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City Guide Wicklow
Too easily overlooked by travellers heading for mystical west coast destinations, Wicklow (Cill Mhantáin in Irish) is an inspiring wilderness retreat well known to Dubliners. Lying just beyond the capital's southern suburbs, the 'Garden of Ireland' is a wild, atmospheric landscape. Hump-back mountains, rolling hills and lush emerald woodlands fill glaciated valleys, where whiskey-coloured streams rush down from the uplands to the Irish Sea, passing long sandy beaches at journey's end.
Historic sites enable visitors to trace the county's colourful and turbulent past, whilst quiet unspoilt villages and bustling towns offer a characteristically warm Irish welcome to every outdoor adventurer and sanctuary seeker.
After the coming of Christianity to Ireland around 431 AD, Glendalough became an important monastic centre for Celtic saints and scholars.
By 1450, the Anglo-Norman power base in Ireland had shrunk to the Dublin Pale, a 20-mile wide defensive strip around the city, and Wicklow was a dangerous, ungovernable frontier region. Named Wicklow – 'Viking Land' – in 1606 by a new wave of English conquerors building fortified roads, which bypassed the territory and ignored the interior, its natives remained isolated and undisturbed until a gold rush created mayhem in 1796.
Thereafter, the Wicklow 'badlands' became a stronghold for rebel fighters, and the site of many battles, during the 1798 Irish Rebellion against British colonial rule. The discovery of the wild Wicklow Mountains by Romantic poets and painters gave the area a fresh allure.
Things to see
Visit the ruins of the Black Castle, an ancient Norman stronghold built on a rocky point near the Main Street in Wicklow Town and take some time to explore the rugged coastline. The Irish Landmark Trust maintains a lighthouse at the south of the town, just beyond Wicklow Golf Course, which hugs the beach off Dunbur Road.
The imposing Wicklow Historic Gaol in the centre of the town introduces prison life to visitors through live re-enactments of key characters in the story of the gaol. A tour is entertaining and takes in a lot of aspects of Irish history including tales of rebellion and transportation ships bound for Australia.
The Wicklow Way
A self-guided long-distance hiking trail, the 79-mile Wicklow Way cuts north-south through the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, finishing at Clonegal on the Wicklow/Carlow border.
You will encounter corrie lakes, spectacular waterfalls, historic settlements, remote hamlets, and pass beneath Lugnaquilla (925m), Wicklow's highest mountain. Allow eight to ten days to cover the full distance.
Twelve miles south of Dublin, the resort town of Bray was once a fishing village and serious haunt for smugglers, complete with two vast concealed underground caverns. The first town esplanade was constructed in 1859, and by then Bray, with its well-preserved Georgian and Victorian architecture, had reinvented itself as a top tourist destination.
Dominated by Bray Head and its panoramic views, today's seafront boasts bars looking out to sea, a bandstand, sea life centre and fun park, and a mile-long sand and shingle beach. Bray also supports an arts community, a local nightlife scene, and hosts regular festivals.
An epicentre of Celtic Christianity, the remains of this monastic settlement stand amidst a dramatic landscape. Pilgrims have been drawn to this tranquil place since its foundation by St. Kevin in the 6th century.
The Irish Annals show the Glean Dá Loch ('Valley of the Two Lakes') community survived for 600 years, despite the odd Viking burning, until reduced to ruin by the English in 1398. Among Glendalough's sacred treasures are Teampall na Skellig, St. Kevin's original site; the Reefert Church, an 11th-century Romanesque church and the burial place of kings and a medieval Round Tower refuge rising to 30 metres.
Enniskerry's picture-postcard perfection is enhanced by its upmarket galleries, gourmet destinations and attractive clock tower. However, the picturesque charm of Enniskerry village beside the Glencullen River is merely a prelude to the headline attraction of the adjacent Powerscourt Estate.
Powerscourt's Palladian Mansion and grounds represent the peak of 18th-century opulence and splendour. Wicklow's Sugarloaf Mountain provides a fairytale backdrop for the pristine gardens, spectacular water features, and priceless statues and ironworks.
Where to stay in Wicklow
Pick from a range of lodges, grand houses and modern hotels with leisure facilities when you are planning your trip to Wicklow.
The 5-star Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt in rural Enniskerry features air-conditioned rooms with separate bathtub and shower, complimentary Wi-Fi, premium TV and spa amenities, with a golf club nearby. Rooms from £117 per night.
The 3-star Lynhams Hotel at Laragh, just half a mile away from Glendalough, offers open fires, traditional ales, and a relaxed atmosphere. Many of its spacious rooms command views over the Wicklow Mountains. Rooms from £61 per night.
Wicklow's proximity to Dublin makes for easy travel access.
Air/Sea: Dublin's international airport has regular flight options for UK and European destinations, and Dun Laoghaire's ferry port is an hours' drive from Glendalough.
Road: The R115 Military Road leads from Dublin to the heart of the mountains. Alternatively, a beautiful coastal drive through Dalkey and Killiney, where Ireland's 'A-listers' reside, takes in the mountains and coastal resorts. Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann service both routes.
Rail: The Wicklow/Rosslare route runs regularly via the east-coast towns of Bray, Wicklow Town and Arklow; whilst a frequent commuter service links Bray and Greystones to Dublin city centre. Browse and book hotels in Wicklow today using our search tool.
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