5 Ways to Explore Ireland’s Castles
The Emerald Isle has incredible diversity when it comes to its magnificent castles — from ancient ruins to classics straight out of a fairy tale, featuring turrets, moats, and drawbridges. Some structures date back to as early as the 12th century. During a trip to Ireland, you can walk among the rustic remnants, tour perfectly preserved medieval structures, or even spend the night in a castle-turned-hotel. Here are five ways to experience Ireland’s spectacular castles.
The castle at Bunratty, built in the 15th century and located in County Clare, may be the fourth such structure to stand in this spot—the previous three were destroyed in battles. Spend an afternoon wandering the Bunratty Walled Garden, designed after the garden that once supplied the house with fruits and vegetables, and the Folk Park. Here, you’ll find a recreation of a village, featuring a schoolhouse, post office, doctor’s house, and Ardcroney Church. At night, Bunratty offers guests a truly unique experience via a medieval feast, complete with hearty old-school Irish fare and servers dressed in period outfits.
Built in 1177 by an Anglo-Norman knight, Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim is about as imposing a castle as you’ll ever lay eyes on. The structure is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in all of Ireland. Wander onto the castle grounds (self-guided, unless you book a guided tour) to explore the displays of medieval weaponry, including cannons from the 17th to 19th centuries. Its location on the shore of Belfast Lough makes it particularly picturesque. After you walk through the castle’s corridors and grand rooms, take a walk outside along the water to enjoy the stunning views.
Located just 30 miles from Dublin, Slane Castle has been home to the Conyngham family since the 18th century. Visitors can embark on seasonal guided tours of the castle, which re-opened in 2001 after it sustained damage in a devastating fire a decade earlier. But its most unique feature has to be what happens outside the castle. The 1,500-acre estate is a host to high-profile concerts in the natural amphitheater below the castle. Check the calendar to see who’s playing when you’re there.
Birr Castle Gardens & Science Center, located in County Offaly, right in the center of Ireland, is a wonder to behold. This formidable castle, home to the Parsons family since the 17th century, is more than just a well-preserved structure from the 12th century: The grounds also boast a verdant garden and a science center. There, visitors can look through the Great Telescope, the largest of its kind when it was constructed in the mid 19th century. See the giant telescope for yourself, then stop by the Courtyard Café to pick up supplies for a picnic (you can order ahead of your visit). After your fuel up with lunch, there are over five miles of trails to explore on the property.
Ashford Castle, located on the Mayo-Galway boarder along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, has a long and storied history. Built in 1228, the property has seen several owners over its time (including the Guinness family), endured additions and renovations, and even served as home base for several cast members in 1952’s Oscar-winning The Quiet Man. Today the 13th-century castle is a five-star award-winning hotel—a frequent fixture on world’s-best lists and rankings. Guests can stay in one of the 82 immaculately bedecked rooms or in the secluded Hideaway Cottage. During the day, wander the 350 neatly manicured acres around the fortress: and later, dine at one of many on-site restaurants, including the medieval-themed eatery, The Dungeon.