By Michelle Yastremsky
From former Viking fortresses to crumbling royal estates, the Emerald Isle is home to over 30,000 castles and castle ruins just waiting to be discovered and explored.
Ascend medieval fortresses, explore dungeons and perhaps even book an Ireland castle stay at some of these royally impressive sites!
Home to the famous Blarney Stone.
Now partially in ruins, this is one of the most visited castles in Ireland. Visitors can explore the surrounding lake and ancient center of Worship, Rock Close, but most come to pay a visit to the famous Stone of Eloquence, also known as the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that those who kiss the stone will be granted the gift of gab; give it a kiss and find out for yourself!
Twelfth century castle remodeled in Victorian times.
Dominating the “high town” of Kilkenny City is the dramatic Kilkenny Castle, built in 1195 along the River Nore. Visitors can explore the castle and its extravagant interior as well as the surrounding gardens and parklands.
Also known as Cashel of the Kings.
Local legend claims the Rock of Cashel originated at the Devil’s Bit mountain, after a heated argument between St. Patrick and Satan. Here you can explore the ruins of a grand Celtic cathedral; you’ll even see the oldest Romanesque wall paintings in Ireland, which were hidden from public eye until the 1980s!
The most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland.
The 15th century Bunratty Castle is a showstopper within its own right, but no visit to this is complete without exploring the adjoining Folk Park. Here guests can experience 19th century village life in Ireland in a recreated village and rural setting, truly a one-of-a-kind Irish experience!
Built on a previous Viking settlement.
Dublin’s history is rooted in rebellion and can be traced back to Dublin Castle, which has served as a prison, dungeon, and now – a major Irish government complex. Its history as a symbol of English reign made it a key target during the Easter Rising of 1916, the first step to the end of British rule in Ireland.
The largest Norman castle in Ireland.
Construction of this massive castle was completed over a thirty year period and includes a three-storied keep, central stronghold and breathtaking twenty-sided tower. Visitors to this castle can certainly explore on their own, but keep in mind that access to the keep is only accessible by guided tour.
Originally an island Viking settlement.
Overlooking the river Shannon, this 13th century castle dominates the city of Limerick and is a must-see on your Ireland vacation. The newly-renovated visitor center is home to an engaging and interactive historical exhibit exploring 800 years of history.
BONUS: Castles you can stay in!
Ashford Castle • Cong, Ireland
Medieval castle turned 5-star luxury hotel.
This stunning property went through a number of different ownerships, most notably the Guinness family (known for producing the popular Irish stout of the same name). Take a walk through their second-floor gallery of photographs highlighting notable guests – you’ll be in good company with the likes of John Lennon, Oscar Wilde, Brad Pitt and even John Wayne!
Lough Eske Castle • Lough Eske, Ireland
19th century castle with idyllic views.
Surrounded by the breathtaking Lough Eske lake on one side and the Blue Stack Mountains on the other, this castle hotel combines modern comforts with its historic past. The original castle dates back to the 1400s, although the current building wasn’t constructed until the early 1860s.
Dromoland Castle • Dromoland, Ireland
Once the ancestral home of descendants of Ireland’s only High King!
Experience what it truly feels like to live like a king with a stay in this breathtaking castle hotel. In addition to the castle, the massive 450-acre estate is home to a golf course, lake and spa.