[Irish Castles] 15 Best Castles In Ireland You Should Visit
Explore the best castles in Ireland on your next visit to immerse yourself in the Emerald Isle’s storied past. You could thus walk in the footsteps of generations of Irish clans, warriors, and nobility.
An Irish castle tour could teach you about the ruins and fortresses that are shrouded in myths and legends. Walk through lush gardens or admire the scenery from the tops of stony towers.
Today, Ireland has over 30,000 castles and ruins, the majority of which date from the 12th to 16th centuries. Visiting a few (or all) of them will allow you to learn about Irish history firsthand. Your only difficulty may be narrowing down your must-see list.
To assist you, read this guide to the best castles to visit in Ireland. Discover where to stop on your Irish tour, from mysterious cliff-side ruins to the best-preserved fortresses in the country.
1. Dublin Castle is located in County Dublin
Best for: Studying Irish democracy
Whether you’re in town for a weekend or just getting started on your Ireland self-drive tour, you should spend some time exploring Dublin. Dublin, Ireland’s capital, is a vibrant, colorful, and welcoming city with plenty to see, including Dublin Castle.
This central structure is located just south of the River Liffey, which was a strategic location for a fortress back in the day. It was the site of Celtic and Viking forts throughout the ages before becoming England’s seat of administration for nearly 700 years.
When Ireland gained independence, it was handed over to the Irish government. Today, it still houses much of the government, but it is also a popular tourist attraction in the capital city, along with the nearby Chapel Royal.
You can walk around the grounds for free, but you must purchase tickets in advance. Other historic buildings in the city include Trinity College Dublin’s campus and the famous St Patrick’s Cathedral.
2. Malahide Castle in Dublin County
Best for: Visiting Ireland’s National Portrait Gallery
Malahide Castle, located just north of Dublin, could also be visited during a short city break to the capital. For generations, the Talbot family lived in this 800-year-old fashionable mansion.
You can admire the various architectural styles of this fortress as it has been extended and adapted over time. One of the most notable features is the Norman tower house, which is the oldest part of Malahide Castle.
Inside, don’t miss the fully wood-paneled Oak Room, which dates back to the 1600s, and the Great Hall, which was built in 1495. The Great Hall is said to be Ireland’s only one of its kind that has retained its medieval features. It also includes a large painting of the Battle of the Boyne, a pivotal battle in Irish history.
Malahide Castle also has a large collection of Irish portrait paintings. The National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the National Gallery of Ireland, is comprised of these.
3. Trim Castle in County Meath
Best for: Immersing yourself in Anglo-Norman history
Trim is a charming town located inland from Malahide and Dublin. The largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland can be found here. According to legend, St. Patrick first established a monastery here in the 5th century.
Trim Castle was built in the 12th century, but its original wooden structure has long since vanished. Today, you can visit a large stone fortress from the 13th century that spans over 3 acres of land. Explore the fortified walls and the impressive central keep.
The castle was used as a filming location for the film Braveheart, which is about Scottish hero William Wallace.
4. Ashford Castle in Galway County
Best for: A luxurious getaway
Spend the night in a luxury hotel or simply visit and dine at the impressive Ashford Castle. This castle, located just north of Galway City, has 800 years of history and was the former home of the Guinness family.
It has hosted many notable figures over the years and centuries, including kings and presidents. Following extensive restoration, Ashford has retained its position as one of Europe’s top hotels.
5. County Galway’s Dunguaire Castle
Best for: Having a true castle banquet.
Dunguaire Castle is located just south of Galway. This beautifully restored fortress sits on a small rocky outcrop along the Galway Bay shoreline.
Dunguaire was built in the 1500s, but it was purchased and repaired by Oliver St John Gogarty in the early twentieth century.
Because Gogarty was a well-known literary figure in Ireland, the castle became a focal point and meeting place for Irish literary revivalists. During that time, writers such as W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and J.M. Synge visited Dunguaire.
Before the castle became a heritage site, extensive repairs were completed later in the 1950s. Today, you can learn about the inhabitants’ lifestyles from the 16th century on, as well as the castle’s literary ties, during your visit. A castle banquet could even provide entertainment and traditional food.
6. Aran Islands, Dun Aengus
Best for: Seeing a one-of-a-kind prehistoric fort
Dun Aengus (or “Dn Aonghasa”) differs from the other castles on this list. Not only because of its prehistoric origins, but also because it is the only one that is not located on the mainland. You must sail to the western Aran Islands to see this magnificent and windswept fort.
If you have the time, this is a great day trip to add to your itinerary to immerse yourself in the island culture. You will be able to learn about the Gaelic traditions that still exist in these parts.
Dun Aengus is located on Inishmore, the largest of the islands. What remains of this prehistoric fort can be found along the island’s southern edge, surrounded by sheer sea cliffs that overlook the powerful Atlantic Ocean.
You can visit the visitor center when you arrive. You’ll have a 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) walk on an uphill and rocky path before arriving at Dun Aengus.
The fort is built with three layers of defense walls and “chevaux-de-frise,” which are bands of jagged stones that function similarly to barbed wire.
Excavations revealed that the fort is over 3,000 years old and was most likely refortified around 700-800 AD. Prehistoric metalworking, artifacts, dwellings, and burial sites have also been discovered.
Another claim to notoriety? Dun Aengus is regarded as one of Europe’s finest examples of prehistoric fortifications, making it well worth the detour.
7. County Clare’s Bunratty Castle
Best for: Exploring Ireland’s most complete castle.
Bunratty Castle is a must-see on any trip to Ireland. It is widely regarded as the most complete and authentic castle still standing in the country today.
The fortress was built by Irish nobility in the 15th century. But the site had been occupied for a long time before that. According to legend, this location has been occupied for at least 1,000 years, beginning as a Viking trading post in 970. There are also traces of Norman occupation and conquest here.
The castle was restored to its former glory during the 1960s. When you go, you’ll get a great look into Ireland’s history throughout the ages.
8. King John’s Castle in Limerick County
Best for: Researching Viking and Norman history
King John’s Castle is located in the heart of Limerick on the aptly named King’s Island. The imposing castle, which overlooks the River Shannon, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
During your visit, you will learn about centuries of history dating back to 1210. In fact, the Vikings arrived in the area in the early ninth century. A few years later, Viking leader Thormodu Helgason established a base near where the castle now stands.
On-site, pre-Norman features have also been discovered. This is when early defense systems, ramparts, and ditches were built.
What is the significance of the name King John’s Castle? Although it is commonly referred to as Limerick Castle, it was officially named after King John, Lord of Ireland. He was the younger brother of Richard the Lionheart, a famous king associated with legends such as Robin Hood. King John built the castle in this location for defensive purposes.
In the courtyard, you’ll find interactive exhibitions and medieval games during your visit. All of this is done to transport you back in time and teach you about the castle’s history.
In addition, if you’re driving the Wild Atlantic Way, an iconic Irish coastal route, you can make the castle one of your stops.
9. Ross Castle in County Kerry
Exploring the heart of Killarney National Park is ideal.
Ross Castle is a must-see if you’re in Killarney or traveling along the famous Ring of Kerry. This is another 15th-century fortress with a stunning location on the shores of Lough Leane.
The castle consists of a tower fortress with round turrets set within a defensive wall.
You could learn about the myths surrounding it during your visit. Legends had it that the castle could only be conquered by strange ships from the lake. Because this was unimaginable at the time, these were only stories.
Cromwell’s English forces did, however, launch an attack from the lake in 1652, having dragged boats all the way here to fire artillery from the water. During this battle, the castle was destroyed. During your visit, you will be able to walk through the history and admire the scenic views of the lake.
10. Blarney Castle in County Cork
Most suitable for: Receiving the gift of eloquence (or learning about Irish folklore)
Blarney Castle is one of the most well-known in Ireland, thanks to the legend surrounding the Blarney Stone. It is situated on the outskirts of Cork city. Blarney Castle is a must-see whether you’re in town for a visit or passing through on your way to somewhere else.
The current medieval stronghold dates from the 1400s, but there are still traces of earlier structures dating back before the 1200s. You’re in for a scenic visit with the woodlands surrounding the castle. Why not take a walk around the grounds and look for the standing stones?
The Stone of Eloquence, however, is the true highlight of Blarney. To see it, climb to the top of the tower or kiss it! According to legend, if you kiss the stone, you will be given the “gift of gab” and will never be at a loss for words again.
10. Cahir Castle in County Tipperary
Best for: Seeing one of Ireland’s best-preserved castles.
Visit Cahir Castle to see an impressive fortress that dates back to the 13th century. When visiting Cahir, you won’t be able to miss the castle, which stands proudly on a rocky island by the River Suir. In fact, it’s only a few steps away from the main street.
The fortification that still stands today is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in the country. That means you’ll get a firsthand look at how strongholds were constructed in the past.
It was even thought to be unbeatable until the 16th century due to its strong and effective design. However, it was taken over by the Earl of Essex and then again during the Irish Confederate Wars.
However, much of the original structure has survived and can be seen today. Don’t miss the exhibitions and shows that will give you a glimpse into Cahir Castle’s history.
It even highlights the various films in which Cahir has appeared, such as Excalibur with Liam Neeson and The Tudors television series.
12. Cashel Rock, County Tipperary
The best place to learn about historical and religious legends
On your tour of Ireland, you could also stop by the mysterious Rock of Cashel, which is only a 20-minute drive from Cahir Castle. This is another medieval site rich in legends and myths.
Indeed, the Rock of Cashel is said to have been an important royal and religious site for centuries. St. Patrick’s Rock is also known as the Cashel of the Kings. According to legend, it was here in the 5th century that St. Patrick himself converted the King of Munster.
You’ll quickly realize why it was such an important and iconic location during your visit. The spectacular group of buildings stands out in the town skyline, perched above a limestone hill. As you walk through the Rock of Cashel, you can see 12th and 13th-century structures such as a round tower, chapel, cathedral, and castle.
13. Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny County
Best for: Those who appreciate Victorian architecture and style.
Kilkenny is a must-see stop on your Irish adventure. It’s also a convenient stopover if you’re returning to Dublin from the west coast.
You won’t want to miss the impressive Kilkenny Castle while you’re in town. It has one of the longest occupation histories of any castle or building in Ireland. Built during the Norman conquest of the Emerald Isle, you can see how it has evolved over time.
The interiors are mostly Victorian today, with lavish portrait galleries, libraries, drawing rooms, bedrooms, and stately dining rooms, among other things.
Not only that, but step outside to appreciate the magnificent estate. When the government took over maintenance, more than 51 acres of parkland were opened to the public. The castle also has a formal garden with paths, statues, and water features, reminiscent of any grand estate.
Northern Ireland’s castles
Finally, if you’re crossing into Northern Ireland, here are a few additional castles to consider. A grand tour of the entire Emerald Isle is an excellent way to learn about Irish culture and history.
If you include Northern Ireland in your itinerary, you can see the capital Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway, and walk along the Glens of Antrim.
14. County Antrim, Belfast Castle
Best for: Taking in the sights of Belfast and its environs.
While in Northern Ireland’s capital, you could explore the country park that houses Belfast Castle. The imposing castle, which sits on a hill overlooking Belfast, is one of the city’s most well-known landmarks.
Belfast’s first castle was built in the 12th century, but this one dates from the 1860s. Today, it’s mostly used as an event and wedding venue, but you can eat lunch or dinner at one of the on-site restaurants.
Visit the Cave Hill Country Park, which surrounds the castle, as well as the Cave Hill Visitor Centre. Enchanting woodlands and gardens teeming with wildlife can be found here. The Belfast Zoo is also close by.
15. Dunluce Castle, County Antrim
Best for: Admiring Ireland’s northern coast.
Last but not least is Dunluce Castle, which is located along the coast near the famous Giant’s Causeway. Because of its convenient location, it’s an easy add-on to any day trip to Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction.
Consider atmospheric ruins, sheer sea cliffs, and crashing waves on the rocks. When you visit Dunluce Castle, you’ll get all of this and more. You can learn about the mysterious history that connects Scotland and Ireland at this ancient fortress, which was once at the heart of clan warfare.
Dunluce was built in the 1500s by the MacQuillan family of Scotland. Soon after, it was taken over by the MacDonnell clan before becoming the seat of the Earls of Antrim in the 17th century.
Topic: [Irish Castles] 15 Best Castles In Ireland You Should Visit
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By: Travel Pixy