Can you visit Glendalough with kids? Practical tips and information for a day out in this beautiful and atmoshperic medieval site. Updated 2020.
Ireland is famous for her emerald hills, medieval past and grey skies and one of the places that best embodies this beauty is the historical site of Glendalough, possibly my favourite place in the whole island.
Glendalough (pronounced: Glen-da-lock, with a hard ‘c’ sound at the end) is a monastic site dating back to the 7th century a.D.
However, despite this relative proximity to the capital, it’s a world away from the bustling city centre streets.
The best way to put into words the kind of atmosphere you experience there, it’s probably to look at the meaning of its name.
‘Glendalough’ in Gaelic means ‘the valley of the two lakes’, and a green valley with two interconnecting mountain lakes and sloping woods is just where this small medieval site is nestled.
Good to know! Glendalough is in an area with lots of family attractions. You can find our family guide to County Wicklow here.
Glendalough, a bit of history
The monastic site of Glendalough was founded by St Kevin, an Irish saint who elected it as its hermit retreat.
The legend tells us that Kevin lived in this area in communion with nature ‘sleeping on stones and talking to birds’, but that towards the end of his life opened up the site to a selected number of friends and followers.
After his death, in 618 a.D., his followers stayed in Glendalough and soon made it into a flourishing monastic community.
Glendalough thrived for over 600 years: in its heyday, the settlement included churches, monastic cells but also workshops, hospitality facilities, an infirmary, farm buildings and houses (most of them now lost).
Information about the site is available at the visitors centre and guided tours are available.
If you decide to explore the site on your own, some handy signs with historical facts help you navigate the ruins.
Tips for visiting Glendalough with children
Glendalough is a very touristy site and over the course of the years has evolved to accommodate a large number of visitors.
The site itself is open to the public free of charge, but just beside the main entrance there is a visitors centre with information and materials explaining the history of the site.
If it’s your first time here, it is a good idea to enter the centre as it gives good background information about the site and a map of the several paths in it.
There are many beautiful and family friendly walks in the area and some can be enjoyed even if you are here as a tourist and do not have special hiking equipment.
You can find our favourite family walks in Glendalough here.
Beside the visitors centre, there are the main facilities: they are pretty basic but they do include a small changing area which is handy for families with young children.
As soon as you leave this first area, you find yourself surrounded by the beautiful woods Glendalough is famous for.
A large buggy-friendly path crosses the woods and with no more than a five-minute walk, you find yourself at the entrance of the monastic city
The city itself is, I believe, the best part of the site and despite the name ‘city’ is a small site, easy to visit even if pressed for time.
Its highlights are the building know as St Kevin’s kitchen and the beautiful round tower, while its most evocative element are the ancient tombstones dotting the place.
Glendalough has worked as a cemetery for a long time and the ancient stones bear names dating back several centuries (part of the cemetery is still in use).
Unlike the path leading here, the city itself is not entirely buggy friendly but if you have kids already of walking age or a good all terrain stroller, it’s a fun terrain to explore!
My two were over excited by the many steps and found hilarious to be able to play hide and seek among the ruins.
The monastic city is the most famous part of the site and the only one most tourists spend time into, but to really make the most of the site it is definitely worth venturing further down along the path, towards the lakes.
The walk around the lakes is really easy and pleasant and if you fancy a bit of a hike you can also venture further up in the woods, where you will find beautiful nature and additional traces of the life of St Kevin.
You can find information about the available hikes here.
Please note: in 2020, a one way system along paths and hikes is in place to guarantee social distancing. Please abide the rules: all paths are well signposted and info on safe route is available. Please note that the visitors center is, at this time, subject to closures.
Practical info for visiting Glendalough with kids
- The site is best accessed by car. Parking lots are avaiable both at the visitors center and further up at the lake. Food stands and facilities are avaiable at both.
- Best time to visit: during the week, to avoid crowds
- Entrance to the site is free, but there is a charge of about 1 Euro for the visitors centre and the parking costs 5 Euro/day at the time of writing
- Accessibility: the site is buggy and wheelchair accessible, with the exception of some parts of the monastic city
- Facilities: available at the entrance, with a basic but handy changing area
- Food and drinks: the Glendalough hotel is close to the entrance and has a restaurant and cafe with bar food and kids menu
- For children: no special attractions for children (playground etc) but there’s plenty of space for running around!
I hope you visit Glendalough with kids! Safe travels!