By Jim Ferri
Almost everyone who travels to Ireland finds Dublin to be a great destination. But there are four very easy day trips from Dublin that will also allow you to enjoy Ireland even more.
I’ve taken each of these trips and found them to be great experiences. Two of the trips, which are estates quite near Dublin, can be combined into a single day. They’re only reachable by car or bus.
The other two – Kilkenny and Belfast in Northern Ireland – are cities a bit further out, and are individual all-day affairs. They’re reachable by both car and train.
You’ll likely enjoy them all.
An Easy Day Trip From Dublin: Powerscourt (County Wicklow)
The reason Powerscourt is a great day trip from Dublin is that the estate has what arguably are the most beautiful formal gardens in Ireland. And it’s only about a half-hour drive from Dublin on a modern expressway most of the way.
When you enter the 18th century estate, it takes several minutes to drive up to the mansion and gardens. You’ll pass horses and sheep grazing along the way, a picturesque panorama of the beautiful Wicklow countryside. It’s an incredibly beautiful estate, which also contains a five-star hotel with two championship golf courses and a luxury spa. Thankfully that’s all tucked away out of sight.
Palatial and beautifully maintained, it’s a rarity in Ireland as well as in Europe because of its beauty and size. The house was built on the site of an old castle, but was gutted by fire about 50 years ago. It’s now been partially restored.
Unfortunately, the house isn’t open to visitors, but you can visit a café and some shops selling quality Irish goods. I had a good chat with a local weaver who was making a blanket when I was there. You can also visit the fine-looking ballroom upstairs, which looks out on the hills of Wicklow on one side, and the magnificent estate gardens on the other.
Read More: Four Wonderful Irish Gardens
It’s these gardens that draw people here on day trips from Dublin and elsewhere. They are so well maintained and spectacular they’re reminiscent of a mini-Versailles. It’s a fantastic place to wander about for a morning or afternoon and well worth the drive. Combine it with a lunch someplace, and you have the makings for a fantastic day.
Castletown House (County Kildare)
A second worthwhile day trip from the Irish capital is to Castletown House, in County Kildare. I visited Castletown House the same day as Powerscourt and was glad that I did.
Castletown is an easy 45-minute drive from either Powerscourt or Dublin on good highways. The ride was an easy one, and when I got off the motorway, I passed some fields filled with large square haystacks, something I’d never seen before.
A Florentine architect built Castletown House in 1722-1729 for the Speaker of the Irish Parliament. Although I expected to see much of the same as I saw at Powerscourt, I found it entirely different. The main difference is that in Castletown you actually get to tour the house, something you can’t do at Powerscourt.
Castletown House introduced the Palladian style to Ireland, which gives the estate an entirely different look than Powerscourt. And although it sits in a 125-acre parkland, popular with families and their dogs, there are no formal gardens. The focus is on the house itself.
Castletown is interesting because of the unique architectural style of its interior. In its long central hallways connect the rooms set off to the sides, allowing servants access to all rooms without having to walk through them. Reconstructed after having fallen into ruins, the work is meticulously being done with some original, but mostly period furnishings. Excellent commentary by guides provides interesting glimpses into the life of the house and its owners, over the years. And since some of the rooms are still undergoing restoration, you can see the original construction techniques of years ago.
Visiting both Powerscourt and Castletown House on the same day trip from Dublin made for a perfect outing. Not only are they within easy driving distance of one another, but they’re two very different experiences. Have breakfast in Dublin, rent a car and spend a day in the beautiful Wicklow and Kildare countryside. You’ll be back in your Dublin hotel well before dinnertime.
Kilkenny (County Kilkenny)
The third day trip from the Irish capital takes you south to County Kilkenny and charming Kilkenny city. It’s only 1½ hours from Dublin by car, train or bus. The train fare from Dublin’s Heuston station to Kilkenny is about $27-40, with seven departures daily.
Some travelers describe Kilkenny as the most beautiful inland city in all of Ireland. The tourist board also dubs it the country’s medieval capital. Visit here, and you’ll likely agree on both counts.
Beautifully restored Kilkenny Castle, sitting on the bank of the River Nore, dominates the city. Be sure to take a tour of the 12th-century castle, especially its long gallery, a beautiful hall with green walls covered with a collection of family portraits and tapestries.
The castle isn’t far from the town center that is full of tutor stone houses. The town is actually a 900-year-old Norman citadel with Ireland’s second-largest medieval church, St. Canice’s Cathedral, in its center. Visit it and also see the nearby Black Abbey, which dates from the 13th century.
Kilkenny is a great place to explore on foot since it’s easy to get around. I had a great time wandering through shops down its narrow medieval alleyways, known as slips to the locals. You’ll also find plenty of good restaurants and good pubs in Kilkenny. There’s said to be more than 60 pubs scattered around the city.
I had dinner in one of them, Kytelers Inn, a great little pub that also served up some good Irish music by the fireplace along with our supper. Kytelers is actually a medieval coaching inn named after a 14th-century witch who once lived in it.
Not far from the city, in an old stone mill on the River Nore, you’ll find the workshop and shop of Nicholas Mosse, creator of the famous pottery of the same name.
A Day Trip From Dublin to Belfast, Northern Ireland
While Kilkenny’s 12th-century castle may be the jewel of that beautiful city, the treasure of modern-day Belfast is the much-heralded Titanic Museum. The museum is an incredible place, alone worth a day trip up from Dublin. But do yourself a favor and explore more of the city, as well, since there’s a lot to do and see here.
Many travelers have never visited Belfast since the city was long avoided by tourists because of the “troubles,” as the decades (1968 –1998) of violence in Northern Ireland are so commonly referred to. All that’s now history, though, and the North is now attracting an increasing number of visitors. And although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, there are no border formalities. Today it’s all called the “Island of Ireland.”
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In addition to the Titanic Museum, also visit the Ulster Museum with its collection ranging from art to archaeology. Nearby are the Botanical Gardens and Queens University, both quite beautiful.
Also, visit St. Anne’s Cathedral (especially it’s interior) as well as the surrounding streets where you’ll find some interesting pubs. One is the Duke of York tavern rebuilt in the early 1970s after being demolished by an IRA car bomb. Go inside to see its collection of over 100+ varieties of different whiskeys. Its sister tavern around the corner, the beautiful, antique-filled Dark Horse, is more of a tea room with coffee and cakes and other things than a typical Irish pub.
Stop by the famous (and somewhat flamboyant) Victorian-era Crown Liquor Saloon that attracts plenty of locals and tourists alike. It’s the most famous pub in Belfast and you’ll rarely see another pub like it.
Visit St. George’s Market St George’s Market, the last surviving Victorian covered market in the city (open only on Fridays). Nearby is Victoria Square, a beautifully designed modern shopping center that melds its contemporary design with the surrounding old neighborhood. You’ll find a good view of the city from its top floor.
You can take a day trip from Dublin to Belfast by either car or train. Both are approximately a two-hour trip. Train fare is approximately $35 – 55. Board at the Dublin’s Connolly Station.