The Best 20 Castles to Visit in Ireland (Listed by Popularity)

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Ireland has a long history filled with war, adventure, royalty, and invasions. In consequence, there are also a lot of historical places to explore and revel in. However, the most prominent of all historical relics in Ireland are its castles. Did you know that there are around 30,000 castles in Ireland? Astounding, isn’t it?

The lush and scenic landscape of the Isle of Ireland is dotted around with castles, which range from military towers to ruins to even majestic homes built for the nobility and the super-rich. Each castle has its own inimitable history, legacy, and heritage. Most of these castles were constructed from medieval times to the late 19th century. Many of them are now in ruins, some are open to the public, some are still used as private residences and many of them are five-star hotels too!

The castles remain one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, which give a glimpse into the rich and glorious culture of the island. Here, we will explore ten of the most famous, impressive, and beautiful castles located all across the country. For the avid travelers seeking to explore not-so-crowded and less-visited places, there are ten more castles, just as spectacular and worth exploring as the first ten.

The order of the list is based on Google search volume of each castle = popularity.

1. Ashford Castle

The view of Ashford Castle in front of the castle's fountain.
The view of Ashford Castle in front of the castle’s fountain. Ericci8996, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This list would not be complete without the mention of the beautiful and breathtaking Ashford Castle.  First built in the 1200s, this castle has served as the location of numerous battles and wars. After a truce, it was converted into a hunting lodge. Eventually, the famous Guinness family purchased it in 1852. 

The famous beer family expanded the property and built new wings, before selling it off in the 1930s. This gorgeous castle has since been converted into a luxury five-star hotel. With towers, turrets, manicured grounds, a lake, and a host of impressive activities, it is the perfect place for a vacation. It is counted among one of the most unique hotels in the world and provides a mystic experience for all its visitors.

2. Blarney Castle

The tower of Blarney Castle surrounded by trees with view visiting tourists spotted.
The tower of Blarney Castle.

Blarney Castle is one of the most popular and top-ranked places to visit in Ireland. It was built nearly six hundred years ago by one of the greatest rulers and chieftains of Ireland, Cormac MacCarthy. 

You absolutely cannot miss this medieval fortress situated in Blarney, near the city of Cork. Deeply rooted in history and lore, this castle is known famously for the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is famous as the legendary Stone of Eloquence. Thousands of tourists flock here every year to kiss the stone, for it is believed that if you climb to the top of the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone hanging upside down, you will be gifted the skill of eloquence!

Besides kissing the famous stone, you can also take a walk around its beautiful and magical gardens, which are spectacular in all seasons. Rightly considered one of the ‘greatest treasures of Ireland’, it is a must-visit if you are in the country. (Just be careful to step lightly in the poison garden…)

3. Kilkenny Castle

The panoramic view of Kilkenny Castle and the green grounds.
The panoramic view of Kilkenny Castle. Kilkenny Castle flickr photo by Can Pac Swire shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Kilkenny Castle boasts of being one of the most beautiful castles of Ireland. Its regal stone front, nestled between its beautiful gardens and woodlands is a perfect representation of its rich history and culture. 

Its construction began in 1195 by the First Earl of Pembroke. The castle was meant as a prominent symbol of Norman occupation and power in Ireland. Currently, the castle is open to visitors, and thousands throng there every year to see the castle where the rooms have been restored to their original time of centuries ago, filled with the furniture and toys of that age. The castle also has the famous Butler Gallery where Irish and international artwork is displayed. Not to forget its amazing fifty acres of the rose garden, woodlands, lake, and abundant wildlife.

4. The Rock of Cashel

The beautiful ruins of the Rock of Cashel.
The beautiful ruins of the Rock of Cashel. Mike Searle / Castles of Munster: Cashel, Rock of Cashel, Tipperary

One of the oldest castles in Ireland, the Rock of Cashel is also a very significant archaeological site. Situated in County Tipperary, it is one of Ireland’s top attractions. These clusters of medieval buildings are perched atop a green, rocky hill and offer a spectacular view of the surrounding woodlands.  

The Rock of Cashel is steeped in ancient tales and mythology. It is also the place from where powerful Kings of Munster ruled for over a thousand years, before the invasion of the Normans. The round tower of the Cashel is approximately 28 meters high and has an imposing view. However, the most visually appealing among the buildings is Cormac’s Chapel. It has beautifully carved doors, vaulted ceilings, and wide arches.

5. Dromoland Castle

The beautiful Dromoland Castle with cars and trees at the front.
The beautiful Dromoland Castle. Srleffler at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dromoland was once the property of the O’Briens of Dromoland, one of the noblest aristocratic families in all of Ireland. Today, it is a 5-star hotel with a 400-year-old legacy; it has been welcoming guests since the 16th century. With lots of amazing packages and an interior that is well-suited to its castle heritage, Dromoland is the epitome of a magical getaway experience. There are 4 types of rooms available at the castle today. While you’re there, enjoy their renowned award-winning cuisine. There’s also a spa, a golf course, and the lush grounds are perfect for carrying out an unparalleled wedding photoshoot.

6. Dublin Castle

Front view of Dublin Castle.
Front view of Dublin Castle. J.-H. Janßen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in the heart of the capital of Ireland, Dublin, the castle was constructed in the early thirteenth century. Erected atop a Viking settlement site, it had served for centuries as the headquarters of the British administration till the year 1922. After Ireland’s independence, Dublin Castle passed to the hands of the new Irish government. It is now a major tourist attraction and a busy government complex.

The castle has museums, cafes, and gardens, which attract thousands of tourists every year. It is also a stone’s throw away from the other major attractions of the city. Though home to a lot of important government offices, most of the areas are still open for tourists and visitors seven days a week.

7. Dunluce Castle

The picturesque view of Dunluce Castle on the clifftop by the sea.
The picturesque view of Dunluce Castle on the clifftop. Dunluce Castle flickr photo by alex ranaldi shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

This romantic Irish castle is the epitome of picturesque. With its clifftop perch, sea-side views, and lush surroundings, it’s perfect for a romantic getaway or a family outing. The surroundings urge the visitors to explore the rocky terrain while enjoying the beautiful vistas to the fullest.

Although Dunluce Castle is in a semi-ruinous state right now, it once used to be the stronghold of the clans McQuillan and MacDonnell. It was known for hosting an annual fair once, which was shut down because of excessive debauchery. But that’s not all – Dunluce was also used to host the very first BBC broadcasts in the 70s. Currently, the enclosed parts of the castle host archaeological displays, but be sure to check with official websites before visiting as public access is sometimes restricted.

8. Bunratty Castle

The tower of Bunratty Castle in the middle of the road.
The tower of Bunratty Castle. Bunratty Castle flickr photo by D-Stanley shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Bunratty Castle, located in County Clare, is one of the country’s most complete medieval fortresses. It stands atop a 970 AD Viking trading camp. It is the last of four castles built on the site, this one in the year 1425. Restored in 1954, the castle was opened to the public in 1960. It has a rich heritage of furnishings, tapestries and works of art from the 15th and 16th centuries. It perfectly captures the mood of the bygone era. You can also participate in a traditional medieval feast, where you can partake in all types of delicious food. Bunratty Castle is one of the best places to experience an authentic medieval experience.

9. Leap Castle

Front view of Leap Castle and its green castle ground.
Front view of Leap Castle. Mike Searle / Castles of Leinster: Leap, Offaly

Leap was originally first constructed by the O’Bannon clan and is said to have been constructed on the site of an ancient stone monolith. Through the centuries of sieges and changing ownerships, the castle managed to survive and come out stronger than ever before.

Leap Castle is also steeped in legends, the most popular one of which is the Ghost of the Red Lady who walks up and down the halls with a dagger. Then there are ghosts of the two little girls who run up and down the stairs. But most unusual of them all is the elemental spirit that runs across the castle, earning Leap the title of the most haunted castle in all of Scotland. These make for interesting stories for tourists who come to explore the medieval magnificence of the structure when discovering the area.

10. Knappogue Castle

The view of the side of Knapppogue Castle along the road.
The view of the side of Knapppogue Castle. Joseph Mischyshyn / Quin – Knappogue Castle – View to southeast

This 15th-century castle was actually expanded in the 19th century and is an excellent example of medieval tower-keep style architecture. It used to be the seat of power of the MacNamara clan but continuously changed ownership over the years until being purchased by Mark Edwin Andrews in the 60s. His wife was an architect who set about restoring Knappogue to its original 15th-century glory.

Part of the castle was leased to the government in order to make it a viable tourist destination. These days, it’s used to throw medieval-style parties or host wedding receptions. The most interesting part: the castle’s brand whiskey (aptly named Knappogue Castle) has now become a norm and is produced in Bushmills.

If you are a castle enthusiast, you must take out the time to visit these equally spectacular castles in Ireland as well:

11. Malahide Castle

The front view of Malahide Castle where the entrance door is surrounded by green big bushes.
The front view of Malahide Castle. Malahide Castle flickr photo by D-Stanley shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Malahide Castle lies in the village of Malahide, very close to Dublin.  The Talbot family built it in the 12th century when they arrived in Ireland from England in the wake of the Norman Conquest. The family-owned the castle until they sold it to the state in 1975. It is now open for tourists and visitors all year round.

Enclosed by a large park as well as a botanical garden, the castle boasts of many rare and tropical plants. Inside the castle, you can admire the elaborate oak paneling and the authentic Victorian toys. It is also rumored to be the most haunted castle in Ireland, so you may come face to face with a ghost or two!

12. Lismore Castle

Lismore Castle's view surrounded by green trees and grasses. view surrounded by greens.
Lismore Castle’s view is surrounded by greens. Dave Spencer / Lismore Castle

Although belonging to the Duke of Devonshire today, Lismore Castle is one of the most iconic historical buildings in all of Ireland. Over the years, it has belonged to several notable people, including Sir Walter Raleigh (the tobacco introducer of the English Court) and Richard Boyle (the first Earl of Cork).

The location of the castle is strategically moored by various surrounding activities. Tourists not only love exploring the lovely grounds and interiors, but also participate in activities like golf, salmon fishing, and even hiking once they’re in the area. It’s a veritable tourist haven and thriving in the modern world because of it!

13. Ross Castle

The beautiful ruins of Ross Castle with visiting tourists outside.
The beautiful ruins of Ross Castle. Buttonfreak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ireland’s Tall Maiden was actually built on the behest of a local clan who went by the name O’Donoghue Mór. Over the years, it changed ownership multiple times until being seized by the English in the Irish Confederate Wars. For a brief while, it served as military barracks before finally being relinquished to the private ownership of the Browne family.

Currently, it is controlled by the Office of Public Works. With its gorgeous surroundings, rich heritage, and picturesque views, it has become quite a popular tourist destination. One can spend a nice, lingering day exploring the keep-style architecture and the lush green surroundings.

14. Cahir Castle

Front view of Cahir Castle.
Front view of Cahir Castle.

Cahir Castle is one of the finest and biggest castles in Ireland. It sits on a rocky island on the River Suir.  Built in the 13th century, it is still remarkably well preserved. You can see the tower and the defense structures that have remained undamaged since their construction. Amazing, isn’t it?

The castle is surrounded by amazing woodlands and provides spectacular views of the countryside. The castle also provides guided tours and audiovisual shows to highlight the rich heritage of the castle. The castle has been the site of several films and TV shows like Excalibur and the Tudors.

15. Dunguaire Castle

Dungaire's Castle view from across the rocky river.
Dungaire’s Castle view from across the river.

The O’Hynes clan built this beautiful castle on the shore of Galway Bay.  Situated near the port village of Kinvara, this 16th-century castle served as one of the strongholds of the clan. It was renovated and refurbished in the 20th century by Oliver St. John Gogarty, a well-known surgeon, and writer. He made it a meeting place for literary giants like W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, J.M. Synge, Lady Gregory, etc. 

The castle is also a very popular tourist attraction. If you visit between mid-April to mid-October, you can enjoy the spectacular medieval banquets where you will be served a wonderful four-course menu while being entertained by songs, poems and stories. 

The main feature of this castle is its 75-foot tower and defensive wall, against a stunning background of Galway Bay. This makes Dunguaire Castle the most photographed castle in Ireland!

16. Trim Castle

The stunning view of Trim Castle's ruins  reflecting the sunlight.
The stunning view of Trim Castle reflects the sunlight. Andrew Parnell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Known to be the largest Anglo-Norman construction this side of Ireland, Trim Castle stands tall in all its medieval glory and actually took 30 years to be built. The most notable part of its design is the massive keep that has a whopping 20 facades and was simply unconquerable back in the day.

Today, the castle hosts hoards of tourists every day and the keep has been outfitted with modern walkways so that people can experience the interior closely as well. If you’re interested in classic medieval architecture and Irish heritage, then you definitely need to visit this castle.

17. Belfast Castle

The  beautiful Belfast Castle in front of the garden's fountain.
The stunning Belfast Castle. Stubacca, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally built by Norman’s hands in the 12th century, Belfast Castle was reconstructed by the Baron of Belfast in a stone and timber rendition around 1611. This version, however, was reduced to ashes by a raging fire and a new castle was constructed on the site again by the Marquis of Donegal in the nineteenth century. That’s the iteration that we see today.

The gorgeous fairytale-esque facade of this castle made it quite a popular wedding and reception location from the 40s to the 70s. Even today, after extensive refurbishment, it is still an amazingly popular venue used to host afternoon teas and weddings, while also hosting a number of tourists every day.

18. Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle's view of its architectural structure.
Donegal Castle’s view of its architectural structure.

Donegal Castle is one of the country’s most impressive Gaelic castles. Situated in the very heart of the county of Donegal, this castle is located along the River Eske. The chief of the O’Donnell clan, Hugh O’Donnell, constructed it in 1474. 

This spectacular castle was nearly destroyed in the Nine Years’ War after Hugh O’Donnell burnt it to the ground rather than let the enemies capture it. Sir Basil Brooke later rebuilt it in a Jacobean style. Today, a 17th-century boundary wall surrounds the castle. It fell into ruins in the 20th century but was restored to its former glory in the 1990s.

The castle is now open to the public and hosts different events like Gaelic cultural evenings.

19. Birr Castle

The picturesque view of Birr Castle.
The picturesque view of Birr Castle. AmandaMcCrann, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the Norman predecessor of Birr Castle stood on the same site circa 1170, the interpretation that we see today was fashioned by a number of aristocratic families who lived in the area. It was the O’Carroll family who gave the facade a Gothic revamp. The castle was once home to the great inventor William Parsons, the Third Earl of Rosse.

Today, Birr stands as proud and beautiful as ever, while housing Gardens and Science Center. It is still owned and occupied by the Parsons family, so only a portion of the castle is open to the public. The surrounding meadows are a sight to behold, but botanists and nature aficionados are blown away by the 500-year-old oak tree that resides in the castle grounds.

20. King John’s Castle

The panoramic view of King John's Castle near the water.
The panoramic view of King John’s Castle near the water. MonikaKub, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on the site where Vikings once ruled, King John’s Castle boasts an 800-year legacy. Its Medieval countenance is as dramatic as its last owner, John of Ireland. Known to be the epitome of vengeful and cunning, John was the mastermind behind the Magna Carta. The castle was the center of his kingdom in Limerick, and one can still see how it might have bustled with activity back in the day.

Today, King John’s Castle is an interesting and popular tourist destination that offers many activities. While old-school on the outside, the inside of this building is installed with state-of-the-art technology where visitors get an immersive experience of computer-generated projections and animations of old sieges and legends!

Conclusion

A visit to Ireland can never be complete without a visit to its many remarkable and astounding castles. Filled with eons of history, war, adventure, they are enchanting and magical, filled with the memories of bygone eras. Some are even rumored to be haunted!

Plan your itinerary carefully and have fun visiting this beautiful country and its astounding castles. For more information and general guidelines, feel free to browse around our website and contact us if you have any questions.

Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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