Powerscourt House, County Wicklow

East IrelandTravel Guide

East Ireland Visitor's Guide

In Ireland's East, stunning vistas surround you as you explore the majestic glacial valleys and dramatic mountain passes. This rugged landscape of gorse and bracken is home to many of Ireland's most significant archaeological finds, from the stately homes of 18th-century gentry to the very earliest Christian dwellings. Use this page to find the attractions and destinations of East Ireland which appeal most to your group. If you're in the County Meath area, why not check out an authentic farm experience at Causey Farm?

Top Attractions in Ireland's East

The top attractions in the east of Ireland are made up, primarily, of castles, abbeys, and stately homes. This is due to its close proximity to Britain and the rest of Europe. Norman and British invaders cordoned off the east for its fertile land, as well as its location, and anywhere outside the area was said to be 'beyond the Pale'.  Add these remnants of colonial settlements to a mixture of ancient tomb sites and early Christian remains, and the east of Ireland's top attractions reveal an in-depth look into Irish history.   

1 Powerscourt Estate

Top Attraction
History & Culture

Even the briefest visit to this Palladian mansion, with extensive Italianate gardens, will give a sense of the inequality which existed in Ireland during the Eighteenth Century when Powerscourt was built. Originally built by Richard Cassels between 1731 and 1743, the main building was the subject of continued rejuvenation for generations to come, with considerable alterations being made in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. The last chapter in this story of renovation would not arrive until 1974 when, tragically gutted by fire, the mansion was subjected to a painstaking restoration that continues to this day. This, sadly, restricts visitor-access to the first (i.e. ground) floor.

Powerscourt tourist attraction
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The formal gardens, redesigned in the Nineteenth Century by Daniel Robinson, are truly breathtaking in their beauty and encompass a panoply of different landscaping styles.

Insider Tips

Powerscourt is a very popular attraction and, during the summer months, draws significant crowds. Visitors should allow for this by avoiding peak times wherever possible. Mid-week, visiting tourists can enjoy the estate's many attractions at a relaxed pace, both indoors and out.

2 Glendalough

History & Culture
Great Outdoors

An ancient monastic settlement, Glendalough (meaning: Valley of the Two Lakes) presents today's visitors with a chance to walk not only through the idyllic hills of Ireland's East, but also through the rough-hewn landscapes of ancient Irish history. Founded in the Sixth century by St. Kevin, who as a boy was sent to Glendalough where he later returned to found the monastery. His writings, which include the fighting of "knights" at Glendalough, are today understood to mean St. Kevin fighting his own personal temptations. As his fame grew within holy circles, so too did his followers. After St. Kevin's death in 618 the monastery prospered over the following six centuries. At its zenith, Glendalough was one of the most powerful religious centres in Europe.

Glendalough Monastic Settlement, Co. Wicklow
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The Irish annals, a chronicle of Irish history, contain mentions of raids on the settlement and the deaths of its abbots. By the start of the Fifteenth century, this stronghold was in decline but the stone monuments and buildings remain as evocative and powerful today as they surely must have been then. In 1042, the second-longest Viking longship ever recorded was built using oak timber from Glendalough. Today, there is a replica of the ship, built in 2004, in Roskilde, Denmark. Glendalough is a destination on many of our tours of Ireland.

Insider Tips

If you're feeling extra adventurous, there's a scenic walk that gets you to Glendalough in about 15 minutes. You can park at the Glendalough Woollen Mills in Laragh and take the forest walk that leads behind the mills. See here for more information about parking in and around Glendalough.

3 Newgrange

History & Culture
Great Outdoors

A thousand years older than Stonehenge, Brú na Bóinne is a huge Neolithic necropolis, built to house the bodies of the social elites who ruled this region of ancient Ireland. Covering a large area, Brú na Bóinne is perhaps best known for three main sites - Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth (Dowth is closed to tourists). A must-see on any Ireland Tour. As well as being older than Stonehenge, Newgrange is also older than the Egyptian Pyramids. It is made up of roughly 200,000 tonnes of rock and other materials. At its widest point, it reaches 279 feet. Built between 3200 and 3100 BC, the majority of the 547 slabs that form the inner passage are thought to have come sites 5 km away and some coming as far as 20 km away.

Newgrange, Co. Meath
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Archaeologists believe that Newgrange would have taken the local Neolithic people a minimum of 30 years to finish. The original purpose of the structure is not clear. Some believe that it was used for burial purposes while others believe that it was used solely as a place of worship. Another theory is, that as the Neolithic people were sun worshippers, and that the sun's rays are perfectly captured through the passageway on the shortest day of the year (the Winter Solstice), that Newgrange was built as a way of paying homage to the sun.

Insider Tips

All visits to Brú na Bóinne start at the visitor centre, where a shuttle-bus service will collect you and take you to the most important sites. Be warned that tours of Newgrange and Knowth are limited to 750 places per day, while Brú na Bóinne as a whole attracts nearly three times this number during peak season. With no advance booking available, it pays to arrive early and be patient.

4 Clonmacnoise

Top Attraction
History & Culture
See it on our Tours

Perched on the banks of the River Shannon, Clonmacnoise is perhaps the foremost of Ireland's many monastic cities. For those interested in early Christianity, it is a must-see destination. Enclosed within the ancient city walls are various ecclesiastical ruins including a cathedral, seven ancient churches, three high crosses, round towers and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe - all remarkably well preserved and fascinating to anyone, not just those with a special interest in Ireland's religious history.

Clonmacnoise, County Offaly
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The cathedral is perhaps the most logical starting point after the museum. Built in 909AD, it has been significantly altered over the years. The 15th Century Gothic doorway with carvings of St Francis is worth a few minutes of closer scrutiny.

Clonmacnoise's small churches are known as temples; a derivation from the gaelic teampall. Each has its own distinctive character, and states of preservation vary significantly. Giving each of these sites the attention they deserve, not to mention the many sites outside the city walls, will not be easy for those bringing young families. But, for grown-ups interested in history, Clonmacnoise is a fascinating and vivid realisation of Ireland's past.

Insider Tips

Head first for the museum, an interactive multimedia experience housed in three conical huts designed to mirror the early dwellings of the region. The audiovisual presentation lasts 20 minutes but will provide important context for the rest of your time in Clonmacnoise.

5 Hill Of Tara

Top Attraction
History & Culture

The Hill of Tara was once the seat of the High Kings of Ireland. According to legend, a quarter of all the landscape of Ireland can be seen from atop the hill and, at one time, every road in Ireland led there. Before it was used by the High Kings of Ireland, archaeologists believe that the focus of the area was a Neolithic passage tomb, dating back to 3,200 BC. The inauguration stone of the King of Tara, known as the Stone of Destiny, still stands today, in an area known as The Royal Seat.

Hill of Tara, County Meath
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The Battle of Tara, which took place on the 26th of May 1798, saw the United Irishmen & Defenders suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of government forces. Two headstones on the hill commemorate the battle.

From 1899 to 1902 the land around the Hill of Tara was extensively excavated by a group known as the British Israelites. The excavations resulted from the group's belief that the Holy Covenant was buried there, based on a connection between the Bible, Ireland and Egypt. Nothing of interest was found.

Insider Tips

As the hill itself and the area surrounding it can be rather rugged and unkempt, it is advisable to bring a good pair of walking shoes. There are certain beaten tracks to take, but to get the best views from the hill or to just head off-road a bit it's best to have decent footwear.

6 Castletown House

Top Attraction
History & Culture

The eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish gentry left plenty of reminders of the opulence they enjoyed, as the Powerscourt Estate (above) will attest. But even among the many stately homes of Ireland, Castletown House stands out as Ireland's largest and most imposing Georgian estate.

Castletown House, County Kildare, East Ireland
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Built over a period of ten years from 1722, the house itself was to be the home of Ireland's richest man, William Conolly (1662-1729) who died three years before the house was completed. The speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Conolly was something of a rags-to-riches figure who had made his fortune from astute property trading in the flux which followed the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Insider Tips

This palatial mansion is built in the Italian style and retains a cohesive architectural identity despite the mixed contributions of first- and second-wave architects, not to mention Conolly's creative widow. Visitors will enjoy the Long Gallery, in particular, which houses a large number of impressive family portraits and stucco work by the Francinis.

7 Irish National Stud

Top Attraction
Horses & Equestrian
See it on our Tours

Just over a mile south of Kildare town, The Irish National stud is perhaps the biggest tourist attraction in this part of Ireland. In her historic 2011 visit to Ireland, Queen Elizabeth II fed her passion for all things equestrian by visiting the stud which is home to some of the world's finest horses. Owned by the Irish government, the stud breeds competition-quality stallions for breeding programs the world over.

Irish National Stud, Country Kildare
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Hourly guided tours of the stud bring you face-to-face with renowned stallions and feature a visit to the intensive-care unit for newly-born foals and visitors between February and June can even see foals being delivered.

Insider Tips

The Japanese Gardens are perhaps not large enough to merit a special visit in their own right, but they are very pretty and, when in bloom, add a very pleasant side note to the main attraction, the stud itself.

8 The Battle of The Boyne

Great for Returners
History & Culture

Fought in 1690 between two rival claimants of the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones, Catholic King James II and protestant King William III of Orange, the Battle of The Boyne would shore up the growing strength of Protestantism in Ireland, precipitating James's swift departure for safety in France.

Boyne, County Meath
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The battle itself was fought on a stretch of land between the counties of Meath and Louth which now belongs to the Oldbridge Estate Farm. On-site, there is a visitor centre with a short show, original and replica weapons, and a battlefield model. There is also a tea pavilion to which the battle-weary can retreat for hot drinks and cakes.

For information about great driving routes in this area, look up www.boynevalleyroute.com - a really useful resource for those considering a self-drive tour of East Ireland.

Insider Tips

Stop at Oldbridge House to pick up a map of the grounds. The gardens are free to visit, but there is a charge to see the house/museum (approx. €5 per adult).

9 Sally Gap

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Accessible by car, this is also one for the thousands of hillwalkers who visit Ireland each year. Sally Gap offers visitors some of the most beautiful scenery you will find anywhere on your tour of Ireland, so don't forget to bring your camera. Along the way, you'll find breath-taking views of the surrounding blanket bog and the stunning Wicklow Mountains. The road through Sally Gap, which to this day is still known as Military Road, was created by the British Army in 1798. The primary aim of the road was to flush opposition rebels from the hills.

Sally's Gap, County Wicklow
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Along Military Road, you'll find Glencree's Visitor Centre, which was originally used as a base by British soldiers guarding the pass. You'll also come across Glencree War Cemetery. The cemetery is Ireland's only German Military resting place, it contains the graves of Luftwaffe Air Force pilots who crash-landed in the area, and members of the Kriegsmarine Navy who would have washed up on the surrounding beaches.

Insider Tips

Early mornings can be a bit misty at the top, so wait until late morning or early afternoon to get the best views. Keep your eyes open for sheep in the road as you're driving.

10 Towns of the East

Great for Returners
Shopping & Souvenirs

The many small towns along Ireland's east coast are a dream for anyone wanting to uncover the real face of Ireland, known and loved by the locals.

Naas, County Kildare
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As just one example, while perhaps less well known for its own tourist attractions, Kildare Town remains a great little stop-off for those who want to experience the bustle of East-Ireland life.

Similarly, Trim in County Meath is a quaint town sitting the shadow of its dramatic castle and ruins. You'll find a busy bustle of little streets so look out for your souvenirs here. Also, look out for St Brigid's Cathedral before heading over to the Irish National Stud. Another town of note, 30 miles north of Dublin, Drogheda straddles the River Boyne. There is a great museum here and plenty of beautiful old buildings.

Insider Tips

Head for the local tourist information office to get a map of the town. Staff will be happy to give advice on where to find the shops and eateries which appeal to your group.

11 The Jealous Wall

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

The Jealous Wall is a 'sham-ruin' or folly, a building designed with no other reason apart from decoration, constructed in Belvedere House and Gardens, County Westmeath. It is one of three Gothic follies found on the gardens, along with the Gothic Arch & the Octagonal Gazebo.

Belvedere House and Gardens
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It is said to have been built by Robert Rochfort as a way to block the view of his brother George's house. George, apparently, had a nicer looking house.

Insider Tips

Dogs are welcome in some parts of the grounds, but not in the walled gardens. If you're bringing your four-legged friend, be sure to check at the Belvedere House on arrival.

12 Silver Strand Beach

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Revealing the location of this small beach could land us in some hot water with the locals. Silver Strand Beach, about a 10-minute drive from Wicklow Town, remains relatively unknown compared to the beaches closer to Dublin: Howth and Portmarnock. The difference between those two beaches and Silver Strand is that Silver Strand is never overcrowded and has silky smooth sand instead of fine course stones disguised as sand.

Silver Strand Beach
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The cliffs surrounding the beach keep the wind to a minimum and the blue water, combined with the silky sand, could trick you into thinking that you are on a beach in the Mediterranean... weather permitting of course.

Insider Tips

For an amazing view, head over to Wicklow Head lighthouse to capture some truly breathtaking views. A ten-minute drive or a 50-minute walk will bring you to this amazing outlook which links up nicely with Glen Beach cliff walk.

13 Lough Dan

Great for Returners
Great Outdoors

Lough Dan is a picturesque, boomerang-shaped, lake in County Wicklow. It remains relatively unknown by tourists but is hugely popular with locals for kayaking and hiking. Lough Dan has an average depth of 44ft.

Lough Dan, Ireland
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There are various small accommodation options in the area for the many visitors who find that one day just isn't enough in this truly idyllic setting.

Insider Tips

Pass the Scouts Centre and keep going to the entrance gate to the walking route. Continue past the big gates, the path will lead you to the lake and a beautiful white beach.

Irish National Stud, County Kildare

Getting to East Ireland

Arriving by Plane

Dublin Airport

The counties of Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow all share a border with Dublin, so travelling to them from Dublin Airport is relatively straight forward. The easiest way to travel from the airport to the other counties in the east is by car. This is to say if you are not planning to stop in Dublin City first. It is a tricky city to drive through let alone find parking in. A good option might be to travel from the airport by bus (route 747), take in all that Dublin City has to offer, hire a rental car and hit the highway. There is also a number of bus services heading to Dublin City from the airport, which in turn allows you to catch a bus to your chosen destination in the east. Once in Dublin City, you could also take the train from Hueston or Connolly stations to any of the other counties in the east. For more information see irishrail.ie

Public Transport

Bus and Train

The bus and train stations in the east of Ireland all use Dublin city as their hub when connecting with the rest of Ireland. For example, if you were to take a bus from county Wicklow to Galway city you would first travel north into Dublin City and then get a connecting bus west, towards Galway.

Arriving by Car

The road network in the east is, arguably, the best in Ireland. All the major roads in Ireland lead to Dublin, so it is understandable that the counties around Dublin get a little more upkeep and attention than others. Some of the county councils in the west, for example, argue that their roads have been neglected as a result. There is no doubt that if you are adamant about driving a car in Ireland, then the east would be the ideal region to do so. To drive from Dublin City to the major regions in the east of Ireland:

  • Wicklow Town (N11: 1h 5 mins)
  • Drogheda, County Louth (M1: 50 mins)
  • Naas, County Kildare (N7: 55 mins)
  • Trim, County Meath (R154 and M3: 55 mins)

Other Regions of Ireland