castle road trips in Ireland
What better way to explore the Emerald Isle’s castles, than travelling to the country’s capital: Dublin? In this three-day road trip, we take in some of the UK’s most historic strongholds: from Dalkey Castle to 12th century architecture in Malahide.
We begin our journey 11 miles south of Dublin City Centre, at Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre. One of seven fortified castles and town houses in Dalkey, this charming fortress commands panoramic views over Dublin Bay, Dalkey Island and Killiney Hill Park.
Travel back to the 1500s and watch living history actors, clad in authentic costumes, re-enact Dalkey’s Medieval and Tudor past. Let the Archer astound you with his Longbow skills. Take style advice from the travelling Barber Surgeon, and learn how to make hedgehog pie at the Cook’s table!
The castle’s interior is spectacular: crane your neck backwards and appreciate a barrel-vaulted ceiling with traces of wicker work. Children will love taking the Warders’ Walk and exploring the eerie Murder Hole. Animated actors from the Deilg Inis Living History Theatre Company are also there to welcome visitors at every turn. Learn how the Tudor’s cured diseases, performed ablutions and prepared for feasts. Alongside extravagant costumes and theatrical performances are interactive displays describing the most important periods in Dalkey’s history.
Adults may prefer the tranquillity offered at St. Begnet’s Church and Graveyard: a pretty stone church believed to have been built on a site dating back to the 6th century. Head to the Writers’ Gallery and find quotes from poets who share a connection with Dalkey, such as Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce. The latter taught at Clifton School – once based in Dalkey - during the summer of 1904.
Grab your camera and scramble up to the battlements for panoramic views across Dalkey’s assorted topography; the sea and mountains combine to make memorable photo opportunities.
Dalkey Castle is closed on Tuesdays and, for the rest of the week, a dedicated team of Tour Guides run guided walks around the castle.
Hotels in the area
Car hire in the area
Move on from Dalkey and head 11 miles north to the urban core of Ireland, Dublin. Located near the mouth of the River Liffey, this historic city is a melting pot of art, culture, history and, of course, beer brewing. It is also home to a fortress that deserves your attention: Dublin Castle
Originally built in the 13th century by King John of England, on a site previously settled by the Vikings, its primary function was to defend the harbour from the Normans. Since then, it has functioned as a prison, treasury, court of law and residence for various British leaders. Now and again, the castle is used for ceremonial purposes, such as Presidential inaugurations and State receptions. For the remainder of the year, it is open to the public.
Centuries of fires and warfare have resulted in extensive restoration at Dublin Castle. However, there is one building which has stood the test of time: Record Tower. Located in the south-east of the stronghold, Record Tower once functioned as a high-security prison and held Irish hostages during the Tudor period. It is the last intact medieval tower in Dublin.
The remains of Corke Tower partly support the modern International Conference Centre in the north-west of the castle, while the Octagonal Tower, in the southern curtain wall, replaces an earlier D-shaped tower. The on-site restaurant is a great place to grab a light lunch, and a craft shop is open daily.
In the afternoon, head to the city’s outskirts and explore Drimnagh Castle. Up until 1954, this fortress was one of the oldest continually inhabited castles in Ireland, and is still the only Irish castle surrounded by a flooded moat.
The feudal architecture and herbaceous gardens, in particular, are a real treat for the eyes; formally laid out box hedges sit amongst 17th-century yews. Young explorers will enjoy climbing up Drimnagh’s tall battlement tower and peering through its lookout posts.
Hotels in the area
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Car hire in the area
Curve around Phoenix Park via the M50 and travel 17 miles towards Ireland’s east coast. For the final day of this road trip, head to Malahide Castle and Gardens. Malahide Castle is a 12th-century estate set in 260 acres of polished parkland. The house belonged to the Talbot family from 1185 to 1975 and was later purchased by Dublin County Council.
Inside the Great Hall, visitors will find an extensive collection of paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland. Snake through labyrinthine corridors and find the Castle Exhibition: a treasure trove of displays about the legendary Talbot family.
Outside there are seven beautiful glasshouses, ornamental gardens and a wildlife-rich woodland. A children’s playground keeps young explorers entertained. Guided tours start daily from 9.30am and, if you’re looking to explore the grounds in style, Malahide Castle is within reach of the Irish Centre for Cycling, which offers bike hire.
The final stop on our tour of Ireland’s castles finishes in North County Dublin, at Ardgillan Castle and Demesne. This picturesque country-style castle is situated in Balbriggan, on an elevated coastline that takes in stunning views of the Irish Sea and the Mourne Mountains.
Originally named “Prospect House,” the central section of the estate was built in 1738 by Robert Taylor, with the west and east wings added in the late 1800s. Access to the castle is by guided tour only, and each lasts approximately one hour long. The tour is a great opportunity to learn all the stories and secrets of the castle and its inhabitants.
The walled garden is a must-see and hosts a beautiful medley of fruit and vegetables, herbs and colourful plants. Children will love jumping and sliding at the gigantic outdoor play area, while adults will appreciate the formal rose garden that leads onto idyllic walking routes.
If you want to extend your stay in Dublin, add Trim Castle to you itinerary and see where scenes from Braveheart were filmed.