From Northern to the Republic of Ireland, the stunning landscapes, forest green shades and melodic nature have rightfully earned the country the nickname ‘the Emerald Isle’. The country has a rich heritage in the form of prehistoric monuments, ancient ruins, fortified palaces and, of course, spectacular Irish castles to make you feel like a princess. From crumbled ruins to lavish hotels, I went on a hunt for the best Irish castles.
While there is no official count (rumor has it that there’s over 30,000!), there are thousands of castles in Ireland entwined with strange myths and legends, the beauty of rumbling ruins and towering fortresses. Whether you wish to explore on your own, take a tour or stay the night in a castle hotel, here are the best castles in Ireland to add to your bucket list.
15 Captivating Castles in Ireland to
Tour or Stay on Holiday
1. ✦ Dromoland Castle
If you are seeking a truly luxurious Irish vacation with Celtic vibes, Dromoland Castle is a perfect option. The five-star castle hotel allows you a chance to live like kings and queens. The hotel is a fine combination of old-world elegance and contemporary comforts where you will be treated like royalty.
The 16th-century castle is encapsulated by lush gardens dotted with swaying trees, roses, and lily ponds. There is vast 18-hole championship golf course, walking and hiking trails, a tennis court, and opportunities to try mountain biking, archery, clay pigeon shooting and falconry.
We spent a morning there learning the art of falconry, and later in the day at Dromoland’s Afternoon Tea, a long standing tradition, filled with delicious pastries, bite-size sandwiches and of course hot tea.
2. ✦ Blarney Castle
Situated 8 km from Cork City, the medieval stronghold houses the famous Blarney Stone that lures thousands of people to kiss it. Myself included! There is a mysterious block of carboniferous limestone set into the wall below the battlements, and to kiss it, the person has to hold the railing and lean backwards.
Rumor has it that the one who kisses the stone is endowed with ‘blarney’ that is, the gift of the gab. I initially went to the castle for a chance to kiss the stone in hopes to procure some eloquence and charm. Not so sure it worked.
But, there more to this place then simply the famous stone. Just take a look at the Irish castle and its surroundings, and you will feel history dripping down its each block. Apart from the stone, there are lavish gardens, brooks and streams, and woody arboretums. Visit the Bog Garden that has some of oldest trees, waterfalls and a wooden boardwalk lined with Giant Rhubarb.
Then there is the Seven Sisters which is named after the tragic tale of a king and his children boasting beautiful flowers and mystical rocks. If you dare, enter the Poison Garden. You will find some of the most toxic and poisonous plants caged up. After exploring the many gardens, visit the utterly romantic Rock Close and walk down the Wishing Steps, make an exhilarating climb to the battlements, check out the Witch Kitchen and its dying embers and explore the castle from every angle.
Book a Tour:
- Blarney Castle Full-Day Tour from Dublin
- Blarney and Cahir Castles: Full-Day Tour from Dublin
- Other tours that include Blarney Castle
3. ✦ Glenveagh Castle
Built in 1867, Glenveagh Castle is a humongous mansion with castellated towers located within the perimeters of Glenveagh National Park in the county of Donegal. The castle is encircled by the renowned Glenveagh Gardens, idyllic lakes, narrow valleys and mountains, and a serene ambience.
Though you can walk to the castle from the parks visitor’s center, to save some time I took the shuttle that dropped me off right at the front door.
About Visiting: Website
Location: Glenveagh National Park, Churchill, Co. Donegal Google Map
More Information: You are free to explore the exterior of the castle on your own, but to access the interior you’ll need to book a guided tour that takes around 45 minutes.
4. ✦ Donegal Castle
Sitting majestically alongside the awe-inspiring curve of River Eske, Donegal Castle is an iconic monument located in the center of Donegal Town (next to some great pubs!). The castle used to be a Viking fortress in the 12th century. It was rebuilt to the castle in 15th century by the O’Donnell clan.
You can explore the castle on your own or take a guided tour of the rooms within the castle that will offer glimpses of the past in forms of furnishings and decor.
5. ✦ Trim Castle
If you are a fan of Braveheart, then you must stop at Trim Castle which was one of the locations for filming. It is the largest Norman castle in Ireland and a guided tour of the magnificent Norman architecture is well worth your time. It is partly restored and surrounded by lush green grounds.
You can walk the path around the castle and along the Boyne River to take in its stunning beauty from all angles. The ruins of the castle have a story to tell, as it stands as the bones of what once was a grandiose architecture.
Book a Tour:
- Trim Heritage Trail by Segway
- Trim and Slane Castles from Dublin
- Trim Castle and UNESCO Newgrange from Dublin
- From Dublin: Celtic Boyne Valley Tour
6. ✦ Lough Eske Castle Hotel
Lough Eske Castle is a five-star hotel lying at the sandy shores of Lough Eske and its tributaries. The castle is set on 43 acres, surrounded by verdant forested paths, green-blanketed hills and secluded spots making it a popular spot for getaway. Even if you don’t spend the night, it’s worth a stop to just walk the grounds and maybe get a bite to eat.
Also, if you believe the local folklore, then you might come across the terrifying Lough Eske Monster that is rumored to lurk within the depths of the lake.
7. ✦ Enniskillen Castle
Sitting beside the River Erne in Northern Ireland’s county of Fermanagh, the picturesque castle of Enniskillen is a 600 year old treasure found right in the middle of the small Irish town of the same name. I had to maneuver some heavy traffic to get there, but it was worth it!
You can explore the museums nestled inside the castle and its enchanting surroundings. Fermanagh County Museum is open all around the year and features award-winning exhibits on Ireland’s prehistoric history, nature, wildlife and landscapes, culture, traditions, and a lot more.
8. ✦ Doe Castle
Doe Castle is a medieval stronghold of Clan MacSweeney for over 200 years. Set upon a peninsula encircled by water and trees, the castle is in close proximity to Creeslough in the county of Donegal. Today, it is considered a national monument and a popular spot for proposing your loved ones (how sweet would that be?!?).
The grounds of the castle are open all year round, and during summertime, you can take guided tours of the towers.
9. ✦ Slane Castle
Slane Castle is an architectural prodigy with a theatrical setting by the flowing river Boyne, and a backdrop of the Boyne Valley of County Meath. The castle serves as a venue for events and celebrations. But, even more bucket list worthy then just visiting the castle is to attend one of their concerts. Yep, you can see a concert at a castle! Bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones have performed there in the past. Keep you eye out on their concert schedule to see who’s coming up next.
You can take guided tours and absorb the beauty of the majestic ballroom, historic bedrooms, intriguing staircases and the Celtic stories behind the artifacts and relics.
One of the best parts about this castle is that it is right next door to the Slane Whiskey Distillery where you can have a pre-castle Irish whiskey tasting!
Book a Tour:
10. ✦ Dunluce Castle
Dunluce is a ruined medieval castle that sits on the sheer cliffs of the causeway coast in Northern Ireland. Though the Dunluce Castle is in ruins, it has a rich history to tell. A visit may bring you back to tumultuous times of the 15th century, an era of violence and rebellion. But, its beauty still prevails.
Book a Tour:
- Giant’s Causeway Day Tour from Belfast (includes: Dunluce and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge)
- Other tours that include Dunluce
11. ✧ Ashford Castle
A Best Irish Castles list would not be complete with mentioning one of the most famous in Ireland, Ashford Castle. It may remind you a little of Hogwarts, with lush green hillsides and forest on one side, and a grand lake on the other. The spectacular 800 year old castle holds a timeless charm and beauty.
It is a also a great family attraction, as you can plan horseback riding, fishing, and guided tours of the rustic castle with pastoral stone towers and bridges. Over the years, it has been expanded and turned into a five star castle hotel, combining modern amenities with royal and rustic vibes. So, if a stay in a castle is on your bucket list, this would be a beautiful place to do it.
12 ✧ Malahide Castle
If you’re staying in Dublin, the stunning Malahide Castle is only 30-minutes from the city center. Explore the private rooms adorned with tasteful art and rustic furniture and discover the 800 years’ worth of heritage held within the castle walls. The beautiful 260 acre parkland near the castle is included as part of the tour and contains over 5000 exotic plants and a butterfly house!
Book a Ticket or Tour:
- Malahide Castle & Gardens Entrance Ticket
- Howth and Malahide Castle Tour from Dublin
- Malahide Castle & North Coast from Dublin
13. ✧ Ross Castle
Ross castle was built in the 15th century, and the structure overlooks the tranquil Killarney’s lower lake. There’s a lot of mystic allure and folktales surrounding the castle, one of which states that O’Donoghue – the builder of the castle, is still alive at the bottom of the lake in a deep slumber and resurfaces every seven years to circle the lake.
Take a boat trip to the Ross Castle and be assured of good fortune if you catch a glimpse of mighty O’Donoghue!
Book a Tour:
14. ✧ Belfast Castle
Sitting on the green-clad slopes of Cavehill Country Park in Northern Ireland, Belfast Castle charms its visitors with its storybook setting, lush gardens, and splendid vistas. The castle is now a luxury conference center and a perfect venue for your special day.
Have scrumptious meals in their Victorian-style cellar during one of the local food tours, learn about the park’s folklore and history at the exhibition, and visit the castle to gain the legendary luck that the castle bestows upon its residents.
15. ✧ Kilkenny Castle
The history of Kilkenny Castle can be traced back to the 13th century, so it’s quite impressive to see that it’s still fully restored and well maintained. The castle has a modern vibe with timely renovations and tasteful art gallery and gardens. It is surrounded by fifty acres of rolling parklands filled with exotic wildlife and towering trees.
It’s hard to escape a castle in Ireland, the island is punctuated with a plethora of them. Whether it’s a beautiful ruin, luxury castle hotel or just a refurbished piece of medieval architecture to marvel at, you are sure to find your own favorites.
My trip to Ireland was courtesy of Tourism Ireland, Discover Northern Ireland and Steller Stories.
All opinions my own. This post may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure here.
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