The best castles in Ireland are scattered all across this cozy island nation, which means no matter where you go, you’ll find a castle nearby. Great news for anyone planning an Ireland vacation — tough news for anyone making a list of the best castles in Ireland to add to that vacation! Our list of the best castles in Ireland includes national icons, craggy ruins and magnificent restorations. Pick and choose a few of each, add them to your itinerary, and you’ll have a truly royal Ireland vacation.
Possibly one of the world’s most well-known landmarks, Blarney Castle is visited by millions every year. Many come to join the long line to kiss the Blarney Stone, but the castle has plenty of other attractions to make it worth your while. For one thing, there’s the gardens: sixty acres of them, including a Poison Garden, a bog environment and a fern garden with more than eighty varieties of fern.
For another, there’s the magnificent battlements, rising above the countryside. Stand atop the parapets and gaze out over the magical Irish landscape. And within the castle’s walls, you can explore tunnel-like hallways, spiral staircases, peek through arrow-slits and even down through a murder-hole. If you want to imagine yourself into an Irish medieval fantasy, this is a good place to do it!
Blarney Castle is convenient to the city of Cork, making it easy to add to a day or two that includes visits to the port towns of Kinsale and Cobh. Or stop by on your drive from Dublin to Waterford.
At Bunratty Castle, you don’t have to imagine all the trappings of the past. Living history is all around you! Bunratty Castle is one of the best castles in Ireland for anyone who wants to step back in time. Set alongside a recreation of an Irish village in Bunratty Folk Park, Bunratty Castle was restored to its original, 15th-century grandeur.
Tapestries on the walls, historic furniture in the halls and a banquet every evening: the castle offers a unique experience. You’ll have the opportunity to experience medieval life, plus enjoy a world-class art collection. And in the village, you can explore different examples of Irish life through the ages.
Stay late for Bunratty Castle’s medieval banquet. You’ll enjoy Irish customs, music and dining in the castle’s majestic great hall. Located between Shannon and Limerick, it’s a perfect addition to your itinerary as you travel on Ireland’s west coast.
Dublin Castle’s exhibitions and museum collections offer a different experience from Blarney’s ruins or Bunratty’s medieval recreations. It’s been a government complex since 1204, and before that, it was the site of a Viking fort. That lengthy history of service is what makes Dublin Castle so unique–in one place, you can view both the 13th-century artifacts of a medieval fortress, and regal state apartments where the highest of government functions, like presidential inaugurations, take place.
Carve out some time during your Dublin stay to visit the castle’s Gothic-design Chapel Royal, the viceregal apartments, Viking fortress excavations, and the distinctive circular Medieval Tower.
A magnificent hybrid of classical 19th-century and medieval 12th-century design, Kilkenny Castle commands an impressive position above the town of Kilkenny. Within its dramatic walls, you’ll find elegantly appointed rooms restored to their appearance circa the mid-1800s. This includes spectacular furnishings and artwork. The Withdrawing Room, where ladies withdrew after dinner, the Grand Staircase and the Library are all works of art in their own right.
Situated on 21 hectacres of landscaped parklands, Kilkenny Castle is a stand-out amongst the best castles in Ireland. Visit it while you’re staying near Waterford, Wexford or on your way south from Dublin.
One of the best castles in Ireland is just outside Dublin’s center, making it an easy addition to any Dublin city break. Malahide Castle is a gorgeously restored fortress dating back to 1185. Today, it’s home to more than two hundred acres of park and gardens, with a famous plant collection featuring species from around the world. The castle itself is home to the National Gallery of Ireland’s national portrait collection.
You can tour Malahide Castle’s most magnificent rooms, including the Great Hall, as well as bedrooms and drawing rooms. Then, enjoy the castle exhibitions, which might include interpretive displays on the castle’s restoration and history, the Talbot family (who resided here for eight centuries) and the estate’s collection of ghosts (at least five!). Outdoors, explore the beautiful walled garden, Victorian glasshouses, and the 18th-century Demesne — landscaped parkland in the English Landscape style.
King John’s Castle
Yes, it’s named for that King John! A 13th-century castle displayed in an interpretive history style, King John’s Castle was built between 1200 and 1212 for the younger brother of Richard Lionheart, who would become king upon Richard’s death in 1199. It’s a massive, imposing structure looking over the River Shannon, built atop pre-Norman fortifications.
One of the best castles in Ireland for children, this Limerick landmark offers living history from a bustling courtyard where a blacksmith works at his forge, to high-tech displays bringing old legends to life. Atop the battlements, you’ll find panoramic views of the River Shannon and Limerick, where the old and new rub shoulders.
A little bit younger than some of the medieval entries on the list, Donegal Castle lacks the impressive round towers and imposing battlements of King John’s Castle or Malahide Castle. But it’s beautifully preserved and offers something a little different in terms of architecture, to say nothing of history.
Donegal Castle was first built in 1474 by the O’Donnell clan. In the 1580s, this powerful clan would be forced from Ireland after a series of English defeats. They set fire to the keep on the way out, but Donegal Castle was rebuilt in 1623 in a more contemporary (15-century) Jacobean style. This late-Renaissance style is more elegant stone manor, less formidable fortress. The original keep is updated with large windows, a gable and a manor-house wing, giving it a very country-house appeal.
Today you can tour Donegal Castle’s magnificently restored Great Hall, which features an ornately decorated fireplace, French tapestries and Persian rugs, along with other rooms. While not an all-afternoon affair, this castle’s unique beauty and rich history makes it a worthwhile addition to any trip through Ireland’s northwest region.
Another not-your-typical castle, Lynch’s Castle is a fortified house in the heart of Galway’s historic center. Decorated with elegantly carved windows and doors on its first floor and the coats-of-arms of fifteenth century rulers such as King Henry VII, it has clearly been modified over the years to keep up with changing tastes.
But nothing changed it quite so much as its 1966 transformation into a bank branch. The bank restored the limestone building, and today its first floor is open to visitors, with exhibits dedicated to its history and architecture.
Today, Lynch’s Castle is the only remaining example of a complete secular medieval building in Galway, making it well worth your while when visiting this historic city in the west of Ireland.
Back to tradition we go, with Trim Castle, the largest Anglo-Norman castle in the country. Built beginning in 1176, this castle’s immense size is just one reason it’s one of the best castles in Ireland. It’s also fantastic example of the best defensive practices of the age, including a twenty-sided tower protected by a moat, curtain wall and ditch.
Today Trim Castle’s ruins stand over the River Boyne and look down on the heritage town of Trim, home to the magnificent ruins of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. On a guided tour of the grounds, you can discover the history and purpose of Trim Castle’s many towers, halls and other details — from the disarming area, where visitors handed over their swords and weapons before being admitted, to the spiral staircase up to the castle chapel. It’s a stunning addition to any trip down Ireland’s east coast.
Rock of Cashel
No list of the best castles in Ireland is complete without the astonishing hilltop ruins of the Rock of Cashel. Although technically the ruins you find here those of a massive cathedral site, the Rock of Cashel was the seat of the ancient Kings of Munster. Legend says that St. Patrick converted the King to Christianity here in the 5th century. With that kind of history, the Rock of Cashel complex is almost unimaginably ancient, even by European standards, though the structures which survive mostly date back to the 12th century.
A tenth-century king gifted the Rock of Cashel to the Church, and a collection of religious structures arose with Celtic, Romanesque and Germanic features in their architecture. Elegant stone arches rise against the Irish sky alongside a traditional 12th-century round tower, and the remnants of medieval frescoes brighten the vaults of Cormac’s Chapel contrast with the lacey Celtic carvings on the chapel’s sarcophagus (which just might be the tomb of King Cormac).
Located in County Tipperary, the Rock of Cashel is in Ireland’s southeast and more or less centrally located from Waterford, Kilkenny, Cork and Limerick.
Visiting the Best Castles in Ireland
Many of these castles can be added as day-trips or stops between cities as you tour Ireland on your own. If you’re considering an Escorted Tour, look for an itinerary which includes your must-do castles. You might find a few bonus gems on the tour itinerary as well!
The amazing small-group Irish Heritage tour includes the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle and a medieval banquet at Knappogue Castle – a sister event to the one at Bunratty Castle. There’s also time in Kilkenny and Dublin where you can seek out those city’s castles on your own.
You’ll find Kilkenny Castle, Blarney Castle and Bunratty Castle on the Affordable Ireland tour, as well as time in Galway, where you can visit Lynch’s Castle, and Dublin, where you can visit Dublin Castle. You’ll also find these castles and towns on the Classic Ireland tour.
Donegal Castle, Lynch’s Castle and some time in Dublin are highlights on the Crown of Ireland tour, which features Northern Ireland and the west coast.
Visit Dublin, Kilkenny Castle, Blarney Castle, and Galway on the Kaleidoscope of Ireland tour, which also visits Northern Ireland and Donegal.
Want to visit castles and stay in one? Our Fly & Drive vacation packages include stays at Ireland’s best castle and country house hotels. Choose from itineraries like this 8 Day Irish Castle Fly & Drive, which includes stays in Waterford, Tralee, Connemara and County Meath.
Whether you add just one of the best castles in Ireland to your itinerary or all ten (what a trip!) you’ll be transported back in time. And there’s nowhere better for a little time travel than that mystical isle of Ireland.