It’s funny the things we’ll do when we travel that we’d never do at home. During our Ireland road trip, one of these things was on our list of must-dos when visiting one of many Irish castles. Romeo thinks it’s gross to share a glass of milk, even if the other person is his wife of 11 years and companion of 16 years. Yet he will lay on his back over a gaping hole many stories up, trusting a stranger to keep a strong hold on him so he doesn’t fall to his death, all to kiss an old stone that has been kissed by hundreds of thousands of people before him, each time followed with a quick squirt of disinfectant. But that is what you do when you’re visiting famous Irish castles. Thankfully, while all of Ireland’s castles have unique features, they don’t all require swapping spit with other travelers.
Dublin Castle is one of the easiest Irish castles to visit as it is located in the historic center of Dublin. Originally the site of a Viking fortress, the land upon which Dublin Castle stands has been a seat of power for over a thousand years. Dublin Castle was founded in 1204. Dublin Castle is a working castle containing the State Apartments that are the most important state rooms in the country. Visitors can explore the castle grounds, library, and museums on their own, but the State Apartments and Chapel Royal can only be visited on a guided tour. Visit Dublin Castle’s website for opening hours and admission prices.
Malahide Castle and Gardens
Malahide Castle and Gardens is only a 20-minute drive north from Dublin in the nearby town of Malahide. Malahide Castle was home to the Talbot family for over 800 years, occupied 1184 to 1975. The castle is filled with period furniture and paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland. Reception rooms and bedrooms can be visited on a guided tour. One of the highlights is The Oak Room, a reception room completely covered in wood paneling. Malahide Castle is surrounded by 260 acres of land, including 22 acres of ornamental gardens created by Lord Talbot. Visit Malahide Castle and Gardens’ website for opening hours and admission prices.
Trim Castle might look familiar because it is best known for being the Irish castle where Braveheart was filmed. Trim Castle is a short 45-minute drive from Dublin in County Meath. Trim Castle was constructed in the 1100s and was restored in 2000. Visitors can only visit the castle on a guided tour for safety reasons. We learned interesting castle factoids during our guided tour. For instance, the spiral stone staircases of castles spiral a certain direction to make them easier to defend as the defenders, who are usually protecting from the top down, can sword fight right handed while the raiders coming upwards would have a harder time.
Kilkenny Castle is located in the city of Kilkenny an hour and a half south of Dublin. Kilkenny Castle was built in the early 1200s and was the residence of the Butler family for almost 600 years. Be sure to tour Kilkenny Castle if you’re in Ireland for the Christmas season as the entire castle is decorated for the holidays, including a huge Christmas tree in the portrait gallery. Visit Kilkenny Castle’s website for opening hours and admission prices.
Visitors to Kilkenny can take advantage of the unique experience of staying in an Irish castle hotel. In Kilkenny Castle’s backyard is the Butler House, a hotel housed in the dower house of Kilkenny Castle. The Earls of Ormonde, who built Kilkenny Castle, lived in the Butler house at one time. Our garden view room was huge with a curved bay window overlooking the castle grounds.
Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel has many names. It is also known as Carraig Phádraig, Cashel of the Kings, and St. Patrick’s Rock. The legend of the Rock of Cashel is that St. Patrick converted and baptized Aenghus the King of Munster at the Rock. St. Patrick accidentally stabbed the King in the foot with his crozier, but the King stayed quiet because he thought it was part of the ceremony. Today the castle and cathedral make a beautiful scene of ruins and cemetery on a hill overlooking the green Irish countryside. Visit the Rock of Cashel’s website for opening hours and admission prices.
Cahir Castle is the kind of castle you picture in your mind when thinking of castles. This Irish castle has a moat (created by a river), towers, turrets, and bare cavernous rooms with huge fireplaces. The castle was built for defense in the 1100s and came under the possession of the Butler family in 1375. Its current appearance was achieved in 1599 and not much has changed since.
Blarney Castle, in County Cork, is one of the most famous Irish castles. During our winter vacation in Ireland, we ran into few other tourists. At Blarney Castle, we saw the most Americans we had seen in one place outside of Dublin, which goes to show how famous this castle is even though there is not much to see in the castle itself.
After you’ve finished kissing the Blarney Stone, or being a casual observer of this ritual, be sure to explore the grounds of Blarney Castle which are exceptionally beautiful when it’s cold and misty. Visit Blarney Castle’s website for opening hours and admission prices.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is an Irish castle outside of Limerick. Even though Bunratty Castle was built in 1425, it is a little commercial and touristy today. But it is interesting to see a castle restored to how it would have been at the time it was lived in, complete with 15th- and 16th-century furnishings and tapestries. The Folk Park has homes which are replicas of what would have been found on the castle grounds. The Folk Park is a little like Disneyland and is geared towards families with small children. It was fun seeing the Folk Park decorated for Christmas. Visit Bunratty Castle & Folk Park’s website for opening hours and admission.
Ireland has a few peninsulas with beautiful drives. The most popular peninsula drives are the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. Another scenic peninsula drive for an Ireland road trip is the Connemara Loop where you will find Renvyle Castle, a 13th- to 14th-century tower which now stands in ruins overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.