Updated: Apr 7, 2022
When visiting Ireland, an absolutely splendid side trip, not far from Dublin, is to visit Glendalough in Wicklow National Park and the Powerscourt Estate. There is a bus service and many day tours out of Dublin that will give a taste of all in a single day for those who are on shorter timelines. On the other hand, if you are travelling at a slower pace, I would encourage you to spend a full day at each site. When I choose day tours, I'm really looking more for transportation with a bit of local commentary. I want a tour with very few items on the itinerary, which means I will have plenty of time to explore. I read the reviews carefully to try to determine the reliability of the company. Over multiple visits, I have used a popular company in Ireland for both day trips and multi-day trips with totally different results. I was very happy with the green-painted buses for the multi-day trip (with room upgrades) but was very unhappy with their day tours. For this particular trip, I used St. Kevin's Bus Service. The journey took just over an hour and cost less than 20 Euros (return). It was efficient, reliable, and comfortable.
Wicklow Mountains National Park is very close to Dublin, making it an ideal getaway from Ireland’s capital city. The park includes the fascinating ancient monastic settlement known as Glendalough. This is considered one of Ireland's most important ancient monastic sites. As a bonus for the budget traveller, there is no entry fee for visiting this park.
Glendalough & Wicklow National Park
The Christian community of Glendalough was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and built inside a circular wall. Most of the surviving buildings were built in the 10th to 12th centuries. The settlement was attacked by Vikings several times over the years, but managed to thrive until the Normans arrived in the early 13th century.
The most prominent and most famous of all the landmarks in Glendalough is the 33 meter Round Tower, built almost 1000 years ago by St. Kevin’s monks. The conical roof had to be replaced in 1876 after being struck by lightning.
The Cathedral is the largest of the seven churches in Glendalough. It was built in several phases from the 10th through the early 13th century.
St. Kevin’s Church, better known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen, is a nave-and-chancel church of the 12th century. It is called St Kevin’s kitchen because people believed that the bell tower was a kitchen chimney but no food was ever cooked there.
St. Kevin’s Cross is a plain cross carved from a single granite stone. This Celtic Cross is an example of how St Patrick tried to help the pagan people of Ireland acclimate to Christianity. The design combines the cross with the sun circle because the pagans worshipped the sun and moon. Local legend says that anyone who can enclose their arms around the whole of the cross body and touch fingertips will have their wishes granted.
This guy was just hanging around eating between the tombstones. His partner head-butted several tourists who wandered too close
After a short bit of a trail walk, I arrived at the Upper Lake. "Glendalough" means Valley of the Two Lakes. This area has many trails to explore which wind around the area and both lakes. There are picnic, playground, and snack areas close to the parking area that were very well used, with many groups gathered together in the open areas. The trails are less used and feel more serene and uncrowded.
A half hour bus ride will take you from Glendalough to Powerscourt Waterfall. The stunning Powerscourt Estate has an expansive manor home, stunning gardens, a distillery, and it's own waterfall. Most visitors will spend a couple of hours here on the same day as they visit Glendalough. It's also a perfect place to spend an entire day exploring everything there is to offer. Each area is ticketed separately so day trippers may choose to focus on just one part of the Estate.
I would not miss the 47 acres of Powerscourt Gardens. Each separate garden is uniquely planted with appropriate features. It's easy to get lost on the rambling paths in the secret gardens and delightful terraces of Powerscourt Estate with ornate Italian fountains, lakes,Japanese pagodas, gentle streams, blossoming trellises and even a Pepperpot tower.
Powerscourt Waterfall is the perfect place to stop for a picnic as you admire the water splashing down the rockface and into the River Dargle. Families will appreciate the playgrounds and snack bar areas.
Newly opened prior to the pandemic is the Powerscourt Distillery which is producing award-winning Fercullen whiskey. The distillery offers tours and tastings and is proving to be very popular with visitors. It wasn't open when I visited, but I have sampled the whiskey. It's delicious.
After all this exploration, I suggest that you head into the House for a bite to eat and perhaps some shopping of Irish products in the boutique shops. The terrace café, Avoca, offers a good selection of fresh locally sourced meals, local crafts, and the view from the terrace is simply amazing.
If you've done all this exploring in a single day, you'll have had plenty of fresh air and exercise. It'll be the perfect night to head to a local pub and enjoy an evening of trad music and perhaps a Guinness or two. Don't forget to end your day with a wee taste of the whiskey you bought from the distillery.
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