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County Wicklow, Ireland

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide View of Mountains from Powerscourt

Lying south of Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains are an unspoiled paradise largely unknown outside Ireland. With eerie ruins, stately mansions and hiking trails, the Wicklows are an ideal spot for a quick weekend jaunt out of the city.

On a clear day in Dublin, if you look south from any high point in the city, you will be in for a surprise – a mountain range looms in the distance. Only an hour from center city, the Wicklow Mountains draw Dubliners in large numbers but remain wild and largely undeveloped. While they may not be particularly high – the tallest peak is Lugnaquilla at just over 3,000 feet – the lack of development and sparse population give the feeling of setting foot in another country entirely.

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide Sugarloaf MountainThe Wicklow Way

The countryside outside Dublin begins as gently rolling hills, quickly becoming wild and mountainous, ideal for hiking. The best known trail, is the 79 mile long Wicklow Way (website), surprisingly the oldest hiking trail in Ireland since it was only established in 1980.

Hiking the Wicklow Way from end to end will take about 8 to 10 days and lead you from the southern Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham across the Wicklow uplands, through the rolling hills of southwest County Wicklow down to Clonegal in County Carlow.  The trail passes over mountain peaks, through farms and forests and even provides a stunning view of Powerscourt Waterfall, Ireland’s highest waterfall. Shorter hikes on the trail are also popular, with the Wicklow Way Bus picking up and dropping off hikers at designated towns – prior booking is required (website).

Powerscourt

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide Powerscourt house

Powerscourt (Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, website), considered one of the finest country estates in Ireland, is a must visit for its extensive gardens and mountain views.

In the early 18th Century, well regarded architect Richard Castle was commissioned by owner Richard Wingfield, then Marshal of Ireland for the British government, to build a mansion on the site of a 14th Century Castle. Castle was an adherent of Palladian design, an architectural style popular at that time that was developed by Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, itself based on classic Greek and Roman designs, and the resulting building was a classical structure with clean lines and a grand entrance. In the ensuing centuries, an extensive series of gardens were developed and expanded.

Today, the ground’s highlights are the Italian Garden, which is a majestic terraced space full of statues and sculpture, and the Japanese Garden, which sits on a reclaimed bog.  Rows of flowers bloom in season in the Walled Garden while the Pet’s Cemetery features headstones for each of the family’s beloved pets. The house itself is closed off except for Sundays and Mondays (the latter open in summer only), when you can peek into the Garden Rooms and Ballroom. Three and a half miles away is Powerscourt Waterfall (website), reachable by a moderately difficult hiking trail.

Hours: Gardens 9:30am – 5:30am daily (closed Dec 25 & 26), Garden Rooms and Ballroom Sundays 9:30am – 1:30pm, Mondays 9:30am – 1:30pm (May – September); Waterfall (Nov – Feb) 10:30am – 4pm, (Mar – Apr, Sept – October) 10:30am – 5pm, (May – August) 9:30am – 7pm. Waterfalls closed 2 weeks prior to Christmas

Admission: Gardens – Adults €8, Students/Seniors €7, Under 16 €5, Under 5 Free; Waterfall –  Adults €5, Students/Seniors €4.50, Under 16 €3.50, Under 2 Free

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide Glendalough ruinsGlendalough

County Wicklow’s best known attractions are Glendalough’s ruins of the Monastery of St. Kevin, which date back to the 6th Century. Set in a well-protected valley with two lakes, the monastery survived for centuries before being destroyed by the English in 1398.

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide Glendalough Cemetery

Today the ruins feature a number of well preserved sites, including the famous round tower, which stands nearly 100 feet tall. Several  churches are on site, including the well preserved St. Kevin’s Church. An eerie graveyard is the final resting place for former residents of the monastery.

Hours: Mid-October to Mid-March 9:30am – 5pm, Mid-March to Mid-October 9:30am – 6pm.

Admission: Adults €3, Seniors €2, Kids €1, Family €8

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide Tudor Lodge river view

Where to Stay

Tudor Lodge (Laragh, Glendalough, +353 (0) 404 45554, website) is a modern B&B nestled next to the Avondale River less than a mile from Glendalough. The rooms are comfortable with TVs and wi-fi. Rates start at €40 per person, including breakfast.

Eat & Drink

The Wicklow Heather (+353 (0) 404 45 157, website) is a restaurant and guest house in the middle of Laragh. The restaurant specializes in locally raised lamb and beef as well as game – the wild venison sausages are not to be missed – not to mention delicious Irish cheeses. An Irish whiskey bar makes for a fine after dinner spot.

The Heather House next door offers B&B accommodations with mountain views. Doubles with breakfast are  €75.

County Wicklow, Ireland Travel Guide Russborough HouseBlessington

Blessington Lakes are a popular summer destination for Dubliners. These reservoirs, which  supply water for Dublin, were built in the 1940s and today attract boaters and fishermen.

Nearby is the quaint town of Blessington, most famous for Russborough House (website). Construction on this stately building began in 1741 and took 10 years, resulting in the country’s longest building façade. Like Powerscourt, the house was designed by architect Richard Castle in the Palladian style. The austere exterior is made of silver-grey granite while the ornate interior has rooms full of Italian marble and limestone. Today you can take a tour to visit furnished rooms full of artworks from the Beit Foundation, though not the most famous works, which can be found at the National Gallery of Ireland. A number of paintings from the collection were returned to Russborough House from the museum in April 2008, including four signature works from Claude Joseph Vernet.

Hours: Daily May 1 – September 30th 10am – 6pm, Tours on the hour, last tour 5pm; Open Sundays and holidays Mid-March – May 1 and October. Closed November – Mid-March.

Admission: Adults €10, Students & Seniors €8, Under 16 €5, Maze €3

Practicalities

Getting There: County Wicklow is directly south of Dublin and easily reached by car, train or bus. The Glendalough Bus Company (website) serves Kilmacanogue (near Enniskery), Roundwood, Laragh and Glendalough. To reach the Wicklow Way, take Bus No. 16 from Dublin to Marlay Park.

When to Visit: The weather can be quite changeable at any time of the year. For the best weather, visit in May through August. Expect snow in winter and some facilities to be closed between October and Easter.

Visitor Info: VisitWicklow.ie

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