Pamper yourself a little – you’re on holiday and you deserve it. Choosing the accommodation that perfectly fits your needs is just as important as any other aspect of your holiday.
Stay rested, eat well, have fun, get pampered, relax by the fire, explore the grounds, try out exciting activities and more in each of the amazing castles on our list of best castles to stay in Ireland.
While some castles are beloved favourites, others may surprise you. Without further ado, here is our list of the best castles to stay in Ireland.
What makes it special? Arguably Ireland’s top hotel and one of the best castles to stay in Ireland, Ashford Castle is the epitome of luxury, service and overindulgence. In full Downton Abbey style, you’ll be welcomed, pampered and made to feel like royalty during your stay at Ashford Castle. While there, explore the expansive grounds, try your hand at fishing on the nearby lakes of Connemara, or even head over to the Ashford School of Falconry for an exciting hawk walk.
What to visit nearby? You’re in the heart of the Connemara region, so go hiking in Connemara National Park – you have a few options in the 12 Bens Mountains depending our your ability level. Nearby, visit the beautiful Kylemore Abbey and its extraordinary Victorian Walled Gardens, and enjoy the adorable fishing village of Roundstone. Indulge yourself at an oyster tasting out by Killary Fjord, Ireland’s largest fjord, or hike the ancient pilgrimage track, Mám Éan.
Why go this year? If you’re interested in fishing, align this year’s visit to Ashford Castle with the mayfly season (in May), which sees some of the best fishing in Ireland. Even if fishing isn’t your cup of tea, indulge yourself at Ashford Castle this year, consistently rated Ireland’s top hotel.
What makes it special? Occupying an unassuming corner of Ireland, Ballyfin is one of Ireland’s best hotels. Once a stately home of the landed gentry, the building has been refurbished to fit kings and queens, making it one of the best castles to stay in Ireland. Ballyfin is a step back in time without losing any of the 21st century’s conveniences. Take a relaxing boat ride on the lake with your own butler, enjoy a lakeside picnic reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel, try your hand a clay pigeon shooting, and then go back in time at a costume dinner party straight out of Pride and Prejudice, wearing your own personally chosen costume.
Also, as one of Ireland’s top three luxury accommodations, Ballyfin is perhaps the best value for money as nearly everything from food to boat trips are included in the room price. There’s so much to do in the castle and on the grounds that you won’t ever want to leave.
What to visit nearby? Not far away is the whiskey distillery of Tullamore Dew, where you can have a private whiskey tasting. Explore beautiful hiking trails through Clonreher Bog and the Slieve Bloom Mountains, among Ireland’s least explored landscapes, or bike a loop from Ballyfin to Clonaslee for amazing views. Head over to the ruins of Ballyadams Castle or Dunamase Castle for a peek into the Middle Ages.
Why go this year? Voted as the World’s Best Hotel in the Condé Nast Best Hotels of the World award in the past few years, Ballyfin is both luxurious and extravagant. (In fact, Ballyfin was even recently famously chosen as the location for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s honeymoon).
What makes it special? Set in the fairy-tale village of Adare, Adare Manor is as charming as it is luxurious. Recently reopened after a major refurbishment, Adare Manor is now on par with Ashford Castle and Ballyfin Demesne for top-notch luxury. Built during the mid-1800s, the construction provided labour for the surrounding villagers during the terrible famine that devastated Ireland. Set on an estate of 840 acres, Adare Manor has gardens that rival Europe’s best. Enjoy 5 star dining, elegant Afternoon tea, an indulgent massage, or try your hand at horse-riding in a proper English saddle.
What to visit nearby? Quaint Adare village is a fountain of gems. Traditional thatched roofs line the main street, many containing charming restaurants. Known for its monasteries, explore the ancient ruins of several monasteries dating back to Medieval times, as well as the ruins of Desmond Castle.
For a bit of cosmopolitan life, head over to Limerick, which has seen a revitalisation in recent years. For quiet forest paths, explore Curraghchase Forest Park, once a landed estate and now supposed home to the spirit of the Lady of the Lake.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is an intriguing visit to learn about Irish life from medieval times up through the 1800s and early 1900s. The ruins of Askeaton Friary is also a lovely and undiscovered foray into another era.
Why go this year? Recently re-opened after a hiatus to conduct a massive renovation, be among the first to experience the renowned, grandiose luxury of Adare Manor, matching even the extravagance of Ashford and Ballyfin Castles.
What makes it special? The ancestral home of the O’Briens who can trace their lineage back to Brian Boru the ancient High King of Ireland, Dromoland Castle mixes grandeur with cosiness. Relax in front of ornate fireplaces under gilded chandeliers in charming, old style rooms. Explore the 4000 acre estate, brush up on your archery skills a la Game of Thrones, head out to the hills to do a bit of mountain biking, or hone your golfing skills on Dromoland’s 18 hole course. Or even head out on a private tour of Dromoland’s quaint jarvey carriage.
What to visit nearby? Lovely and colourful Ennis is a short drive away. A little farther on is the Burren National Park, known for its moon-like landscapes and brilliantly diverse spring wildflowers – the Burren Perfumerie is also located in this alien landscape. Limerick city is also not far if you’re looking for a bit of city life.
Visit the medieval Bunratty Castle & Folk Village to head back in time and history. And the Cliffs of Moher are just one hour away.
Why go this year? Join the Earl of Thomond at the medieval Bunratty Castle for a delicious and exciting medieval banquet where you’ll enjoy great Irish cuisine, fine wine and traditional medieval honey mead. During the feast, you’ll witness the crowning of the lord and lady of the castle. If you’re visiting Ireland in September, time your trip to take part in the annual Burren Walking Festival.
What makes it special? This 5 star castle experience is located in one of Ireland’s least-visited and most rugged counties, Donegal. Hugging a secluded lake shore, Lough Eske Castle presents a relaxing getaway to the edge of the world in an idyllic setting. Perfect for outdoor lovers, the castle is framed by the lovely Blue Stack Mountains. Lough Eske Castle blends historic charm with contemporary elegance, making it one of the best castles to stay in Ireland’s less-travelled northwest.
What to visit nearby? Hike the Pilgrim’s Path to the edge of the famous Slieve League Cliffs and follow ancient tracks in the Blue Stack Mountains. To the north, explore Glenveagh National Park and its idyllic Victorian hunting castle before heading up to Malin Head, home to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Why go this year? Located in south Donegal, Lough Eske makes for a great place to use as a base to explore National Geographic Traveller’s Coolest Place on Earth, County Donegal. You’ll also have a chance to discover Star Wars filming locations at Malin Head and beyond. Lough Eske Castle itself has recently been featured on Condé Nast‘s top three luxury Ireland hotels.
What makes it special? Ballyseede Castle is Kerry’s only castle hotel – but luckily, it’s among the best castles to stay in Ireland. Hugging the world-renowned Ring of Kerry route, Ballyseede offers 4 star old-world elegance with a touch of modern charm. Try surfing on Kerry’s beaches, golfing on the local courses, and exploring a beautiful section of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ring of Kerry.
What to visit nearby? While the Ring of Kerry is a well-travelled driving route, get off the beaten path by hiking the mountains within. Hike Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s tallest mountain, or for gentle hikes, explore the backcountry and lakes of Killarney National Park, with a stop at the lovely Muckross House. Killarney town offers a wealth of pubs and traditional Irish music. A bit further away is Portmagee, the harbour where the Skellig Islands boats depart.
Why go this year? Star Wars fans will be itching to explore the Kingdom of Kerry. Use Ballyseede Castle as a base to set sail to the jagged spires of the Skellig Islands to explore the alien world of the hit new Star Wars movie, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
What makes it special? Occupying 700 acres in the heart of Connemara on a backdrop of the 12 Bens Mountain Range, Ballynahinch Castle is renowned as one of the finest fisheries in Ireland. Dating from the 1700s, Ballynahinch celebrates its origins as a fishing lodge with wood panelling, traditional parlours, riverside rooms and quiet forest trails.
What to visit nearby? Head over to Connemara National Park to climb the rugged Diamond Hill, then visit the iconic Kylemore Abbey and its suburb Victorian walled gardens. Feast your senses on the stunning Dog’s Bay beach, or climb the off-the-beaten-path Errisbeg Hill, which overlooks the cheerful fishing village of Roundstone. Another lovely Connemara town is the lively Clifden village.
Why go this year? If you’re visiting Ireland in September, time your stay at Ballynahinch Castle to correspond with the local Clifden Arts Festival in September for a unique insider’s peek at Irish culture and arts.
What makes it special? This eclectic neo-Gothic house built in the 1830s may have added a few modern amenities but has not lost any of its charm. A perfect break from the 21st century in one of the wildest and most overlooked parts of Ireland, Belleek Castle has a fine collection of suits of armour and swords. The award-winning Library Restaurant is among the top in County Mayo. Get a backstage tour of the castle’s opulent private rooms, do a bit of fishing in the “Salmon Capital of Ireland,” and explore the old-growth forest grounds on foot or by bike.
What to visit nearby? For adventurous souls, hike in the wilderness of the Nephin Beg hills, or head out to hike the Children of Lir loop at Carrowtiege to learn about Irish mythology. Dare to explore Achill Island and its eerie Deserted Village, or hop over to the impressive Downpatrick Head in north Mayo. For those looking to surf or try out a relaxing seaweed bath, a stop at Enniscrone is a must.
Why go this year? Explore Ireland’s most remote national park, Ballycroy, after being approved in 2017 for a 50% expansion. By hiking the rugged Banger Trail that weaves through the Nephin Beg mountain range, you’ll discover remnants of true Irish wilderness in the last set of roadless Irish hills.
What makes it special? At Castle Leslie, expect individuality. Here, no two rooms are the same – and each room has its own riveting story attached to it. One of the last great houses of Ireland still in the hands of the founders, the Leslie family can supposedly trace its ancestors back to Atilla the Hun. While at Castle Leslie, visit the Victorian Treatment Rooms, leaving you feeling revitalised and relaxed. Treat yourself to an afternoon tea, try your hand at kayaking, or experience one of Europe’s finest equestrian playgrounds.
What to visit nearby? Castle Leslie is one of the best castles to stay in Ireland for outdoors lovers. Head out to the majestic Mourne Mountains for phenomenal hiking, following the strange Mourne Wall (enclosing nothing but remote hills), and climb Slieve Donard Mountain. Foray into ancient Ireland at the Beaghmore Stone Circles or Harry Avery’s Castle ruins, or 19th century Ireland at the Argory House, a beautiful landed estate. A bit further away is Belfast city, but it’s well worth the drive to visit Lonely Planet’s Top 2018 Destination.
Why go this year? Close to the Northern Ireland border, use Castle Leslie as a base to explore Westeros. Or rather, Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland, particularly those in the Mourne Mountains, Lough Neagh or the Marble Arch Caves. Read more about Game of Thrones filming locations here. Visit the rejuvenated streets of Belfast, named #1 Destination for 2018 by Lonely Planet.
What makes it special? The final on our list of best castles to stay in Ireland is Markree Castle, the ancestral home of the Cooper family in the heart of Yeats Country, just outside of Sligo’s ancient Coolera Peninsula. Recently lovingly restored, Markree Castle is a stunning 4 star estate, voted one of the Romantic Castles of Ireland. Don’t miss the amazing stained glass window in the main hall, showing the linage of the Cooper family.
What to visit nearby? For outdoor enthusiasts, Yeats Country offers many options: climb mountains like Knocknarea or Ben Bulben, or hike along the lovely Sligo Way, passing just under the nose of Markree Castle via Union Wood. Head out to Strandhill on Sligo’s Surf Coast to try your hand at surfing, or learn about local history at Lissadell House. Kayak on Lough Gill to explore Yeats’ famed Lake Isle of Innisfree. While here, taste the renowned Lissadell Mussels or relax in a seaweed bath.
Why go this year? Markree Castle has recently been sold and extravagantly refurbished by the new owners. While it was opened for select weddings in 2017, Markree Castle opens its doors to all castle hotel enthusiasts in 2018. Be the first to experience its charms as you fall in love with northwest Ireland.
What makes it special? Quaint and off the beaten path, Kilronan Castle is tucked into the quintessential countryside of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. It is the perfect place to settle down, kick back, and relax well off the tourist track.
What to visit nearby? Known to be quiet and agricultural, Roscommon still has plenty of interest. Boyle Abbey is one of Ireland’s greatest medieval abbeys. Speaking of medieval, Rindoon is the ruins of one of Ireland’s only medieval settlements. Roscommon town is host to the dramatic 13th-century ruins of RoscommonCastle. Into Sligo, find the incredible Neolithic monuments at Carrowkeel.
Knockranny Woods is a lovely place for a stroll and picnic, and fishermen will love nearby lakes like Lough Arrow, renowned for fishing. Though busier, Lough Key Forest Park is a great place for an afternoon out, complete with a lake, castle, forest, and even a puzzle room.
Why go this year? Historically an overlooked region when it comes to tourism, the Irish Midlands were recently branded as Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands in an effort to raise awareness of the hidden gems of this region. If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path Ireland, the Heartlands are the perfect place to go. Roscommon is at the centre, making Kilronan Castle a great castle to stay in.
What makes it special? Built in 1625 by Scottish man James Shaw, the castle was extended and renovated in the mid-1900s. But what makes it truly special are the hauntings. Ballygally Castle is said to host several ghosts, with the most prominent being Lady Isobel Shaw who likes to knock on door and then disappear before the door is opened – she died of falling out a window from the room in which her husband locked her. Another ghost likes to walk around rustling her silk dress.
There is even a Ghost Room, in which the hauntings are meant to be magnified – supposedly haunted by the spirit of a child. While you can’t sleep in the Ghost Room anymore, you can visit it to see if you have any spooky encounters.
What to visit nearby? Ballygally Castle is located about 40 minutes north of Belfast on the famous Causeway Coast. Some local haunts include the Gobbins Path which is an old smugglers trail hugging the coast and Carrickfergus Castle – one of Northern Ireland’s most fascinating castles. The world-famous Giant’s Causeway is a little more than an hour away, next to the ruins of Dunluce Castle and Old Bushills Distillery.
Why go this year? Off the tourist map for so long, Northern Ireland has seen a recent jump in tourism and has responded with arms wide open. The Causeway Coast was recently named Lonely Planet’s Top Region to Visit, and Game of Thrones, finishing up in 2019, has turned Northern Ireland’s little-known natural and cultural wonders into amazing filming locations. There are maps and interpretive panels all over Northern Ireland to direct the visitor to the site. On another note, Portrush Golf Club will host the 148th 2019 Open Championship – the second Open Championship to be hosted in Portrush, 68 years after the first.
What makes it special? Waterford Castle is a country house located on a lovely island on the River Suir in Co Waterford, in Ireland’s southeast. The current building has been built in the Victorian era in the Gothic style – as was common in the 1800s, though parts of an earlier castle have been woven in. Today it is a 4 star luxury island getaway – a perfect base for an off the beaten track holiday in the southeast of Ireland.
What to visit nearby? Waterford Castle is only a short hop away from Waterford city, a laid-back and historical town that can trace its roots back to the Vikings who once raided (then founded) the town (the ‘ford’ comes from ‘fjord’). Also in the southeast, a great place to visit is the beautiful Comeragh Mountains, which is perfect for a bit of hiking.
Head south for a visit to Hook Head and the Saltee Islands, a set of privately owned islands home to puffins and more. There are also some amazing beaches down on the coast of Waterford – a 17 km-long UNESCO region called the Copper Coast.
Why go this year? The southeast doesn’t make it onto most people’s to-see list. And yet it is reputed to get the best weather in the country. Hotels and activities in the southeast are great value for money, there are far fewer tourists than in the southwest and you’ll enjoy some of Ireland’s best weather. And the southeast certainly not lacking in amazing sites from history to culture to landscape to coastlines. Now is a great time to visit before everyone else discovers this region too.
What makes it special? Lutrellstown Castle Resort is really the best of both worlds – castle luxury and yet close to Dublin. Lutrellstown Castle is about 30 minutes outside of Dublin. Enjoy the elegance of 5 star luxury on the doorstep of cosmopolitan Dublin.
What to visit nearby? Of course, Dublin is right on Lutrellstown Castle’s doorstep. Dublin is full of places to visit – museums like EPIC, 14 Henrietta Street, and the National Museum of Ireland; there’s the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery. For active people, there are kayaking tours on the River Liffey, and for literary nerds, there’s a literary pub crawl. Outside of Dublin, there are a few amazing Neolithic sites, such as the Hill of Tara, Loughcrew and Newgrange within an hour’s drive. And to the south is the beautiful region of the Wicklow Mountains.
Why go this year? Dublin has more flight connections than ever. There are plenty of direct and reasonably priced flight connections from all over North America and Europe. And no matter the year or the season, Dublin is always fun and always has something on.
What makes it special? Lismore Castle wasn’t always a castle – in fact, from the 12th to 16th centuries, it was actually Lismore Abbey. The current building was transformed into a castle in the Gothic style in the 1700s – and thus Lismore Castle was born. This exclusive use castle is the epitome of luxury in southwest Ireland. Expect old-world charm, expert service and a beautiful place to kick back and relax – not to mention a great hall ready for banqueting.
Lismore Castle was actually the setting for the film Northanger Abbey, which adapting Jane Austen’s novel of the same name. Something else interesting, Sir Walter Raleigh, the man who brought potatoes and tobacco to Ireland, once owned Lismore.
What to visit nearby? The castle is located in the heart of Lismore village, a charming and historic place. The public gardens of the castle are famed for their beauty – forming part of the Waterford Garden Trail. If you like your whiskey (and even if you don’t) you’ll have to visit Jameson Midleton Distillery outside of Cork city.
If you’re looking for a bit of hiking, the Comeragh Mountains are in the region and provide plenty of hiking trails and hidden valleys. The famous Rock of Cashel is just an hour away – a monastery built into a rock rumoured to have been thrown there by the devil. Cahir Castle is another of Ireland’s most impressive castles yet has far fewer crowds than, say, Blarney Castle. For those interested in subterranean worlds, Mitchelstown Caves are about 45 minutes away, and to the south, there are a number of beaches.
Why go this year? Waterford, and the southwest in general, are great value for money. Relatively undiscovered by international tourists and yet with some of Ireland’s best weather, enjoy luxury without the bustle of Ireland’s busier regions.
What makes it special? Where do we start? Belle Isle Castle occupies a small, scenic island on the River Erne in the heart of Ireland’s Lakelands region. Turreted and gothic, the imposing stone walls and towers are draped in beautiful ivy. Like Lismore Castle, the 17th century Belle Isle Castle is also exclusive use only, meaning that you and your party will get this beautiful place all to yourselves.
Belfast has quickly become one of Europe’s most exciting foodie destinations, but outside of Belfast, places like Belle Isle Cookery School have followed suit. Opened in 2004, it is Northern Ireland’s first state-of-the-art cookery school.
What to visit nearby? Located in the Lakelands, the River and Lake Erne have beautiful shorelines and islands to explore, two of which stand out: White Island (home to ancient figures) and Devenish Island (location of a magnificent monastery).
The Marble Arch GeoPark is a phenomenal outdoor arena featuring a network of labyrinthine caves, stunning landscapes such as Cuilcagh Mountain (nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven) and ancient archeology – some of which even featured in hit TV show Game of Thrones. The historic estate of Florence Court is just down the road as well. Over the border, the Cavan Burren Park has a network of accessible trails to various megalithic era tombs.
Why go this year? Belle Isle Castle is in perhaps Northern Ireland’s least discovered corner. At the moment, the favourable conversion rate with pounds sterling makes Northern Ireland, in general, a good choice for travel. Co Fermanagh’s out-of-the-way location makes it ideal for disconnecting with the world and reconnecting with nature in a relaxing yet active way.
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