Ireland is famed for its ancient and mystical scattering of castles and ruins. The large, hulking figures of centuries-old battlements dot the landscape from Donegal to Cork. Much of our myth, legend and history is centred around crumbling castles and their grounds, spawning stories that have been passed from generation to generation.
Whether you’re looking for a spooky tour of some haunted castles in Ireland, want to take a closer look at artefacts and furniture, or are on the hunt for a historical experience, one of these 9 top Irish castles should definitely be on your vacation itinerary. Here are the 9 best castles to visit in Ireland.
King John’s Castle
At the heart of Limerick City lies King John’s Castle. The monument was built around the 1200s by its namesake, and is currently one of the most painstakingly preserved Anglo-Norman castles in Europe. The castle has been the site of Viking settlements and bloody battles alike; it was an especially important part of the 1642 Siege of Limerick.
Today the stronghold is home to a visitor’s centre, a charming café and many interactive exhibits. The castle overlooks the stunning River Shannon – if you visit, be sure to enjoy a coffee whilst taking in the view.
Based in Trim, Co. Meath, Trim Castle is the largest remaining Anglo-Norman construction in Ireland. It took thirty years to construct and was built in the 12th century. The stronghold was the headquarters of the Lordship of Meath for years. It is also famed for its use as a backdrop in the film Braveheart. Trim is considered to be the oldest castle in Ireland.
Today, the castle has an excellent tour, detailing its bloody history expertly. The castle is open to the public during the period between Easter Saturday and Halloween, and guided Trim castle tours are available from Monday to Friday.
Dominating the centre of Donegal town, Donegal Castle is rumoured to have been a Viking stronghold in the 12th century. The part of the castle that stands today was built in 1474, with walls and other extensions being added on over the centuries.
Today Donegal Castle has been restored wonderfully and is available to tour. As you explore the castle, its history is explained through a series of informative panels. It is home to unique and interesting events all year round, including Gaelic evenings.
This castle resides in Bunratty Co. Clare, and has been named an official National Monument of Ireland. The fortress has a bloodied past and was the battleground for The Bruce Wars. It has been demolished and re-erected four times total, with the current version dating back to 1425.
The castle is the most complete example of medieval architecture in the country and is home to The Bunratty Collection, a vast selection of important artefacts. The surrounding grounds are also home to the charming Bunratty Folk Park, a recreation of 19th-century Irish life.
Named for the county in which it resides, Kilkenny Castle dates back as far as 1172 when it was a wooden stronghold built by Strongbow. The castle has a rich history spanning centuries and was the backdrop for the Norman occupation of Ireland as well as the Civil War.
In modern day, the castle is home to stunning art collections and important pieces of history. The castle and surrounding grounds are available to visit, and the gardens are home to exhibitions and a playground for children. It is one of the most culturally immersive castle tours in Ireland.
Birr Castle is situated in Co. Offaly, in the center of the country and is definitely one of the must-see castles in Ireland. The castle has been in existence since the 12th century and was a lively hub of astronomical pursuits for many decades. The largest telescope in the world (at the time) was constructed here in the 1600s, and could see further into space than any other instrument.
Today, Birr is home to many fun and interesting sights, making it one of the best Irish castle tours. They have a Science Centre as well as some beautiful gardens to explore – Birr is home to the World’s Tallest Hedges, which are over 300 years old!
Blarney Castle is without a doubt the most famous entry on our list of the best castles of Ireland. Dating back to the 11th century, it’s one of the oldest structures in the country and is situated in Cork.
The stronghold is best-known for its mythical Blarney Stone, a slab of rock believed to give the Gift of The Gab to anyone who plants a kiss on it. The castle itself has lots of other intriguing features – it isn’t the most famous castle in Ireland for no reason!
Take a tour of the insides before exploring the vast, sprawling grounds. The castle gardens are home to the Witches’ Kitchen, some wish-granting waterfalls as well as a cornucopia of native flora and fauna.
Dublin castle, situated off Dame Street in Dublin City, was a major stronghold and the epicentre of the city for decades. The castle began construction in the 1200s and has a bloody but brilliant history. It’s most infamous for being the British seat of Administration before Ireland gained its independence in 1921.
Today, the castle houses two museums devoted to telling the story of Irish history. The halls are full of sumptuous art, architecture and artefacts that help illustrate the Ireland of old. Specialized tours of the castle are available and there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
If you’ve always dreamt of visiting a real-life castle one day, then Go Irish Tours has the vacation for you. Ireland is littered with strongholds and ruins, each one as interesting as the last.
To enquire about booking a tour with us, please click here.