Often referred to as the Garden of Ireland County Wicklow (Irish: Contae Chill Mhantáin) is a beautiful mountainous region of Ireland's East Coast and Midlands. County Wicklow offers visitors breathtaking views of towering mountains, crystal-clear rivers & tranquil forestry, all within easy reach of the capital.
The Wicklow mountains first came to be populated, along with the rest of Ireland, around 5000BC. Again mirroring the island as a whole, they have played host to a succession of invaders and settlers. The monastery at Glendalough was functioning from the 8th century. Its distinctive round tower was erected as a defence against Norse intruders who later settled there. Little remains of Viking Wicklow except in its name, Wicklow loosely translating as ‘Viking harbour’.
Before the late 1840s the mountains were much more heavily populated than they are today. Ancient oakwoods were felled and mining and farming settlements were built in the upper Glendalough valley, Glenmacnass and elsewhere. Nowadays, these ghostly settlements often lie hidden in dark forest or high on wild hilltops, a testament to the hardiness of their former occupiers.
The Wicklow mountains have a special place in Irish nationalist history too. They played a dramatic role in the failed and tragic 1798 ‘rising’, or rebellion, playing host to rebels and army barracks' alike. The high straight roads that traverse the range date from this era and a military desperate to control the region. Its a role studied and celebrated throughout the county, at the highly recommended Wicklow Gaol Museum in Wicklow town as well as in more humble surroundings such as the Glenmalure Inn.
More recently, their contribution has been more artisitic than political. Around the turn of the last century, the famous playwright J. M. Synge lived in Glanmore Castle near Ashford and wrote about his sojourns in the hills nearby. The naturalist and poet Robert Praeger also received much inspiration in the area, as did contemporary Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney, all of whom are celebrated at the nearby Devils Glen Sculplture in Woodland Park.
The Wicklow Mountains are a favoured location as a backdrop for film studios, both local and international. Recent productions have included King Arthur, Reign of Fire, Michael Collins and Excalibur. The BBC series Ballykissangel was shot on location in Avoca and the long running Irish soap opera Glenroe (now defunct) took place in Kilcoole. Ardmore Studios in Bray has also played host to numerable productions. Actors and directors living in the area include John Hurt, Daniel Day-Lewis and John Boorman. The avid film buff can follow signposted film trails around the mountains (and beyond) by road.
For its small size and population, Ireland is one of the world’s most visited places. In the summer, when most people come, it can feel like an island heaving with tourists. Wicklow, one of the country’s primary destinations for visitors, can be particularly crowded. On a typical August day, you might meet or see any or all of the folllowing sights on the high-hedged, narrow Wicklow roads: a middle-aged British couple driving their caravan serenely down from the ferry in Dublin to their holiday home in Kilkenny; a young Dutch or German family steering their brightly coloured gypsy caravan around treacherous bends at ridiculously slow speeds; an American tour group tracing their heraldic roots and wearing flourescent green baseball caps emblazoned ‘IRELAND’; a young Czech, Polish or Baltic state couple hitching in the hills on a day trip away from Dublin; any of the main tourist attactions barraged by huge, babbling, screaming groups of school-age English-learning French, Italian and Spanish children (and some scared looking staff!).
County Wicklow is a very mountainous area with the highest peak Lugnaquilla rising to 3018 ft (925m). The mountains dominate the North and centre of the county, while along the coast is relatively flat while South Wicklow gives way to rolling hills where there is a lot more open farmland.
Much of the mountaineous area is covered with a layer of peat and this in turn has heather and conifer evergreen forests growing on it, with gorse in the more dryer areas. This makes for an scenic vegetation and gives Wicklow its' rugged appearence.
As a rural mountainous area, much of the charm of County Wicklow is to be found in the small villages & hamlets which speckle the countryside.
Although there are no official regions in County Wicklow there is a notable East/West divide. People in the county are often very proud of being from either West-Wicklow or East-Wicklow & are often very proud of their respective region.
East-Wicklow generally includes all of the land east of the Wicklow mountains which divide the county & generally includes the following towns + villages...
Similarily West-Wicklow generally includes all of the land to the west of the Wicklow mountains & includes (among others).
As in the rest of Ireland English is the language spoken by the majority. A visitor may notice the wide variety of accents on display in Wicklow. People from the hills tend to sound different from those on the coast. Residents of Bray & Greystones have distinctively Dublin-tinged accents. Likewise, the voices of southern and western 'Wicklowites' carry the influence of neighbouring counties. One part of the unique Wicklow 'dialect' you may hear in Wicklow town, Arklow town or inland, is the use of the word 'quern' to replace 'very'. As in 'I'm quern tired'.
The Wicklow mountains, being mountains (and in Ireland), are not particularly well-served by public transport, which is surprising given their proximity to the capital and their popularity among visitors. The main centres within the mountains are Roundwood, Laragh, Glendalough and Rathdrum in the east; Hollywood, Blessington and Tullowin the west.
Wicklow doesn't have a public airport, but due to its' proximity to the capital it can be easily reached from Dublin Airport, the largest airport in the country - see the [[Dublin#Get_in|Get in section of the Dublin article for additional information on Dublin airport].
The most straightforward way to get to your destination in County Wicklow from Dublin Airport is to travel by the dark green 'Dublin Bus' airport shuttle service to Busarás (Dublin city's central bus station near Custom House Quay) & to take a connecting bus or train from there.
Similarly for passengers to either Bray or Greystones a direct 'Aircoach' bus line exists. Further information on the Aircoach service can be found by following this link.
If you are travelling by car and you arrive at the sea port of Rosslare, Wicklow town is about a 1½ hour drive away. For ferry travellers who leave the car behind can get the bus to Wicklow. Buses run on the Rosslare to Dublin route and serve Arklow, Wicklow & Bray. More information is available on the Bus Éireann website.
Those arriving at Dublin Port, can either get the train direct from Dublin(Connolly Station) to Wicklow, or you can travel by bus. This depends on your onward journey.
A coastal rail line serves Bray, Greystones, Kilcoole, Wicklow, Rathdrum and Arklow. However, services to anywhere but the first two are infrequent and overpriced and visitors from elsewhere in the EU may be disappointed at the lack of connecting public transport services to anywhere within the mountains. A monthly return ticket from Dublin’s Connolly station to Wicklow town costs €8.90 and takes around 45 minutes. Timetables are available from the website of Irish Rail.
Kilmacanogue, Newtown Mount Kennedy, Ashford, Wicklow and Arklow are served by the Bus Eireann commuter network, with hourly services north to Dublin and Bray, and south to Wexford, Waterford and Rosslare Europort. On the western side of the mountains, Blessington is served by the 180 service from Dublin to Athy, again hourly.
By Bus & Rail
Bus and Rail services are limited to larger towns, and are concentrated on the east coast. Connecting services from towns into the mountains by public transport are almost non-existent, desperate tourists often being forced to resort to either costly taxis or unreliable hitching.
Bus Eireann bus services originate outside the Connolly Station Luas stop in Dublin’s north-east city centre. Timetables and fares can be obtained online the Bus Eireann webpage. Direct buses do operate from Dublin but tend to be either private and expensive (St. Kevin’s Bus Service - 0404 45834 - monthly return a hefty €14) or tour-based and even more expensive (Bus Eireann Tours - www.buseireann.ie - day tour €28).
By far and away the best method of travelling in the area is by car. Spectacular views await drivers on both the Wicklow and Sally Gap roads, and on lower roads such as the Kilmacanogue to Roundwood route via Calary. Besides this, car rental and petrol are relatively cheap (by European standards) and, as mentioned, the public transport options are severely limited. All main international rental firms operate at Dublin airport, ay several locations in Dublin city centre and in Bray.
Irish hitch-hikers used to be a common sight on the roads of Wicklow. Nowadays, it is more often resident Poles, Latvians or Czechs you see with their thumbs out, taking an afternoon away from Bray, Dun Laoighaire or Dublin. If stories are to be believed, Irish drivers are also not as ready to pick up hitchers as in years gone by, when hitchers often formed queues in popular spots while waiting for their next ride. Hitching is never a 100% safe and reliable method of travel. Solo women travellers are especially advised against it.
A list of some of the more interesting and higher peaks to hike are:
And for those looking for a 2 or 3 day walk.
Some excellent spots to eat:
Hotels Wicklow, as one of the country’s top tourist spots, boasts a wealth of top-notch hotels that is only matched elsewhere in Ireland in Dublin and, perhaps, Belfast. Top of the pile is the five star Druids Glen Marriott Hotel near Kilcoole and the Druids Glen golf course in the east. Further south is the Macreddin Village complex near Aughrim and the delightful Vale of Avoca. Its organic Strawberry Tree restaurant comes recommended. Tinakilly House in Rathnew is a faded but grand four-star coastal option with a highly-regarded restaurant. Straddling not just the glaciated and dramatic nearby Glen of the Downs, but also the high-end / mid-range sectors is the Glenview hotel, on the slopes of the sugarloaf. Worth a mention is the extravagant and soon-to-be-completed six-star Hilton at Powerscourt near Enniskerry.
The situation for those on strictly mid-range budgets is slightly less rosy. Although there are certain decent value options in popular sites such as Glendalough, they tend to fill up quickly at peak times and so early booking is essential. Some of the more interesting choices centre on the village of Ashford. Near the coast is the refined but petite Hunters Hotel, with the indefatigable nonegenarian proprietor Mrs. Gillethlie. In the village itself, Chester Beatty’s Inn offers no nonsense hospitality above a pub and restaurant. Driving towards Roundwood, the Devils Glen equestrian village is set in 200 acres of park and native woodland, and offers classy self-catering holidays to familys and those of the equine set. There are also reasonable if bland options in the county’s principal towns: the Royal in Bray; the Grand in Wicklow and the Bay Court in Arklow.
Hostels & Campsites