What are the best castles in Ireland to stay, visit and photograph? What locations embody the evocative backdrop of Celtic legends and battles? In this article, we share our favourite Irish castles to visit and photograph and the Irish castles to stay in for a truly special night
Ireland is said to be home to over 30 thousands castles. The first time I stumbled upon this staggering piece of info, I had to look twice: surely this number had a few zeros too many?
Indeed, you can’t throw a stone in Ireland without hitting a street sign directing you to one castle or another but 30,000 castles in an island of less than 100,000 sq mt seemed to me a little excessive. However, there might be some truth to it: the key is to understand than the word ‘castle’ doesn’t necessarily embody the high turrets / large moat structure so many of us associate with the homes of the royals but a larger variety of sites and buildings.
While some Irish castles will indeed wow you with imposing walls and truly impressive ruins, others will be turn out to be a little more than a pile of rubble in a windswept field and others are now elegant hotels the word ‘manor’ would describe way more accurate;y than the evoking term ‘castle’.
After many trips around the country and disappointing turns, here is my selection of the best Ireland castles to include in your Ireland itinerary
Best Irish castles to include if your Irish itinerary
Blarney castle, Co. Cork
I open this list with Blarney castle for two main reasons. The first is that it is probably the best known of all Irish castles and it appears on most visitors ‘Ireland must see list’. The second is that the castle is stunning and I believe would be a real shame to miss it.
Blarney is located in the south of Ireland, near the city of Cork. It is a lovely small town dominated by the impressive grounds of its famous castle, lying just beside the town main street.
The castle dates back to about 600 years ago while it is less ancient that many others in the Republic, it gained worldwide fame thanks to the eponymous blarney stone, said to bestow the gift of eloquence to anyone daring enough to kiss it!
The stone sits below the battlements and to reach it requires some skill: the motivated visitors have to lie on their back and bend backwards (literally) over the parapet to get their lips anywhere near the stone.
Originally it was only possible to do so with a reliable friend holding you by the ankles, but nowadays health and safety procedures imposed the fitting of a railing, making the hole operation more secure. You can even buy souvenir photo of your kissing endeavour in the souvenir shop downstairs.
If you don’t fancy dangling down a medieval tower, you can still enjoy Blarney. The castle is stunning, it makes for fantastic photo opportunities and has some gorgeous gardens that make a stop worth it no matter what: my favourite is the ‘poison garden’, closely followed by the Wishes Steps. Blarney castle is a great stop to include in your itinerary also if you are visiting Ireland with family
You can find all practical information about tickets and opening times here
Trim castle, Co. Meath
Trim castle raised to fame thanks to Mel Gibson and his famous Braveheart (yes, it is not a scottish castle the one you see in the movie!).
It is easy to understand the choice of Trim as the location for such an epic drama: the castle very much embodies the image of the medieval castle as we know it from Celtic tales and legends and it sits with regal might amidst green, windswept lawns.
Trim is the largest Normal castle in Ireland and its grounds are open to the public for a small fee. If you take the guided tour (you should) you will be able to climb all the way to the top of the castle to enjoy the view and learn a few fun facts about it.
One of them is of course linked to the Hollywood rendition of Breavehart and will make you chuckle: Trim was used in the movie to portray 4 different castles, including the tower of London!
Kilkenny castle, Co Kilkenny
Another inner city castle, this time located in Kilkenny, a medieval city in the heart of Ireland. Kilkenny castle was originally built like Strongbow and remained inhabited from medieval times to the XX century, when it was sold to the city of Kilkenny for 50 pounds sterling!
The castle is now open to the public and both the inside and the grounds are worth a visit. Inside, make sure you stop at the tearoom and let the kids run wild in the nice and well equipped playground in the castle grounds.
Birr castle, Co Offaly
We spent this mid-term exploring our very own home, Ireland, and discovered some beautiful places. One of our favourite was Birr Castle, in the photo: the castle is privately owned but the grounds are open to the public and have a hobbit house, an adventure tree house and a science centre. Birr is also the home of a telescope that for many years had astronomers flocking to Ireland from all over the world: it used to be the biggest in Europe and it is indeed an impressive object. Review on the blog soon, stay tuned! #TBIN #takeyourkidseverywhere #holydayswithkids #ireland #castles #heritage #history #green #discoverireland #daytrip #castles #bloggerconf #ireland_gram #irelandaily #irelandgram #clickinmoms #kidsofinstagram #kidsoftheoutdoors #momswithcameras #TMOM
Birr castle is in the small town of Birr, in County Offaly. It sits in the centre of the town surrounded by huge, grey walls protecting its beautiful rooms and stunning grounds.
The castle is still inhabited and while its interior is only occasionally open to the public,its grounds welcome visitors all year round. The castle is surrounded by wide lawns and vast woodlands and is now quipped with a cafe and a lovely playground for kids.
Family focus: Birr castle has a lovely playground with bouncy area, a sandpit, a hobbit house and a gorgeous treehouse! The tree house in particular is impressive:it is the biggest in Ireland and is equipped with slides especially older kids will love.
Birr is also home of something special: in its grounds sits he famous Birr telescope, a marvel of mechanics that served astronomers for several decades. The Birr telescope was built in the 1840s by the Third Earl of Ross who inhabited the castle. An avid, astronomer the Earl built what became stayed as the biggest telescope in Europe for over 70 years and: with it, he observed the sky and made important discoveries such as the spiral nature of some of the galaxies. The telescope is very impressive and it is the reason why I believe Birr is one of the castles in Ireland you must include in your itinerary.
The rock of Cashel, Co Tipperary
The rock of Cashel is an ancient fortress perched on a hill overlooking the town by the same name, in County Tipperary. The rock is an incredibly atmospheric site: built mostly between the XII and XIII century it sits on a high hill overlooking the otherwise flat land and immediately casts on the visitor a sense of power and might.
Stepping in leaves you no doubts about the ancient origins of the rock and it is easy to believe the legend that says that this is the location where St Patrick converted to Christianity the then Kings of Munster!
The rock is enclosed by high walls and it is made of a Gothic cathedral, a chapel and a round tower. You can find the rock’s official site here
Dublin Castle, Co Dublin
I’ll be honest: I don’t find Dublin castle particularly exciting. However, I add this to this list because of the unparalleled role it had in the course of the history of the Republic of Ireland: out of all castles in Ireland, this is the one to visit if you want to learn about Ireland’s complex history.
Located in Dublin city centre, it almost hides under the modern buildings, but if you follow narrow ‘castle street’ it soon reveals its imposing towers and bastions. The castle was first built in 1204 by order of King John of England as its strong walls protected the King’s treasure and the offices from which he administered the city.
The castle original design went through many alterations over the course of the centuries but his role as bastion of the English crown in Ireland remained until 1922, when the Irish free state was proclaimed: nowadays it is open to the public for visits, is serves as beautiful backdrop to cultural events and it is used for State ceremonies.
Family focus: The outside of Dublin castle is lovely for toddlers and small kids as it has plenty of space to run around and hosts a small cafe. Older kids can enjoy the family tours periodically offered inside the castle.
Best castles in Ireland for scenery
Dunlough Castle, Three castle head, Co West Cork
Possibly the most scenic castle I have seen in Ireland, Dunlough castle sits among the remote hills of Co West Cork, surrounded by the wild scenery of the promontory known as Three castle head.
Dunlough castle was built around 1202 by the O’Mahony family who, under the lead of Donagh ‘the Migrator’ settled in this part of Mizen peninsula towards the end of the 12th century.
Rather than three separate castles, as the name suggests, is a structure made of three towers connected by a defensive wall spanning over 100 feet and has a peculiar legend. History tells us that the O’Donohue family, who occupied the castle last, was cursed by terrible fate: all the members of the family are said to have died by either suicide or murder and this violent history is apparently still remembered by these walls – legends report that a drop of blood falls every day from the of the towers, while other stories claim that the site of the castle is inhabited by a white lady of the lake and that whoever sees her died on the spot!
You can read more about this incredible castle and how to get there in our Dunlough castle trip report
Dunluce castle, Co Antrim
Location wise it is hard to think of a castle in a more impressive location than Dunluce. Located on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, the castle is hidden from the main road and suddenly appear as you take one more winding turn.
The castle seems to date back to the 1500s and had a tumultuous history matched by an equally tumultuous legend. According to local history, a wing of the castle collapsed into the ocean and the remaining walls saw the presence of a banshee!
I believe this is one of the best castles in Ireland for photographers, thanks to its incredibly scenic location
The castle is not far from the Giants’ Causeway and can be visited on the same day following this Northern Ireland itinerary
Best castles in Ireland to stay
Spending a night in an irish castle is something many visitors dream of doing and it is easy to understand why. However, not all castles hotels are guaranteed to match your expectations,especially if you are fond of ancient walls and history, more than just beautiful decor.
The two castles I believe will match and even surpass your expectations are Asfhord castle and Dromoland castle. Should these two not suit your itinerary, you can also check out this selection of castle hotels in Ireland .
Ashford castle, Co Mayo
Ashford Castle is probably the best known of all castles hotels in Ireland. It has gorgeous grounds, beautiful interiors and the welcome is second to none. A night here doesn’t come cheap but if you are looking for something special, a night in Ashford castle will be one to remember. Good to know: Ashford castle is family friendly.
Dromoland castle, Co Galway
Another stunning Irish castle you can spend the night in, Dromoland dazzles the visitors with ancien t walls, stunning interiors and beautiful grounds. The castle is large but there is something very welcoming about its setting and there is an unmistakable romantic atmosphere that envelops you as soon as you enter its guarded gate. A night in Dromoland is a treat and so is dinner in its on-site restaurant.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the castles of Ireland. Safe travels!
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