Did you know there are over 30,000 castles in Ireland? So, you most likely won’t be visiting them all! However, we highly recommend checking out a few. Here’s our list of the best 20 castles to visit in Ireland.
1. Blarney Castle
Have you ever been lost for words? If you want to avoid that happening again, this is the castle you need to visit! Millions have made their way to Blarney Castle in County Cork to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone. It is said that if you climb the 10 stories to the top, hang upside down and kiss the stone, you’ll gain the gift of eloquence.
Aside from kissing the stone, visitors can enjoy the beautiful surrounding gardens and follow the signed trails that point out the many attractions including Blarney House which was built in 1874 and is also open to the public. Blarney castle was rebuilt in 1446 and is currently a partial ruin.
2. Bunratty Castle
Located in County Clare, Bunratty Castle is one of Ireland’s most iconic landmarks. Visitors are brought back in time as they can explore a 14th century castle as well as the Folk Park, a fantastic reproduction of an Irish village in the Victorian era.
The village includes a school, doctor’s house, grocery, hardware shop, pawnbrokers, pub, drapery, printworks, pottery and a post office. Bunratty Castle is also famous for its medieval banquets which are held twice nightly all year round. Are you ready to experience history?
3. The Rock of Cashel
A Gothic cathedral, a round tower, a fifteenth-century Tower House, a Romanesque chapel, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral and a high cross are among the monuments that you can see at the Rock of Cashel. Near Cashel town in County Tipperary, you will enjoy stunning views of the surrounding farmlands.
The grounds around the buildings are home to an extensive graveyard and it’s believed that the Round Tower dates to the early 12th century, and is likely to have been built shortly after Muirchertach donated the site to the church in 1101.
4. Dunluce Castle
Thought by many to be the most picturesque and romantic of Irish castles, Dunluce Castle is located on the sheer cliffs east of Portrush along the Causeway Coast towards the Giants Causeway. It was strategically positioned to guard the ocean and to monitor every boat on approach.
In 1584, the English, under the command of Sorley Bob MacDonnell, seized the castle. The castle thus gradually changes style until it finally embraces the features of a typical Scottish castle. The origins of Dunluce Castle date back to the 13th century. Historical and archaeological exhibits are on display for public viewing.
5. Ashford Castle
Ashford Castle sits on the banks of the mighty Lough Corrib, right on the County Galway/County Mayo border. Donated to the Irish government by the Guinness family in 1915, Ashford Castle was bought and turned into a hotel by Noel Huggard in 1939. This 800 year old castle is immersed in history and is regarded as one of the world’s top hotels.
6. Ross Castle
A visit to Ross Castle in Kerry is one of the most popular things to do in Killarney. The castle was built in the 15th century and over the centuries the castle was involved in multiple wars and was eventually transformed into military barracks. It’s a formidable tower house on the shores of Lough Leane in Killarney National Park.
Besides the castle, the view around it is also a sight to behold. Currently, the site is under the control of the Office of Public Works as an active tourist destination. With a set entrance fee, you can explore the magnificent castle in all its ancient glory.
7. Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle was built in 1204 and was the residence for the British crown’s representative in Ireland. The castle was officially handed over to Irish republican leader Michael Collins, representing the Irish Free State, in 1922.
The Castle was contained within the walls which bounded the original city. It is now used by the Irish government for meetings and functions, and all Irish presidents have been inaugurated here. The best bits are only visible as part of a guided tour but the grounds and gardens in the complex are open and free to explore.
8. Dunguaire Castle
Located just north of Kinvara village, Dunguaire Castle is one of the most photographed fortresses in Ireland. This 16th century tower house sits eloquently perched on the shores of magical Galway Bay. Hosting mediaeval banquets, school tours and thought-provoking tours, a visit to this Kinvara castle should definitely be on the cards sometime soon.
9. Cahir Castle
Cahir Castle has featured prominently in a number of movies like Barry Lyndon, Excalibur and the Last Duel. It was constructed on an island in the centre of the River Suir, which acted as a natural moat. At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure remains.
Though besieged at the end of the 16th century, restoration of the castle offers a fine example of mediaeval architecture. One prominent reminder of the siege remains as a cannonball still remains embedded in the wall of the Northeast Tower.
10. Malahide Castle
It’s less than a half-hour’s drive from Dublin City Centre to Malahide village and a mere ten minutes from Dublin airport. Malahide Castle, set on 250 acres of parkland in the pretty seaside town of Malahide, has much to offer visitors of all ages: an award-winning children’s playground, a fairy trail, a butterfly house, old abbey ruins, walking trails, Avoca Store & Café, guided tours of the castle interior and the Talbot Botanic Gardens with unusual specimens.
11. Kilkenny Castle
Built in the twelfth century, Kilkenny Castle was the principal seat of the Butlers, earls, marquesses and dukes of Ormond for almost 600 years. Under the powerful Butler family, Kilkenny grew into a thriving and vibrant city. Its lively atmosphere can still be felt today.
The magnificent Kilkenny Castle sits in beautiful gardens with extensive paths and woodlands. The gardens contain an ornamental lake and a stunning collection of roses. Today, Kilkenny Castle is open to visitors all year round and is largely a Victorian remodelling of the thirteenth century defensive Castle.
12. Lismore Castle
Beautiful Lismore Castle is home to seven acres of gardens all set within the historic Lismore Castle walls. There are essentially two distinct gardens. Both boast spectacular views of the Castle and surrounding countryside. The castle itself was built as a sister castle to Ardfinnan Castle in Tipperary by the soon-to-be King John in 1185.
13. Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle is now, quite simply, one of Ireland’s finest castle hotels. The castle dates back to the 16th Century and is the ancestral home of the O’Brien clan, direct descendants of the last High King of Ireland; Brian Boru. Today, blending old-world elegance with modern-day comforts, the castle serves as one of the most desired destinations in Europe.
14. King John’s Castle
King John’s Castle is located on the banks of the River Shannon. This 12th Century castle was built by King John of England and stands as a testament to 800 years of history. In the castle’s spacious outdoor courtyard, visitors can try their hand at a series of Medieval Courtyard Games suitable for all ages to engage and enjoy! On your journey, expect to see some lively characters.
15. Birr Castle
Birr Castle offers a fascinating mix of culture, heritage, beauty and science in a tranquil setting. It’s a very impressive 90 room castle situated on a 1200 acre walled estate in the Magical Midlands of Ireland.
The castle is only open to the public on a limited basis throughout the summer as it is still the family home of Lord & Lady Rosse. The 3rd Earl of Rosse built the largest telescope in the world in 1840. The castle is located in Offaly which is around a 2-hour drive from Dublin but it is well worth the trip.
16. Doonagore Castle
Doonagore Castle is a superb 16th century Irish castle, built to better monitor the comings and goings of ships on the Atlantic. In 1588, Spain tried to invade England… in vain… While Spain was in full retreat, a Spanish ship of the Invincible Armada is said to have been wrecked on the Irish coast, not far from the castle. More than 170 survivors were taken prisoner by the High Sheriff of County Clare, Boetius MacClancy, who ordered them hanged at Doonagore Castle. It’s now privately owned.
17. Glenveagh Castle
Glenveagh Castle sits in the centre of what is now a national park in Donegal, consisting of some 16000 hectares of wilderness, bogs, mountains and lakes. The castle was designed by architect John Townsend Trench and built between 1867 and 1873 for John George Adair. He was known as a ruthless landlord, who perpetrated the Derryveagh Evictions, one of the most notorious evictions of the 19th century.
18. Kylemore Abbey
Nestled at the base of Druchruach Mountain on the northern shore of Lough Pollacappul, in the heart of the Connemara Mountains, it is regarded as one of Ireland’s most romantic buildings. It’s 1852. Successful financier, Mitchell Henry and his new bride, Margaret Vaughan, are on honeymoon in Connemara.
The couple is enjoying an al fresco lunch in the townland of Kylemore. As they sit, Margaret comments how beautiful the area is, and how wonderful it would be to live there. Thirteen years later a stunning castle retreat, overlooking a glassy Connemara lake, was constructed. Today Kylemore Abbey and the estate are open to visitors all year.
19. Trim Castle
Trim Castle, Ireland’s largest Anglo-Norman castle is a must-visit in the historically rich Boyne Valley in Trim, County Meath. It was constructed over a thirty year period by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter as the home of the Lordship of Meath. This magnificent site experienced a renaissance in 2000 when it was opened to the public after being excavated and restored.
20. Slane Castle
Overlooking the River Boyne, just a few kilometres upstream from Newgrange and the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne, Slane Castle in its existing form was constructed under the direction of William Burton Conyngham, together with his nephew the 1st Marquess Conyngham. Take a guided tour of the impressive castle and taste test the whiskey at the adjoining distillery.
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