools.
Galgorm Spa Resort in Northern Ireland is a little bit of both. You can enjoy spa treatments like facials and massages in a swanky spa, but also spend the day relaxing in the outdoor thermal village next to a natural water source (the River Maine)
When researching unique places to stay in Northern Ireland to celebrate my husband Elliot's birthday, I stumbled upon Galgorm and knew that it would be perfect. We stayed at Galgorm for two nights, and could have happily stayed longer!
Staying at Galgorm: Everything you need to know
Here are all the things you need to know about staying at this unique resort in Northern Ireland.
Where is Galgorm?
Galgorm is located just outside the town of Ballymena, which is a 35-minute drive from Belfast and a 45-minute drive from Giants Causeway. It's tucked away on 380 acres of lush parkland, and feels like it's worlds away from anything – even though it's perfectly located to visit most of the top sites in Northern Ireland.
You could conceivably base yourself at Galgorm and explore the Causeway Coast from there. Though, honestly you'll probably want to set aside a day or two just to stay at the resort, because there's so much to do!
What all does Galgorm offer?
The hotel part of Galgorm has 150+ luxurious rooms and cabins for guests, plus it has the traditional Spa and Thermal Village. Along with those, there are three restaurants, two bars, and a conservatory where they serve afternoon tea. They also have a Championship Parkland golf course, and a 6-hole Pitch & Putt course.
There are extras you can book, too, like private outdoor hot tub soaks, afternoon tea, and even a gin tasting inside the resort's “Gin Library.” (Elliot and I did the gin tasting, and it was fantastic!)
Galgorm Spa Resort: The Thermal Village
Anyone staying at Galgorm gets full access to everything in the Thermal Village, which is an outdoor spa experience that was the first of its kind in Ireland when it opened. It's made up of various manicured gardens and themed areas that offer everything from saunas to hot tubs to outdoor pools, alongside unique rooms and places to relax.
The main themed areas of the Thermal Village:
- The Riverside Garden – Alongside the River Maine, this area has an outdoor jacuzzi pool, the Beltane hot tubs (the hottest ones you'll find), the Celtic Sauna with a plunge pool, the Salt Cave, and a heated relaxation room overlooking the river.
- The Alpine Garden – This area has a mix of small saunas and heated cabanas to relax in. It's also got a heated infinity pool overlooking the River Maine.
- The Walled Garden – This pretty area has a steam room and sauna, as well as a pair of hot tubs with drink service from a cute bar called The Palm House. You can also hang out and enjoy drinks inside the Palm House.
- Indoor pool area – There's a 20-meter-long indoor pool, along with a Sanarium (a sauna at a lower temperature) and the Snow Cabin.
- Elements Cafe – A cafe right inside the Thermal Village that you can enjoy in a robe and flip flops. (In fact, any other kind of attire isn't even allowed!) The cafe sits inside a wooden dome and has cozy seating areas where you can enjoy light fare and drinks. There's also an outdoor dining area above the river.
There are also private hot tubs dotted throughout the Riverside and Walled gardens. The riverside hot tubs are wood-fired and have views of the river, while the ones inside the Walled Garden come with private little cabins complete with heated beds to relax on.
You can book 60-minute soak sessions in these separately – perfect for a couples trip!
How long does it take to experience the Thermal Village?
I'll be honest with you: I definitely don't consider myself a spa person. I don't like massages and facials, I can't sit in saunas, and I don't like sharing small hot tubs with strangers. BUT, in a place like Galgorm's Thermal Village, there's so much space to explore that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Elliot and I spent a few hours floating between the various themed areas. We swam in the outdoor jacuzzi pool, relaxed in the River House, sat in the Salt Cave, had drinks in the Palm House, swam in the alpine infinity pool, and relaxed in a heated cabana. We also booked a private riverside hot tub for an hour-long soak.
Spa-loving people could probably spent DAYS here.
You CAN visit Galgorm for the day, but I highly recommend spending at least 1 night here. You get access to the Thermal Village from before check in time until check out time, giving yourself plenty of time. (Plus, it tends to be a lot quieter in the early morning and evening hours.)
Room options at Galgorm Spa Resort
Speaking of staying at Galgorm, there are quite a few room options, all offering luxurious touches and access to the Thermal Village.
The Galgorm room options are:
- Resort guestrooms and suites – These are the hotel-style rooms at Galgorm, located in the main building that houses the Conservatory and is connected to the Spa. They offer a variety of room set-ups and views, from Superior Rooms (the smallest) to Deluxe Rooms to various Suites.
- Shepherd's Huts – Nestled in their own corner of the resort property (in an area they call “Galgorm Wood”), these huts are more like luxurious tiny homes, complete with kitchenette, outdoor bathtub (and indoor shower), cozy bed, and even a small electric fireplace. Most of these only sleep 2, but they have at least one 2-bedroom hut.
- Cottage Suites – If you're traveling with more than just two people, the Cottage Suites at Galgorm might be a good option for you. These luxurious cottages (set up kind of like townhomes) come in 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, and even 3-bedroom varieties.
- Log Cabins – Galgorm has 2 large log cabins overlooking the River Maine that are perfect for larger groups. The more rustic cabins sleep 6 or 8, and each come with a private river-facing hot tub.
- Residences – Similar to the Log Cabins, the Residences are best for large groups (10-12 people), such as perhaps a wedding party. These residences are secluded and luxurious, featuring things like private saunas and hot tubs, full kitchens, and even private garden areas.
- Treehouses – Coming soon, apparently!
See the full list of non-hotel-room accommodation options here.
The hotel rooms, Shepherd's Huts, Cottage Suites, and Residences also come with complimentary mini bars, which include supplies to make your own gin and tonics, among other things.
Where should I stay at Galgorm?
After reading as much as I could about each room type at Galgorm, Elliot and I decided to book one of the Shepherd's Huts. I liked that they're very private, but still located a short walk away from the rest of the resort (they even have their own check-in area).
Our hut was incredibly cozy, but also functional. The hut was small, but thoughtfully laid out. The bed was comfortable, and even though we didn't use the kitchen much since our room rate included breakfast, it was nice to have. The outdoor bathtub and fire pit area was also excellent, and the complimentary mini bar was a hit!
For everything included, I thought the overnight rate for the Shepherd's Hut was pretty good. (We paid about 250 GBP per night back when the pound and US dollar were almost at parity. And considering that rate included our room, breakfast, and access to the Thermal Village, I think it's decent even with today's exchange rate.)
How expensive is Galgorm Resort?
Speaking of prices, the prices to stay at Galgorm can vary a lot depending on room type and what time of year you're visiting. The Superior Rooms inside the resort hotel seem to usually be the cheapest option, though you can find good rates on Cottage Suites, too. (And by good rates, I mean under 200 pounds per night, which might still be expensive to some, but this IS a luxury spa resort.)
Galgorm has lots of different packaged offers, too, which include room/meal/spa treatment combos to suit most needs. (And remember that any room booking automatically comes with access to the Thermal Village.) You can also save when you book well in advance, or pre-pay for your stay.
Glancing through their autumn specials, it looks like you can book a Shepherd's Hut stay with breakfast for £210 per night when you pay ahead, a hotel stay with breakfast and a private spa soak for 2 for £295.
Do you have to stay at Galgorm overnight?
You don't *have* to stay overnight at Galgorm, since the resort also offers day passes and packages for people who only want to visit for a few hours. These day spa experiences vary in price, but can include things like spa treatments, lunch or afternoon tea, private hot tubs, and of course access to the Thermal Village.
Day passes range in price from £69 for a morning visit to £160 for a visit that includes a spa treatment. In my opinion, you may as well stay at least one night!
Dining at Galgorm
If you're staying overnight, it's often more convenient to eat at one of the on-site restaurants. The restaurants currently available at Galgorm include Fratelli Ristorante, Gillies Grill, and Castle Kitchen + Bar. Fratelli and Gillies are both within walking distance from all the Galgorm rooms, while the Castle Kitchen requires a short drive – but the resort will take you!
You do need reservations for all these spots for dinner. We ate at both Gillies and Castle Kitchen, which honestly have pretty similar dinner menus. The food is good, but pricey since you're at a resort. (The breakfast at Gillies, though? Excellent!!)
You're also close enough to Ballymena that you could drive into town for dinner if you want to skip the resort restaurants.
And during the day, you can have lighter meals at the Elements cafe, or inside the Conservatory (which also serves afternoon tea).
Can you bring kids to Galgorm?
Technically yes, Galgorm is kid-friendly and is not an adults-only resort. However, the vibe in most of the indoor and outdoor areas here is quiet relaxation (with the exception of the hot tubs outside the Palm House, which are a little louder because alcohol), so I'm not sure it would be the best environment if you have younger kids who just want to splash around in a pool.
There are family-suited rooms in the hotel, though, and the Cottage Suites and Log Cabins would also be good for families.
Who goes to Galgorm Spa Resort?
I don't even remember how I stumbled upon Galgorm as I was researching our trip to Northern Ireland. I think I was just searching for unique places to stay, since we were celebrating a birthday. But I do know that there wasn't a ton of information about the resort other than on Galgorm's own website.
This is partially because they're pretty good at optimizing their site for search engines – but also, I think, partially because Galgorm isn't very well-known outside of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Galgorm is definitely a popular getaway for locals. But when Elliot and I visited, we were constantly getting surprised looks when we said we were from the US.
So I'd say the people you're most likely to run into at Galgorm are couples from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Which we loved, as Irish people are generally very welcoming. The resort is certainly busy from a local standpoint, but doesn't feel “touristy” from an international standpoint.
What time of year should you visit Galgorm?
Galgorm is open year-round – yes, even in the winter! And it's busy year-round, too, though certainly more busy during the summer and around holidays.
We visited in late September, and found it a pretty good time to be there. The Thermal Village wasn't overly crowded, and it was still warm enough to walk around outdoors in our robes (though only just; I'm not sure the pools and tub would feel warm enough in the winter for me personally).
I would personally probably avoid July and August if possible, both because of crowds and because most of the rooms are not air conditioned (as is pretty normal across the UK and Ireland), and these can get toasty during the summer.
Is staying at Galgorm worth it?
Galgorm is definitely a luxury experience by UK/Ireland standards. For this American, I found the resort prices to feel fair for what you get, but I realize that the prices perhaps feel higher for locals. (In the US, you can rarely find a hotel room in a major city for under $250 per night, so having access to a whole thermal village for not much more than that felt like great value!)
The service and amenities at Galgorm also felt like they lived up to the price point, and I personally loved our Shepherd's Hut stay. Food and drink is expensive, though, so you'll want to plan for that.
In my overall opinion, yes, Galgorm is worth it!
I would definitely stay again, and recommend it to anyone looking for something unique in Northern Ireland.
Have you ever stayed at a spa resort? Does Galgorm look like a place you'd like to stay?
Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she's actually traveled!