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While visiting a castle is one of the top things to do in Europe, spending a night in one of the best castle hotels in Ireland is an especially magical experience.
Being away from the crowds of daytime visitors allows you to soak up the enchanting atmosphere of hundreds of years of history and enjoy the romantic appeal of imagining life as lord or lady of the manor. With their incredible scenery, sumptuous suites and amenities galore, you really need to overnight to enjoy everything storybook castle accommodation has to offer.
While there are several lovely castles you can visit in Ireland, I haven’t visited enough to be able to choose the most beautiful castles of all, so I called upon some travel blogger friends to share their thoughts and help me decide.
Here are our top picks for the most beautiful and best castle hotels in Ireland if you’re looking for a memorable stay:
Brief History of Irish Castle Hotels
But first, of all what exactly is a castle? How is it different than a fortress, a fortified manor house or monastery? Castles in western Europe date to the 9th century when they were constructed of stone as private fortresses. Located in strategic positions offering vantage points for viewing the countryside (and invading forces), they were often surrounded by moats with thick walls accessed by drawbridges which could be raised for defence. The living quarters were located within the most heavily fortified, interior of the castle.
After the Renaissance, there was a separation between military and domestic castle architecture, with manor houses or palaces designed as a castle-style residence. When the upkeep of the castle or manor house became prohibitively expensive to maintain by an individual family, many of the historic buildings were converted to Irish castle hotels and opened to the public.
You’re sure to see many picturesque ruins on your travel itinerary through Ireland but not all of them are castles. Many are priories ( monasteries), fortresses or abandoned churches.
1. Ashford Castle, County Mayo
Set on 140 hectares within an archipelago of lakes, streams and woodland forest, this opulent hotel near Galway in County Mayo is definitely one of the best castle hotels in Ireland. The Ashford estate stretches north to the village of Cong, home to a stone Abbey where Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, spent his final days in 1198.
Ashford Castle’s silhouette has evolved since it was first built in 1228 as an Anglo-Norman stronghold. Reinvented as a French chateau in the 1700s and then as a summer residence for the Guinness family from 1852 to 1939, the estate set on Lough Corrib ( the largest lake in Ireland) features woodlands dotted with mushrooms, ferns and moss.
In 2013, the Tollman family of The Travel Corporation (which includes Insight Vacations, Uniworld, Trafalgar and more) purchased Ashford Castle under their Red Carnation Hotels brand and upgraded the interior’s plumbing, electrical and 826 windows, while adding opulent antiques, gleaming oak woodwork, lavish guest rooms and contemporary amenities. It’s now one of the world’s top hotels and one of Ireland’s most luxurious (and priciest) castle stays.
Extra Special: While one of the top experiences is enjoying the posh afternoon tea at Ashford Castle and view of the gardens, food fans also won’t want to miss the elegant George V Dining Room, sparkling with Waterford Crystal and Murano glass chandeliers. Under the direction of skilled Chef Philippe Farineau, the cuisine celebrates the land’s seasonal bounty. During my stay, highlights of the 12-course tasting menu include wild venison with sweet black current gel and Mrs Tollman’s own recipe for creamy Billi Bi Mussel Soup.
Michele Peterson, A Taste for Travel
2. Kilkea Castle Hotel, County Kildare
Purchased a few years ago by Boston-based builder Jay Cashman and his actress wife, Christy, Kilkea Castle is Ireland’soldest continuously inhabited castle. It’s also one of the most beautiful castle hotels in Ireland. Set on 180 lushly landscaped acres in County Kildare, Kilkea was easily our favourite of the various different castles we visited during our 10 days exploring the Emerald Isle.
The medieval fortress was originally built by Sir Walter de Riddlesford in 1180. His granddaughter eventually inherited the property and married Maurice Fitzgerald, the 3rd baron of Offaly. From that point on, Kilkea Castle Hotel remained in the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years.
Now the castle has been completely refurbished, and “posh” is the best way to describe the new interior. From the homey bar and intimate private dining area to the fantastic restaurant and lovely English gardens, Kilkea Castle easily ranks among our favourite places we’ve ever stayed!
Extra Special: We stayed in the Ernest Shackleton Suite (named after Kildare’s famous explorer), which boasted a massive king size bed, a gorgeous sitting area with a window overlooking the verdant grounds, a romantic fireplace, and luxury toiletries.
Click here to check for lowest prices on Kilkea Castle Hotel
Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel
3. Castle Leslie Estate, County Managhan
Raise a glass to Castle Leslie Estate, an Irish castle hotel in Monaghan that scooped the People’s Choice Award for Ireland’s Favourite Place to Stay at the 2017 Hotel & Catering Review Gold Medal Awards.
In addition to the castle’s colourful past, the odd secret passage or two and a guest list that includes Sir Paul McCartney (who married second wife, Heather Mills here), Castle Leslie Estate is known for its fine-dining restaurant, Snaffles, a spacious brasserie with a wood-burning stone oven and a hand-carved ceiling. It’s also surprisingly affordable.
Extra Special: Castle Leslie’s restaurant has a newly-expanded gin menu that lists more than 80 gins. One to try? Bertha’s Revenge, a small batch Irish milk gin made with 18 different botanicals such as sweet woodruff, cardamom and cumin.
Click here to check for the lowest prices for Castle Leslie Estate Lodge Ireland
Carol Perehudoff, Wandering Carol Luxury Travel Blog
4. Clontarf Castle Hotel, Dublin
When I took my kids to Ireland last year one of the things they most wanted to do was sleep in a castle. We were only in the country for a weekend, so needed a castle convenient to Dublin. Clontarf Castle Hotel was the perfect answer for my family.
It is only 15 minutes outside of the heart of the city and north of the quaint fishing village of Howth. It’s one of the best day trips from Dublin.
There has been a castle on the grounds since the Viking days, but the current castle was built in the early 1800s. The interior is beautifully designed, but quite commercial and busy. If you go, be sure to check out the beautiful wooden bar and eat in the restaurant which was full of locals willing to talk with us.
Extra Special: Clontarf Castle Hotel is one of the best castles to stay in for families. Here are some suggestions for things to do if you’ve got 48 hours to spend in Dublin.
Click here for the best prices on Clontarf Castle Hotel near Dublin Ireland
Jamie Italiane, The Daily Adventures of Me
5. Dromoland Castle Hotel, near Shannon
From the moment one enters the magnificent grounds of Dromoland and first sets eyes on the stunning castle, it’s evident that guests are in for an amazing experience. The inside of the castle is like stepping back in time with its old world feel and traditional décor. The castle has retained much of its original style and features and there is a feast of nooks and crannies waiting to be explored and enjoyed.
Set in Newmarket-on-Fergus north of Shannon, the castle has been welcoming guests since the 16th century and it’s a real treat to experience a luxury stay within the historic castle walls. Everything about Dromoland Castle is world class from the lavish rooms, the renowned golf course, the beautiful grounds and the indulgent dining. It’s definitely one of the best castle hotels in Ireland.
A stay at Dromoland is the quintessential Irish castle experience and a must-include on any Ireland visit!
Extra Special: For a special treat, Mrs. White’s Afternoon Tea, one of the best afternoon teas in Ireland, is a culinary highlight of any visit.
Click here for the lowest prices on Dromoland Castle Hotel
Elaine and Dave, Show Them the Globe
Travel Tips for a Vacation at the Best Castle Hotels in Ireland
Whether you’re planning on spending 7 days in Ireland or you’re just visiting for a few days, there’s definitely a castle hotel you can fit into your schedule.
Pros and Cons of Castle Accommodation
When planning a castle vacation in Ireland, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of staying in a castle. While staying overnight in a castle can be an unforgettable and unique experience filled with character, there are important considerations to think about when choosing among the best castle hotels in Ireland for your stay.
If you’re planning a honeymoon or milestone celebration such as a special birthday or anniversary, this is not the time to opt for a budget castle hotel. If a castle is not well maintained or modernized you can be in for a drafty, chilly night. Rooms may not be as soundproof as you might expect.
You also need to consider the location and the variety of things to do at the castle of your choice.
Things to Do on a Castle Vacation
- Horseback riding on guided journeys across the moors or along forest trails
- Sightseeing during a scenic boat tour of a nearby lough (lake)
- Fishing for salmon or fly-fishing for brown trout in the small mountain streams, rivers and loughs of Ireland
- Experiencing the art of falconry featuring aerial acrobatics by birds of prey such as falcons, hawks, eagles and owls.
- Basking in a luxury spa. Plan ahead and book a wellness treatment in advance to avoid disappointment.
Official Ireland Tourism: Check out www.ireland.com for trip ideas, maps and other handy resources for planning an Irish castle vacation or other experiences in Ireland.
Packing: Be sure to bring clothing with plenty of layers as temperatures can fluctuate even within modernized castles. You’ll also want to exploring the castle estates so expect rain, wind and fog — all part of the atmospheric Irish experience!
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