There is no shortage of dreamy castles in Ireland, but most of the medieval towers and stone ruins dot the green countryside. Luckily, staying in the city doesn't mean having to give up on your royal daydreams. In fact, you can see some of the country's best castles without ever having to stray far from the capital.
Ready to explore Irish fortresses? Here is where to find the best castles near Dublin:
Lying just outside the seaside village of the same name, Howth Castle makes for a delightful day trip from Dublin. The very first Howth Castle dates back to 1177 when Almeric, the first Lord of Howth, conquered the peninsula. The castle took on its current stone appearance in the 1700s, and many of the furnishings and art inside its historic halls date back to this time period. Legend has it that Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s famed pirate queen, once kidnapped the owner of the house when she found that the gates to the great house were closed. To this day, they always set an extra plate at dinner to honor the fearsome guest who was once turned away. It is possible to visit the castle on Sundays from April to October. Take the DART to Howth, and turn right when exiting the station. After about 200 yards, you will see signs for the castle.
The stone ruins of Trim Castle were immortalized in the movie “Braveheart,” but the castle’s real-life history is just as interesting as its cinematic claim to fame. Located in Co Meath, Trim Castle was once the largest fortified house in Ireland. Construction began in 1176 and was undertaken by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter. They were granted permission to the land by King Henry II, who wanted to stop the legendary figure of Strongbow from gaining too much power in the area. Trim Castle took more than thirty years to build and featured a 20-sided tower. The castle itself is open for visits on Saturdays and Sundays, but it is possible to take a tour of the grounds any day of the week. Catch a bus from the central Dublin station (Busáras) and travel for around an hour through the countryside. Exit when you reach the town of Trim.
Drimnagh Castle is one of the few medieval castles that is still standing in Dublin. The structure dates back to the 12th century and was originally built by the Barnewell family, who arrived in Ireland with Strongbow. The Norman castle can be found in the suburb of Drimnagh, and it is worth the trip to the south side to see the pretty stone castle—which happens to be the only castle in Ireland with a moat. In addition to being surrounded by a flooded moat, the castle also boasts a formal garden and a tree-lined alley. If the setting looks familiar, it could be because The Tudors was filmed at Drimnagh. The castle offers walk-in tours on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday.
The sprawling country house known as Ardgillan Castle is set inside a large public park in Fingal, north of Dublin. The house once belonged to Reverend Robert Taylor, who built the estate in 1738. The stone mansion built with castellated establishments looks out at the Irish Sea and the town of Balbriggan. It is possible to walk through the woodlands and walled gardens near the castle, which make up part of the 200-acre Ardgillan Demesne park surrounding the building. Explore the inside of the two-story castle by joining a guided tour at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. every day of the week.
Stately Malahide Castle just outside of Dublin is one of the best castles in Ireland thanks to its pretty stone architecture and extensive botanical gardens. The fortified stone building was home to the same family for over 800 years but you can now book a guided tour to explore the inside of the fully restored medieval castle. In good weather, skip the tour and simply wander the grounds to take in the views, flowers and fresh air. The castle is easy to reach from Dublin via DART.
The town of Swords, just north of Dublin, is home to an impressive medieval castle a short drive from the heart of the capital. The fortified castle was built in or around 1200 as a home for the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop of Dublin. In addition to rooms for the Archbishop, the castle also contained apartments for knights and a banquet hall for entertaining. The castle was restored by the Fingal County Council and is now a tourist attraction. The easiest way to reach the town outside Dublin is to catch the Swords Express bus from the city center, which stops in front of the Jury’s Inn at Custom House Quay.
Many of the best castles near Dublin have a stony gray appearance because they date back to medieval times. Grand Rathfarnham Castle is different because it dates back to Elizabethan times. The building is the earliest example of a fortified house in Ireland and was constructed around the time of the Norman invasion. The castle soon passed to a clergyman named Adam Loftus, who soon rose in the church to become the Archbishop of Dublin. Loftus is responsible for creating the castle as it stands today—sometime around 1583. The castle passed between English nobles but largely remained in the hands of the Loftus family who gave it a luxurious makeover in the 18th century. The building was eventually purchased by the Jesuits in the early 1900s to be used as a seminary. Rathfarnham Castle is now owned by the state and is open for daily guided tours every day of the week. For a taste of the grounds before you visit, you can also take an online tour.
Located between Dublin City and the Dublin Airport, Clontarf Castle began life as a strategically placed medieval castle. Today, the 12th-century castle has been converted into a four-star hotel, but it has also served as a bar and cabaret in the not-so-distant past. The area is best known for the Battle of Clontarf—a vicious fight which took place on April 23, 1014 between Viking and Leister forces. After the battle, the first castle appeared on the site in 1172, but the current building was designed in the 1800s. It has been thoroughly modernized since being converted into a hotel but makes for a romantic stop for lunch or an overnight stay near the Irish capital.