County Wicklow

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Few realise just how close the Dublin and Wicklow mountains are to Dublin and if your visit to Ireland is limited to the east coast, a trip to the so-called Garden of Ireland should be on your to-do list.
Wicklow is home to some of Ireland’s grandest country estates such as Powerscourt and Russborough as well as open mountainous terrain and dark forests. Glendalough, one of Ireland’s earliest Christian retreats is located here in a valley of woodland and lakes. The county also has several sandy beaches which are quite popular.

Blessington
This 17th Century village has a long, unbending main street lined with Georgian buildings. Blessington was a stop-off for the Dublin to Waterford mail coach until the mid-1800s and a steam train connected the village to Dublin until 1932. Nearby is Russborough House and Poulaphouca Reservoir.

How to Get to Blessington
The N81 will take you through some rather rough parts of Dublin before heading into the countryside and the journey takes about half an hour. There’s a daily Dublin Bus service.

Top Reasons to Visit

Poulaphouca Reservoir – Locally referred to as the Blessington Lakes, Poulaphouca (pool-a-foo-ka) is the main source of Dublin’s water. There are good walks and scenic drives in the area and you’ll find the especially beautiful Hollywood Glen to the south. Hollywood Inn is a good pub and decent food and you’ll spot a smaller version of the famous Hollywood sign overlooking the village here.
Location: Poulaphouca, County Wicklow

Piper’s Stones – 13 kilometres south of Blessington near Poulaphouca lies this stone circle which dates from the Bronze Age and is believed to have been used for sun worship.
Location: Poulaphouca, County Wicklow

Russborough House –This grand Palladian mansion was built in 1741 by Richard Castle and Francis Bindon on behalf of Joseph Leeson. The property, with a 213 metre long exterior, was renovated in 1952. Russborough was the scene of two of Ireland’s largest ever art heists including one by The General (perhaps Ireland’s most notorious criminal back in the day and the subject of three major movies) and also featured in the 2011 Michael Fassbender and Antonio Banderas starring Haywire.
Location: N81, County Wicklow

Accommodation

Rathsallagh House –There’s over 50 acres of parkland around this hotel which originated as a stable which was then converted to a farmhouse in 1798. The rooms are luxurious but their quality varies while the hotel books up quickly. Rathsallagh has a great dining room.
Rates: €200
Location: Dunlavin, County Wicklow

Sports and Other Activities – Hiking Church Mountain offers great views of the Blessington Lakes. Your trek begins at the southern tip of Hollywood Glen and takes you up through Woodenboley Wood, it takes about 50 minutes in all but is quite vigorous.
Location: Poulaphouca, County Wicklow

Bray

This town in north Wicklow was one of the earliest seaside resorts in Ireland and a huge influx of holidaying Dubliners when the town was linked to the capital by rail in 1854. Bray’s seaside, which has a two kilometre sandy beach and small harbour to the north has the appearance of an English coastal town but many of the hotels and amusements which were once here have now closed. It also has one of the nicest McDonald’s (yes, really) you’ll ever find, located in the old Town Hall.
There’s a nice board walk by the beach and good hiking trails to be found to the south.

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How to Get Here

From central Dublin it takes around half an hour, follow the N81 south before taking the M50 southbound, the M50 leads directly unto the M11 and use exit five then R761 to reach Bray. There’s also plenty of parking around the town.
There are regular DART train services and some Dublin Bus routes come through Bray as well.

Top Reasons to Visit

Killruddery House – Boasting a 17th Century formal garden and Victorian statuary, this has been the home of the Earls of Meath since 1618 but the house was remodelled in 1820 when the Brabazon family hired William Morris to reshape Killruddery in an Elizabethan revival style.

There’s also a Crystal Palace glasshouse which was modelled on those at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. There are events, such as an Easter egg hunt, throughout the year, and the tea house is a good spot for a snack.
Location: Killruddery, County Wicklow

National Sea Life Centre – This facility is dedicated to conservation and specialises the sea creatures that live in Irish waters. There are large tanks housing all kind of fish and other sea life as well as a major Seahorse breeding project. Sea Life has numerous interactive screens and games while FinZone is a great place for kids and the Nemo’s Kingdom coral reef tank has many of the creatures seen in Pixar’s animation. Fish feeding demonstrations are held regularly throughout the day.         Location: Strand Road, Bray, County Wicklow

One Martello Terrace – The Christmas feast in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was set in this house and that’s because writer James Joyce lived here. The house has been renovated but the dining room still possesses the spirit of when the book was written.
Location: 1 Martello Terrace, Bray, County Wicklow

Where to Eat

Campo de Fiori – From the outside, there’s little reason to suspect that this is one of Ireland’s authentic Italian gems. Old posters, fishing nets, and wine bottles line the walls and add an informal air to the place. Campo de Fiori’s pizzas and pastas are always worth investigating but so too are mains such as the suckling pig and roast potatoes. There’s also a large wine list and the Italian staff are always happy to help you match your vino with your meal.
Typical main: €18
Location: 1 Albert Avenue, Bray, County Wicklow

The Hungry Monk – This bistro likes to make fun of itself with it’s refectory inspired décor and cloisters. The menu has numerous seafood and game options such as the Seafood Symphony, a particular favourite, and the lamb and feta cheese burger is definitely worth checking out too. There’s a good atmosphere here and a fine Sunday lunch.
Typical main: €20
Location: 1 Church Road, Greystones, County Wicklow

Sports and Other Activities

There are many trails in Wicklow for walkers regardless of whether you’ve just started out hiking or have been doing it for years. There’s plenty of wild, fresh air here on more exposed mountain tops where there’s nothing about but gorse and heather while some of the country’s most beautiful woodlands can be found in the valleys.

Walking events are held throughout the year such as the Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival. This two day event centres on the Glenmalure area and entry costs €36 or €130 if you want to include B&B accommodation for two nights.

Bray Head – This 241 metre high rocky outcrop takes about an hour to climb but the trek is quite difficult. The path is well marked however, and there’s a three metre high cross at the top. You’re rewarded with fantastic views of both Wicklow and Dublin Bay from the summit and can continue onwards to Greystones if you’re so inclined.

The Wicklow Way –This 137 kilometre trail was one of the first long treks in Ireland and remains one the country’s best. Most of the trail is above 480 metres but it begins in Marlay Park in south Dublin before heading into the mountains. Along the way you’ll pass Rathgall, the stonewalled fort believed to have been home to the kings of Leinster, and the Mill of Purgatory at Aghowle Church. The Way ends in Clonegal.

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There are also much shorter walks available here and cycling tours are popular.

Powerscourt

Powerscourt is one of the finest of Ireland’s grandest county estates and gardens and the main reason people visit the village of Enniskerry which lies in the shadow of the Sugar Loaf Mountain, it helps too, that Enniskerry is one of Ireland’s prettiest villages.

How to Get Here

It takes about half an hour to reach Powerscourt from Dublin on the N81 and M50 southbound until you reach the M11 and exit for the R117 to Enniskerry and Powerscourt. There’s a bus from Dublin to Enniskerry though you’ll have to walk the rest of the way (1.6 kilometres).

Alternatively, you can take the DART to Bray and then hop on Dublin Bus route 185C, note however that not all 185 buses go to Powerscourt, only 185C. You can ask your driver when you get on whether you have the right bus.

Powerscourt House and Gardens – Set on 14,000 acres with a 122 metre high waterfall, the tallest in Ireland and Britain, this site was given to the first viscount of Powerscourt, Richard Wingfield by King James I in 1609. The house itself was built between 1731 and 1740 by Richard Castle, architect of Russborough House, in a grand Palladian style.

A fire destroyed much of the house in 1974 and the ballroom, still in it’s original condition, is the only room to truly give visitors a sense of what Powerscourt was once like. This room was based on Andrea Palladio’s design of the Egyptian Hall created by Vitruvius for Emperor Augustus in Rome.

The gardens, considered to be the finest in Europe, were created between 1745 and 1767 but were completely overhauled by Daniel Robertson from 1843 to 1875, Robertson was inspired by Sicily’s Villa Butera. There’s a Japanese garden, a fountain surrounded by statues of winged horses, specimen trees grown for exhibits, and sweeping terraces. There’s a café, craft shops, and a children’s play area.
You may have seen Powerscourt in movies such as the Count of Monte Cristo, King Arthur, and Ella Enchanted. TV shows including The Tudors have also used Powerscourt as a filming location.
Location: Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Powerscourt Waterfall – This 122 metre high waterfall is the tallest in the British Isles and has inspired many writers and artists over the years. It’s also possible to walk to the top.
Location: Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Where to Eat

Gordon Ramsey at Powerscourt – Scottish footballer turned TV chef Gordon Ramsey’s only restaurant in Ireland, you’ll find his influence throughout the menu. The restaurant has a low ceiling leading to a slightly overbearing atmosphere here but there’s a great view through the large windows which overlook a broad terrace.
There’s a good value six course tasting menu which will give you a great idea of the innovative food on offer. Starters on offer include salmon with lemongrass sauce and lobster ravioli which is an exceptional dish. The grilled Angus beef with caramelised shallots, watercress, and Portobello mushrooms is an excellent main course option. Booking is strongly advised.
Typical main: €34 Location: Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Poppies Country Cooking –A homely café with farmhouse furnishing perfect for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea. Poppies chicken, a casserole of sorts, and homity pie (a potpie created with potatoes, garlic, onion, and cream cheese) are most popular but you’ll also find shepherd’s pie, lasagna, potato cakes, vegetarian quiche, soups, and a house salad on the menu.
The apple pie and rhubarb crumble desserts are so good that the Irish rugby team has been known to stop by on occasion.
Typical main: €8
Location: The Square, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Accommodation

The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt – There’s luxury abound here and a glorious pool and spa as well as a great restaurant and fantastic views of Powerscourt’s environs and the Sugar Loaf. The exterior is somewhat exaggerated and it can feel very crowded sometimes while the garden rooms don’t offer particularly good views.
Rates: €230
Location: Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Sports and Other Activities

Golf
Druids Glen – Sometimes referred to as Europe’s Augusta in golfing circles, the Irish Open has been hosted here four times since Druids Glen opened in 1995. Comparisons to the home of the Masters is justified due to the layout and use of water on the course. This target-style course has an island green on it’s par three 17th  hole, just like the 17thhole at the Sawgrass Tournament Players Club.
Fees: €45-€85
Holes: 36
Par: 71 (on both courses)
Location: Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow

Powerscourt Golf Club – There are two courses here on the grounds of Powerscourt House and there are great views of both the Sugar Loaf and the Irish Sea to be found between the two hundred year old trees. The East course is the older and easier of the two (though still quite challenging), some holes have the characteristics of a links course despite being a parkland course in general and the tiered greens will challenge even the best golfers.
The West course is aimed at top level golf tournaments and is even tougher than the East course.
Fees: €49-€65
Holes: 36
Par: 72 (on both courses)
Location: Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Roundwood
Situated 243 metres above sea level, Roundwood is Ireland’s highest village but is also located in a region of breath-taking natural beauty. Not too much happens here but there is a market each Sunday afternoon in the village hall selling cakes and such. Eight kilometres away are Lough Dan and Lough Tay, two lakes nestled between the Wicklow Mountains like the fjords of Norway.

How to Get Here

Take the N81 and then the M50 south from Dublin until you reach the M11 and use exit 12 for the R772 to Newtownmountkennedy and then turn right to reach Roundwood on the R765.

Where to Eat

Roundwood Inn – With dark furnishings, wooden floors, and windows shaped like diamonds you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back to the 17th Century. The cream of seafood soup is a must and the Roundwood Inn serves fairly priced, hearty lunches and dinners. The restaurant opens only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The seafood platter and pheasant casserole are good choices.
Typical main: €17
Glendalough

How to Get Here

The R115 is the more scenic route but it will take almost two hours while the M11 takes an hour, there are also few road signs if you do choose to go this way.

Top Reasons to Visit

Glendalough –Glendalough (glen of the two lakes) is located in a deep valley in the Wicklow Mountains amid acres of windswept gorse and clumps of forest and that cling onto the rugged mountains. It’s best to arrive before the hordes of visitors later in the day to truly appreciate the serenity which inspired the construction of one of Ireland’s principal monastic sites.

Saint Kevin lived as a hermit here before opening his monastery in 550 and the site remained in active use until 1398 when it was plundered by English soldiers. There’s a visitor centre where you can orientate yourself before heading out to see the ruins or walk along the lake.
Teampaill na Skellig, which translates as Church of the Oratory, is thought to be the oldest building on the site, dating back to the time of Saint Kevin. Further to the east is St. Kevin’s Bed, a small cave where he lived out his hermit years though this spot is not easily reached. While a boat can take you to the cliff face, scaling up it is sometimes treacherous.
The 11th Century Reefert Church sits by the upper lake beside the ruins of the nave and chancel. A beehive hut nearby was used by Saint Kevin after the monastery opened and represented its original boundary.
The lower lake ruins include the gateway by the Glendalough Hotel, is the sole remaining entrance to any holy site in Ireland. There’s a well preserved six story round tower dating from the 11th or 12th centuries the entrance to which is over six metres from the ground. A large graveyard can also be found here while the largest building on the site is cathedral dating from the 7th to 9th centuries including a nave, chancel, and ornamental window.
A 3.3 metre high cross, St. Kevin’s, is located nearby, made from granite, it is the site’s preserved cross.
Location: Glendalough County Wicklow

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Accommodation

Derrymore House – This B&B is family owned and operated (they also live here) and has Victorian beds but the décor is plain and you’ll need to book early.
Rates: €80
Location: Roundwood, County Wicklow
Mount Usher Gardens

How to Get Here

Mount Usher Gardens is less than an hour’s drive from Dublin on the N81, M50, and M11 to exit 15 where you’ll take the R772 as far as Ashford before turning left and arriving at the gardens. There’s a regular Bus Eireann service between Ashford and Dublin.

Top Reasons to Visit

Mount Usher Gardens – These gardens spanning over 20 acres along the River Vartry were designed by Edward Walpole, a textile magnate, in 1868. There are now more than 5,000 varieties of plants including azaleas, camellias, eucalyptus, and rhododendrons. There are small suspension bridges across the river which can be seen from almost every point in the gardens.
A bookstore, craft shops, and a café can be found at the entrance.
Mount Usher isn’t far from the villages of Ashford, Rathnew, and Newtownmountkennedy.
Location: Ashford, County Wicklow

Accommodation

Hunter’s Hotel –With two acres of flower gardens, including the award winning Knot Garden, Hunter’s is the oldest surviving coaching inn in the country. There’s a fine restaurant and pleasant atmosphere but the rooms aren’t too large and it’s quite a small hotel (only 16 rooms) meaning it books up fast.
Rates: €130
Location: Newrath Bridge, Rathnew, County Wicklow

Wicklow Town
Wicklow takes its name from the Danish words wykingalo meaning Viking Meadow, a testament to the town’s ancient origin. There’s also a medieval Franciscan friary in the town, which was at the heart of the 1798 Rebellion. A memorial to Billy Byrne, who led the rebels in the town before being caught and executed nearby, can be found in Market Square.

How to Get Here

The drive takes 50 minutes from Dublin on the N81, M50, and M11/N11 which leads you directly to the town. Parking is abundant and there are daily bus and train services connecting Wicklow with the capital.
Visitor Information
Wicklow Tourist Office – Location: Rialto House, Fitzwilliam Square, Wicklow Town, County Wicklow

Top Reasons to Visit

Black Castle –Just south of the harbour lie the ruins of Black Castle which was constructed by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1169. The remnants of the fort cover a wide area and it’s possible, though a bit tricky, to walk down to the shore.
Location: Wicklow Head, County Wicklow

Franciscan Friary – The English Reformation of the 16th Century closed this monastery, ask at the nearby priest’s house to see the ruins.
Location: Main Street, Wicklow Town, County Wicklow
Wicklow Protestant Church (Church of Ireland) – This church sits between the Dublin Road and the River Vartry. There’s fine 12th Century stonework, a quiet graveyard, and a Romanesque door at this chapel. An odd, onion shaped cupola was added in one corner in 1771 as an afterthought.
Location: Dublin Road, Wicklow Town, County Wicklow

Wicklow Harbour – The harbour is Wicklow’s most appealing feature and a bridge over the Vartry connects to a second, shorter pier. A shingle beach stretches for five kilometres and the area is known for its wildfowl, particularly around the lagoon.
Location: Wicklow Town, County Wicklow

Wicklow’s Historic Gaol – Overlooking Market Square, this former jail turned heritage centre and museum has facilities for genealogical research. A combination of actors, interactive displays, life-sized models help recreate what it was like to be incarcerated between the 1798 Rebellion and the end of the 19th Century.
Location: Market Square, Wicklow Town, County Wicklow

Where to Eat

The Strawberry Tree – This organic certified restaurant is located in the BrookLodge Hotel is a classy French establishment with fine mahogany furniture, a midnight blue walls, and a mirrored ceiling. The Big Table sits up to 40 and part of the feast served here includes wood pigeon terrine, guinea fowl, and carrot and orange sorbet. There’s a huge wine cellar to explore too.
Typical main: €35
Location: Brook Lodge Hotel, Macreddin Road, Macreddin Village, County Wicklow

Accommodation

Wicklow Head Lighthouse – A 29 metre high tower constructed in 1781 was renovated in recent years by the Irish Landmark Trust. There are only two rooms meaning you need to book well in advance and the maximum stay is two nights. There are a lot of stairs to climb but some spectacular views are on offer and it’s not too expensive if you’re part of a group.
Rates: €240
Location: Dunbar Head, Wicklow Head, County Wicklow

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