The Top Things to Do in County Wicklow

A wild oasis a stone's throw from Dublin

Wicklow Mountains National Park

 Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

Sometimes called the Hollywood of Ireland because of its much-filmed landscape, County Wicklow offers plenty of things to do and incredible sights. The county line is found not far outside of Dublin, and this part of the Irish Province of Leinster has a number of nationally-prized attractions you as well as some interesting sights that are slightly off the beaten path.

Wicklow is thought of as the Garden County for its amazing natural landscapes and manicured estates. From a national park to the famous 81-mile long trail, plus Ireland's tallest waterfall and most famous round tower - here is everything to do in County Wicklow.

01 of 11

Experience Tranquillity at Glendalough

Glendalough - The Jewel of County Wicklow
Bernd Biege

South of Dublin, and at the end of a scenic drive in a remote valley in the Wicklow Mountains, you will find the Glendalough Monastic Site

One of the most important early Christian sights in a setting that is simply beautiful. In a wooded valley beside two usually tranquil lakes - Glendalough literally means "Valley of the Two Lakes". Lovers of history and/or architecture can indulge in a round tower, "engaged" towers, St Kevin's Kitchen (actually a church), and a cathedral (ruin). Lovers of nature can simply enjoy the walks along the lakes.

Both aspects combined make Glendalough a top choice for a visit in County Wicklow. The visitor center hosts a very good exhibition and an audio-visual guide for a fee. But you can also choose to go directly to the monastic site - which is completely free to visit on its own. Once actually at the site, explore the remains of the monastery and have a few short walks along the well-maintained paths to find that perfect angle for a photo.

02 of 11

Admire Powerscourt Estate

Copyright (c) 2006 Amanda Susan Munroe

Wicklow is most famous for its wild natural beauty but Powerscourt Estate is a manmade wonder nestled into the rolling green foothills of Sugarloaf Mountain. The country estate was once owned by the Viscounts of Powerscourt, who built a Palladian mansion and created an extensive garden that is considered one of the best in all of Ireland. Unfortunately, the mansion was destroyed by a fire in the 1970s, but the building was carefully restored and now houses small shops dedicated to Irish handicrafts as well as a lovely café. However, it is the beautifully landscaped grounds which make the County Wicklow attraction one of the top places to go in Ireland.

03 of 11

Get Locked Up in Wicklow's Historic Gaol

Gfox228/Commons (CC BY 3.0

From tranquillity and contemplation to terror and condemnation - Wicklow's Historic Gaol is certainly worth a visit. These days you actually pay to get in and they let you out again without too much hassle. Which might come as a relief after seeing the exhibition. In contrast to the almost squeaky-clean presentation of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, the less famous counterpart in Wicklow Town goes straight for the jugular. Prison life is recreated by life-size manikins. In all gory detail. Ever wanted to see somebody flogged? Kids will love it ...

04 of 11

Walk the Wicklow Way

Walking path along north shore of Upper Lake in Wicklow Mountains National Park by Glendalough, stormy spring skies
 Anna Gorin / Getty Images

Here is a special treat for those that want to seriously stretch their legs: The Wicklow Way is one of the best-known and most popular way-marked routes in Ireland. The 81-mile (131 kilometer) trail begins right outside Dublin and leads through an astonishing landscape with lush woods, waterfalls and high, windswept bogs, quite steep mountains. Depending on the walker’s speed and the number of stops built into your itinerary, the trail usually takes 5-7 days to complete so undertaking the full Wicklow Way is not for the casual stroller or faint-hearted. Be sure to take provisions, have good gear and expect ever-changeable weather. While walking the whole Wicklow Way will take a week, you can also pick and choose the most exciting sections for a single day's ramble.

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05 of 11

A Drive in the Wicklow Mountains

Wicklow Mountain Landscape View down a road
John Carey 2011 / Getty Images

To see the best of the county in one go, why not take drive through the Wicklow Mountains? Wicklow is a county for walking, but it also offers stunning drives through unspoiled countryside. For an unforgettable time on the road, set your sights on Sally Gap. Sally Gap is one of the main passes through the Wicklow Mountains, running through blanket bogs before climbing through the hills. The road was first built by the British Army, whose soldiers were looking for Irish rebels hiding in the mountainous terrain after the rebellion of 1798, and the pass is still known as Military Road. The sinuous road is challenging to navigate but well worth the twists and turns for the inspiring vistas. 

There are also other routes to pass through the Vale of Avoca, drive near stately homes, through the Wicklow Gap, see the massive reservoir near Blessington and, of course, Glendalough. 

06 of 11

Hike in Wicklow Mountains National Park

Green hills and a rocky stream on Lugnaquilla in Wicklow ireland
 Wiki Commons ( CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wicklow Way, but also the main roads through the mountains, will lead you through the Wicklow Mountains National Park - the most-visited of the National Parks of Ireland, located on more than 20,000 hectares of rugged countryside in County Wicklow, just on the doorstep of the capital Dublin. Woods, barren plateaus, heather, gurgling streams, waterfalls, all part of the equation. And easy access too, simply stop at a convenient spot and take a ramble. Good walking gear, weather-proof clothing, and a map are essentials. Exploring the open terrain is best left to experience outdoors people because the visibility and weather can change quickly.

07 of 11

Walk to Ireland's Tallest Waterfall

Fabian Walden/Flickr

One of the loveliest walks in Wicklow is the trail leading to the Powerscourt Waterfall, four miles away from Powerscourt Estate. The cascade tumbles 398-feet down a rocky cliff at the end of a well-kept walkway. The stunning horsetail waterfall is located on privately-owned land, but the €6 entry fee also grants visitors use of all the facilities, including a playground and picnic area at the base of the falls. The Wicklow waterfall is one of the prettiest in Ireland, and an excellent stop for a bit of fresh air while touring the county.

08 of 11

Gaze on the Shimmering Waters of Lough Tay

Lough tay in County wicklow
 kilgarron/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Following the turns of Sally Gap, the road through County Wicklow leads past Lough Tay. The scenic water spot is more commonly referred to at the Guinness Lake because the famed stout family are some of the main landholders in County Wicklow. Their estate starts on the northern end of the lough and some people even claim that the white sand along the dark water resembles a pint of Guinness. The lough sits on privately owned land so it is not possible to visit the shoreline without permission, but the sight of the water from the road makes for a picturesque stop.  

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09 of 11

See Incredible Blooms in the Mount Usher Gardens

 Copyright Michael Dibb (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wicklow Mountains are the place for untamed Irish wilderness, but all the rain that the Emerald Isle tends to receive is also just the thing needed to created amazing fairytale-like landscapes such as those found at the Mount Usher Gardens. The entry fee includes a wonderful tree trail map to guide you to the most incredible plant displays in the gorgeous old garden. Depending on the time of year, you may find magnolia, hydrangeas, azaleas, or rhododendrons in full bloom. In autumn, the gardens also put on a spectacular display of colorful foliage. There is also a well-regarded restaurant on the grounds, as well as a store selling Irish handicrafts. 

10 of 11

Listen to Live Irish Folk Music Sessions in Wicklow

 Photo by Nikola Jovanovic

Visiting County Wicklow and stuck for something to do in the evening? Why not meet the locals at a pub (which, by default, will be an "original Irish pub") and then join a traditional Irish session? Live music sessions can be found across Wicklow in various towns and villages, but one of your best options is to stop for a pint at Johnnie Fox’s Pub in Enniskerry, which has traditional music every night of the week starting at 9:00 pm. Wednesday through Saturday, head to Harbour Bar in Bray for more live music sessions - though they can honestly be found throughout the county.

11 of 11

Find Tranquility in the Mount Usher Gardens

 The Vale and village of Avoca are set in the Wicklow Mountains and are perhaps best known for the Mount Usher Gardens. 

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