Ireland goes by many names: the land of Saints and Scholars, the Emerald Isle, the home of fairy forts and magic—the list goes on.
This island nation evokes images of lush, green countrysides alongside ancient legacies of Celtic art and Druid mysticism.
Ireland is a travel destination rich in culture, language, and history that will give visitors a keen insight into what it means to be Irish in the 21st century.
While I could offer you a list of top pubs to visit or hikes to take, there is something extraordinarily distinctive and prevalent in Ireland — the castles. Since it is nearly impossible to see the over 30,000 castles that exist on the island, I’ve compiled a list of the top 6 that you should visit to fully immerse yourself in Irish culture.
Blarney Castle, a medieval fortress located in Cork, is iconic for many reasons. Built in the early 1200s and renovated by the McCarthy family in the 15th century, Blarney Castle boasts 60 acres of floral gardens and sits alongside the River Martin. However, the stronghold’s main attraction is the Blarney Stone, a block of limestone purportedly blessed by Clíodhna, Queen of the Banshees. Rumor has it that if you climb the ten stories to the top and hang upside down to kiss the stone, the powers that be will grant you “the gift of the gab” (i.e., eloquence).
Visit their website here to learn more about visiting the castle grounds and outdoor gardens.
Located in Offaly, the structure is a beautiful sight to behold and contains an ominous secret. Famous for being the most “haunted” castle in the world, Leap Castle possesses a bloody history involving numerous prisoners and executions within its walls. Visit for a walking tour of the site, inhale the smell of sulphur, and perhaps witness one of the many ghosts that haunt its halls. You may just encounter the daggered Red Lady, or the sisters Charlotte and Emily, or a mysterious creature the size of a sheep with a rotting face named “It” (not to be confused with Stephen King’s equally terrifying clown).
Request a private tour of their scary premises on their website.
The Rock of Cashel
Although most of us have heard of St. Patrick (there’s a whole holiday dedicated to him, after all), many do not know about his feats. Legend has it, when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave situated in the mountain Devil’s Bit, the rocky landmass landed 20 miles south of Cashel. Furthermore, this castle witnessed St. Patrick’s baptism of Aenghus, the first Christian King of Munster in the 5th century. Aside from its religious and historical significance, you can visit the Rock of Cashel for its beautiful Irish frescoes, Romanesque cathedral, and endless green scenery.
Learn more about how to book a visit on the town’s official website.
Any Game of Thrones fans here? You might recognize Dunluce Castle because it was the set of Greyjoy Castle in the hit HBO series. But besides that, these abandoned ruins are famous for being located atop a precarious cliff at Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland. Accessible only by a bridge from the mainland, this castle was built in the 1500s and witnessed struggles between various warrior clans. While the clifftop location was ideal for defenses, it was pretty unstable—part of the kitchen even fell into the ocean in the 1630s! But don’t worry, we assure you that it’s still safe to tour today!
Discover the history of the castle and updates on traveling to the site here.
Once a medieval and Victorian landmark, Ashford Castle is now a 5-star luxury spa hotel, and one of our preferred partners (which means I can secure you extras during your stay there.) After admiring the manicured lawns and enchanting fountain outside, be prepared to enjoy some extraordinary activities such as a hawk walk, a day of fishing in Lough Corrib or the River Cong, or relax in the stunning bronze conservatory as you float in the relaxation pool with seashell chandeliers above and the ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic mural symbolizing Irish Celtic Mythology on the side. Forget your stresses and live like royalty for a few days! Ashford Castle was rumored to be where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle went for their honeymoon; but alas, it was only a rumor! Ashford Castle also won the ‘Best in Sustainability’ in the 2019 Irish Tatler Awards, which we love.
Book your luxurious stay and read about their wellness amenities on the hotel’s website.
Last but not least is the iconic Dublin Castle, situated in the Republic of Ireland’s capital. Over the centuries, this structure has played various vital roles:
A military fortress
A seat of the United Kingdom’s administration before Ireland’s independence in 1922
Today, it hosts the inauguration of each President of Ireland and various state receptions. When not in official use, tourists can visit parts of the castle. I remember my own visit; I saw the beautiful red double staircase, majestic throne room, ceremonious ballroom, and mythologically-inspired ceilings.
Plan your visit to the grounds of Dublin Castle online here.
While you may not be able to visit the tens of thousands of castles scattered across the island, these six here are among our favorites. Each offers various features and elements that well represent the magic of Ireland.
Whether you want to experience life like a royal or receive the gift of eloquence, each castle can provide you with a unique taste of Irish Gaelic culture and history. Furthermore, most of these sites have already enacted travel safety measures, so whenever you decide to travel in the future, be assured that you will have a safe and healthy trip!
Or, if planning a future trip feels like too much, try our at-home travel tools! These immersive experiences contains every element you need to let your imagination explore a new city.