We got to Birr Castle on a cold winter morning. The grey sky touched the tops of the trees, the chilly air prickled our skin and Ireland was enveloped in that mystical atmosphere ancient tales and lore evoke so well.
I had been meaning to go to Birr Castle for a long time and the recent school holiday was finally giving us the chance. Located in Co Offaly, in the centre of Ireland, the town of Birr is over 150 km from Dublin and, as such, a pretty long drive for a day trip. However, the promise of a beautiful castle, a record- breaking tree house and what used to be the biggest telescope in Europe had us intrigued enough to take the trek: our motivation paid off and Birr castle proved a fantastic place for a day out.
Dublin to Birr castle: arrival and practical info
Birr castle is in the homonymous town of Birr and it is so imposing it is hard to miss. It sits in the centre of the town surrounded by huge, grey walls and big signs alert the visitor of its presence.
Despite this, our visit didn’t start under the best auspices: while we saw the castle straight away, we completely missed to spot its entrance and spent about 30 minutes driving on a wild goose chase around its perimeter! The lack of entrance baffled us until we understood what the problem was: we had presumed Birr would have a big car entrance and car park, and dismissed the pedestrian entrance as a secondary one.
Birr, however, is an original castle and as such has no massive space for cars: the side entrance IS the entrance and it makes for a much more charming first impression than a large esplanade full of SUV – we quickly understood we needed to up our expectations because Birr was promising a more authentic castle experience that we would have hoped for.
A practical note: there is plenty of on-street parking around the castle, pay and display during the week but free at the weekend. This is a lovely excuse to also spend time in the town: we stopped there for lunch and had a lovely, warm meal served with a side of Irish hospitality, which made the whole expedition to Birr Castle even more special
When you enter the castle, you are first welcomed by a courtyard with a cafe and facilities, and then you have the main reception area, a tea room, a souvenir shop and the entrance to the science centre. Across the hall, yu have the entrance to the castle grounds and the castle itself, whose rooms are open to the public to visit during the summer months.
Bir Castle: what to see
Birr castle is privately owned and its rooms are closed to the public in winter when we visited. The grounds are, however, what make the castle truly special and for a small fee, you can visit the extensive lawns and woodland, the famous Birr telescope, the science centre and what is bound to be a great hit with the kids: the amazing playground.
I recommend you put aside a full morning or afternoon to visit the castle, especially if you have kids: the grounds are big and full of attractions and even on a cold day it is very easy to enjoy them – just make sure you wrap up as the notoriously changeable Irish weather might well catch you unprepared (check my practical tips about what to pack for Ireland here
Birr castle treehouse and playground
The playground is the first area you encounter when entering Birr. The first structures you notice are a trampoline (suitable also for very young kids) a hobbit house and a sandpit, but its most impressive feature is a huge treehouse.
If you are expecting a tree house to be a small wooden structure leaning over a low tree branch, you are in for a surprise: the Birr treehouse is huge, the largest in Ireland in fact, and it looks like a magical woodland palace.
The impressive Birr Castle Treehouse can you spot my son on the slide? The Birr Treehouse looks like something out of a magical woodland and it is the largest treehouse in Ireland
Made of wood and easily two or three stories tall, the Birr tree house is made for climbing and sliding and has a suspension bridge and a slide. Our kids adored it: they ran, jumped, slid and only agreed to leave under the lure of a pumpkin trail with a prize (we were there for Halloween)! When I recommend spending a full day in Birr, a huge pat of this recommendations comes from the time your kids will demand to spend at the tree house….
The adventure playground also includes a hobbit house and more traditional toys, including a sandpit very popular with young kids and swings. A nice thing about Birr is that is it immensely family friendly and it is easily accessible also with buggies and prams.
For children only! Adults won’t fit in the hobbit house in Birr but my kids loved peeking into it (the did not dare enter!)
The Birr telescope
Leaving the playground behind us we quickly got into the main ground of the castle where the landscape becomes wide and truly impressive. The castle sits in the centre of a wide lawn and it the quintessential Irish castle, with dark walls, a moat (no water), and an elegant yet stern aspect that make it beautiful and slightly intimidating.
As well as the main building, the ground of Birr host the 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 wat became stayed as the biggest telescope in Europe for over 70 years and with it observed the sky and made important discoveries such as the spiral nature of some of the galaxies.
The castle-like structure that hosts the Birr telescope, with its elaborate crane and chain system, to manouvre what used to be the biggest telescope in Europe
A close-up of the impressive Birr telescope
To give you an idea of the size of the telescope, there are Philip and the kids running towards it
His love for astronomy far from a small hobby that kept him locked into his beautiful estate: thanks to him, Birr became an important centre for astronomy in Europe and hundreds of people up until the start of the first world war flocked to his grounds to partake of its discoveries or admire his work.
The telescope is still now a very impressive sight and one that catches you by surprise. Because of its size, it has his own special building, made of the same grey stone as the castle, but equipped with cranes and ropes to allow the telescope to point a the correct part of the evening sky. The telescope itself is large, but the building is huge and it really makes and impression to this such a complex engineering feat was put up in what may feel a somehow isolated part of the island of Ireland.
The gardens of Birr castle regularly feature among the most impressive in the country as gardens of outstanding historical interest. I am no gardener, but even the non-initiated and the gardening-challenged like me can easily enjoy them: originally, this area had woodlands, but over the curse of the years the gardens got landscaped and a winter garden, bridge and a fernery were added. In the 20yn century, the gardens also acquired an arboretum and glass houses, which added to the feeling of elegance.
Woodland walks are more fun if you go on a scavenger hunt. This time we were looking for oak leaves, something yellow and mushrooms
Personally, what I enjoyed the most about the Birr grounds were their large proportion and autumnal colours: we were there on the 31st of November, on a day that was as dark as grey as it gets and despite this the gardens had this beautiful, appealing feeling about them. We walked for hours on their meandering pathways and each turned showed us a different aspect of the castle or of the land that made us feel lightyears away from the fast motorway that brought us here and the busy city that was expecting us on our return in the evening.
Stunning autumnal colours in Birr Castle
The science centre
The Earle of Rosse passion for astronomy is well documented in the science centre, the that sits just beside the reception desk at the entrance of the castle. The ticket to the grounds include access to this museum and I highly recommend you visit it even with small children: the exhibition is full of astronomical instruments and knick-knacks that the Earl of Rosse used and collected over the years and it is really interesting both as a glimpse of astronomical studies in the past and the peculiar personality of its owner.
Hotels in Birr
Birr and its surrounding area offer a good choice of hotel but, to my surprise, I discovered many do not accommodate children! Thankfully, for one that doesn’t accept them there are others who welcome kids with open arms, and here they are:
Minnocks Country Home: a beautiful property a short distance from Birr, with a fantastic garden, great breakfast and family rooms.
County Arms Hotel Birr: a gorgeous hotel with a renown restaurants, it has family rooms and a plethora of activities for adults and children alike. Babysitting service available
The Malting’s B&B A historical property still retaining original features and charm, this hotel has an excellent location to explore Birr castle and offers family rooms accommodating up to 4 people.
The Ring Farmhouse A lovely house who will welcome you and your kids with a lovely family room and a playground.
Aonach B&B A welcoming B&B with family rooms equipped with a patio area for extra space.
Emmet House A five-minute walk fro Birr castle, Emmet house is in the perfect location for a morning visit to Birr. beautiful family rooms and a playground make it a solid choice for families – babysitting service is available on request.
Birr castle is a fantastic destination for a day out with the kids, both as a day trip or an overnight stay while travelling through Ireland. The castle grounds are open most of the year and periodically host seasonal events such the Halloween Pumpkin trail at the end of October and Christmas experience. You can find out more about the castle and event on their official website Birrcastle.com
Did you like this post? Pin it for later!
All you need to know about visiting enchanting Birr Castle, Ireland. Birr castle is a beautiful historical residence and used to be an important centre for astronomy enthusiasts: its grounds host what used to be the biggest telescope in Europe, a science centre, beautiful gardens and are now equipped with an adventure playground and facilities to welcome families with kids of all ages