Lovingly known as the Garden of Ireland, County Wicklow on the country’s east coast is one of its most beautiful areas, comprised of rolling mountains, pristine beaches and numerous historic monuments. It’s also home to several things you will only find in Wicklow, from the country’s highest waterfall to the supposed landing site of Saint Patrick. Read on to discover the ten best reasons to visit Dublin’s enticing neighbour.
So vast are the Wicklow Mountains that they can’t even be contained within its borders; their granite peaks also spread out into the neighbouring counties of Dublin, Carlow and Wexford. The beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park is the largest of the six Irish national parks, spanning 220 square kilometres, and is the site of the historic Glendalough monastic site (see below). The Wicklow Way self-guided walking trail that takes in part of the mountains was listed in the 2015 book 1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die.
The glacial valley of Glendalough in central County Wicklow is the site of one of the country’s most significant Early Medieval monastic settlements, dating back to the 6th century. Originally founded by the somewhat mysterious hermetic figure of St. Kevin, it soon developed into a monastic city – a major centre of religious learning and worship. Today, people of all faiths visit to experience the area’s unspoiled natural beauty and see its well-preserved monuments. The arched granite gateway to the monastic city is the last remaining structure of its kind in all of Ireland.
The Avoca Handweavers brand is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the entire world, and their mill on the banks of the Acova River, from which they get their name, is Ireland’s oldest, having been built in 1723. In Avoca village, you can visit the still-working mill for a free tour and have something to eat in one of the store’s award-winning cafés. The village itself was the filming location of the BBC series Ballykissangel.
A satellite garden of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, the peaceful Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens on the grounds of a former estate have acidic soil and moderate temperatures that have made them a haven for rare plant species – some so scarce that they are the only one of their kind in the Northern Hemisphere. It has welcomed critically endangered species such as monkey puzzle trees, whose Chilean population has been so decimated that they are now a national monument. The arboretum is also home to several Irish champion trees – singled out as being among the country’s tallest, oldest or biggest.
Though generally referred to as the Blessington Lakes, the official title of the active reservoir in west County Wicklow is Pollaphuca, meaning ‘the púca’s hole’ (puca is the Irish word for a ghost or a spirit). It is referred to in the plural because it lies in two different river valleys – those of the Liffey and King Rivers. One of two major sources of the water supply for Dublin, it is also a scenic area of wild bird conservation, known internationally for its population of greylag geese.
A four-kilometre stretch of golden sand along the Irish Sea, Brittas Bay is one of Ireland’s best beaches, loved by locals and migrating Dublin sun-worshippers alike. It has been awarded the European Union (EU) Blue Flag certification – designating the highest quality beaches in Europe – for five consecutive years. It is also famous for supposedly being the initial landing site of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. Apparently, there are several historical references to him landing at Three Mile Water, Brittas Bay.
The 18th-century Powerscourt country estate and its 47-acre gardens are a major Wicklow tourist attraction. The house as it stands now is a remodel of a former 13th-century castle, extensively renovated through the years and commanding a spectacular view of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Also nearby is Powerscourt Waterfall – Ireland’s highest waterfall – 121 metres high in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains.
Ireland is one of the nations with the most golf courses per capita in the world, and Wicklow has an unusually high concentration of world-class clubs, from the historic Woodbrook Golf Club to the picturesque courses at Powerscourt and Glen of the Downs. And the 20-hole European Club at Brittas Bay is one of only two Leinster clubs to feature among the prestigious Top 100 Golf Clubs of the World rankings.
The two popular coastal towns of Bray and Greystones are linked by a six-kilometre trail around the Bray Head peninsula. Looking out over the Irish Sea with unrivalled views of north Wicklow and south Dublin, this is one of the best-loved walking routes on the east coast. In Bray, you can visit The Harbour Bar, once voted the Best Pub in the World by Lonely Planet.
Advertised as ‘a contemplative garden for lapsed pantheists’, the Victor’s Way Indian Sculpture Park is a child-free zone where mobile phone use is all but prohibited, and guests are encouraged to ‘forest bathe’ – that is, immerse themselves fully in nature. Aimed at quite a specific target group (lone adults aged 28 and over who need time alone), it is filled with sculptures that were hand-cut in South India.