How to See the Wicklow Mountains

Just south of county Dublin lies county Wicklow, one of the most picturesque parts of Ireland. It has the largest national park in the country and the Wicklow Mountains contain everything from herds of deer to ancient monastic sites, not to mention some of the best views in Ireland. Today, lets talk a little bit about how best to explore this part of Ireland.

What is the best way to see the Wicklow Mountains? The scenic drives through the mountains and along the coast are some of the most beautiful in Ireland. If you don’t have access to a car, there are good public transport links into parts of Wicklow. There are also tours that run through the area.

If you want to get out and explore some of the scenery that Ireland is famous for, then the Wicklow Mountains are one of your best options, provided you are staying anywhere near Dublin. The area is easily accessible from the city centre and coming here can potentially save you a lot of time, not to mention a lot of money…

Getting There

away
There are better ways to get to the Wicklow Mountains than roads like this…

Most of the people who decide to explore the Wicklow Mountains will probably stay in Dublin. So, for this guide I will only go into detail on the best ways to explore this part of the country from Dublin city.

From Dublin

County Wicklow borders County Dublin and in recent years, Dublin city has been expanding south into parts of its neighbour. This means that towns like Bray, on the border, are functionally suburbs of Dublin today and are well-connected to the city centre with multiple transport links. If you want to get to some of the towns in Wicklow you will easily be able to use public transport links like Dublin Bus and the DART, to find out more information on using these services you can find my guide to Ireland without a carOpens in a new tab..

If you want to compare the various methods of transport that I will mention, there is a comparison table at the end of this section.

Car

If you want to see as much of Wicklow as possible while you’re here, your best option is by car. This way will offer you the most freedom and you will be able to better explore places a little off the beaten tourist trails, like the coastal roads in the north of the county. Having said that, this is probably the most expensive option that I will cover in this guide. Renting cars in Ireland is expensive in general and the most highly regarded company for this (Hertz), will usually cost about €45 per day. This option is only viable if you are spending a good deal of time in Ireland and want to see the most while you’re here.

Public Transport

For public transport there will be a lot more options. Dublin Bus runs routes right into the county, especially to Bray. While these routes might seem like they would take a long time, this is usually not the case. As most people will live in Bray and commute to the city to work, during the week you will be travelling in the opposite direction to the rush-hour traffic. This makes getting to parts of Wicklow by public transport one of the quicker options available.

There are also rail routes into the county from Dublin city. The DART line is a light-rail service that runs the length of county Dublin and terminates in the town of Bray, making getting there straightforward. If you want to go deeper into the county, there are national rail services to the town of Wicklow, though these will be less frequent and more expensive.

Organised Tour

To my knowledge, the most effective way of exploring the Wicklow Mountains, and the neighbouring areas, for visitors is by bus tour. Many companies will take you from the city centre in the morning, will bring you around the various sights and attractions, returning that night. There are tours like this to sights all over Ireland, but the routes that run to the Wicklow Mountains offer one of the best experiences. As this area is so close to Dublin, the meeting times are at a far more reasonable hour. Most of these tours will bring you to the nearby city of Kilkenny, one of the most highly-regarded destinations in Ireland. The best-value bus tour I know about is run by the Wild Rover company, it costs €33 and brings you to all these sights and, unlike many other companies, there will be a driver AND a guide, giving you the better experience.

To better compare all the methods of exploring the Wicklow Mountains that I mentioned, please use the table below:

Method Journey Time (Each Way) Approximate Price (€) Company Link, for Further Details
Car 30 mins – 1.5 Hours €43 (24 hours rental) Hertz Dublin
Bus 30 – 45 Minutes €3 Dublin Bus
Rail 30 – 45 Minutes €5 Irish Rail
Coach Tour Full Day (12 Hours) €33 Wild Rover Tours

Things to See

Once you arrive in the Wicklow Mountains it can be hard not to find things to see and do, this area has some of the best natural scenery in Ireland. You can go on many of the hiking trails in Wicklow National Park and see some of the best views of Dublin. The area has been home to some monastic sites dating back over a thousand years. There are also some great towns and pubs in the area that are well worth a visit by travellers and locals alike.

Glendalough

Meaning “valley of the two lakes” in Irish, this beautiful valley, shockingly, contains two lakes! Nestled between them is one of the most important historical sites on the whole island of Ireland, an ancient Christian monastic city. This monastery was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century and was once one of the most important centres of learning and scholarship in Europe. As Ireland was never a part of the Roman Empire, after it fell, monasteries on the island became vital to spread things like reading and mathematics back onto the continent. The monastery at Glendalough became a city-sized settlement with thousands of students and teachers from all over Europe.

Today you can explore this well-preserved site, which includes one of the famous Irish “round-towers” and the only remaining Irish monastic gateway, you will also be able to find the tiny church, known as St. Kevin’s kitchen. The organised coach tour that I mentioned above will bring you here as an included part of the cost of your ticket, but you will be able to reach this site by yourself, if you have a car. The main reason why this place managed to survive into the modern-day is because it is so remote. Having said that, there are a small number of private companies that offer bus routes from nearby areas to this valley and the visitor’s centre near the monastery.

Wicklow National Park

This is really what you will be visiting if you chose to come to the Wicklow Mountains. In fact, most of the attractions that I will mention in this guide are nestled somewhere within this national park. At about 20,000 hectares, this is the largest of the six national parks in Ireland and the only one on the eastern coast of the country. For any of you who want to explore Ireland’s famous rugged scenery from Dublin, this will probably be your best option. The area has great hiking trails, beautiful lakes and rivers and impressive ancient sites, like Glendalough.

Much of the historical attention in the area has been taken up by the famous monastic site, but the mountains here have so much more to offer. This area was also famously used by Irish rebels during the failed 1798 rebellion, which was the first attempt to create an Irish republic. The military road that the British government built to help pacify the county, in the rebellion’s aftermath, has become a beautiful route that you can drive down and take in much of the scenery from the comfort of your car.

In addition to this, there are some great hiking trails that you will be able to explore, provided you have the correct gear for it. On these trails you might get up close to the largest herds of wild deer left in Ireland, among many other examples of the nation’s wildlife.

Powerscourt Estate and Waterfall

Powerscourt Estate
Powerscourt in Wicklow

The gorgeous Powerscourt estate has existed in some form since the 13th century. It was updated and expanded upon many times since then and is now open to the public. There are plenty of tours that you will be able to do of the castle itself, but the main attraction here is the gardens. These have also been expanded upon over the years and comprise most of the 64 square-kilometre estate. Today there are luxurious hotels and golf courses on the estate in addition to its multiple museums.

If you want to explore a little of the nearby area, about 6km away from the estate lies the tallest waterfall in Ireland. Called (strangely) the Powerscourt Waterfall, this natural wonder is not reachable by foot. There are a couple of narrow roads leading from the main estate to this waterfall but getting there by walking is not recommended. Once you are there you will find one of the most stunning sights in all of Ireland. This spot will be best experienced after heavy rain, so make sure that you come here after experiencing a little of the “liquid sunshine” that Ireland is so famous for.

Bray

I have mentioned this town a few times already in this article, so I think that it’s a good idea if we talk about it in a little more detail. Bray has been a popular seaside destination for tourists for over a century. This small town is easily accessible from Dublin city by public transport and that is probably the best way for you to get here. Both Dublin Bus and the DART run regular services to the centre of this town.

Once you are here you will have easy access to the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains and there are some great hiking trails that you can get to from the town centre. There is a footpath directly to the top of Bray head, where you will find a tall, concrete cross which was erected in the 1950’s. Every year hundreds of pilgrims still make the journey up to the top of Bray head at Easter. Once there, you will be able to see some of the best views of Dublin and the eastern coast of Ireland.

If you want to find somewhere to eat or drink in town, the Harbour bar was Lonely Planet’s “best of the beaten track bar in the world” in 2012. It is a great spot for a casual day out and the prices are reasonable.

Johnny foxes

I can’t talk about a day in Wicklow without talking about the highest pub in Ireland, Johnny Foxes! This is one of the most popular pubs in Ireland and is in the Wicklow mountains. It is the perfect place to stop off after a long day exploring the Irish wilderness. It is a traditional Irish pub that was established the same year as the failed rebellion of 1798. They have live music and dancing every night and their restaurant has won several awards in recent years. 

So, if the thought of going to a music and dancing show built for tourists and not Irish people doesn’t sound appealing, try the seafood on offer. After a meal and some good beer here, you might even want to join in!

Avoca Handweavers

Today, this chain has locations all over Ireland, but it started here in county Wicklow. Here you will be able to find some great handcrafts, knitwear and some great gourmet food all under one roof. This is the place you should go if you want any souvenirs from your time in Wicklow. The food on offer is great quality and the price for a meal is reasonable at between €5-€15 per meal. This is the perfect place to go, if you want some lunch while you explore the area.

Nearby Attractions

If you are planning your journey to the Wicklow Mountains, remember that there are plenty of things to see and do nearby. I have already gone into detail on these places in other parts of this website, so here are a few passages taken from other parts of spoketravel.com:

Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle

The “Marble City”, is known as one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Ireland, full of winding cobblestone streets. Some of the main attractions here include Kilkenny Castle, which is open to the public for tours throughout the year. Exploring the grounds of this castle can be a great way to spend a (nice) day outside of Dublin. You will also find St. Candince’s Cathedral, which is the second biggest in Ireland and has one of the few remaining Round Towers left in the country. Like Glendalough, these were built by ancient Irish monk during the early medieval period.

This town also has an alcohol tour that offers an, arguably, better experience than the Guinness Storehouse; the Smithwick’s Brewery. This is about 50 years older than Guinness and the Red Ale is still hugely popular around Ireland. You can find it served in many of the bars and restaurants along the “Medieval Mile”, which is one of the best-preserved medieval city districts in Ireland. The area has seen a huge boom in recent years with the foodie renascence that Ireland has seen in the last decade.

Getting to Kilkenny from Dublin is straightforward as the cities are close to one another. Kilkenny is about 1.5 – 2 hours away from Dublin by car, just be aware that parking can sometimes be an issue, you may need to drive around before you will be able to find a parking spot. Though there are regular coach services to Kilkenny, I would recommend that you take the train. It is about half an hour quicker and is also cheaper, €15 vs €18 for the coach!

There are plenty of companies that operate full-day tours from Dublin to Kilkenny, most of them will go through the Wicklow Mountains too (more on them later). When I speak to fellow Irish guides, the company that we all seem to recommend the most for this route is Wild Rover Tours. You will pay about €7 more for this tour than the cheapest competitor that I have found, but you will get a tour guide as well as a driver. This really does make the whole experience that much better. This tour costs €33 per person and lasts all day.

For a comparison of the different options available, please consult the table below:

Method Journey Time (Each Way) Approximate Price (€) Company Link, for Further Details
Car 1.5 – 2 Hours €43 (24 hours rental) Hertz Dublin
Bus 1.5 Hours €18 Dublin Coach
Rail 1 – 1.5 Hours €15 Irish Rail
Coach Tour Full Day (12 Hours) €33 Wild Rover Tours

For more information on visiting Kilkenny, I have a full guide you can review.Opens in a new tab.

Dublin’s Coast

Killiney
Believe it or not, but this is about 20 minutes away from Dublin city centre!

This is possibly the easiest day trip from Dublin and the one that most Dubliners are likely to take themselves. Travelling along the coast of county Dublin can be a great experience. We have already spoken about a lot of the smaller towns along the coast like Howth and Malahide, but when you take this route, you will be able to see so much more.

The coast of county Dublin has become a desirable place to live and the property prices have gotten high in recent years. Famous Irish musicians like Bono and Enya own lavish homes in some of the small villages that you can pass through and its easy to see why. On a nice day, you could easily mistake parts of Dublin Bay for somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. Below is a list of some of the towns and attractions that you can check out along the coast, from north to south:

  1. Malahide
  2. Howth
  3. Bull-Island
  4. Dublin City Docklands
  5. Dun Laoighre
  6. Dalkey
  7. Killiney
  8. Greystones
  9. Bray

These are just some of the places that you can visit along the coast. For a price comparison of the ways to get around, please consult the table below:

Method Journey Time (Each Way) Approximate Price (€) Company Link, for Further Details
Car 1 Hour €43 (24 hours rental) Hertz Dublin
Bus 1.5 Hours €3 Dublin Bus
Rail 1.5 Hours €5 Irish Rail

If you want more information on getting to these places via public transport, I have a list of the best day trips from Dublin using public transport.Opens in a new tab.

Jack

Jack Redmond has been a tour guide in Ireland for the past decade. Having received a national guiding qualification, he has brought thousands of travelers all over the island of Ireland.

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