Off the beaten track: Dublin to Galway
Take a left here, a right there and you’ll stumble across charming towns, quaint villages, a pace that won’t rush you off your feet and a genuinely warm welcome
Potter around history-filled valleys, unwind at the sight of glistening waters and fall in love with a trip that’s the very definition of getting away from it all, as you journey across Ireland’s Ancient East and onto the centre of the Wild Atlantic Way…
Leaving Dublin and heading west, you can get to know County Kildare, renowned for its horse-racing pedigree, elegant gardens and quirky landmarks.Explore Day 1
Built in the 1720s, Castletown House is the first and largest Palladian manor in Ireland, and is all about showing off on a grand scale. The man who built it, William Conolly, was once the richest man in Ireland. He owned 100,000 acres of land, and it was said that it would take 240 horses to haul his half-year’s rent to Castletown.
If you have more time, you can pay a visit to a real curiousity: a barn that’s shaped like a corkscrew. The Wonderful Barn, built at the edge of the Castletown estate, was built to create employment in the local area in 1743.
The beating heart of Ireland’s horse-racing industry has to be The Irish National Stud in Tully. As well as its rich equine history, you’ll find the rather fascinating tale of its founder, Colonel William Hall Walker. He would meticulously record a foal’s time of birth, and draw up the birth charts himself. If he didn’t like the stars, regardless of bloodline, the foal would be sold immediately. A guided tour is a must. As is a trip to the Japanese Gardens next door – another tribute to Walker, who had an obsession with Asian horticulture.
If you fancy seeing some of Ireland’s finest racehorses strut their stuff, head to race meetings at these iconic Kildare courses: The Curragh, Punchestown and Naas.
Get up close with nature
Meander along the tree-lined roads that surround Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park, and you’ll find yourself in another world. Once a monastic retreat (until it was raided during a rebellion in the early 18th century), the park is now a celebration of the Irish peatlands. A biodiversity tour introduces the amazing flora and fauna of the area.
If you have more time, do you fancy some retail therapy? Kildare Village is a designer discount retail park, so get hunting for some great bargains! Hungry? Head to Harte’s Bar and Grill in Kildare town for award-winning food in relaxed surroundings with tasty gastropub-style dishes.
From ancient hills rich in mysticism to tragic tales of love and greed, Westmeath truly is a land of legend.Explore Day 2
Discover the curious "Seven Wonders of Fore" at the remains of this Benedictine Abbey, set in a quiet meadow in County Westmeath. Founded by St Fechin in 630, Fore Abbey holds tales of miracles, disaster and mysticism
If you have more time, Tullynally Castle and Gardens, ancestral home of the Earls of Longford, is a picturesque setting for a beautiful stroll.
Situated in the heart of County Westmeath, the calm exterior of Belvedere House and Gardens, conceals a history of wicked spouses, grand gestures and a battle between brothers. The Earl of Belvedere built the ultimate folly – known as the Jealous Wall – to hide the much grander house of his brother. Talk about sibling rivalry!
If you have more time, visit the Cathedral of Christ the King in nearby Mullingar. Constructed in the form of a basilica, the cathedral's twin spires can be seen for miles and it is home of impressive frescoes and a museum of historical artefacts dating back to the 17th century.
Myths and mystical secrets
Step lightly, for you walk on a land of legend where an ancient deity found his final resting place… This is the seat of the High Kings and Ireland’s geographical centre, and guided tours of the Hill of Uisneach will literally walk you through history. It is here that the four provinces of Ireland meet and Uisneach was once considered the royal centre of Ireland. Every May, the Festival of the Fires ignites the celebration of summer and the pagan sun god, Ériu, who is said to be buried beneath the massive boulder known as the Cat Stone.
If you have more time, stay for giant steam engines, a creaking timber water wheel and two centuries of whiskey craft. A visit to the Kilbeggan Distillery Experience blends traditional skills with the rich tastes of the present. Care for a sip?
Discover one of County Offaly’s best kept secrets on a trip to Charleville Castle, located just outside the town of Tullamore. Buried deep within ancient oak woodlands, this 18th century fortress has everything you’d expect from a gothic castle – as well as a host of haunting spirits! Guided tours by the current tenants are available when pre-booked, and don’t forget to stop by the ancient King Oak tree that has dominated the demesne for over 400 years.
If you have more time, three is the magic number at Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Centre, which produces triple-distilled, triple-blend and triple-matured whiskey. Housed in a 19th century warehouse, Tullamore D.E.W. is named after the whiskey’s creator, Daniel E Williams.
Spine-tingling strongholds, monastic marvels and world-famous whiskey: Offaly’s green pastures are filled with fascinating tales.Explore Day 3
Science meets splendour
Sprawling formal gardens, ancient woodland paths and a grand castle – the connections between science and nature are strong at Birr Castle. After all, this is the home of “the leviathan” – once the world’s largest telescope. Back in the early 1840s, the third Earl of Rosse designed this giant and attracted visitors from all over the world to marvel at it. It still works, and sits at the heart of the incredible demesne, along with a Science Centre and award-winning gardens.
If you have more time, discover a darker period in history at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna, County Galway. In 1852, it housed 600 inmates and was part of a network of workhouses that was described as “the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland.”
On the banks of the River Shannon, explore the medieval history of Athlone Castle. Originally built for England’s King John in 1210, today the castle includes a 360 cinematic recreation of the bloody 1691 Siege of Athlone – a ferocious 10-day assault on the town.
If you have more time, Wineport Lodge on the shore of Lough Ree is the perfect location for a rustic, hearty meal in warm surroundings.
Wander through time
Hallowed history, mystical ruins and sacred secrets abound at the monastic site of Clonmacnoise. Founded by St Ciaran in the 6th century, the site includes high crosses, seven churches, two round towers and a cathedral – all overlooking the glistening River Shannon. Wander the grounds, or perhaps take a boat tour and view it all from a different perspective with Viking Tours.
If you have more time, take a thrilling step back through untamed Ireland at Lough Boora Parklands. It’s got walking routes, an intriguing Fairy Trail – 14 fairies live in Fairy Avenue – and lakeside mesolithic sites that were discovered by a local man in 1977.
A history of horses
Horses and ponies are celebrated at Dartfield Horse Museum and Heritage Centre in Loughrea, County Galway. Set in 350 acres of parkland on the Dartfield estate, the museum offers a wonderful glimpse into the history and heritage of the Irish horse and the Connemara pony. And once you emerge from the museum, you can enjoy everything from sheepdog demonstrations to clay pigeon shooting.
If you have more time, don’t miss the ancient walled town of Athenry, where you can take a guided tour of 13th century Athenry Castle. But there’s more to Athenry than history – if anyone’s ever heard Irish sports fans sing at sporting events around the world, then you may be familiar with the lyrics inspired by the Fields of Athenry.