Experience 5,000 Years of Irish History

Ireland’s Ancient East is Ireland’s newest touring region, bringing you on a relaxing journey through 5,000 years of European history.

Uncover the stones and stories of Ireland’s Prehistoric Past. Step into the Golden Age of Saints and Scholars at our Early Christian monuments. Hear tales of invasions and rebellion in Medieval Castles and Fortresses and explore Anglo Ireland’s finest mansions and gardens. You’ll discover it all in Ireland’s Ancient East.

On this part of the tour, visit the ancient Boyne Valley, and the historic counties of Kildare, Westmeath, Wicklow and Offaly.

Note: This tour suggestion is only intended to show you some of the possibilities for exploration and enjoyment along part of the Ireland’s Ancient East Route, and particularly highlights Heritage Island Attractions in the area and on the map below (Ireland's Premier Attractions and Heritage Towns). We always recommend that you create your own route, taking in the attractions that are of greatest interest to you. Always check your route and distances and allow plenty of time for stop-offs, diversions, rest and relaxation.

The Boyne Valley

Just a 30 minute drive from Dublin, the Boyne Valley is one of Ireland’s most historical regions - virtually every important event in Irish history took place here!

Highlights include the 5,000 year old burial chambers at the Newgrange World Heritage Site; the interpretive centre at the Battle of the Boyne; Trim Castle - the most impressive Anglo Norman Castle in Ireland; and Drogheda Heritage town with its Gothic Revival St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the Highlanes Gallery in a 19th century Franciscan church, the Millmount Museum and panoramic Martello Tower.

Trim Castle
Trim Castle in the Boyne Valley


Counties Kildare and Westmeath

From the Boyne Valley, you’re in close proximity to counties Kildare and Westmeath, which both boast more historical wonders.

Make your way to Castletown House and Parklands in Celbridge, Co. Kildare - the most celebrated and magnificent Palladian style mansion in Ireland, built in the 1720s.

In Tully, just outside Kildare Town, you’ll find one of Ireland’s true treasures - the Irish National Stud and Gardens. See retired equine stars on the Stud’s Living Legends team, trace the passage of a soul from birth to death at the world-famous Japanese Gardens, and enjoy the Horse Museum and St. Fiachra's Garden.

Irish National Stud and Gardens
The Japanese Gardens at the Irish National Stud

 

The Lakelands region of County Westmeath is home to the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience. This is the oldest distillery in Ireland, dating back to 1757, and the perfect place to see traditional distilling methods and get a taste of a true Irish whiskey. 

To learn the history of the castle, the town and the people of Athlone, visitors can stop off at the Athlone Castle Visitor Centre which features eight exhibition rooms, period costumes, interactive games, a cinema and more. 

The Belvedere House, Gardens & Park in Mullingar, Westmeath is a must-see. This magnificent 160 acre lakeside estate boasts an 18th Century Georgian Villa, Victorian Walled Garden, Fairy Garden, 8km of walkways and three children’s playgrounds. At Belvedere, you’ll also discover tales of heartbreak and incarceration and you can see some of Ireland’s most fascinating Romantic follies, including the now infamous ‘Jealous Wall’.

Belvedere House, Gardens and Park
Belvedere House, Gardens and Park


County Offaly

Located right in the centre of Ireland, County Offaly boasts two fantastic attractions - the Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre in Tullamore, and Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre in the heritage town of Birr.

At Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey, you will be immersed in the history and magic inside the walls of this 19th century bonded warehouse. Take the guided tour and see, smell, taste and understand the craft, time and passion dedicated to each glass of Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey.

Another unmissable stop on your Ancient East tour is Birr Castle, with its award-winning gardens; Great Telescope (once the largest in the world); historic Science Centre revealing the wonders of early photography, engineering and astronomy; and Ireland’s largest treehouse - always a hit with kids and families!

Birr Castle
Birr Castle


County Wicklow

Moving on to County Wicklow, known as the ‘Garden County of Ireland’, you’ll find Powerscourt House and Gardens, named as one of the National Geographic’s Top 3 Gardens in the World! The Gardens stretch over 47 acres and offer a sublime blend of formal gardens, sweeping terraces, statues, ornamental lakes, secret hollows and rambling walks. The Palladian Mansion at Powerscourt features an audio-visual tour and the best of Irish design, craft and home-cooked cuisine.

For another stunning garden and palatial home, head to the 18th century Russborough House and Parklands. Located in Blessington, Russborough offers guided tours of the mansion, an interactive and self-guided film and photography exhibition, beautiful parkland walks, and, for families, a 20,000 sq. ft. Maze, fairy trail and playground! A Bird of Prey centre will open in 2016.

Russborough House and Gardens
Russborough House and Parklands


In Rathdrum, Avondale House awaits. This beautiful Georgian House is the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell - one of the greatest political leaders of Irish history. It also boasts a magnificent forest park of over 500 acres with tree trails and walks, three orienteering courses and an audio visual presentation.

The renowned Wicklow Historic Gaol in Wicklow Town will see visitors pass through the ‘Gates of hell’ to re-live the 1798 United lrishman Rebellion, enjoy period-dining with the notorious inmates, take a journey through the famine era to the 1916 Easter Rising and witness dramatic re-enactments of the lrish struggle for independence. If you’re really brave, you can take the Haunted Night Tour, or sleep over in the prison!

Finally, the seaside town of Bray is home to two fascinating attractions. Killruddery House and Gardens is a great place to spend a day, with an Elizabethan-Revival mansion, the Orangery with 19th century Italian statues and Ireland’s oldest gardens.

Kids won’t want to miss the National Sea Life Centre. With 90 species of underwater animals in a range of exciting exhibits, from ‘Seahorse Sanctuary’ to ‘Nemo’s Kingdom’, they’ll relish the opportunity to hold a crab or touch a starfish. 

National Sea Life Centre
National Sea Life Centre, Bray


If that’s not enough history, heritage and culture for you, why not check out the second part of the Ireland’s Ancient East Tour - from Wicklow to Cork?


Route Map

Roll over the map pins to view attraction names. Click on a marker to go to the profile of the attraction.