The 11 Best Castles in Ireland You Must Visit (2020)

Here are the best castles to visit in Ireland on your next trip. It’s pretty hard to visit Ireland and not wind up visiting a castle at least once during your travels. But with so many (over 30,000!) how do you know which ones are worth the trip? We’ve broken it down for you with a list of the best castles to visit in Ireland so that you can select from some of the best-known and most-loved options.

Whether you want to explore the ruins of a once magnificent fort or get a taste of medieval life in a well-maintained relic, you can get a little glimpse into the past during your trip to Ireland. From reenacted scenes featuring knights and royalty to elaborate banquet dinners in your very own castle, you may want to stay forever and never return to the present!


The Best Castles in Ireland


1.) Malahide Castle & Gardens

Malahide Castle dates back to the year 1885 and was owned by the Talbot family for nearly 800 years, save for the period where, after Ireland’s conquest, Oliver Cromwell gave it to Miles Corbet, an English politician. When he was hanged after Cromwell’s downfall, the castle once again fell under Talbot ownership. The castle interiors are home to an array of artifacts from the castle’s tumultuous past, ranging from beautifully-made furniture to Victorian children’s toys.

If you’re into ghost stories, this could be your new favorite place. Malahide Castle is rumored to be the most haunted castle in the country, and given its bloody history, this is really no surprise. Many visitors have reported seeing various apparitions throughout the castle, and you could be next; if you’re looking for a bit of extra excitement during your wander through history, this is a great choice.  

Location: Malahide, Co. Dublin

Cost: £14 for an adult entrance ticket

Insider tip: The surrounding gardens are a beautiful place for a guided walk and feature intricate glasshouses and even live peacocks!


2.) Bunratty Castle

Named for the Raite River which flows alongside the castle and into the nearby city of Shannon, the castle’s location has been occupied for over a millennium by Normans, Vikings, and later, Irish nobility. The first official structure was a defensive fortress built in 1250, and the lands were later granted to a lord who created the first stone structure. The current castle as it stands today was built by the MacNamara family in 1425.

The castle itself, along with Bunratty house, are both open to the public. It is also famous for its regular banquet meals, where you can book in for a traditional medieval four-course dinner, along with entertainment provided by the Bunratty Castle Singers – just so you can get the full experience of living in medieval luxury!

Location: Bunratty, Co. Clare

Cost: £17 regular adult admission

Insider tip: The nearby Bunratty Folk Park has a recreated Irish village.


3.) Dunguaire Castle

Located on the shores of Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle is as picturesque as they come (not to mention there are some seriously beautiful views from the castle towers of the lush green countryside below). The castle was constructed in 1520 and has been the site of many battles and sieges during that time. It was passed to a well-known local surgeon and author in 1924, who, being friends with poets & writers such as Yeats, is credited with a literary revival in the region.

The interior of the castle retains all the charm of medieval decor, with a banquet hall that hosts regular summer feasts for visitors. Its tower stands at 75 feet and looks out over the nearby town of Kinvarra.

Location: Kinvarra, Co. Galway

Cost: About £7 for an adult entrance

Insider tip: Open only to the public in the summer months, but if you’re passing by in the off season, you can still stop to snap a few beautiful pictures.


4.) Blarney Castle

No list of the best castles to visit in Ireland would be complete without a mention of Blarney Castle. Probably the most famous castle in the country, Blarney Castle was originally a medieval stronghold built in 1446. Since it passed hands many different times throughout its history, the castle as it stands today is in partial ruins, but its charming wear and tear does not take away from its mythical quality.

But what Blarney Castle is perhaps best known for is the Blarney Stone – also known as the Stone of Eloquence. Visitors can (with assistance!) be hung upside down to kiss the stone, which is said to give the powers of eloquence and persuasiveness. The origin of the stone is unclear, but local legend dictates that it was a stone on which many ancient Irish kings were crowned.

Location: Blarney, Co. Cork

Cost: £18 for adult entrance

Insider tip: Though you can’t really go inside it, there is a neat little Poison Garden on the grounds, with plants such as wolfsbane, mandrake, opium, and cannabis.


5.) Rock of Cashel Castle

The Rock of Cashel is more than just a castle; it is a collection of structures sitting atop a hill in Cashel, County Tipperary. On the walled plateau is the Round Tower (the oldest structure in the complex, dating from 1100), Cormac’s Chapel, and the Cashel Cathedral. There is also a nearby graveyard with burials of bishops and other notable figures throughout the region’s history. The Rock is also supposedly the site where St. Patrick converted a Munster King to Christianity, earning the castle another nickname of St. Patrick’s Rock.

The views from the top alone are well worth a visit, but add to that a beautiful and grandiose castle, cathedral, and chapel, and you’re left with an awe-inspiring site steeped in Irish lore and legend.

Location: Cashel, Co. Tipperary

Cost: £8 for an adult ticket

Insider tip: As this location is extremely highly visited in the summer months, book your tickets online ahead of time to avoid delays.


6.) Ross Castle

The Best Castles in Ireland Ross Castle
The Best Castles in Ireland Ross Castle Day

If you’ve ever wanted to live in a castle, this is probably your best shot. Ross Castle, while open to the public for regular touring, is also a well-liked B&B in the area, with room decor attempting to mirror the styles & design of the time (but still with modern conveniences). You can even opt for a room in the tower, for the most authentic castle experience.

Situated on the edge of Lough Leane, legend states that the original owner of the castle still rests in a deep sleep beneath the lough, rising only once every seven years to circle the castle astride a white horse. If you see him, don’t be afraid; the legend also states that witnesses to this miracle will be blessed with good fortune for the rest of their lives.

Originally built as a defensive structure, several interesting structures throughout the castle are the machicolations Machicolation are the stone structures holes placed over points of entry, for the sole defensive purpose of pouring hot oil over attempted invaders. Another interesting feature is the spiral staircase of uneven height built in a clockwise formation to be a disadvantage to right-handed sword wielders who attempt to climb the stairs. Then its slit-like windows to prevent entry, and provide a space for firing arrows. This Irish castle was built for war.

Location: Killarney, Co. Kerry

Cost: £4 adult admission

Insider tip: The surrounding grounds are expansive, and you can rent a bike to tour the area.


7.) Cahir Castle

One of the largest and best-preserved castles in Ireland, Cahir Castle stands atop an island on the Suir River in Cahir. Originally built as a top-tier defensive fortress, it was constructed on the site of a former stone fort called a Cathair, which gave the current castle its name.

The excellent audio-visual guided tours are the best way to tour the castle and really learn about the details of its history; guidebooks are available in several languages. Once you’ve had your fill of touring the castle, follow the path two kilometers along the river until you come to the Swiss Cottage. This was a nearby home owned by the Butlers (the same family that owned the castle grounds) and looks like something out of a woodland fairy tale.


Location: Cahir, Co. Tipperary

Cost: £5 adult admission

Insider tip: Cash only; there are no debit or credit machines onsite.


8.) Doe Castle

As far as picturesque castles go, Doe Castle is way at the top of that list and is definitely one of the best castles to visit in Ireland. Built on the inlet of Sheephaven Bay, the castle was originally built as a stronghold and is, to this day, considered to have been one of the most secure and safest fortress castles of the time.

The castle is known for many of its tragic love story legends, such as the story of a young woman who fell in love with a Celtic chieftain. When her father learned of her love, he kidnapped and tortured the young man and killed him with his own sword at first light. The young woman, having seen this transpire from her window, jumped to her death in desperation. Locals affirm that you can sometimes spot a small rowboat carrying the two lovers together.

Location: Castledoe, Co. Donegal

Cost: Grounds are free, guided tours are £3 for adult fares.

Insider tip: There are sometimes hired actors recreating historical scenes on site.


9.) Kylemore Abbey

The Best Castles in Ireland Kylemore Abbey

Among the most photogenic structures in Ireland, Kylemore Castle is an imposing structure set into the hills lining the Pollacappall Lough. In 1920, a Benedictine Monastery was built on the site by nuns who fled Belgium during the First World War. Today, the grounds and interiors are open to visitors year-round, and the estate is over 1000 acres of architecture and nature walks, including an enormous Victorian Walled Garden and a neo-Gothic church.

The Abbey is home to many myths and legends, but perhaps none so famous as the Battle of the Giants, which tells the tale of two Irish giants, Cú Chulainn and Fionn McCool, fighting by launching stones at each other – one of which is still present on the grounds of the Abbey; you can even make a wish on it.

Location: Connemara, Co. Galway

Cost: £14, which includes entrance to all parts of the castle grounds.

Insider tip: Check out the great little tea room for afternoon refreshments.


10.) Trim Castle

The Best Castles in Ireland Trim Castle

If this iconic castle looks at all familiar to you, it might be because you saw it in a little film called Braveheart, so it’s pretty easy to see why it’s considered one of the best castles to visit in Ireland. Trim Castle in County Meath is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. It was built in c. 1100 as a defense structure (its situation atop a hill overlooking the River Boyne put it in an ideal place to spot invaders and react accordingly). Its towers are truly a sight to behold; though a little ruined, this only adds to their beauty, as when standing within, you can look up the open, moss-covered turret and see the sky above.

To get the most out of your visit, consider taking a guided tour, as the guides are animated, knowledgeable, and informative. It’s a little piece of medieval history brought to life for an hour.

Location: Trim, Co. Meath

Cost: £5 including the Keep, £2 excluding it.

Insider tip: Closed from November to April.

11.) Kilkenny Castle

If you’re looking for somewhere to spend an afternoon, it’s pretty easy to let the hours tick away at Kilkenny Castle. Sitting beside the River Nore, the castle is a symbol of medieval history from which the surrounding city grew. The grounds boast sprawlings gardens which contain a smaller rose garden, winding woodland pathways, and even an ornamental lake. They’re a charming place to wander around and imagine times long past.

Onsite is the Butler Art Gallery (formerly a servants’ quarters area) which hosts revolving displays of contemporary art. There is also a design center across the street, which features Irish crafts.

Location: Collegepark, Kilkenny

Cost: £8 adult admission

Insider tip: The castle’s tea room is well-liked for a quick afternoon cuppa.


Ireland Travel Tips
Tollymore Castle – Castle in Ireland

Money-Saving Tips For Ireland


Two Currencies

Keep in mind that Ireland is actually two countries! The Republic of Ireland which takes up the majority of the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom occupies the Northeast. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro (€) and the United Kingdom uses the British Pound (£). You can learn more about travel in Ireland here.

Cook Your Own Food

If your accommodation has a kitchen then it’s best to make use of it. We save money this way when traveling around Ireland. Grocery stores in Ireland are amazing and well-stocked, and one can easily cook an amazing meal with delicious Italian red wine for cheap.

The grocery store provides great value especially on Italian food like pasta, prosciutto, and grapes. Don’t worry about eating local either as they’re often stocked with tons of beautiful Italians products; most Italians eat at home anyways!

Drink Tap Water

The tap water in Ireland is perfectly fine to drink, so best not to waste money or plastic on one-time use water bottles. Get yourself a travel water bottle and keep refilling it!

Travel During the Offseason

In my opinion, traveling in Ireland particularly shrines in the offseason. I don’t like crowds or high prices and that’s why I love traveling between September and May. We highlight the best time to visit Ireland in this post.


Featured Travel Card


Chase Sapphire Preferred Travel Credit Cards

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a generous signup bonus of 60,000 points that has plenty of flexibility in redemption options. Chase Rewards are some of our favorite points to earn as they’re high value and can be redeemed in a multitude of ways. We love the Chase Sapphire Preferred as it was one of the first travel rewards we received and it’s well-loved by plenty of others. The awesome sign up offer of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points which can be redeemed for $750 of free flight if booked through the Chase travel portal.

The other option is to transfer the points to a large selection of airlines such as United, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, or Korean Airlines. This is one of the best all-around credit cards for travel! Of course, everyone needs something different so check out our post on the best travel credit cards here or you can learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred on Card Ratings!



Rain Jacket

Best Hiking Jackets REI Drypoint

It should go without saying that the weather in Ireland can be a bit rainy, this is the most important item in your suitcase. You have two options for styles of rain jackets. The first one we recommend is a classic packable rain jacket made for hiking that is a solid choice for outdoor adventurers. The second option being a trench coat jacket for travel for those looking to maintain style while dodging puddles.


Sweater

The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Ireland, and good ones were fairly easy to find for a decent price. For those with less time, a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. We picked up sweaters from Smartwool and love our stuff from Marine Layer.


Hiking Pants

prana stretch zion best hiking pants for men

Technical pants are water-resistant and dry quickly, not to mention they’re comfortable on long walks. They also make for an awesome pair of travel pants as many have become stylish these days with cuts like normal pants.


Boots

Vasque-Talus-Trek-Best-Hiking-Boot

It’s wet in Irland and you can expect a lot of boggy weather year-round so packing a pair of good waterproof boots for hikes is crucial for protecting your feet. Good boots or hiking shoes for Irland are essential. We’d suggest a high ankle boot, but you can go even further with “wellies” or muck boots.


Travel Water Bottle

Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Ireland is perfectly safe to drink.

We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottles for travel in our post.


Travel in Ireland


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