August has been a month of local exploration for us. The Italian grandparents were visiting and their presence always motivates us to wander a little farther away than the local playground and arrange more day trips than we otherwise would. One of the latest and a surprisingly successful one with all our party was a trip to Wicklow Powerscourt gardens and Powerscourt Waterfall, a stunning estate with Italian style gardens and the tallest waterfall in Ireland.
Powerscourt house and gardens at a glance
Location: Powerscourt estate is in Enniskerry, Co, Wicklow, Ireland, 20 to 30 minutes to the South of Dublin. It extends across over 1000 acres of land and it has two main access points, the main Powerscourt entrance and the one serving Powerscourt Waterfall (you can find all the info about the waterfall towards the end of this post, click here to get straight there).
The easiest way to get there is by car and there is a large, free parking lot on site but day trips are also available and they include entry fees to the gardens as detailed here. (Please note: I have no affiliation with this tours and I am including the link for information purpose only).
Opening hours (2016): The gardens are open daily between 9.30am and 5.30pm (Last entry 5pm) except on the 25 and 26th December.
Food and refreshments: a gorgeous Avoca cafe is in the main house offering meals, cakes, and drinks. The estate also has a beautiful hotel with a restaurant and cafe terrace also open to non-guests. You can find info about the hotel here (this is an affiliate link and brings you to the booking.com page about the hotel)
Are Powerscourt house and garden family friendly? YES. The estate is easily accessible with buggies and prams and baby changing facilities are located in the main house. The cafe has high chairs and the hotel, also hosted in the estate, has a nice restaurant and cafe with a good children menu.
Visiting Wicklow Powerscourt Gardens and Powerscourt waterfall
The Powerscourt estate extends over more than 1000 acres of land, 47 of which are occupied by beautiful and elegant gardens.
The first landscape architects started work on this land in 1731 but it is only in the mid-1800 that the gardens took the recognisable and grand appearance that are known for today. The result of these many years of laborious care is a stunning garden landscape: the wide, formal terraces give the estate its grand elegance but the aspect of the gardens, with the Sugarloaf peak as a backdrop, and the smaller and perfectly formed Japanese gardens, makes them feel part of the surrounding landscape, almost a natural feature themselves.
The Italian Gardens at Powerscourt Estate
The Italian style gardens are the best know part of the Powerscourt estate and, for many, the main reason to visit. They grace the covers of all tourist brochures about the area and they are indeed an impressive sight: wide terraces extend all the way up to the Sugarloaf, the green of the lawns blending with the green of the mountain flanks, and elaborate fountains and sculptures embellish the space with their carefully crafted bodies and contemplative poses.
A curiosity. This part of the garden was designed by architect Robertson and history tells us it took 100 men and 12 years to build. During that time, Robertson suffered from gout and directed the execution of the garden while sitting on a wheel barrel, sipping on a bottle of sherry, which also worked as a timer of the days’ work: once the bottle was empty, work would end and resume the following day!
The Italian gardens are organised over several terraces and finish at the so-called Triton Fountain. This pond takes its name from the statue in the centre and shares it with a similar sculpture in Piazza Barberini, in Rome.
Powerscourt Japanese gardens
Less famous that its grand Italian neighbour but beautiful and, to my taste, more charming is the Powerscourt Japanese garden. It sits right beside the Triton pond and it is invisible up until its very entrance, due to the thick curtains of trees sheltering it.
It is a gorgeous, small garden made of winding meadows, brooks, pagodas and leaves of several colours and has something of an enchanting world.
If you like Japanese gardens, you may also like the impressive ones in Co Kildare, Ireland. You can read and find photos of the Kildare Japanese gardens here.
Tara’s palace museum of childhood
One of the reasons our kids love Powerscourt is a very special museum hosted on the first floor of the main Powerscourt House, Tara’s Palace. This museum is the home of the biggest doll’s house in Ireland and it is spectacular: the house is protected by a glass case, so it’s to see rather than to play with, but it has many rooms all beautifully furnished with period pieces and has incredibly detailed decorations such as hand painted ceilings!
The house has 24 rooms and its construction took over 20 years. The pieces inside are mostly antiques and new ones arrive at the house every year: the latest one was a miniature illustration of Gulliver’s Travels and The Night before Christmas that are now tidily in place in Tara’s library.
A massive doll’s house in a no-touch glass case is interesting for kids but is also a source of infinite frustration so the museum has wisely reserved a small area beside it where kids can play freely with colouring books, a pretend shop, cars, puzzles and more.
Powerscourt house and restaurants
Powerscourt gardens are overlooked by an imposing Palladian Villa, so beautiful that Lonely Planet voted it among the ‘top 10 houses in the world’. The house itself has a sad history. The very first building in Powerscourt estate was a castle dating back to medieval times, but in 1730 the Powerscourt Viscount decided to redesign its property from scratch and transform it into an elegant Italian-style villa. The idea behind the project was that this would help establish, or at least portray, his power over the surrounding land and his position in the local society.
The house was completed in 1741 and had 68 rooms with beautiful furnishing that made it famous around the whole of Ireland and beyond. In 1974, however, tragedy stroke: the house was going through a full refurbishment that would have prepared it to join the gardens as major attractions, but before the building was ready, a fire broke out on its top floor and destroyed all that the house contained. All it was left was the original walls: the fire forced a complete reorganisation of the interiors of the house that now are hosting (beautiful) Irish craft shops and a (nice) restaurant.
Powerscourt waterfall is 121 metres tall and the tallest in Ireland. It located inside the Powerscourt estate but it so distant from the main house and so hard to get to on foot (6 km and no paths for part of the way) that it is more easily reached by car: you can buy tickets in the main house or, if you prefer to visit the waterfall only, you can pay directly at its entrance.
At Powerscourt waterfall the atmosphere is very different from the serene and elegant lawns in front of the main house: a favourite spot for families, it is a fun and lively place where kids can play and run around freely. There is a playground, a very popular sandpit and a kiosk selling snacks: bring a blanket as picnics are very popular here!
I need to apologise for the lack of photo of the actual waterfall: the only one my computer hasn’t carefully hidden in some mysterious folder I now cannot find is this one of my kids there – I hope their happy faces beside the fall will be enough to convince you to go!
Directions to Powerscourt waterfall: The waterfall can be easily reached from Dublin and Waterford: from the M11 (motorway) take exit 8 and follow the signs to Enniskerry. After about 2 km you will find sings for the waterfall: follow the road and eventually you fill find the entrance to the waterfall to your left.
An alternative way to visit the Powerscourt waterfall is to go for a hike in Crone and admire the waterfall from above. From the Crone car park, the Powerscourt waterfall is easy to reach: follow the well-marked path for the Wicklow Way and soon you will find yourself overlooking the waterfall. This is an easy hike and one we did even with young kids without difficulty. It is possible to have picnics on the way but, unlike the area at the bottom of thte waterfall, there are no kid-friendly structures here. You can find additional information about the Powerscourt waterfall walk here
Powerscourt waterfall opening times: (this info is correct as of September 2016)
• Jan/Feb/Nov/Dec 10.30am – 4.00pm
• Mar/Apr/Sept/Oct 10.30am – 5.30pm
• May/Jun/July/Aug 9.30am – 7.00pm
• The Waterfall closes 2 weeks before Christmas each year
Last entry is half an hour before close time.
Powerscourt waterfall price (this info is correct as of September 2016)
• Adults €6, Student/OAP €5.50
• Child (U12) €3.50, Children (U2) Free
• Family Ticket €16.00 (2 adults & up to 3 children)
Have you been to Powerscourt? Do you have a favourite part?
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