County Wicklow’s glacial Glendalough (meaning ‘Valley of Two Lakes’) Valley is one of the most prominent of Ireland’s many early-Christian monastic sites. Dating back to the 6th century, it is now part of the beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park, a 200-square-kilometer protected area of untouched woodlands, mountains, bogs, rivers and lakes that begs to be explored. This uniquely peaceful place harbors a wealth of medieval monuments, including a double-arched granite gateway at the border of the area of refuge that is the only one of its kind left in the country. Take a color-coded walking or hiking trail and marvel at these one-of-a-kind surroundings.
A proper investigation of the full Wild Atlantic Way tourism trail along the west coast of Ireland warrants its own journey. But The Cliffs of Moher on the Clare coast can be seen in a day from Dublin, and infrequent visitors to Ireland would be wise to squeeze in a trip to these majestic shale and sandstone formations. 214 meters at the highest point, they tower grandly over the Atlantic Ocean, giving tourists and visitors a sense of their own diminutiveness. Multiple tour operators offer day trips from Dublin to the cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland +353 65 708 6141
This seaside village on the Howth Head peninsula – the northern boundary of Dublin Bay – is perfect for a day trip, though it is best visited on one of Ireland’s rare sunny days to get the full effect. There’s plenty to do and see here: Howth Castle, the ancestral home of the St Lawrence family, descended from Howth’s first Baron, is one of Ireland’s oldest occupied buildings and features a collapsed dolmen tomb on the grounds. A walk along the cliff path loop is essential too, with views over the Irish sea and the picturesque Baily Lighthouse to the south-east. But Howth is a wonderful place to just wander – around the harbor, through the busy fish markets, and among the many restaurants selling Dublin’s freshest seafood.
Situated at the bend of the River Boyne in County Meath, Brú na Bóinne is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site a convenient short drive north of Dublin. The landscape here is probably best known for its three largest megalithic passage graves: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Each one consists of a circular mound with a passageway leading to interior chambers. Skilfully built around 5,000 years ago, each of these prehistoric buildings contain impressive examples of megalithic art. Because of its alignment with the rising sun, crowds gather every year outside Newgrange on the winter solstice; a lottery allows a lucky few to enter the inner chamber and watch it flood with light – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre, Donore, County Meath, Ireland +353 41 988 0300
Kilkenny is a desirable day trip destination for a number of reasons: it blends medieval architecture, a vibrant arts scene and ample shopping options, as well as being voted among Europe’s friendliest cities, known for its plentiful restaurants and sociable nightlife. Tourists gravitate towards the imposing Kilkenny Castle and its adjoining public gardens and parkland, where self-guided visits or guided tours of the castle interior are available depending on the season. Every August Kilkenny Arts Festival takes over the city with a packed program of cultural events, while the National Craft Gallery opposite the castle has quality exhibitions year round and a well-stocked gift store.
Whether you’re hoping to breathe sea air or absorb some culture, these delightful day trips are a stone’s throw from Dublin.