Royal Roadtrip: Visit These Castles and Castle Hotels in Ireland

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. Here are a few of the best castles to see in Ireland, as well as some that you can stay overnight in!

Explore the enchanting castles of the Emerald Isle with our Ireland Vacation Packages.

Blarney Castle • Cork

Home to the famous Blarney Stone.

Now partially in ruins, Blarney Castle is one of the best castles to visit in Ireland. Visitors can explore the surrounding lake and ancient center of worship, Rock Close. Most tourists 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!

Kilkenny Castle • Kilkenny

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. Among one of the best castles to see in Ireland, Kilkenny Castle is a true symbol of Norman power in Ireland.

This 12th-century work of art boasts a rich history and stands as a testament to centuries of social, political, and architectural significance. For over 600 years, Kilkenny Castle served as the seat of many Irish dukes, marquesses, earls, and relatives of the powerful Butler family. Visitors can explore the castle and its extravagant interior as well as the surrounding gardens and parklands.

Ross Castle • Killarney

Lakeside castle in Killarney National Park.

Nestled on the shores of Lough Leane, Ross Castle offers a glimpse into the past with its impressive architecture dating back to the 15th century. This majestic castle boasts stunning views of the surrounding landscapes, including the picturesque Killarney National Park.

Visitors can explore its well-preserved interiors, climb its ancient stone walls, and soak in the serene ambiance of its lush gardens. With its captivating charm, Ross Castle is undoubtedly one of the best castles in southern Ireland.

Rock of Cashel • Cashel

Also known as Cashel of the Kings.

Local legends claim that the Rock of Cashel originated at the Devil’s Bit mountain, after a heated argument between St. Patrick and Satan. This in turn would not only make Rock of Cashel a famous castle to visit in Ireland, but also reward it with the name of “St. Patrick’s Rock.”

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 the public eye until the 1980s! You can also admire the panoramic views provided by the Round Tower, an emblem of early Irish monasticism, and ponder at the artistic achievements of the High Crosses.

Bunratty Castle • Clare

The most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland.

Bunratty Castle is an imposing fortress that served as the stronghold for various noble families throughout Irish history, dating all the way back to the 15th century. After centuries of turmoil, the castle has been restored to a new glory and remains as one of the best castles in Ireland to explore.

Although Bunratty Castle is a showstopper within its own right, no visit is complete without exploring the adjoining Folk Park. Guests can experience 19th century village life in Ireland in a recreated village and rural setting, truly a one-of-a-kind Irish experience! To truly immerse yourself in traditional Irish culture, join a hearty feast at the castle’s very own medieval-style banquet.

Dublin Castle • Dublin

Built on a previous Viking settlement.

From tasting stout at the Guinness Storefront to wandering the enchanting Temple Bar District, the capital of Ireland has much to offer in terms of exciting adventures. But one thing that may get overlooked is the city’s chaotic past, which can be explored via the city’s castle.

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.

Dublin Castle is by far one of the best castles in Ireland simply due to how much it offers. You’ll definitely want to spend some time marveling at the architectural beauty of the State Apartments, decorated with elegant Georgian furnishings and impressive artwork. Then, take a comforting stroll through the serene Dubh Linn Gardens before checking out the lifetime supply of manuscripts and artifacts within Chester Beatty Library.

Trim Castle • Trim

The largest Norman castle in Ireland.

For a look into some of Ireland’s more interesting castles to delve into, consider Trim Castle. Located in County Meath, Trim Castle holds significant historical importance as one of the largest Anglo-Norman castles in the country.

Construction began during the 12th century and was finished over a thirty year period. The castle originally served as a strategic base of operations during the Norman invasion of Ireland, ultimately playing a pivotal role in the region’s history. Fun fact: this castle was the site of several important events in Irish history, including the signing of the Treaty of Windsor in 1175, marking the beginning of English rule.

The castle 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 the keep is only accessible via guided tour.

King John's Castle • Limerick

Originally an island Viking settlement.

Construction of this enticing castle began in the early 13th century under the rule of King John of England. The castle played a crucial role in securing Norman control and influence in a region where there was suspected to be heavy Irish rebellion.

Part of the castle’s importance also rests within its strategic location along the River Shannon, as it allowed for accessible trade routes and military operations. Like many other monuments in Ireland with English influence, King John’s Castle fell prey to numerous sieges and conflicts, yet still persisted.

Visitors can get a glimpse into the turbulent nature of medieval Ireland by exploring King John’s Castle. The stronghold’s immersive exhibits and interactive experiences take guests back in time to witness the dynamics of power during Ireland’s Middle Ages. Definitely a must-see castle in Ireland for history enthusiasts and tourists alike.

BONUS: Irish castles you can stay in!

Did you know that there are a number of amazing castle hotels in Ireland? Feeling straight like a fairytale, these lavish accommodations are truly a magical way to enjoy an Ireland vacation. From 5-star luxury to affordable castle hotels in Ireland, check out these royal accommodations:

Ashford Castle • Cong

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). This alone not only makes it a great castle to visit in Ireland, but also an interesting one to stay overnight in.

Feel free to take a walk through the castle’s second-floor gallery, where you can see photos highlighting notable guests, including the likes of John Lennon, Oscar Wilde, Brad Pitt, and even John Wayne. Once you return from your vacation to Ireland, you can boast to your friends that you stayed in a castle alongside the famous Oscar Wilde!

Lough Eske Castle • Donegal

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. Contemporary-age renovations have made this an excellent choice for a castle hotel to stay in Ireland as it offers both historical significance and modern amenities.

Dromoland Castle • Clare

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, making it one of the best castles in Ireland to stay at if you’re looking for both excitement and relaxation.

Cabra Castle • Cavan

Medieval-style luxury castle on 100 acres of parklands and gardens

A stay at the Cabra Castle means feeling like royalty in Ireland. This spectacular castle hotel in Cavan provides authentic warm hospitality and is right next to Dún a Rí Forest Park.

Lough Erne Resort • Enniskillen

Luxury 5-star resort with golf course

Situated in Enniskillen, the gateway to North West Ireland, Lough Erne Resort is a luxurious 5-star retreat nestled on a breathtaking 600-acre peninsula, renowned as one of the best castle hotels in Northern Ireland. Guests can marvel at breathtaking views of the Fermanagh Lakelands and The Faldo Course, indulge in 120 opulent rooms, savor diverse dining experiences, rejuvenate at the Thai spa, and tee off at the resort's 36-hole golf course.

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