Trip idea: Ireland's Ancient East on Dublin's Doorstep

Cinematic – that's the only word to describe the sweeping Victorian estates, craggy mountain peaks and blooming, colourful gardens that make up Ireland's Ancient East on Dublin's Doorstep

Tales of love lost, ancient battles, invasion, rebellion, and magnificent beauty – the roots of Ireland's Ancient East run deep through counties Wicklow, Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Tipperary, Kildare and Meath. Peel back the layers of 5,000 years of history with a trip outside the city limits.

Ireland's Ancient East on Dublin's Doorstep

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Day One

Known as the Garden of Ireland, Wicklow combines immaculate estates with a rugged wilderness covered in green, for which Ireland is justly famous.

A driving 32 mins
Powerscourt Estate and Gardens

The jewel in the crown

It's a feeling shared by most who visit Powerscourt – the gasp of delight as you turn the corner, and the full majesty of the estate opens up before you. This 18th century mansion was designed to capture the splendour of a Renaissance villa. Voted as one of the top three gardens in the world by National Geographic, the gardens burst with sprays of wildflowers and trees, and secreted areas, such as the Japanese Garden, add something special to this slice of heaven in the Wicklow countryside.

If you have more time

Got the nibbles? The Avoca Terrace Café within Powerscourt House serves up delicious treats, looking out over the tumbling gardens.

B driving 17 mins
The Sally Gap

A Hollywood heather trail

Passing through the dramatic Sally Gap, you'll soon figure out why this stunning mountain pass is beloved of Hollywood location scouts. The natural wonderland has featured in Braveheart, PS I Love You, Excalibur and many more. Check out the landscapes etched in hues of purple heather and yellow gorse. Two more stops to watch for are the Glencree Visitor Centre, originally built to house soldiers guarding the pass (and now a centre for Peace and Reconciliation), and the Glencree War Cemetery, a resting place for German soldiers who died in Ireland.

Don't miss

Stop along the Sally Gap at a lake made out of Guinness. Well... not really. But with its dark waters and creamy white sands, imported by the Guinness family to achieve the effect, Lough Tay does look like a massive pint of the black stuff!


Ancient Tranquillity

Travel from mountain to glen and down into a haven of serenity and peace at Glendalough, where a 6th century monastery presides over the valley. The twin lakes, glassy under the sun, provide the backdrop as you walk the trails – long and short – of Wicklow's National Park.

If you have more time

Finish up with a mug of hot chocolate at the nearby Glendalough Hotel, or head to Wicklow town to enjoy a warm welcome and a veritable feast at The Lighthouse Restaurant on the South Quay.

Rock of Cashel

Day Two

From dramatic ruins overlooking Ireland's Golden Vale, to sightings of banshees and conversions to Christianity, our trail continues on an incredible rollercoaster through history.

D driving 1 hr 25 mins
Duckett's Grove

Towers filled with torrid tales

Destroyed by fire in the 1930s, the 19th century castle of Duckett's Grove still retains its glamour and beauty. If the impressive jumble of turrets and towers here could talk, what tales they could tell – including the sad story of a daughter so estranged from her mother that her inheritance consisted of just an "angry shilling!" Oh, and did we mention the ghost of a banshee (an ancestral spirit who forewarns of death in a family)?

If you have more time

Enjoy a pint and a toasted sandwich in Morrissey's of Abbeyleix, an antique pub-shop hybrid with a big personality.

E driving 1 hr 32 mins
The Rock of Cashel

A castle in the sky

Venture to Tipperary, and the Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland's most famous historic sites. Said to have been dropped in the heart of the Golden Vale by the devil himself, the "rock" is actually an incredible collection of ancient fortifications, including a 13th century Gothic cathedral, round tower and 15th century castle at the summit. The rock bristles with tales of 17th century massacres and 20th century lightning strikes, but it is undoubtedly most famous for being the place where St Patrick converted the King of Munster to Christianity – accidentally stabbing him with a crozier in the process.

If you have more time

Check out Cashel's Heritage Centre to see if you have any local ancestors, or head to the Brú Ború centre to catch a traditional show.

The Slieve Bloom Walking Trail

An untamed world

Step out of your car at 18th-century Emo Court, and take a tour of this grand neoclassical mansion, which has been beautifully restored and is framed by impressive gardens, complete with arboretum. Or take the wilder route, and go straight to the Slieve Blooms. Studded with rural villages, the Slieve Bloom Nature Reserve – a special area of conservation – is known for its mountain blanket bog, as well as being home to the hen harrier, a rare bird of prey.

If you have more time

As you make your way towards Tullamore, dine out on the fine local fare at The Blue Apron.

The Japanese Gardens

Day Three

A triple tipple, tales of stallions and stars, ancient battlefields and a sprawling mansion that has seen destruction and rebirth in its time, your time travelling continues

G driving 48 mins
Tullamore D.E.W

The water of life

On the banks of Offaly's Grand Canal, three is the magic number at the Tullamore D.E.W. Distillery, as it creates triple-distilled, triple-blend and triple-matured whiskey. Named after the whiskey's creator Daniel E Williams, it's a great place to park up and enjoy an authentic Irish whiskey experience. Step inside the hall, and learn the craft of making whiskey, and when you're done, you can relax over "Irish Drunken Mushrooms" flambéed in Tullamore D.E.W. at The Bond restaurant.

H driving 48 mins

A powerful pedigree

Long renowned as Ireland's premier stud farm, the National Stud boasts a legacy that spans the globe. Come in springtime and watch as the foals leap and play in the fields, or visit year-round to enjoy the tranquillity of the stud, and the incredible century-old Japanese gardens next door, with falling cherry blossoms and blooming water lilies gliding across mirror-like ponds.

If you have more time

In Newbridge, go glam at the Museum of Style Icons, where some of the world's most iconic dresses worn by Old Hollywood icons are on display! And it's free.

I driving 35 mins
Castletown House

A visit from the devil

One of the most extraordinary houses in Ireland, Castletown House is approached down a beautiful tree-lined avenue. Sitting just outside the pretty little town of Celbridge in County Kildare, Castletown has seen destruction and rebirth, visits from the rich and famous, the presidential and the political, and even the devil himself has dropped in for a look...

If you have more time

Relax in the serene surrounds of the Courtyard Café – bask in the sun, enjoy freshly baked apple pies, scones, croissants, and an array of other exceptional baked goods.

Trim Castle

Ancient battlegrounds

Ireland's oldest Norman castle sits in the picturesque town of Trim, surrounded by a tranquil moat. It is here, at Trim Castle, that ancient battles were fought and won, political treaties were argued back and forth and, more recently, the film Braveheart found its filming location.The central monolith dominates the landscape – walk around the castle, explore its nooks and crannies, or glide by boat across the nearby River Boyne to take in this statuesque Norman beauty.

If you have more time

Before you head back to Dublin, stop off at Eden at Bellinter House, for traditional Irish dining at its very best. It's the perfect place to end your trip in style.

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