12 Top-Rated Castles in Ireland
One of the most extraordinary things to do in Ireland is visit some of the centuries-old castles that accent the landscape throughout the country. Your castle options are vast, from the 13th-century Dublin Castle in the heart of the bustling capital city to the ancient Trim Castle, one of the largest and most storied fortresses on the Emerald Isle and the backdrop for the movie Braveheart. You can dress up like a character from the show Game of Thrones and shoot arrows in the courtyard at the Castle Ward or walk through the protected ruins of Dunamase Castle, which towers above the countryside in eastern Ireland.
Ireland has so many castles because throughout the centuries, local and regional rulers built fortresses to protect their land and belongings. Their castle dwellings represented wealth and power. Castles were built at different periods, marking significant milestones in Irish history, from the medieval Norman and Viking periods to the English invasions. Whether you want to stay in a castle or just explore one for the day, you should plot your destinations before you arrive. For ideas, see our list of the top castles in Ireland.
1. Dublin Castle
One of the most significant symbols of power in Ireland is Dublin Castle. This 13th-century castle, which is more of a multi-building complex, was built on a Viking settlement. The castle served as the government complex for the English then British rule for centuries and now serves as a main tourist destination.
Some of the castle highlights include extensive decorative arts in the form of formal portraits of rulers and royalty, as well as period furniture. Be sure to visit The Chapel Royal, a Gothic Revival chapel, which has been at Dublin Castle since 1242, and the castle gardens that have been here since the early 17th century, featuring the Dubh Linn Garden, where patterns of sea serpents are cut into the lawn. Beneath the castle, you can see ongoing excavations of Viking defenses that have been preserved. You can even go down steps to see the original moat.
Address: Dame Street, Dublin 2
Official site: http://www.dublincastle.ie
2. Trim Castle
For a castle worthy of bragging rights after your vacation, the Trim Castle is a must-visit. This is where Mel Gibson filmed the movie Braveheart, so you will likely recognize the iconic features of this powerful Norman Irish fortress. Construction started on the Trim Castle in 1176 and took 30 years to complete.
This massive structure has a 20-sided tower, masterful curtain wall, and moat. It is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland and has also served as a prison and private home over the centuries. Now, it is a popular tourist attraction and well worth your time to visit. You can only take a guided tour of the castle, but you can explore the riverside grounds on your own. You can also plan a stay at the Trim Castle Hotel and live like royalty during your trip.
3. Dunluce Castle
If castle mystery is more your speed then the coastal Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland should top your list. The medieval castle sits on a clifftop along the remote northern coast. The ruins on the site are said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who died there, and there are mythical tales about fairies and fierce battles that took place on the site. The Dunluce Castle was built as a family home in the 1500s and served as the inspiration for author C.S. Lewis, who used it to create his Cair Paravel castle in The Chronicles of Narnia.
The site is now under the guardianship of the Northern Irish Environment Agency. These are great ruins to explore, but a stop at the information center for some history and information before you set out will help in your understanding of the site.
Address: 87 Dunluce Road, Bushmills, County Antrim
4. Bunratty Castle
The Bunratty Castle is one of the best castles for bringing the medieval times to life. The castle dates back to the early 1400s, and it was once part of a Viking trading camp. It has been beautifully restored to its mostly-original condition. There is a Folk Park on the grounds, which is a 19th-century living village, with 30 buildings that imitate what life in Ireland was like in the 1800s.
One of the most engaging experience at the Bunratty Castle is the medieval banquet that you can take part in for an evening of indulgent food, dance, and music inside the castle. You can stay at the Bunratty Castle Hotel if you want to make several days out of your visit to the area.
Official site: www.bunrattycastle.ie
5. Enniskillen Castle
The Enniskillen Castle is a stunning structure that can be seen from the River Erne. The turrets and massive fortress walls are believed to have been constructed in the early 1400s, protecting the land in Northern Ireland. Today, the castle houses two museums that highlight and preserve Fermanagh culture. The Fermanagh County Museum showcases the history of the region and the Inniskillings Museum has displays of 17th-century weapons, military equipment, and uniforms. Take some time to go through both museums and walk the manicured grounds.
If your Ireland visit includes researching your family history, you may want to schedule a genealogy consultation at the castle.
Address: County Fermanagh, Enniskillen BT74 7HL, Northern Ireland
Official site: www.enniskillencastle.co.uk
6. Cahir Castle
As one of the largest castles in Ireland, the Cahir Castle maintains much of its original structure. The castle was built on solid rock on the River Suir, and it was one of the most powerful strongholds against invaders in the country. It is notable because of its preservation, which is remarkable since it was built in 1142. If you want to see and experience authentic, original elements of a castle then the Cahir Castle should be on your list. There are guided tours that take about an hour and an audio-visual show that chronicles the castle's long history.
Address: Castle Street, Cahir
7. Dromoland Castle
The elegant 16th-century Dromoland Castle has its roots in the family lineage of Donough O'Brien, who ruled Dromoland in 1014 and is a family name of high nobility in Ireland. The 450-acre estate is now a destination for travelers, who come to stay in the lavish bedrooms with canopied beds and embellished furniture fit for a king.
The estate has a spa, a championship 18-hole golf course, and outdoor recreation, and it is a popular destination for weddings. While the Dromoland Castle is a destination versus a day visit, you can still swing by for a peek at the grounds, even if you are not staying here.
Address: Newmarket-On-Fergus, Co. Clare
Official site: https://www.dromoland.ie
8. Castle Ward
For Game of Thrones fans, the Castle Ward is an unforgettable experience. The 18th-century castle is the main filming location for the show. An exciting way to enjoy a visit to Castle Ward is to take part in a medieval banquet or sign up for the ClearSky Adventures on-site, which let you try on Game of Thrones costumes with experts, who teach you how to shoot arrows in the courtyard.
Non-Game of Thrones visitors will enjoy the unusual architecture of the castle. When the castle was built for Lord Bangor and his wife, they could not agree on a structural style, so they compromised by building one side in Gothic architecture for him and the other in Palladian geometry to suit her. The Castle Ward is one of the most unique in Ireland.
Official site: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castle-ward
9. Dunamase Castle
The ruins of the Dunamase Castle are a destination for those who like to explore a little bit on their own. The structure, now only remnants, is referred to as the Rock of Dunamase. It was built in the Middle Ages, but archaeology research suggests that it dates back even further, to the 9th century, and was once occupied by Vikings. The site is now a national monument, with a storied history. It sits 46 meters above the countryside on the eastern side of Ireland and is free to visit on your own.
10. Glenveagh Castle
The Glenveagh Castle is part of the Glenveagh National Park, a great location to put on your list if you are looking for a little recreation beyond just a castle visit. This remote 19th-century castle is set near the Derryveagh Mountains and was an idyllic retreat for the private owners who occupied it since the 1800s. As personal friends of the owners, Hollywood stars like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin were known to visit the castle.
The 40,000-acres that surround the castle are fantastic for exploring. You can hike the trails and stroll through the gardens, or you can take a scenic drive through the estate property on a bus from the visitor center.
Address: Church Hill, Letterkenny, County Donegal
Official Site: https://www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie
11. Birr Castle
For an experience that combines the most stunning representation of early Irish castle architecture and gardens with science and engineering, visit the Birr Castle Gardens & Science Center. This castle is unique because it is still a private residence, although the descendants of the Parsons family open their doors to the public at regularly scheduled times between May and August.
Birr Castle was built in the 11th century and welcomes guests with 3.6-meter walls at the central gate. The tours of the castle are only a small part of the experience. The Great Telescope is a must-see in the science center on the grounds. It was the largest telescope in the world for more than 70 years and it still operates today, remaining one of Ireland's most significant scientific contributions.
Address: Rosse Row, Birr, County Offaly
Official site: https://birrcastle.com
12. Blarney Castle
You have likely heard of the Blarney Stone in Ireland and the luck bestowed upon those who kiss it - a tradition that goes back more than 200 years. The Blarney Stone is just one of the reasons to visit Blarney Castle. This is actually the third castle on this site, built in 1446. The first castle, made of wood, and the second castle, made of stone, were demolished over time and replaced by Blarney Castle, which welcomes visitors today.
Besides touring the castle and kissing the Blarney Stone, be sure to see the unusual gardens, which include a fern garden; woodlands; and a Poison Garden with plants that are so toxic, they have to be kept behind protective structures.
Official site: https://www.blarneycastle.ie