Day trips from Dublin
Wicklow Mountains National Park is a large, rugged area of protected upland wilderness. (Richard Sowersby/BBC)
Located on Ireland’s eastern coast, Dublin is a perfectly placed hub for exploring the surrounding countryside. The rolling hills around the Irish capital are endowed with an array of easily accessible day trips, from charming coastal villages to breathtaking mountain scenery, all just a car or train ride away.
At the northern tip of Dublin Bay, just 16km from the city centre, Howth was a Norse stronghold until the 11th Century. But these days, it has a more genteel atmosphere as an upmarket suburb and peaceful fishing village. Its working harbour sees trawlers returning from fishing trips on a daily basis and the West Pier is lined with fishmongers and seafood restaurants like the Oar House. Walk the cliff top trail around Howth Head for spectacular views of the Irish Sea, the Baily Lighthouse and the Lambay and Ireland’s Eye islands. On a clear day, you might even be able to make out the Welsh coast. In parkland close to the village, the imposing Howth Castle, home to the Gaisford-St. Lawrence family for more than 800 years, is closed to the public, but the castle’s Georgian-era kitchen houses the Kitchen in the Castle cookery school. You can sign up for short two- and three-hour evening classes on a variety of culinary themes – a novel way to meet the locals.
Some of Europe’s most important Neolithic sites are located less than an hour’s drive north of Dublin, in the heart of County Meath. The Unesco World Heritage-listed sites of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth are a trio of sprawling burial mounds dating from 3200 BC – pre dating the Egyptian Pyramids that cluster together on the banks of the River Boyne. Stop at the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre outside the village of Donore to start the tour of Newgrange and Knowth and learn about the tombs’ construction and civilisation. You can also view a full-scale replica of the burial chamber at Newgrange, believed to be the final resting place of the High Kings of Ireland, before you visit the sites themselves. Marvel at the sophistication of Newgrange’s great passage tomb, whose inner chamber was ingeniously designed to be illuminated by sunlight for just a few days each year, during the winter solstice in mid-December -- an important period in the pagan calendar. Nearby are the grass-covered mounds of the Hill of Tara, once the seat of the High Kings of Ireland and a site of great significance.
Enniskerry and Powerscourt Estate
The charming village of Enniskerry and the sprawling Powerscourt Estate are a short drive or bus journey away, 20km south of Dublin in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. At the centre of the estate is Powerscourt House, once one of the country’s finest 18th-Century Palladian mansions, designed by Richard Cassels for Lord Powerscourt and surrounded by lush gardens that have views of the County Wicklow countryside and Great Sugar Loaf mountain. The house was devastated by fire in 1974, leaving just a shell, and although much of it was restored, the interior decor only hints at its former Georgian grandeur. These days it is home to branch of Avoca, a café and shop that sells clothes and housewares. Take a day to explore the estate and gardens, which are criss-crossed with trails for hiking and walking. Along the River Dargle, about five kilometres from the main estate, is Powerscourt Waterfall. At almost 400ft high, Ireland’s highest cascade plunges down a sheer rock face in a particularly serene and lovely picnic spot.