Explore cinematic landscapes, slice through mountain valleys, touch history and get to grips with liquid legacies on this three-day tour.
Beginning at Dublin airport or city, this looped tour of Dublin’s Doorstep is a three-day treat. Compact yet diverse, the route visits no fewer than six counties (Wicklow, Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Kildare) taking in centuries-old distilleries, a national stud and a castle or two. Defined here as a three-day route, the trip could easily be extended to suit a four or five day stay.
While this is ostensibly a driving route, there are excellent walking and cycling opportunities along the way.
Distances are calculated at an average speed of 50kmph (however, see advisory footnotes below)
Dublin City to Lough Tay (County Wicklow)
Leave Dublin Airport (or city) behind and within 45 minutes you’re in the Garden of Ireland, County Wicklow. Your access to the Wicklow Mountains National Park is the Sally Gap. Long a favourite with Hollywood’s location scouts, the winding bog roads and hilly landscapes have featured in the likes of Braveheart, P.S I Love You and Dancing at Lughnasa. Under a low hanging blue sky, the reds, purples and greens make the landscape a visual triumph.
The Sally Gap, Wicklow National Park
Climbing deeper into the Wicklow Mountains National Park over a selection of quaint stone bridges, the Gap reaches a staggering crescendo at Lough Tay. Also known as Guinness Lake for both its turf-coloured water and white creamy beach, the site here is home to a Guinness family estate. The views over the lake and the craggy cliffs surrounding it are arguably some of the most dramatic in Ireland. Allow yourself at least 30 minutes to stretch your legs and take photographs before moving deeper into Wicklow and to a site of huge religious significance: Glendalough.
Lough Tay to Glendalough
With Wicklow’s landscape moving from purple mountains and brown fields to lush greens and thick forests, the monastic site of Glendalough (Gleann Dá Loch – ‘glen of the two lakes’) beckons.
Founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a towering figure in Irish history and mythology (tales of monsters and murder pepper the Saint’s story) this hermit’s chosen place of solitude soon expanded into a monastic city and centre for pilgrimage. Explore the 12th century gatehouse, ‘Kevin’s Kitchen’, and over 120 medieval sculptured crosses before taking your own pilgrimage around the lakes (you’ll be glad of relatively sturdy footwear).
With soul and spirit nourished – and your camera’s memory card full – set off on the final stretch of day one and the pretty village of Avoca.
Worth a diversion or a special day out (not included in estimated mileage): Sitting on the eastern edge of the Wicklow Mountains, Powerscourt Estate is a nugget of aristocratic refinement in the area’s elemental landscape. The Palladian mansion oozes 18th-century grandeur, while the gardens – thanks to the skills of legendary garden architect Daniel Robertson – are a triumph and have been voted the #3 in the World by National Geographic.
Powerscourt, overlooking the Sugarloaf Mountain, is situated just 20km south of Dublin City Centre. The Gardens stretch over 47 acres and offer visitors a sublime blend of formal gardens, sweeping terraces, statues and ornamental lakes, secret hollows and rambling walks.
The Palladian Mansion at Powerscourt is home to the best in Irish design, and features craft and interior shops. An audio-visual brings to life the rich history of the estate. The Terrace Café offers the finest in Irish artisan home-cooked cuisine.
Glendalough to Avoca
Arriving in Avoca, it’s easy to see why the producers of BBC’s hugely successful TV series Ballykissangel based the show in this tiny village (‘BallyK’ was the first step in actor Colin Farrell’s road to Hollywood stardom). Straddling the eponymous river, the town, consisting of a single narrow ‘Main Street’, is surrounded on all sides by densely forested hills.
Located on the very outskirts of the town is The Mill at Avoca, ‘the birthplace of the Avoca experience’. The visitor centre outlines the origins of Avoca Handweavers, hosts a 191-year-old working mill, and houses a café serving typically healthy and comforting salads, quiches, breads, pates and more.
A wee dram (designated driver dependant) in Fitzgerald’s pub ends your day in style before retiring to one of the many cosy B&Bs close by for a well-earned sleep.
Day 2: Avoca to Tullamore: 171km (106 miles)/3 hours 25 minutes at 50km/h
Avoca (Wicklow) to Abbeyleix (Laois)
Waving goodbye to Avoca and Wicklow’s peaks and valleys, our tour moves into Carlow, a county small in size but big on pastoral perfection. First up in here is Duckett’s Grove, a 19th gothic romantic ruin bursting with castellated character.
Built around the original Duckett family residence, the Disney-esque structure is a mass of turrets and towers with the Upper (shrubs, roses, perennials) and Lower (the original orchard, still growing apples and other fruits) Walled Gardens adding a typically refined touch. Post walk, take a break for coffee and cake at the on-site Tea Rooms.
Rested and refreshed we move on to County Laois, the town of Abbeyleix and one of Ireland’s finest pubs.
The pub in question is Morrisseys of Abbeyleix, an unapologetically dark hostelry thick with atmosphere, history and character. From the rustically prepared toasted sandwiches, to walls overflowing with yester-year’s groceries, Morrissey’s is less drinking den more informal museum. Driving through the borders of Laois without visiting should be considered a crime.
Bid farewell to the cosy obscurity of one of Ireland’s finest pubs, strap on your walking boots and set your compass for Laois’ Slieve Bloom mountains.
Worth a diversion (not included in estimated mileage): Russborough House, built in 1740, is often referred to as ‘the most beautiful in Ireland’. Visitors can enjoy guided tours of this exquisite Palladian mansion with its collections of paintings, antique furniture, silver, porcelain and tapestries.
Don’t miss the recently opened interactive and self-guided exhibition of film and photographs including many 3D photographs taken by Sir Alfred Beit himself on his world tours of the 1920s and 1930s.
For families, Russborough has a 20,000 sq. ft. head high Maze, a lovely fairy trail for youngsters and a playground for children up to 12 years of age.
There are beautiful parkland walks with information boards providing facts on the local flora and fauna. The recently reopened woodland rhododendron garden is truly magical in May and June each year and in 2016 a Bird of Prey centre will open at Russborough. Sheepdog demonstrations take place on most afternoons. Russborough tea rooms serve hot and cold beverages, snacks and light lunches and has a delightful souvenir and craft shop.
Slieve Bloom Mountains (Laois) to Tullamore (Offaly)
For unadulterated views of Ireland’s midlands, few locations match that of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Spanning the counties of Laois and Offaly and laced with looped walks (16) and longer waymarked ways (2), the Slieve Blooms are a collection of gently rising peaks. The tallest of those peaks, Arderin, reaches 527m, just half the height of Ireland’s largest mountain, Carraountoohil (Kerry).
More modest than many of Ireland’s mountain ranges, the Slieve Blooms benefit from quaint idiosyncrasies, such as the seasonal explosions of bluebells at Capard Wood, the Glenbarrow Waterfall and Monicknew Woods with its 170-year-old Roman Arch-style bridge. Should you prefer to tackle the mountains with a guide, the local, accredited guides are plentiful and knowledgeable.
All that fresh air and exercise will generate a generous appetite. Make for the County Offaly town of Tullamore for a dinner of Grennan’s Slow Braised Pulled Pork at the Blue Apron, and a warm bed at the Bridge House Hotel.
Tullamore to Kilbeggan
In a fortuitous twist, the renowned whiskey producing towns of Tullamore (famous for Tullamore Dew) and Kilbeggan (home to the eponymous whiskey and the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland) are located no more than 13-minute drive from one another. Should you visit one or both? We say both.
The Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre is box fresh after a recent refurbishment and the interactive layout along with tasty treats in the whiskey bar are lovely touches. Just up the road, the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience boasts a handsome original working waterwheel and the oldest pot still in Ireland. It’s idyllic, too, watching the crystal clear River Brosna (the water in Kilbeggan’s whiskey and also a game angling area) flow busily through the site.
Kilbeggan to the National Stud and Japanese Gardens (Kildare)
A brief track back along the N52 and we’re headed for our sixth county, Kildare, and the crowning glory in Ireland’s equine history: The Irish National Stud and Gardens.
The National Stud at Tully is no typical stud. Designed by the British astrology enthusiast Colonel William Hall Walker, this is a place where stables feature skylights (his horses, thought the Colonel, should be able to see the moon and stars), along with the huge skeleton of the iconic racehorse, Arkle. Behind one glass case in the Horse Museum is the Colonel’s Horoscope Book. In it, a chart written by the Colonel states how a colt named Lord of the Sea has “Saturn in his 5th House… makes him very little good for racing…”
As if these eccentric nuggets of Ireland’s equestrian history aren’t reason enough to visit the stud, there is another: the Japanese Gardens.
Entranced by Asian horticulture and with a view to creating a garden reflecting that passion, Walker set out to hire the finest horticulturist money could buy. That man was Tessa Eida. Tracing a journey ‘from soul to oblivion’, Eida, with the help of his son Minoru, created a garden not just of visual beauty, but also of philosophical meaning. Laced with paths (or paths of life), the gardens use water, trees, plants, flowers, rocks and lawns to visualise ‘The Life of Man’. It’s a powerful experience, and not to be missed.
With soul nourished and curiosity engaged, our tour ends with a short drive back to Dublin city or airport. Should hunger strike in the meantime, the tiny village of Ballymore Eustace is a short but worthy detour.
Driving into the village’s sleepy centre you may not expect to come across a fine dining experience here, but at the Ballymore Inn, you'll be pleasantly surprised. An elegantly appointed dining room sets the scene for long lazy lunches or dinners where menus change seasonally, but treats such as Duncannon Salmon with Crispy Courgettes or Dry Aged West Cork Sirloin are welcome regulars. Tuck in, and make a toast to Dublin’s Doorstep.
Your journey needn’t end here. The Boyne Valley, just miles from Dublin, is a myth-drenched landscape of royal hills, ancient passage tombs and patchwork green fields.
Note: This tour is for information only and is intended to show you some of the possibilities for enjoyment. Always check your route and distances and allow plenty of time for stop-offs, diversions, rest and relaxation. This tour is based on a tour featured on Ireland.com, the website of Tourism Ireland and is drawn upon with their permission. We have, however, highlighted Heritage Island Attractions (Ireland's Premier Attractions and Heritage Towns) along the journey or nearby and these feature on the map below. If you have any suggestions for additions to this tour we would love to hear from you.
For more comprehensive information on visiting Ireland, see www.Ireland.com
Roll over the map pins to view attraction names. Click 'view' on a marker to go to the profile of the attraction.