You’ve come to Dublin and are now looking to also explore the Irish Countryside a little bit, but aren’t sure where to go? Don’t want to spend half your day in a bus? Well, worry no more, we’ve got you covered. Glendalough, located in county Wicklow, has become one of the most popular day tours out of Dublin over the last few years, and I have to say, it has also become one of my personal favorite places in the country. Founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, it is one of the oldest examples of a Christian monastic community. The majority of the buildings that are still there today date back to between the 10th and the 12th century. In spite of various Viking attacks over the years, Glendalough was one of Ireland’s most important monasteries until it was destroyed by the Normans in 1214.
The complex is dominated by an impressive 33 meter high round tower, the primary function of which was that of a belfry. However, it was also used to store valuables and in some rare cases as temporary refuge during sudden attacks. As opposed to popular opinion, it’s primary purpose was not to defend the monastery, as the tower would’ve been a literal death trap in times of strife. The tower is surrounded by an adorably picturesque cemetery that is full of the typical Celtic crosses, and the remnants of the various stone buildings and churches make for some beautiful sights and pictures.
However, the true beauty of the monastery lies in its location. Glendalough is gaelic and literally translates to “Valley of two lakes” – and quite fittingly so! The monastery is situated right by two beautiful lakes: the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake, with the Monastery being at the south- eastern shore of the Upper Lake. As the name said, in a valley, surrounded by the mountains – it is just a beautiful, tranquil place to visit.
Coming out of the Monastery you cross over a little bridge at a small stream and walk for about one kilometer before getting to the Upper Lake and a place just made for taking pictures (literally – the county of Glendalough even put something there for you to put your camera on to get that perfect picture). This is where the day-tours generally end, as they all go on to also visit the city of Kilkenny and only leave you about an hour to explore the surroundings of the monastery by yourself. However, if you’ve come by car, I’d highly encourage you to spend some more time in the area, as there are some beautiful and not overly strenuous hikes that reward you with the most amazing views over the valley, the lakes, and the monastery.
THE WHITE HIKE, GLENDALOUGH
My friends and I did the WHITE hike, which will take you about two to three hours at a relatively slow pace. It’s an easy enough hike, where only the beginning is a little bit harder, as there are loads and loads of stairs to be climbed first. However, once you’ve made it all the way up the mountain, it’s so, so worth it. I literally stopped like every 2 meters to take more pictures (that all ended up looking exactly the same of course), because it was just so beautiful! As you go on, the hike gets easier and easier, first going straight for a while and then slowly downhill. Towards the end of the descent, there is another treat waiting for you – a small, but crystal clear waterfall by the side of the trail! This is probably self-evident, but make sure that it’s not going to rain right before or during your hike, as the trail gets quite slippery and then the hike can turn quite dangerous!
Right between the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake, there is an interactive visitor’s center that not only features an audio visual and a model of the monastic site, but can also help you if you’re looking to do a more or less challenging hike. They have a variety of maps that guide you on your hike and show you the best places to go. The staff is super friendly and welcoming and very knowledgeable about the area, so any questions you might have, they are the people to turn to.
As soon as you’re back from your hike and crave a good beer or cider, or even if you’re just looking for a little snack, there’s a café by the hotel that’s opposite the entry to the Monastery, and according to our tour guide they have the literal best and biggest scones in all of Ireland. I can’t tell whether they’re the biggest in the country, but they for sure are really delicious! And after that hike we’ve earned ourselves something sweet, right?
GETTING TO GLENDALOUGH
Getting to Glendalough is really easy, particularly when coming from Dublin, and it makes for an amazing and unforgettable daytrip. Every single bus/tour-company offers daytrips to this monastic site that additionally take you to the city of Kilkenny for the afternoon (which is exactly what most of us imagine as a “typically Irish town” and is definitely worth visiting!). I did one of those once that was organized by Paddywagon and it was great! Our guide offered to guide us through the sites and told many different stories about the site, but also left us to our own devices if we wanted to explore by ourselves. Nonetheless, my personal recommendation would always be to rent a car and drive there by yourself. The second time around some friends and I rented a little bus to go there by ourselves, and this was definitely the better choice.
As mentioned, the hikes in the area are just beautiful and easily doable, even for children. They take you a little bit up into the mountains and offer the most spectacular views – something you would definitely miss out on if you take the organized tour. It really depends on what you’re looking for in your daytrip and how much organizing you want to do yourself.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Glendalough. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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