An Unforgettable Journey: The Best Castles to Visit in Ireland

ClickTravelTips 8 Min Read

Unearth the enchanting tales of Ireland’s past as you journey through its most captivating castles. Each castle holds secrets that span generations, from Irish clans to courageous warriors, and noble figures.

An exploration of castles in Ireland offers a unique opportunity to walk on the same grounds as historical figures, bask in the beauty of lush gardens, and marvel at the panoramic views from towering fortresses.

With over 30,000 castles and ruins, deciding where to go can be a daunting task. I’ve compiled a list of must-visit castles to help you plan your Irish adventure. Here’s an insider’s guide to the top castles to visit in Ireland, from cliff-side ruins to the most well-preserved fortresses.

1. Dublin Castle, County Dublin

First on our list is Dublin Castle, a symbol of Irish democracy. Located in the heart of Ireland’s capital, Dublin Castle stands as a testament to the city’s vibrant history.

Originally a site for Celtic and Viking forts, it later served as England’s administrative seat for nearly 700 years. Today, it houses the Irish government but also serves as a popular tourist attraction, complete with the nearby Chapel Royal.

When visiting, you can freely roam the grounds, but make sure to book your tickets in advance to explore the interior of the castle.

2. Malahide Castle, County Dublin

Just north of Dublin lies Malahide Castle, an 800-year-old residence that was home to the Talbot family for generations. The castle’s architecture is a blend of styles, reflecting its evolution over time.

Inside the castle, you’ll find the Oak Room, a wood-panelled room dating back to the 1600s, and the Great Hall, built in 1495. The castle also houses an extensive collection of Irish portrait paintings, which form the National Portrait Gallery.

3. Trim Castle, County Meath

Trim Castle in the charming town of Trim is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Constructed in the 12th century, the castle now offers a vast stone fortress from the 13th century that spans over 3 acres of land.

Movie buffs might recognize Trim Castle as it was used as a filming location for the movie Braveheart, which told the story of Scottish hero William Wallace.

4. Ashford Castle, County Galway

For a touch of luxury, consider a visit or a stay at Ashford Castle. Located just north of Galway City, this castle boasts 800 years of history and was once home to the Guinness family.

Today, after extensive restoration, Ashford Castle is one of the top hotels in Europe, offering a luxurious getaway steeped in history.

5. Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

Dunguaire Castle, located just south of Galway, offers a unique castle experience complete with a banquet. The castle, first built in the 1500s, was restored in the 1950s and became a heritage site.

Visitors can learn about the castle’s ties to the Irish literary revivalists, including W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and J.M. Synge.

6. Dun Aengus, Aran Islands

Dun Aengus (or “Dun Aonghasa”) is a unique prehistoric fort located on the Aran Islands. This fort offers a glimpse into the Gaelic traditions that are still alive on the islands.

Dun Aengus sits along the southern edge of Inishmore, the largest of the islands, offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Excavations have revealed that the fort is over 3,000 years old and was likely refortified around 700-800 AD.

7. Bunratty Castle, County Clare

Bunratty Castle is considered the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland. Dating back to the 15th century, the fortress has a long history, starting as a Viking trading post in 970.

The castle underwent a restoration in the 1960s and now offers a window into Ireland’s past through the ages.

8. King John’s Castle, County Limerick

King John’s Castle, located in the heart of Limerick, overlooks the River Shannon. The castle, dating back to 1210, offers centuries of history.

Notably, the castle was named after King John, the Lord of Ireland, and brother to Richard the Lionheart. Today, interactive exhibitions and medieval games provide a fun and informative way to learn about the castle’s history.

9. Ross Castle, County Kerry

Ross Castle, nestled in the heart of Killarney National Park, offers stunning views of Lough Leane. This 15th-century fortress features a tower with round turrets nestled within a defensive wall.

The castle has a rich history, including a unique tale of being conquered by ships coming from the lake during a battle in 1652.

10. Blarney Castle, County Cork

Perhaps one of the most famous castles in Ireland is Blarney Castle, home to the famed Blarney Stone. According to legend, if you kiss the stone, you’ll receive the “gift of gab”.

The castle also offers scenic strolls through the surrounding woodlands where you can find standing stones.

11. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary

Cahir Castle offers an impressive fortress dating back to the 13th century. This castle is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Ireland.

Inside, you can learn about the castle’s history, including its feature in films such as Excalibur and The Tudors television series.

12. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

The Rock of Cashel is a medieval site steeped in legends and myths. The site is said to be where St. Patrick himself converted the King of Munster in the 5th century.

Today, visitors can admire the 12th- and 13th-century buildings, including a round tower, chapel, cathedral, and castle.

13. Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle boasts one of the longest histories of occupation in Ireland. Built during the Norman conquest, the castle is now mostly Victorian in style, complete with lavish portrait galleries, libraries, drawing rooms, bedrooms, and stately dining rooms.

14. Belfast Castle, County Antrim

Crossing into Northern Ireland, Belfast Castle stands as a symbol of the city’s history. The castle, located in the Cave Hill Country Park, offers stunning views of Belfast and its surroundings.

15. Dunluce Castle, County Antrim

Finally, Dunluce Castle is nestled along the coast near the Giant’s Causeway. The castle was first built by the MacQuillan family of Scotland in the 1500s. It later became the seat of the earls of Antrim in the 17th century.

Exploring Ireland’s castles offers a unique way to delve into the country’s rich history. Whether you choose a self-drive tour or a guided group trip, these castles promise to make your Irish adventure an unforgettable experience.

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