One of the things I love most about Ireland is the castles. And the coolest thing about the castles there is that they are everywhere! There are literally hundreds. I’d just be driving along the countryside, and BOOM there’d be another one! And even though they’re all over the country, I still get surprised when I stumble upon one. It never gets old, and every castle has an amazing history to discover. Some are restored, some are now in ruins. The fact that they exist all over the country – in all sizes, shapes, and conditions – is a characteristic that makes Ireland one of the most unique places on earth.
One of the most iconic castles is Ashford Castle, which has been transformed into a beautiful hotel and resort. It was once owned by the well-known Guinness Family, and delivers Irish luxury at it’s finest. Although the castle itself only has 82 rooms, they are on acres and acres of picturesque land with almost any activity you can think of. From fishing in their onsite lake to tree climbing…. they also have golfing, fox hunts, horseback riding, tennis, spa, archery, a movie theater, and of course the classic Irish afternoon tea. I can definitely see why many kings and presidents through the years have stayed here. One of my clients, who has traveled all over the globe as a journalist for a coveted media company, arrived to find cookies made with her daughter’s name on them, and later raved about their experience with the Falconry School. She told me it was the best place she’s ever stayed in the world.
I also find the smaller, more touristy castles, charming as well! I remember the first time I visited Blarney Castle. It was 1976, and there wasn’t a line (like you may find now) to kiss the Blarney Stone. I’ve done it 3 times now, so I’ve got the gift of gab for sure. And that’s not a simple feat! Only because you have to climb to the top and then arch back over the edge to kiss it. But don’t worry, there are people there to help, and it’s an incredible view at the top. Bunratty Castle is another popular stop, and they also have many different styles of medieval homes on the surrounding park. It really gives you a sense of what life was like for common folk, back when they heated and cooked their tiny places with soot-ridden peat fires. The kids love it!
You may decide to just wander around to various castles on your own, which is a fun adventure! Although, I do recommend that you go on at least one guided tour. It gives you great perspective, and adds a lot to the experience. You’ll hear about the history of the families that lived there, their rituals and celebrations, and – the best part – you don’t have to drive yourself! No matter how you decide to castle-hop, I promise it’ll be a delightful surprise. No other place offers this like Ireland.