There is a reason that Wicklow is known as the Garden of Ireland. From its rolling green hills covered in heather to its picturesque glacial lakes, Wicklow epitomizes an Irish postcard. Here in the largest national park in Ireland you’ll find Glendalough and the remains of a monastic settlement dating back to the 6th century. You’ll find Sally’s Gap, a mountain pass surrounded by blanket bog. You’ll find Lough Tay and Lough Dan, and you may even befriend a hungry seal in Wicklow town. With a location just thirty minutes south of Dublin city, an escape into the Wicklow mountains makes for a picture perfect day trip.
Explore some of the highlights of Ireland’s Ancient East by taking a day trip through Wicklow and Glendalough!
Lough Tay is aptly nicknamed Guinness Lake due to its resemblance to a pint of the black stuff. Just look at that beachy foam on top! Also, the lake is located on the Guinness family’s estate. The River Cloghoge flows into Lough Tay, then drains to Lough Dan in the south. It is surrounded by the scenic hills of the Wicklow mountains, and on a clear day there is nothing more stunning than blue against Irish green. Although Lough Tay is on private property, visitors can take in the stunning panoramic view from the Military Road above.
Lakes and Trails
In Irish, Gleann Dá Loch translates to ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’. The two lakes of Glendalough are referred to as the Lower Lake and the Upper Lake respectively, and were formed during the last ice age thousands of years ago. Today Glendalough valley consists of a network of trails that lead through the surrounding mountains and around lower and upper lakes. These hiking trails vary in difficulty, elevation, and length – but all offer spectacular views of the wooded wilderness. You can discover more about the different hiking trails here. With plenty of parkland surrounding the Upper Lake, you’ll find Glendalough to also be a great place to spend a sunny afternoon and picnic. Visitors can park near the monastic settlement, and the easy hike up to this lake takes about an hour. From here, explore other natural scenery like Poulanass Waterfall.
It was here in this valley that Saint Kevin founded a monastic settlement, also known as the City of the Seven Churches. This monastic city, founded in the 6th century, became a great ecclesiastical foundation and school and continued to prosper until the arrival of the Normans in 1214 AD. After suffering from invaders, Glendalough united with the dioceses of Dublin and the monastic settlement was eventually deserted. In 1878, reconstruction and preservation began on Glendalough, returning the ruins and valley to their former glory, nestled in the Garden of Ireland.
In the site of the old monastic city, visitors can visit the ruins and gravestones that date back centuries. The Round Tower rises above the settlement, standing at 33 meters tall. Built by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery, the tower was most likely a belltower (Cloigtheach), but was also used for refuge during attacks. The main entrance is 2.5 meters above the ground, accessible by a ladder that was easily removed when there was a threat. The tower is in nearly perfect condition despite being nearly 1,000 years old, and is considered to be one of the best preserved towers in Ireland.
Other ruins include the ancient archway to the settlement, once part of a circular wall that enclosed the city. The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul is the largest of the city’s seven churches, and St. Kevin’s Church features a bell tower that people once believed was a chimney, calling it St. Kevin’s Kitchen. There are also the ruins of St. Kieran’s church, Trinity Church, Reefert Church, and the priest’s house. You can even hug St. Kevin’s Cross. Rumor has it that if you wrap your arms around the width of the cross and touch your fingertips on the other side, you will have your wishes granted.
While it’s easiest to reach Glendalough by car, there is also a shuttle service that brings visitors daily from St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin to Glendalough for €20. You can find more information on St. Kevin’s Bus here.
AVOCA WOOLEN MILLS
Avoca is the oldest working mill in Ireland, dating back to 1723 when it was originally a co-op for local farmers and weavers. The hand-weaving mill sits on the Avoca River. The mill thrived throughout the 1920s and 30s when it was run by the Wynne sisters, but fell into disrepair in later decades. In 1974, a Dubliner with no knowledge of hand-weaving bought and refurbished the mill. They brought the looms and the iconic colors of Avoca’s wool back to life, and today Avoca has locations across Ireland and ships their famous goods worldwide. The mill offers tours, explaining the history of the mill and the the process of weaving. You can also explore the shop, selling a range of woven sweaters, blankets, gloves, and more.
What are some of your favorite highlights around Wicklow?