Self-Drive Day Trips From Dublin
Like most capital cities, Dublin is ringed with bland and boring motorways, but – unlike most capital cities – a short drive takes you to the heart of the countryside. So why not escape from from the capital to enjoy some of our favourite Dublin day trips:
Glendalough & Avoca
Drive just half an hour south of Dublin on the N81 and you’re already in the wild Wicklow Mountains, the perfect escape from the Big Smoke. Pass through the Wicklow Gap and beyond Blessington Lakes to the village of Avoca. The word “picturesque” was invented for places like Avoca, where the BBC series Ballykissangel was filmed. You can stop for souvenirs at Avoca Handweavers (but don’t expect any plastic leprechauns or tacky snow-globes), before heading for Glendalough (Glen of the Two Lakes).
Glendalough is tucked into a tranquil pocket of rich history and dramatic scenery in the Wicklow Mountains National Park. St. Kevin certainly knew how to pick a site: Clustered around the lakes and sheltered by forested hills, remains of the monastery he founded include a 12th-century Romanesque priest’s house, cathedral, large granite cross from 6th or 7th Century, St Kevin’s Church, and the iconic round tower.
For an alternative taste of Wicklow's scenic countryside, head for the magnificent Powerscourt Estate. From Dublin, take the N11 southbound toward Wexford, and after about 19km , take exit 7 for Bray south, Enniskerry, and Powerscourt Gardens. Originally planted in the 18th century, Powerscourt Gardens frame the panoramic views from the imposing mansion, with formal tree plantations, a gushing waterfall, grottoes, terraces, and a walled garden.
Powerscourt House was gutted by fire in the 1970s, but it has been restored in line with its magnificent surroundings.You can shop at the Avoca Store and Global Village, see the exquisite dolls’ houses at Tara’s Palace museum of childhood, and eat at the Terrace Cafe.
For a totally different experience, head north from Dublin on the M2. At Ashbourne, take the N2 north toward Slane and turn right about 2km south of Slane, following signs for the visitor centre at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange). You are now in the heart of the territory of Ireland’s ancient kings.
A shuttle bus brings you to one of Ireland’s most mysterious and powerful sites. Beneath a grass-capped mound walled with white stones, lies a Stone Age passage tomb that’s about six centuries older than Egypt’s great pyramids. During the winter solstice every December, sunlight enters the tomb chamber, illuminating it for 17 minutes. Those who have been lucky enough to see it (you have to be selected by lottery) describe it as one of those moving experiences of their lives.
Trim Castle & The Hill of Tara
About 40 minutes from Dublin, via the M3 and R154, is Trim Castle. In a land where castles seem to be scattered across every field, you might wonder what’s so special about this particular edifice. Well, not only is it the biggest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland (30,000 square metres), it’s also where Braveheart was filmed. (Remember Mel Gibson with bad hair and blue paint on his face?) Built on the banks of the River Boyne and encompassing a vast 30,000 square metres of living space, Trim Castle was constructed mainly by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.
Just 15km away is the Hill of Tara, Ireland’s ancient seat of power. Don’t expect soaring towers and vast marble castles, but first impressions can be deceptive. What at first glance seems to be little more than an expanse of bumpy fields, is actually a vast archaeological complex and the most sacred stretch of turf in Ireland. Once said to be the ancient seat of power for Irish royalty, the Hill of Tara may have been home to up to 142 kings, and monuments and mysterious earthen structures from ancient times remain dotted about the area.
And when you’re ready to return to Ireland’s current seat of power, you’re just over 40km from Dublin City and ready for your next car hire adventure!