From historic houses to wilderness, James Joyce to UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, find the best day trips from Dublin this side of Molly Malone.
Oh, you lucky thing, you, looking for day trips from Dublin! There are so many good spots to choose from and the best news? Most are proper day trips.
Sure, you can spend 3 hours getting up to Belfast or across to the cliffs of Moher in the west. But why race through the island of Ireland so fast?
If at all possible, slow down and take your time.
Pull up a chair, unfold a map and start sketching out ideas. Here’s what you need to know about what, why, where, when and how to plan your day trips from Dublin by car or by train.
Give it time. Ireland will thank you.
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OK, the first part is easy to pronounce for an English speaker and pretty self-explanatory. The next part may need some work.
But don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath, say something like “Don Leary” in a breathless, sing-song manner and as long as you’re putting in a bit of effort (followed quickly by Sandycove for good luck) people will know what you mean.
But first of all, why would you bother?
Dún Laoghaire is a coastal suburb, less than 10 miles south of Dublin’s city centre and linked by 20 minutes travel on the DART or a quick drive.
It has an East Pier, Victorian tea rooms, fish n chips, an oratory and more than 220 shops, restaurants cafes and pubs all within 10 minutes of each other.
But the real draw (for me, for many) is its link to literary son of the city James Joyce at Sandycove.
Scoot around from Dún Laoghaire to Sandycove for a, you guessed it, sandy cove. James Joyce once lived here, albeit for only a week, as a guest of poet Oliver St John Gogarty.
But it’s a week that made a big impression.
Ulysses opens here, in the Martello Tower that now serves as a summertime museum for James Joyce fans.
“He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding county and the awaking mountains,” Ulysses.
Each year on Bloomsday, 16th June, the date featured in the book, Dubliners congregate in period costume to read the book and have a good time. There may be one or two international fans by now as well…
Top tip: visit Sandycove on Bloomsday (June 16th) to see the city in James Joyce costumes, reading aloud from Ulysses.
If you thought just swimming in the water around Ireland was a touch on the crazy side, wait until you see Forty Foot.
Possibly the most famous outdoor swimming spot in Ireland, Forty Foot was immortalised in Ulysses and now literary fans from around the world face the bracing surf in a plunge from the rocks.
It should be obvious, but in case it isn’t, the rocks can be dangerous so do take care. And don’t worry about the “men only” sign. The rules were changed a good few years ago.
Haven't got a car? Not to worry! You can still make the most of Dublin and the surrounding areas.
Here are the day trips from Dublin that are best by train:
Lavender-tinged with salty-aired promenades and hills overlooking the bay, Howth (pronounced something like who-th) blows some fresh air into a day trip from Dublin.
Reachable by DART (stands for Dublin Area Rapid Transit and is basically the public transport network) it barely feels like a day trip, featuring in James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses as part of Leopold Bloom’s fateful 24 hours in the city.
Yet this small fishing village carries a distinctly different air to the big city further round the bay. Low-slung shops sell fish ‘n’ chips in paper, boats bob obligingly, while the weather toys with visitors to Ireland like a rascal having fun.
Mysterious Malahide. A stately home enveloped in ivy-green and layer upon layer of history so intriguing, I kept waiting for Jonathan Rhys Meyers or some other fine actor in tights to stride right into the scenery.
A curling staircase leads beneath overarching tree branches to reach the 12th century house.
Then it’s time to pass through the ivy-clad doorway, stooping beneath the arch from a time when the world was different, when even the strongest and tallest of men didn’t reach the lofty heights of my one metre and sixty-odd centimetres.
The core part of Malahide castle began life in 1174, with later parts arriving throughout the years.
It was, for almost 800 years, the family home of just one family: the Talbots, swept from France via Wales into southern Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invasion and onto these very grounds. (And for any Welshies reading, yes, indeed it was the Talbots of Port Talbot on the southern coast of Wales.)
The family history takes in, as you might expect, key events throughout the ages, from the expulsion by Cromwell’s soldiers to a bloody defeat at the Battle of the Boyne (where fourteen Talbots sat together for breakfast, never to do so again.)
Yet the Talbots, and the castle, survived.
In the twentieth century, the last Baron passed away and the property passed to his sister Rose. Unable to pay the inheritance tax, she sold the castle to the Irish State in 1975.
Malahide, therefore, has an unusual trait in that it’s adapted for the 20th century yet has an ironclad foothold in the past.
Across the road, beyond the willows and those swirling, curling stairs appears an ever more modern phenomenon: a gift shop.
Yet this too carries an historical secret all of its own.
For it turns out that the great silver letters that spell out AVOCA are not, in fact, a result of austerity cuts or shoddily spelled avocado. They’re the brand name for Avoca (pronounced ah-VO-ca,) an Irish business whose history dates back to 1723.
I’ve heard some claim that it’s the oldest business in Ireland, but with The Brazen Head pub in Dublin notching up a start date of 1198, I’ll allow someone else to battle it out. The oldest handweavers perhaps?
Either way, Malahide offered a glimpse into the Ireland of right now: dripping with centuries of history, yet striding with confidence into the future.
Top Tip: Turn Day Trips into a Weekend Away
Tinakilly Country House calls itself a Victorian mansion by the sea and you know what? It is, indeed, a Victorian mansion by the sea.
It’s also entirely reachable as a day trip from Dublin for a taste of coastal bygone elegance, less than an hour if the traffic works out.
A really gorgeous way to spend a weekend is to hire a car and combine Wicklow, Glendalough, and Powerscourt and then stay in the hotel itself.
Downton Abbey, Irish style.
A place for hiking, striding, driving – and breathing, catch Wicklow in the right weather and let nature near overwhelm you with her beauty. This protected area (one of six national parks in Ireland) melts rust earth brown with deep blue-green, still lakes with waterfall spray and the rise and fall of the land to form the “Dublin Mountains” at the northern edge.
I’d highly recommend driving here yourself, if you possibly can, to soak in the freedom, the views and the landscapes while still being able to stop wherever you want.
If you’re lucky (or talented, with time on your hands,) look out for rare orchids and the sight of the peregrine falcon.
Scenic driving routes include the Wicklow Gap and the R115 from the Dublin Hills to Laragh village. You can find a guide to walking routes through Wicklow over here.
Thought: This may be the one and only time you put bog and beautiful together in the same sentence.
Technically within the Wicklow Mountains, I’ve given this place a separate section because, well, quite frankly it deserves it. You could spend one day at Glendalough and another roaming around the rest of the Wicklow Mountains.
Time your arrival to hit the early morning sun, making the grass shiver in the mist, or late as the sun’s warmth slips away and transport yourself to 6th century Ireland.
Twas here that St Kevin founded a monastery all those years ago in a picturesque area that became one of the greatest centres of Christian learning in the land.
That 30 metre tower may look rather austere but at the time, it was a veritable city complete with farms and a cathedral.
The visitor’s centre does a thorough job of bringing to life the music, the engravings, the stories behind the crosses and the monastic remains. Revisit around 500 or so years of peace, other than the occasional pillage by the Vikings, until the Normans conquered it once for all in 1398.
Glendalough itself translates to mean “valley of two lakes” and if 6th century Ireland seems a long time ago, the glacial period that formed this area adds on another 2.4 million years, give or take.
As you’d expect, it’s a place with hiking trails galore but it’s also good for small ones with easy access paths and facilities and a waterfall that you can reach without too much trouble.
Also, unsurprisingly, Glendalough earns pride of place on the path of Ireland’s Ancient East, a route that travels from the area outside of Dublin and east of the River Shannon, extending from Carlingford to Cavan and south to Cork City, including East County Cork and East County Limerick.
Top tip: wear sturdy walking shoes. The paths and rocks can get slippery. In fact, this probably applies to most of Ireland.
Curiously, many visitors don’t realise that Dublin is a city by the sea. And a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, when it comes to that.
Perhaps it’s because Dublin’s city centre is compact and cosy. Maybe its rich literary history and fondness for Guinness reduces the, er, drive for outdoors exploration.
But from Howth to Sandycove, the UNESCO Biosphere region now covers 300 square kilometres and a population (of people!) of 300 000.
Many of the spots are already included as recommended day trips from Dublin in this article.
But there are a few other dimensions we may have overlooked:
Insider tip: dress for all weather in Ireland. Sunshine, rainshine, wind, the lot. You never know what will happen...
Proud owner of The Velvet Strand, the Blue Flag Beach, you can drive straight to Portmarnock or earn your right to relax with the 4km walk from Malahide.
Forgiving waters, grassy dunes, it's perfect for splashing about with young families or lazing in the sun (it does come here! It’s just hard to predict when…)
Also, twas here that Charles Kingford Smith launched his east-west crossing of the Atlantic in 1930. A feat that took him 31 ½ hours. Without in-flight entertainment, we suppose.
Throw dignity and self-consciousness aside, and spend a day trip from Dublin’s city centre learning the basics of Ireland’s favourite sport.
Really. I was beyond sceptical but it turned out to be some of the most fun I’ve had.
It’s not far from Dublin city centre to Clash where the O'Driscoll brothers teach Gaelic football as well, but you’ll need to set aside a day trip amount of time in order to give it your best shot.
Having a car in Dublin is about as useful as being six foot three on an aeroplane. Once out of the city, though, it’s a fantastic way to explore.
Driving in Ireland is pretty straightforward, although parking sometimes requires some creativity.
Here are the day trips from Dublin that are best by car:
In complete contrast to Malahide, the Powerscourt Estate is a place where no shadows grow. Its grand façade of grey and white stone, with sweeping lawns, broad staircases and a fountain that reaches into the sky chases away the gloom of history in a display of bracing confidence.
Yet its past does stretch back to shadowy times, beginning as a 13th century castle before becoming the Irish Versailles of the 18th century after extensive restoration work headed by German architect Richard Cassels.
If the name rings a bell, it’s the same Powerscourt as the beautiful shopping centre in central Dublin, all arches and stairways beneath a glass atrium.
As for Powerscourt itself, its fame soared after being named the third best garden in the world by National Geographic. The parklands include Ireland’s highest waterfall (at 121metres,) Japanese gardens, Italianate gardens, a dolphin pond and a Pepperpot Tower. And that’s just to begin with.
If you do reach garden fatigue, a handy AVOCA coffee shop awaits.
Oh yes! And inside the house… (can we still call it a house when it has its own ballroom?)
Inside, Tara’s Palace contains children’s dolls and childhood memorabilia and if you look out of one of the upper floor windows, you’ll see Ireland’s Sugarloaf Mountain.
So there you have it. Cliffs, bogs and the wild outdoors. The Ancient East. Medieval times. The Battle of the Boyne, Victorian tea and James Joyce. Plus some wet and windy activities and beaches within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. And all possible as a day trip from Dublin, back in time for a pint of the dark stuff as night falls. Enjoy!
Disclosure – I have travelled to Ireland many times over the years, sometimes hosted as a journalist, sometimes as a blogger, sometimes with family, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like.
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