Meandering country lanes and thatched cottages find their place among wild, rain-soaked forests and rugged, windblown cliffs – all marking Ireland's landscape as one of the most distinctive in the world. Yet tourists come from far and wide to the tiny Emerald Isle not just for the landscape but for the history. From the country's biggest cities to its smallest villages, deeply historical architecture makes up the very fabric of this ancient land. From ruins whose crumbling stone speaks of their former glory to meticulously restored, imposing buildings in all their 12th century grandeur, Ireland's castles are a testament to the rich history of the island. You're almost guaranteed to stumble across at least one castle during your trip to Ireland, but we've selected five of the best, most beautiful and historically significant castles in the country for those visitors wishing to fully immerse themselves in the lore and majesty of Medieval Ireland.
Located in South Tipperary, the Rock of Cashel was once home to the kings of Munster. One of the most ancient castles in Ireland, the Cashel fortress is known as one of the world's most enduring and spectacular examples of medieval architecture. Although the historical significance of the site itself stretches back well before the 12th century, the current buildings are slightly more recent, most dating from the 12th and 13th century. The town of Cashel is also a charming tourist stop, offering tourists well-preserved, rustic Celtic charm.
Overlooking the city of Kilkenny at a great height, the Kilkenny castle is a complex architectural triumph. Its endowed with a fascinating history that spanned centuries of British gentry until it was gifted to the city in the 1960s. Since then, this castle has become one of the most popular in the country and has been perfectly maintained and meticulously restored. While a little less magical and mythological than many of Ireland's more popular castles, this is nonetheless a prime example of an imposingly beautiful and well-restored historical structure. Lying below it, the historic city of Kilkenny offers traditional Irish hospitality and revelry.
Killarney's imposing Ross Castle is an incredibly well preserved example of a Celtic fortress, dating back to around the 15th century. Guided tours of both the exterior and interior of this castle are available for small groups (this is a very popular attraction so expect a wait during peak season). Rooms inside the castle have been reconstructed and furnished to provide a trip back in time and knowledgeable tour guides offer information on the rich history of Ross Castle. If you're lucky enough to visit on a rare sunny, clear day tourists have the opportunity for a boat trip around the lake by the castle.
Situated near one of Ireland's cultural capitals, Cork city, the Blarney Castle is over 600 years old, dating back to the 13th century but having been rebuilt in the 15th century. Although much of the beautiful castle is now in ruins, parts are open to visitors and the expansive castle grounds are perfect for a summer afternoon stroll through garden features like the Druid's Circle and the Wishing Well. The castle, one of Ireland's most famous, is richly endowed with myths and legends. Tourists line up to have the chance to hang upside down at the world famous Blarney Stone (the Stone of Eloquence) and kiss the stone on the castle's facade in order to be blessed with the Gift of the Gab.
The 13th-century King John's Castle has recently undergone extensive renovations in order to provide a comprehensive cultural and learning experience for tourists and locals alike. A visitors' center offers an interactive experience which both kids and adults will appreciate: Touch screen displays, costumes and live historical re-enactments are just some of the ways in which the history and lore of this famous castle are brought to life. The castle overlooks Limerick city center – a city which, similar to the castle, has had a troubled past but is currently experiencing an immense cultural revival – and boasts views of Ireland's iconic River Shannon.