Ireland: a beautiful island country in the North Atlantic full of the friendliest people. Have you been? If not, you should add it to your life bucketlist - it's truly a can't miss. Not only are the people friendly (huge plus), but the food and beer is wonderful, the landscape is unlike any other and the country is easy to navigate making it a great road trip. Lisa and I spent ten days there without a real plan. We just rented a car and went where the wind took us, which is not a bad idea to do in Ireland since literally everything is worth seeing. Upon landing in Ireland, we spent our first two days with Dublin as our home base as we traveled around the outside of the city hitting different sites. Keep reading for my opinion on the best sites to see around Dublin if you get the opportunity to be there for a day or two:
Pictured Above: The map we created afterwards of all the spots we hit - the blue dots represent historic/scenic spots visited and purple represents our accommodations.
Dublin & Dunboyne Castle
Like most people visiting Ireland, we flew in and out of Dublin which is a great starting point for any Ireland adventure. Speaking of flying in and out, we booked our travel through Gate1Travel - super affordable, check it out when you plan your trip! As mentioned above, upon arriving we explored Dublin and the surrounding areas in all of its glory for two days - good food, amazing history, and oh so delicious beer. While there, we stayed at Dunboyne Castle which is right outside of the city and has great amenities. Did I mention you need to stay at a castle if you go to Ireland? We made it a thing on this trip.
Anyways, back to Dunboyne Castle... I really don't know where to start. Like all castles in Ireland, this one holds a lot of history. The original castle was destroyed during an invasion and the one that sits there now was completed in 1764. The castle/property was home to The Butlers of Dunboyne until the early 1900s and since then, it has been passed from owner to owner until it became the beautiful accommodations it is today. It is worth noting the rooms have all been updated, although they maintain the old-time charm, and the castle doubles as a spa, which is where the amazing amenities come in. It is also in close proximity to anything you may want to explore in the nearby Dublin area. And because I'm also a wedding photographer, I have to point out that it would be a GREAT venue for a wedding and I would be so happy to shoot your wedding there - feel free to inquire :)
Now, onto what we saw and highly recommend for two days in Ireland...
Kilmainham Gaol Musuem
Kilmainham Gaol is a former prison in Dublin that is now a museum. As a museum, the building symbolizes the tradition of militant and constitutional nationalism from the rebellion of 1798 to the Irish Civil War of 1922 and 1923. Leaders of the rebellions were detained, and in some cases, executed at this prison - yikes! It also held thousands of ordinary people including children. Today, you can take a guided tour and learn of the history of the prison as well as its detainees.
I know this may not sound like something you'd want to do on vacation, but it's a truly unique experience that gives you the opportunity to learn more about Irish history. Not only that, but the architecture and structure of the prison is quite fascinating. It's also right in the heart of Dublin with great restaurants and shops surrounding it. You can spend a few hours exploring the surrounding area either before or after. We thoroughly enjoyed it and learned so much just from the tour - learn more about getting tickets here.
County Wicklow is immediately south of Dublin and houses Wicklow Mountains National Park. With Dublin being home base, we made the drive down and made two noteworthy stops - Lough Tay and Glendalough.
Nothing like a gorgeous lake set back in the mountains of Ireland, am I right? Lough Tay or as it's also called, Guiness Lake, is a scenic lake set on private property and the most photographed spot in Wicklow. Although you can't take a dip in the lake due to it being on private property, you can view it from above and snap some amazing pictures.
Glendalough is a glacial valley and one of Ireland's most beautiful destinations; super popular amongst tourists. It's known for the early medieval monastic settlement that was founded there in the 6th century by St. Kevin. As you take a stroll around, you'll notice the medieval touches in the architecture - really a beautiful, spiritual place to see no matter your beliefs or non-beliefs. From Glendalough you can make the hike to Lough Tay if you're the adventurous type and want to get your hike on. You could really make a weekend out of hanging out in County Wicklow because there's so much gorgeousness to see.
Brú na Bóinne
Brú na Bóinne is north of Dublin and means the "palace" or the "mansion" of Boyne which is the area within the bend of the River Boyne. This area contains one of the world's most prehistoric landscapes and has been the focus of human settlement for at minimum 6,000 years. There are three passage tombs built thousands of years ago and on top of that, 90 other historical monuments have been recorded in the area. Talk about history and a must see! Another site you can spend a few hours exploring at your leisure.
After Brú na Bóinne, we went further north to explore more mountains! The Mourne Mountains are a granite mountain range in the southeast part of Northern Ireland, about a two hour drive from the center of Dublin. This mountain range slopes down to meet the sea and is home to some of the tallest mountains in Northern Ireland and the landscape is just gorgeous. There are so many picture-worthy spots here - a must see. On our way to the mountain range, we passed through the village Jenkinstown and spent some time there. Although small, it was a great place to experience. Add it to your list if you take a trip to the mountains!
So there you have it - two days of things to do in the surrounding Dublin area that you may not have known or heard about before. If you're planning a trip to Ireland and are flying in/out of Dublin, I highly recommend trying to fit in some of these sites. They won't disappoint and all make for great Instagram content. Happy traveling!