Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains & Kilkenny: a day trip from Dublin
When I visited Dublin last month, I was desperately in need of some fresh air and rolling green hills. It had been months since I’d had a proper break from London so I was very keen to see a little of the Emerald Isle on my trip. There are, of course, so many amazing places to visit in Ireland and my wishlist includes Cliffs of Moher, Galway and The Giant’s Causeway. However, I didn’t want to spend a super long day travelling to just one distant place, when I really should make a separate trip there at another time. So I was on the hunt for the perfect day trip from Dublin; one that would combine gorgeous countryside with interesting sites, without too much travel involved and cost under £30. So when I stumbled upon Paddywagon’s Kilkenny and Wicklow Day Tour From Dublin, I knew I was on to a winner. Running from 9am to around 6pm, it takes in some gorgeous Irish countryside, Wicklow Mountains and medieval castles. Plus, if your inspiration to visit Ireland is because of the films like PS I Love You and Braveheart (yes, much of this iconic Scottish film was shot in Ireland) then you will be happy to know that this tour takes in some of the sights —or at least goes somewhere in the vicinity — of locations in these films.
The tour kicks off from central Dublin at 9am, which I thought was very reasonable. I even managed to squeeze in a quick brunch at Brother Hubbard beforehand, which I recommend before embarking on this day tour as you don’t get the chance to eat until well after lunchtime. As we drove out of Dublin, the driver cheerfully pointed out all the iconic landmarks along the way, which was a nice mini-tour of the city.
I recommend doing this tour in spring, as the baby lambs that fill the fields just outside of Dublin are very cute. As we entered County Wicklow, known as ‘the garden of Ireland’, we drove through the quiet hamlet of Annamoe, which is home to the recently retired Daniel Day-Lewis. We also passed the Great Sugar Loaf mountain (not to be confused with the one in Brazil), which the driver told us was Ireland’s only volcano. Having done a little research since I can confirm that this isn’t actually true: rather than a volcano, it’s an erosion-resistant metamorphosed sedimentary deposit from the deep sea. There were a few ‘facts’ he told along the way that I’ve since found difficult to confirm, so I say take his information with a pinch of salt.
The drive from Dublin to Glendalough takes around 90 minutes, which went by very quickly as it was a beautifully sunny morning. Glendalough (Gleann Dá Loch meaning “Valley of two lakes”) is a glacial valley in County Wicklow that is not only renowned for having two beautiful lakes but also for having the remains of an Early Medieval monastic settlement. It was occupied by monks for about 500 years but kept being plundered by Vikings (who were particularly fond of their oak timber for their longships) and was eventually destroyed by English forces in 1398.
The remains of the monastery are very picturesque, with the remains of the gateway welcoming you into this once thriving monastic city. It’s hard to imagine how built up the area was but with one tall tower and the remains of seven different churches plus a house makes you realise how busy this little spot must have once been. St. Kevin’s Church is the only building that is still standing, which looks very quaint. Surrounded by many old and newer gravestones, it’s a pretty peaceful place to have been buried (aside from the many tourists who now climb all over the site).
The tour stops at Glendalough for about 90 mins, which I thought was ages until I was at the Lower Lake for the best part of an hour. I was so enraptured by its beauty that I forgot that there’s also another lake, which is a 15-20 minute walk away and even more beautiful. So don’t get too snap happy as I did — otherwise, the time will whizz by. It’s pretty hard not to be bowled over by how lovely the place is, especially on a sunny morning. I thought I was in a Visit Dublin advert the whole time. I honestly could have spent the whole day here and if you’re lucky to get a gorgeously sunny day during your trip, this is what I would recommend. Pack a picnic lunch and just come here. There are two gorgeous lakes to swim in and plenty of hiking trails if you’re feeling active. There’s a bus that runs there regularly from Dublin so you can make a real day of it.
Wicklow Mountains & Hollywood
Once we were back on the bus, we stopped again very briefly at a viewpoint in the Wicklow Gap, which is one of the highest Irish mountain passes. It was an amazing view back over the Wicklow Mountains — and was insanely windy. There were wild deer grazing around us and I was wondering how they were managing to stand up as I was nearly bowled over. Once we were back on the bus, we started on the long drive to Kilkenny.
Apparently, we drove over the bridge from PS I Love You but I’m not so convinced. In the film the area seems quite deserted, surrounded by rolling countryside but the bridge we went over was on the edge of a small town or hamlet. I could be wrong though! I don’t know the film that well. The only scene I properly remember, because it made me want to visit the Irish countryside, is where they meet for the first time on a country road. This was shot on the Sally Gap, a different mountain pass. If you want to see more of this kind of place, then I recommend booking a tour that explores more of just Wicklow County, such as the Wild Wicklow Tour, which includes both Sally Gap and Glendalough.
What you do get on this tour (which I thought was very cute) is the original Hollywood. Yes, the most famous part of LA takes its name from this tiny village apparently. Mathew Guirke was born here in 1826 but moved to the USA when he was 24 due to the Great Famine. At one point he settled in California, where he built himself a cabin and named it after his hometown. A town of its own eventually grew up around his cabin, adopting the name and becoming part of what we now know as Los Angeles. The tour doesn’t stop in the original Hollywood, as it only has 100 inhabitants and nowhere you can actually park a bus, but you do get a glimpse of their own version of the Hollywood sign — high up in the hills of County Wicklow.
The drive from Glendalough to Kilkenny takes about 2 hours, which meant we arrived around 2pm. Kilkenny is a large Medieval town, with a castle, narrow lanes and some spooky vibes going on. I must admit, I spent most of my time here with the line from South Park running through my head: “Oh my god! They killed Kenny.” That aside, this town feels like one that thrives on tourism. It’s built for day tours like this one to stop off and have a wander around.
When we arrived, I was understandably starving as there hadn’t been a chance to eat since we left Dublin. Thankfully, a quick Google search revealed that the town had a number of gluten-free places to eat so I set out on a quick exploration of its small centre. If you also happen to be gluten-intolerant, I recommend Matt’s Bar just across the river rather than the Fig Tree, which is extortionately expensive. I had a great lunch and pint in a charming old pub and tried to work out what to do with my 2 hours to spend in this city. There a couple of traditional options, such as a tour of the castle or the cathedral but I wasn’t feeling it. Thankfully, Atlas Obscura came to the rescue with a host of kooky options that made me wish I had more time to spend here. I would love to come back and visit Dunmore Cave, for example, that was once the site of a Viking massacre in 928 CE!
Atlas Obscura recommended an easy in-town feminist history option that I could squeeze in on my tour. Kyteler’s Inn is notable for being the oldest pub in Kilkenny — and for being owned by Ireland’s first convicted witch! Dame Alice Kyteler was this kick-ass woman in the 14th century who owned several businesses and was very wealthy, acquiring four husbands over the course of her life (damn girl). So of course, there were lots of men who were very threatened by her and her step-children weren’t insanely fond of her either. So when he last husband died, she was accused of using sorcery to kill him and was convicted of being a witch. Thankfully she still had some friends and managed to escape the night before her execution. It’s believed she went to England but no one knows what happened to her. These days, the inn prides itself on the association. It goes more for the spooky Halloween side of witchiness but it is still fun. Make sure you stop by for a pint and toast Alice.
I took a wander around Kilkenny Castle before jumping back on the tour bus for the long drive back to Dublin. I say long but it was only 2 hours, which is quite a short transfer time compared to some other destinations which took up to 4 hours each way. Overall, I thought this tour was a bargain for the price and I had an amazing day seeing more of Ireland. I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a mixture of countryside and castles.
Based on my experience of the tour, here are some of my recommendations:
Have a proper breakfast before the start of the tour or make sure you bring snacks. The tour doesn’t stop for lunch until you reach Kilkenny, which is around 2pm.
There are 3 stops at which you can join the tour in Dublin. I’d recommend going for the first one if you are travelling as a pair or a group.
The bus filled up pretty quickly by the time I joined at the second stop. Thankfully, I was travelling solo so this wasn’t an issue but you might not be able to sit together if you’re a group.
Sit towards to front of the bus if possible for the best views out the front window.
There’s free WiFi on board that is a decent quality
Wear shoes that are ok for walking around the countryside in for Glendalough.
Bring layers to keep warm as sometimes the air con on the bus was freezing.
Make sure you bring headphones and music on your phone, as they don’t play music on the bus. This was a bit dreary for those long drives. I recommend downloading something Irish (there are so many amazing bands and artists to choose from) to accompany the journey.
Try the discount code PW10 for 10% discount when you book. I’m not sure if it will work — let me know below if you have any luck.
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📌 Disclaimer:I paid for this tour and received no discount or freebies from the company.