In Ireland's Ancient 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?
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.
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 18th-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.
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. Set amidst the Powerscourt Estate and its grounds, you will also find a hotel, a cafe, several homeware and gift shops, two golf courses and a distillery. A 6km drive from the house will take you to the Powerscourt Waterfall, Ireland's highest Waterfall. Walking to the Waterfall is not recommended as there are no footpaths next to the road.
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.
Powerscourt is located only 35 minutes from Dublin. You will get a map containing different walks around the garden when buying a ticket.
Opening hours for the gardens are 9:30 to 17:30 and for the Waterfall 9:30 to 19:00 in the summer months. Find the most up-to-date information on the opening times of the Gardens, Café, Waterfall, Garden Pavilion and Distillery here.
Gardens: €11.50 for adults, children under 5 are free and a family ticket costs €26 (2 adults & 3 children). You can buy your tickets online or at the estate itself.
Separate entry tickets have to be bought to see the Waterfall. A ticket costs €6.50 for adults, children under 2 are free and a family ticket is €16 (2 adults & 3 children). Tickets have to be purchased on arrival and can not be purchased online.
A tour of the Distillery and Warehouse, lasting 75 minutes, costs €25 per person.
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.
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.
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.
The visitor centre car park may be closed early in the morning or late in the evening, but you can access the monastic site and lakes at any moment of the day all year round. Find out more about the opening hours of Glendalough Visitor Centre.
There is no admission fee to visit the monastic site or the lakes however, there are parking charges for the Visitor Centre car park and an admission fee for the Visitor Centre.
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 from sites 5 km away and some coming as far as 20 km away.
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 the sun's rays are perfectly captured through the passageway on the shortest day of the year (the Winter Solstice), Newgrange was built as a way of paying homage to the sun.
The exhibition at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre tells the history of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. You will find a full-scale replica of the chamber of Newgrange here and a full model of a smaller tomb at Knowth. The visitor centre has recently received a major update.
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. Arrive early or visit midweek. There is an online booking system for groups with 14 or fewer people.
You can enter a free lottery to win a chance to witness the sunrise on winter solstice between December 18 and 23 by filling out a form at the visitor centre.
All visits to Newgrange and Knowth start at the Brú na Bóinne visitor centre, where a shuttle-bus service will collect you and take you to the most important sites. The world heritage site is about a 45-minute drive from Dublin. We recommend you to allow plenty of time for a visit to the visitor centre (1 hour) and Newgrange (2 hours). The monuments themselves are outdoors, so be sure to check the weather and dress appropriately.
To find out more details regarding the opening hours please have a look at their website.
A visit to the visitor centre combined with a tour of the Newgrange Chamber will cost €18 per adult, €12 for children up to 17 and children under 12 go free. Tickets for seniors are €16 and a family ticket (2 children & 2 adults) is €48.
Organised day tours to Newgrange, Hill of Tara and Knowth are available departing from Dublin in the morning and returning to Dublin in the late afternoon. Booking Mary Gibbons Tour will let you skip the line and guarantee access to the monuments of Newgrange and Knowth. A seat on the bus will cost €45 per adult.
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.
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.
Head for the museum first, an interactive multimedia experience housed in three conical huts designed to mirror the early dwellings of the region.
You can also travel down to Clonmacnoise by boat from Athlone. Viking tours run boat journeys to Clonmacnoise and bus transfers back to Athlone.
The average duration of a visit to Clonmacnoise is around an hour and a half. Guided tours in different languages are available. The audiovisual presentation in the museum lasts 20 minutes and provides important context for the rest of your time in Clonmacnoise. The museum also houses the largest collection of early Christian grave slabs in Europe and the original high crosses.
Open from 9:00 to 18:30 from June to August, from 10:00 to 18:00 in mid-March to May, September & October and from 10:00 to 17:30 in November to mid-March.
An entry ticket costs €8 for an adult and €4 for a child.
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.
The Battle of Tara, which took place on the 26th of May 1798, saw the United Irishmen & Defenders suffer 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.
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.
Recommended duration of a visit to the Hill of Tara is between 1 and 2 hours.
There is no admission fee to access the Hill. However, admission to the visitor centre with a guided tour is €5 for an adult and €3 for a child. A guided tour will help you get a deeper understanding of the archaeological site and its history.
The 18th-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.
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.
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.
Take a walk down to the river for wonderful views of the house.
If you have children with you, they might want to meet the Castletown's fairies on a clue hunting trail through the parklands.
There is an hour-long guided tour of the house twice a day. Self-guided tours are also available (ground floor only). Download the self-guiding information leaflet here.
The river walks, parklands and car park are open from 7:00 to 22:00 every day during summer. The House is opened Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00 with last entry at 16:45.
There is no admission fee if you just want to explore the parklands. Find the most up-to-date information on admission fees here.
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.
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.
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.
There are daily guided tours of the stud. Self-guided leaflets in 15 languages are available for the Japanese Gardens, Saint Fiachra's Garden and the Irish Racehorse Experience. You can just ask for them at the reception.
Open on Monday - Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00 (last admission) from November until December and from 10:00 to 18:00 from January until November 1st. The car park closes at 18:15 sharp.
Ticket for an adult costs €14 and 8 for a child (under 16). Children under 3 are free.
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.
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.
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).
The battle site is located about 6 km to the west of Drogheda. You will find a visitor centre and parkland walks at the battle site. At the visitor centre, housed in the 18th century Oldbridge House, you can watch an audiovisual film, explore a laser battle site model and find real and replica weaponry.
The visitor centre is open daily from May to September from 10:00 to 16:30. And in October to April from 9:00 to 16:00.
The exit gate of the car park closes at 19:00 sharp.
An adult ticket will cost €5, a ticket for a child/student €3 (children under 12 are free) and a ticket for a senior will cost €4.
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 breathtaking 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The counties of Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow all share a border with Dublin, so travelling to them from Dublin Airport is relatively straightforward. 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
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. Check out the website of Transport for Ireland to help you plan your journey.
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:
Adare is a small town in Co. Limerick, known for its quaint and colourful thatched cottages. Adare is considered to be one of Ireland's most beautiful towns so stop and take in the view. Don't forget your camera today - the perfect chance to capture the essence of old Ireland.
Explore Adare Village along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Take a journey through this once troubled city. See the murals of the Loyalist Shankill Road & Nationalist Falls Road. The Troubles took their toll on the economic life of Belfast, but the past ten years of peace have returned much prosperity while the genuine friendliness of the city never left.
Originally built in 1823, Blarney Woollen Mills was mainly used for the spinning and weaving of wool. After it closed in 1973, it reopened in 1975 — as an Irish heritage shop.
The Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre commemorates the last pitched battle fought on British soil, in April 1746. Learn more about the Jacobite intent to overthrow the House of Hanover and return the House of Stuart to the British throne.
Located within Glenveagh National Park, Glenveagh Castle was built by Captain John George Adair between 1870 and 1873. Having made his fortune through land speculation in America, Adair return to Ireland and began large amounts of land in County Donegal. The castle was built in the Scottish Baronial style and is surrounded by a garden and commands stunning views of the nearby mountains, lakes, woodlands and valleys.
About Highland Folk Museum is a museum and open-air attraction located in the Scottish Highlands. It is designed to showcase the domestic and working lives of the early highland people.
Located alongside the River Shannon in County Limerick, on King's Island. Dating back to 922, to a time when Vikings were the inhabitants of the island (Thormodr Helgason, the Viking sea-king, built the first settlement here. The castle itself was built in 1200, under the instruction of King John of England.
Located close to the Killarney National Park, Moriarty's is an Authentic Irish Gift Store and Restaurant. Hand crafted Irish jewellery, Waterford Crystal and classic and modern tweed fashions and furnishings are all on offer at the gift store. The restaurant is an 85 seater offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Mount Congreve Gardens. Located in Kilmeaden, County Waterford, Mount Congreve Gardens is an 18th century Georgian estate and mansion. It was designed by the same architect that created both of Waterford's cathedrals, John Roberts.
Recently recognised as being one of the top 10 gardens in the world, Mount Stewart is a rich tapestry of planting plant life and stunning walking trails. The house dates back to the 19th century, and was the Irish seat of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family.
Located on the grounds of the expansive and idyllic Killarney National Park. Muckross House, and its 11,000-acre grounds, was donated to the Irish state in 1932.
Located on the grounds of the picturesque Muckross House and its impeccable gardens. Take a step back in time and see the Irish farming lifestyle of the 1930s and '40s. A time when the horse was responsible for much of the labour and the weather was the be all and end all in terms of production.
The Quiet Man Museum. A reproduction of the quaint thatched cottage from the John Wayne starring, John Ford directed movie of the same name. all costumes, artifacts and furnishings have been recreated in precise detail, to reflect the setting of the 1952 classic. Located in the picturesque village of Cong, County Mayo.