Dublin is bustling, vibrant, loud and exciting. It’s a city determined to inspire and invigorate you. But sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. If you need a break from the thrumming music and heaving streets, we know just the place to relax and unwind.
Wicklow Mountains National Park is a natural oasis just a stone’s throw from Dublin, making it an ideal getaway from Ireland’s capital. At the south end of the park lies the spellbinding settlement called Glendalough. Here you’ll find one of the most important ancient monastic sites in Ireland and the reason many travellers venture outside of Dublin during their holiday to the Emerald Isle.
But what is it that draws so many people to Glendalough year after year? And how can you make the most of your trip from Dublin to the calm oasis of Wicklow County? Here are seven recommendations for where to stop on your journey to and from Glendalough, and what to do once you’re there.
You don’t have to be enthusiastic about religious history to appreciate the gorgeous Glendalough valley and its monastic site. The crumbling city, founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin, is set amongst the rolling green hills and lush vegetation of Glendalough.
Walk through the ancient gateway and admire the otherworldly (and incredibly intact) round tower. Though it may look like the type of structure made for Rapunzel, it was mostly used as a bell tower, and later as a refuge for monks under attack from the Vikings.
While the round tower is the most prominent building on the site, there are also the remains of numerous churches, cemeteries and a once-grand cathedral to explore. You can drop by the visitor centre to get an idea of how the city would have looked in its heyday. Or simply wander around the ruins and imagine the everyday lives of a past civilisation.
Glendalough valley is also the perfect spot for a nature walk. Meander around its two serene lakes and drink in the storybook scenery. There are several walks which range in distance and difficulty. A full loop of both lakes from the visitor centre will take around four hours, but there are shorter options for those pressed for time.
Lough Tay is fondly known as Guinness Lake with its rich, dark waters shaped like a pint. The Guinness family, who own an estate connected to the lake, even imported the white sand at the north end to create the illusion of a frothy head of foam. You can gaze down at Loch Tay from the viewing point and imagine having an entire lake’s worth of Guinness to yourself.
Get lost in the secret gardens and delightful terraces of Powerscourt Estate. Ornate Italian fountains, blossoming trellis’ and even a twee Pepperpot tower will capture your imagination. The diverse and beautiful gardens at Powerscourt have been hailed by National Geographic and visited by Royals. Climb the tower and gaze out at the sprawling estate, discover over 250 varieties of majestic trees and relax in the Japanese pagoda to the gentle trickle of the stream. Bliss!
After a turn around the gardens, head to the House for a bite to eat and peruse the finest in Irish design and homewares. The boutique shops at Powerscourt House showcase some of the most exquisite hand made products Ireland has to offer.
Powerscourt Waterfall is the perfect place to stop for a picnic. Enjoy lunch as you admire the cascades of water splashing down the jagged rockface. Keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels and cuckoo frolicking in the surrounding pine, beech and oak trees.
Your time away from the city should instigate relaxation and contemplation. This is what Victor’s Way Indian Sculpture Park is designed for. You’ll certainly contemplate the meaning behind some of the weird and wonderful stone sculptures dotting this green landscape. Many pay tribute to elaborate Hindu deities while others are slightly more unnerving. Look out for the sinister ferryman attempting to traverse his watery confines.
The most scenic route from Dublin to Glendalough is undoubtably through Sally Gap. Gaze up at the towering Wicklow Mountains and down at the rolling green valleys. The landscape is awe-inspiring, and if you travel the mountain pass close to sunset, you’ll be rewarded with a picture-perfect vista.
Interested in embarking on a tour to stunning Glendalough Valley through the Wicklow Mountains National Park? Several of Rabbie’s tours departing from Dublin visit County Wicklow, including the 3-day Blarney Castle, Kilkenny and Irish Whiskey tour and the 3-day Dingle, Killarney and the Wild Atlantic Way tour.