County Wicklow (Irish: Contae Chill Mhantáin) is a region in Ireland's East Coast and Midlands. It is also widely known as the Garden of Ireland. This nickname was given with good reason as County Wicklow offers some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland & indeed Europe.
Wicklow offers tourists & travellers towering mountains, crystal-clear rivers & lush forests, all within easy reach of Dublin, the capital city of Ireland.
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).
The major towns of County Wicklow are...
County Wicklow is a very mountainous 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 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 it the rugged appearence.
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 successions 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 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!).
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.
The nearest airport is north of Dublin. A direct Aircoach bus line serves Bray and Greystones in county Wicklow from Dublin airport, and lots of buses and taxis serve Dublin city centre from where onward transport to Wicklow can be taken.
Dublin Port and Dun Laoighaire Port are the closest passenger ferryports for visitors arriving from Britain by sea. Rosslare Europort is further away, but has links with both Britain and France. It can be reached from Wicklow and most towns on the east coast by road and rail. Stena Line and Irish Ferries are the two biggest ferry companies.
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.
- Glendalough Historic location with an round tower from possibly the 12th century. There are also two scenic lakes. It is in a glacial valley. Extensive facilities include tour guides, a hotel and bar, a visitor centre, two paid car parks and multiple trails leading all over the glen. There is an abandoned silver mining village at the western end of the valley.
- Turlough Hill site of the only pumped storage scheme in Ireland built by the ESB in the 1970s. This consists of two small lakes, one of which is artifical and sits on top of the mountain and stores water for later use in generating hydro power. You can hike up to this in a few hours from Glendalough
- The Gaps - Wicklow Gap and Sally Gap are the two roads that meet on top of the northerly Wicklow mountains. They were built in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion by the military to catch rebels successfully hiding in the hills. There are many many beautiful sites dotted along them, including Loch Tay and Turlough Hill.
- Loch Dan Large valley with beautiful lake located at its base. Located close to Roundwood and Glendalough although rarely visited by tourist. There is a walking track skirting the hill along its western shore that offers spectacular views and a silvery sand beach at the far end.
- Avonmore House home of Charles Stewart Parnell, a prominent 19th century figure in Irish political history. There are extensive grounds around the house with a wide variety of both native and exotic plants. Located near Rathdrum.
- Glenmalure Elongated glacial valley deep in the mountains that is excellent for walking. There is a fine pub in the valley where live Irish music sessions are regularly played. Don't miss the abandoned military barracks built to help catch the local hero of the failed 1798 rebellion, Michael Dwyer.
- Wicklow Gaol Restored jail (gaol is the Irish spelling) in Wicklow town. Excellent guided tours place the cells and their inhabitants in the context of Wicklow's turbulent history of emigration and uprisings.
- Bray Head Excellent walk (and ice cream!) to be had from Bray seafront up to the lofty summit. There is also a cliff-face walk leading around the Head to Greystones which has spectaular views of seabirds, cliff-stacks and the passing DART trains underneath.
- The Big Sugarloaf Spectacular views of its sister the Little Sugarloaf, Bray Head, Dublin Bay, Dalkey Island, the East Coast and the Wicklow mountains inland are to be had from the top of this 300m conical 'mountain' which greets people arriving on the Dublin motorway as a sort of gatekeeper of the county. Walking from the south side to the summit only takes around 30 minutes as the car park is located halfway up the shoulder of the hill. Its called the Sugarloaf because of the white volcanic basalt rocks to be found at its summit which resemble sugar. Located near the village of Kilmacanogue (Kilmac to the locals).
- Devil's Glen A glaciated valley, waterfall and sculpture park near Ashford, Roundwood and Glendalough. Spectacular views to be had from the top and bottom. There are many trails that lead from the main car park off into different sections of the forest which has mixed native deciduous and commercial evergreen trees. A double waterfall called the Devil's Punchbowl lies at one end of the glen. Its deep pool is good for diving and swimming. A signposted sculpture trail leads visitors around over 30 pieces designed by individual artists using wood from the forest itself. There is also a literary trail lined with quotes from Seamus Heaney the Nobel prize-winning poet who maintains a home in, and whose work has been influenced by, the area.
- Beaches - You might not expect Ireland to be a great beach country and indeed the weather is most often not fit for bikinis. But a Sunday stroll or kite ride on some of Wicklow's beaches can be very enjoyable given the right attire, and a the promise of a warm fireside and some food to return to afterwards. Between Greystones and Wicklow town there is an uninterrupted stone shingle beach running for about 12 miles, and a walking pathway from Kilcoole to Wicklow town. The train line runs alongside the path and up until not too long ago walkers would greet the occasional trains with waves, and be rewarded with a toot. There is good fishing to be had here in both summer and winter (plaice, skate and tope sharks are some common catches). Birdwatchers travel to the section between Kilcoole and Newcastle which is home to a managed colony of terns. More info can be had from Birdwatch Ireland, who have a reserve in the area. In the summer, temperatures can reach up to 30 degrees centrigrade (if you're lucky). Crowds of people flock down to two beaches south of Wicklow town: Brittas Bay and Silver Strand. Silver Strand has private access through a caravan park and is the smaller of the two. It nestles in a small cove and is overlooked by cliffs. Brittas Bay, just Brittas to the locals, is a wide and long curved strand with a large sandbank just offshore. There are two main car parks with paid entry, but it is possible to find free parking spaces elsewhere along the road.
A list of some of the more interesting and higher peaks to hike are:
- Lugnaquilla (3,018 ft)
- Mullaghcleevaun (2,608 ft)
- Tonelagee (2,681 ft -estimated from metre figure)
- Djouce (2,379 ft)
- Table Mountain (701m)
And for those looking for a 2 or 3 day walk.
- Walk the Wicklow Way. This extends from foothills of the Wicklow mountain in south County Dublin right through the main mountainous parts of Wicklow on down to the very south of the county.
Some excellent spots to eat:
- Roundwood Inn, Roundwood: venison and Irish stew.
- Mark Michel, Kilpeddar: organic cafe using produce from the land around it.
- The Strawberry Tree, Aughrim: delicious & expensive.
- The Happy Pear, Greystones: delicious smoothies & healthy, hippy, organic cafe fare.
- The Candle, Newcastle: traditional Wicklow food.
- Ashford Oriental, Ashford: Chinese & Thai.
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.
B&B stands for ‘Bed and breakfast’ style accommodation, an abbreviation you’ll see hanging from gateways and eaves all over Ireland. B&Bs do exactly what they say on the tin, providing a room, usually ensuite, and a breakfast, usually of the traditional, fried ‘sausage, eggs and rashers’ type. The standard of the many B&Bs to be found around Wicklow varies greatly. Prices are high but standards can be too. Keppel’s Farmhouse near Arklow is well-known and pre-booked.
Hostels & Campsites
Budget accommodation options are limited in Wicklow. There are youth hostels dotted along the route of the Wicklow Way. For visitors not walking its length, however, their locations are often inconvenient. One of the most accessible is at Glendalough (0404-42834 ). There are also hostels in Wicklow town, in Blessington and in Rathdrum. Check the Irish Hostelling Organisation website (www.anoige.ie) for details. Campsites are also thin on the ground. There are several near the beach at Brittas Bay, but they close in winter and are virtually inaccessible unless you have a car. There is also a campsite in Redcross, but this is nearly as far from the hills. It is often possible to camp in fields if you ask prior permission from the landowner