15 Must See Castles in Ireland
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The most beautiful castles in Ireland are dotted all over the countryside.
When my husband first went to Ireland he dragged me to every castle we came across! I got a cold was feeling awful and we still went to castles (while I napped in the car.) We are crazy about castles and Ireland has some of the most inspiring castles in the world. There are so many that it would be impossible to visit them all in one week in Ireland, but if you had more time you might be able to fit in all of them on this list!
The castles are listed by county and by location so that you can find the best ones to visit no matter where your travel to Ireland takes you!
If you are looking for travel itineraries and Ireland lodging scroll down to the bottom to find our favorites!
Castles in Northern Ireland
Castle Ward, County Down, Northern Ireland
Castle Ward had been a somewhat obscure destination in Northern Ireland, better known in the past for its more up-to-date 18th Century mansion that overlooks the majestic scenery of County Down’s Strangford Lough.
But this changed relatively recently as the old castle building of ‘Old Castle Ward’ were brought back to life as the backdrop of Winterfell in the Game of Thrones franchise and home to the King in the North. So this brought a whole new type of tourist to Castle Ward with all sorts of intrigue and activities like archery and period dress, as well as bike tours to the many filming locations throughout the grounds. And tours are now available from Belfast City Centre.
Otherwise it is an off the beaten path attraction with no direct public transport route, so it is best to drive there and include the ridiculously scenic circle route of surrounding Strangford Lough. The castle and surrounding grounds are otherwise well-maintained by the National Trust who also run the Castle Ward Glamping Pods for those planning to stay the night.
Carrickfergus Castle is a fabulous Anglo-Norman castle with an amazing history. It is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Ireland.
Driving is the best way to reach this castle – just a 20-minute drive either from Belfast in the south or from Larne in the north. This could also be the starting point of the Northern Ireland’s popular drive along the causeway coastal route.
There is no shortage of parking space. When you walk through this castle, you will find a visitor’s center and a couple of cannons from the 17th-19th centuries. There is a panoramic sea view from this point.
The castle was built in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy. However, the castle had changed hands from the Normans to Scots and to the English.
The best way to experience is to explore it from inside. There are many informative signboards at each area for the visitors and an exhibition of the history of the castle. A play room at the top of the tower has a giant chess set and a giant snakes-and-ladders board making it a fun place for families.
Have a lovely stroll along the sea front and explore an old army tank and a naval mine.
Carrickfergus town itself is great for walking and enjoying the waterfront promenade at the Marina. There are plenty of nice restaurants around this place.
If you choose to stay overnight, Walters Place or Dobbin’s Inn are great choices with the castle just a walking distance away.
Contributed by Jan at Leisurelydrives.com
Dunluce Castle on the North Coast of Northern Ireland is a stunning set of medieval ruins, perched right on a cliff edge high above the North Channel. As you drive along the Antrim coast you will get your first glimpse of Dunluce Castle as it stands out by itself on a rocky headland. The castle was built by the MacQuillan family back in the early 1500s and after a long and tumultuous history now stands as one of the gems of the North Coast.
If you actually want to walk around the ruins of Dunluce Castle there is a small entry fee, but it is worth it to see inside the ruins and learn some more about the fascinating history. While the inside is cool, the best views of the castle are seen from the grassy fields just outside the entrance. You get to see just how dramatic a setting Dunluce Castle sits in as you get amazing views of the precarious position of the castle and down to the crashing waves below.
Dunluce Castle is one of the highlights of any drive along the North Coast and the cliff top location of these beautiful ruins makes this one of the most incredible castles in Ireland.”
Contributed by Luke from Wild About BC
Trim Castle in County Meath
Castles in the Republic of Ireland
Kilkenny castle in Kilkenny, Ireland
My favorite castle of Ireland is the historic Kilkenny castle, located in the quaint town of Kilkenny in Ireland. The castle is must in any list of must-see castles in Europe for its beauty and how it has been given a new life as it was resurrected from the ashes. It was originally built by the Butler family that ruled this region for many generations. Eventually it fell into decline for decades, and seemed beyond repair. But after it was sold to the city for a token £50, the castle and it’s gardens have been restored for a glorious future.
The castle is now home to an art museum Thar show cases it’s art and history. It is also a venue for exhibitions, graduations and ceremonies.
The Butler house next to it is a family mansion now turned to a boutique hotel. The grounds also host art studios and galleries. The restaurant by the studio offers delicious meals.
If you’re living in or visiting London Kilkenny is not too far be sure to take a few days for Ireland and experience the entire stay to really understand the charm of the Kilkenny castle.
Blarney Castle in County Cork
It’s hard to talk about Ireland without the Blarney stone coming up, but you might be surprised that the Blarney stone isn’t just sitting in some sheep field waiting to be kissed. Instead, you literally need to bend over backwards three stories above the ground to smack one on this chunk of limestone tucked high in the ramparts of Blarney Castle. (Don’t worry, they have staff on site to keep you from plummeting headfirst down the side the castle.)
Although the interior of the medieval castle has largely fallen into ruin, the castle’s tall fortified exterior rises strikingly from the County Cork countryside on the outskirts of the small town of Blarney. Many legends surround the stone’s origins and how it became lodged in the side of Blarney Castle. The one thing we know for certain is that visitors have flocked to the castle for over two hundred years to peck the stone, believing they’ll walk away with the gift of blarney . . . that is, eloquence.
While there are no guarantees that a visit to Blarney will actually enhance your public speaking abilities, the castle is well worth a stop, if only for a stroll through its beautiful manicured grounds. Once you’ve completed the backbreaking task of kissing the stone, you can enjoy sweeping views of the Irish countryside, including Blarney House and the gardens below. Don’t stop there, make sure to spend some time in West Cork o enjoy the beauty of this area. (It is my personal favorite!)
Lough Eske Castle
Encompassed by a thick forest of natural beauty, Lough Eske Castle is among the most beautiful high-end accommodation options in Donegal, a lovely place to visit in Ireland.
The current castle was open to the public in 2007, but the original Lough Eske dates back to the 14th-century. However, the former castle was nearly destroyed because of an unattended candle burning in the ballroom in 1939.
Although the current construction is relatively new, it stands as a testament to the rich history of Lough Eske and the surrounding region.
Needless to say that the fancy rooms make any guest feel like they were from the royal family, right? To top it all off, the surrounding garden is perfect for leisure walks and enjoy the Emerald Isle’s green landscapes.
Beyond that, if you’re still planning your trip to Ireland, be sure to include a road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way in your itinerary. Lough Eske is an ideal place to stay for anyone venturing Ireland’s most mesmerizing road, as this is the Northernmost castle in Ireland.
Bruna from Ireland and Beyond
If you are looking for other castle hotels, check out the Cheapest Castle Hotels in Ireland.
Lismore Castle in County Waterford
The approach to the town of Lismore, Co. Waterford snakes its way alongside the River Blackwater as slowly, dense foliage gives way to the edges of the town. You round the final corner and are hit slap-bang in the face by the mighty splendour of Lismore Castle, which rears its way out of a thick blanket of trees and towers imposingly over the river below.
Not necessarily an obvious choice, but a stop off at Lismore Castle makes for a great ‘hidden gem’ to add to your Ireland itinerary, and a diversion through Co. Waterford is easily included if you are planning on transiting from Dublin to Killarney while visiting Ireland.
Lismore Castle is the Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire and, if it tickles your fancy (and your budget allows it, it’s not cheap!), is available for exclusive rent. Rich with history and filled with world-class art, it offers the experience to stay in utmost luxury and be king of the castle!
If however, your pocket doesn’t quite stretch to this, you can pay a visit instead to the Lismore Castle Art Gallery, which is housed in the once-derelict west wing of the castle. There is one major exhibition hosted there per year, as well as tours, workshops and other arts related events throughout the year.
Visitors can also enjoy a walk through the castle gardens, where several pieces of contemporary sculptures have been installed on permanent display.
Huntington Castle in County Carlow
One of the most beautiful and less well-known castles in Ireland is Huntington Castle in County Carlow. Huntington Castle and Gardens is located in Clonegal on the Carlow/Wexford border and was originally built as a defensive garrison on the main Dublin to Wexford route in 1625.
The original tower house which served as the garrison was built in the 15th century and despite being captured by Cromwell, it became the stronghold of the Esmonde family.
The castle is open for guided tours by its owners during the summer months where visitors can view certain rooms of the house, the old kitchen and the basement where a secret lies. Take care to listen carefully in the conservatory during your tour!
While the house is magnificent, the gardens are even more so. At the rear of the house are landscaped lawns with a fountain. Further into the estate are French limes, yes trees, oak, a woodland walk and a lake. The gardens are open from May to September and are a must-visit if you are passing by. If you are looking for a reason to visit Ireland, then castles such as Huntington are one of them.
Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary
While the island of Ireland is famous for its stunning coastal drives like the Wild Atlantic Way, it is equally as famous for its inland castles.
Nestled in the heart of County Tipperary and surrounded by lush green fields, the Rock of Cashel is one of the most beautiful castles in Ireland, and also, one of the best preserved ruins in the Emerald Isle. “The Rock” is deeply associated with Ireland’s pre-christian heritage, dating back to the 5th century. It is believed to be where St. Patrick himself baptised Aengus – the High King of Munster.
Rock of Cashel is truly a must-see on your Irish road-trip. You can drive from one B&B to another using a rental car, or even better, go on a budget campervan holiday to explore the scenic countryside of Co. Tipperary.
Recommended by Antoine and Marielle of Offbeat Escapades.
Ashford Castle in County Galway
Ashford Castle provides its guests a world of luxury. Visitors enter through giant historical gates, are embraced with a warm Irish welcome, and are treated to an absolutely exquisite interior. Surrounded by tranquil Lough Corrib and the pristine castle gardens, staying at Ashford castle is more than a visit; it’s an experience of a lifetime.
Located in beautiful County Galway on the west coast of Ireland, this 800-year-old castle sits on a 350-acre estate. Currently owned by Red Carnation Hotels, Ashford Castle was once home of the famed Guinness family. Since its inception, Ashford castle has seen battles and history to celebrities and movie fame. It was notably featured in the film The Quite Man starring John Wayne, and has hosted US presidents, musicians, actors, and even royalty including the Prince of Wales.
In addition to sampling cuisine from world-renowned chefs and relaxing at the award-winning spa, guests can choose from many other amazing activities on the castle grounds. They can explore Lough Corrib with a lake cruise, boat tour, or fishing excursion. They can try the many outdoor sports like horseback riding, tennis, and golf. Guests can even try their hand at clay pigeon shooting, archery, or flying a falcon at Ashford’s infamous school of falconry.
Above all, the castle and grounds provide a backdrop for relaxation. From its flowing fountains and endless walking paths to its beautiful interior and well-preserved history, Ashford Castle is the perfect fairytale addition to any Ireland trip. Although a day trip to Ashford provides a wonderful taste of the castle’s luxury, more than one night is recommended to be able to fully experience all this hotel has to offer. Whether the visit is done in an afternoon or in a week-long stay, the magic of Ashford Castle always leaves guests wanting to return.
Contributed by Olivia from the Girl With Blue Sails travel blog
Rahinnane Castle in County Kerry
One of the more unusual castles in Ireland is Rahinnane Castle, near Ballybeg in County Kerry. It’s not unusual because it’s ruined- it’s unusual because it’s standing in the middle of a farmers field. Surrounded by sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.
The castle was built in the 15th century and was ruined around 200 years later. The ruins themselves are fairly well-preserved, despite the fact that people are allowed to climb in, on and over them. What’s also nice is how quiet this place is in terms of tourists- it’s likely that you’ll be the only people there- especially if you’re touring Ireland in a motorhome and can stay nearby for the night.
It costs about 2€ per person to visit, and it’s a little walk from the parking to the castle. Wear sensible shoes- you are literally walking across a farmer’s field and it could be muddy, although it’s a fairly level and easy walk.
You don’t need to visit the castle for long- an hour is more than enough- but don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the incredible views across the Dingle Peninsula. You really need your own vehicle to visit- it’s a little off the tourist track, but easy to fit into an Ireland road trip itinerary.
Bunratty Castle in County Clare
Bunratty Castle is the most authentic castle in Ireland. In stands on the spot that was a Viking trading camp in 970AD. The current castle is the 4th to have been built on the site and has the best collection of medieval furniture in Ireland. The castle stands on 26 acres of beautiful County Clare countryside and has something of interest for all members of the family.
Its most important feature is the recreation of a 19th-century village with 30 buildings grouped around the village square. There is a main street filled with excellent copies of authentic shops of the period.
There is the interactive fairy trail that leads along a woodland path and there is a booklet for solving the mystery. The rare breeds farm with the petting section is fun for children and the Viking playground has a large wooden play castle with four towers.
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