Ancient cultures, wildlife, outdoor adventure … pick a Dublin day trip category and enjoy. While Ireland’s capital city has enough to keep visitors engaged for weeks, it can be illuminating to get outside the city center and see exactly what the picturesque countryside is so famous for.
During the years I lived in Dublin, I took many day trips, some of them spectacular, and all of them inspiring. Here are five of my favorite day trips outside the city, all of which have lured me back for at least a 2nd round of exploration.
During any trip to Ireland visitors are sure to discover that this is an island with well established links to prehistoric times and deep, long-ago traditions. Visiting Newgrange, a prehistoric monument in County Meath about an hour’s drive north of Dublin, solidifies this idea even further. Upon arrival at Newgrange, it is hard to wrap your head around the idea that this monument was built in 3200 BC.
When I first boarded the small shuttle from the welcome center to the ancient site, I couldn’t believe I was about to set my eyes on something over 5000 years old. Even more impressive is the fact that this monument reveals just how clever and advanced people were at the time.
The ancient burial mound has two striking features. The first is spirals carved into rock at the monument’s entrance. The second is the incredible fact that the chamber was built with such precision that on the winter solstice the room fills with brilliant light at sunrise. During your tour, you will witness a reenactment of this phenomenon.
Some people may take the position that Belfast is beyond a day trip from Dublin, but I quickly realized during my time in Ireland that this isn’t true. There are a number of trains each day that run directly between Dublin and Belfast, and it is more than feasible to catch an early morning train and in just under two hours, be in Belfast for a day of exploring.
Whenever I travel to a new destination, my favorite way to get oriented is to simply stroll, eat, drink, and soak in the surroundings. Upon arriving in Belfast for the first time, I put away my map and wandered around the historic, cobbled cathedral quarter. I stopped for a pot of tea in one of the oldest pubs, and leisurely read the newspaper. To gain a bird’s eye view of the city, I took an elevator to the top of the Victoria Square Shopping Center.
A quick day trip can serve as an introduction to Belfast and to Northern Ireland and whet your appetite for an extended visit. Once back on the train, it will be almost impossible not to compare and contrast Belfast with the capital city of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin.
Not all day trips from Dublin require a train journey. The Powerscourt Estate, a 30-minute drive south of Dublin in County Wicklow, is a great option for a local day trip. Here visitors will get a glimpse of the lush, green countryside that Ireland is renowned for.
The Powerscourt Estate is home to several attractions. There’s the Powerscourt Waterfall, a 400-foot waterfall that is an ideal background for an afternoon picnic. For golf enthusiasts, there are two award-winning courses, both with incredible views of the nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain. The Powerscourt Gardens are another lovely place to admire the views of the Sugar Loaf. And you won’t want to miss the great little café, Avoca, for tea and sandwiches after working up an appetite.
If you’re interested in an overnight daytrip from Dublin, the Powerscourt Estate is also home to the five-star Ritz Carlton Powerscourt. Here you can dine in a Gordon Ramsay Restaurant, indulge in the spa, or hit the hotel-guest-only hiking trail to encounter some of the local wildlife.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
After a few days in the city, sometimes I’m itching to get outdoors. One of the best options for an invigorating hike outside of Dublin is the Sugar Loaf Mountain. It is possible to reach the top in about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on your pace. Most of the climb is more of a walk on an incline, with the final ascent requiring a bit of finesse over rocks.
Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with incredible 360-degree views. There are the ancient stone fences and grazing sheep below. And the Bay of Dublin unfolds like a map in front of you, with the city of Dublin in the center of a C shaped bay. On a sunny, clear day, there is almost no better view of Dublin than you will find at the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Pack a picnic in advance and you won’t feel compelled to rush back down to refuel.
Glendalough is another fascinating day-trip from Dublin. This 6th century monastic settlement is known not only for its medieval ruins, but also for its beautiful setting. After exploring the monuments and learning about this historic destination, your trip to this site in County Wicklow won’t be complete until you take full advantage of this perfect place for a scenic walk.
There’s a reason that monks in the 6th century chose this location to build a settlement, and you will discover why when strolling around the idyllic walking trails and two lakes. Be sure to stop at the information office and pick up a map to help you pick a trail for your stroll. Trails vary in difficulty and length, but all are rewarding when it comes to views.
Simple Day Trips
Not all day trips outside of Dublin require an entire day. Some of the best day trips consist of simple explorations of outlying neighborhoods or villages. The DART train, or commuter train, is a great way to spend a few hours exploring beyond the city center. Board the DART train for Howth to take a walk along the village’s pier and watch seals playfully swim around the harbor.
Other options include boarding the DART train in the southern direction for Dun Laoghaire, another coastal village with a pier that jets out into the Irish Sea.
Choosing day trips will depend on the weather, your energy level, and your interests. Once you venture beyond the center of Dublin you are sure to discover, as I did, that there is always one more reason to return to this delightful city.
Written by Jessica Colley for EuropeUpClose.com