18 Awe-Inspiring Castles in Ireland to Explore in 2024

There are literally thousands of castles in Ireland worth visiting. But which are the best? Here are 18 of them.

Ireland is home to approximately 30,000 castles. They’re all ages, shapes, and sizes, but each showcases the Emerald Isle’s rich and fascinating history!

But which ones are most worth visiting? Here are 18 of the best castles in Ireland that I think should feature on any traveler’s Irish itinerary.

1. Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle in Ireland
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An iconic landmark in Dublin City Centre, Dublin Castle might be the most awe-inspiring of all the castles in Ireland.

It was the seat of English rule in Ireland for seven centuries, from 1204 to 1922. Today, as well as being a working government building, the castle is open to the public.

Visitors can enjoy guided tours of the gardens and State Apartments – the site of Ireland’s Presidential inaugurations. Any trip is incomplete without a visit to the Chester Beatty Library. Lonely Planet described it as “Not just the best museum in Ireland but one of the best in Europe.”

2. Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh Castle in Ireland
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Set amongst the beauty of Glenveagh National Park, Glenveagh Castle is a must-visit for nature lovers. Visitors can enjoy pristine 19th-century estate tours, the extensive gardens, and the castle tea room. There are even boat tours available on Lough Veagh, a nearby lake.

Schedule this one during the summer months and pray for good weather! The castle and its surroundings are Ireland at its most gorgeous.

3. Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle in Ireland
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Cahir Castle, a 13th-century medieval castle in the heart of County Tipperary, is one of Ireland’s largest and most recognizable castles.

Used as a location for film shoots, the castle even won an award for Best European Filming Location after appearing in “The Green Knight.”

Cahir Castle was designed to withstand enemy attacks. Many of its defensive features remain intact for visitors to enjoy, including one of the only working portcullises in Ireland. The castle’s tours are highly rated and cost no more than a few euros.

4. Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle in Ireland
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An 800-year-old stronghold turned luxury Five-Star hotel, Ashford Castle is straight out of a fairy tale. Various occupiers expanded the original castle throughout the centuries.

The castle features a keep from the 1200s, a fantastic 1700 French-style chateau, and two Victorian extensions. Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness of the famous brewing family oversaw these works, and the castle remained in the family’s hands until World War Two.

Over the last 80 years, Ashford has earned a reputation for prestige and hospitality, making it a destination of choice for nobility and movie stars alike.

5. Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle - Inspiring Castles in Ireland
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Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland is as picturesque as they come. Teetering on the edge of a cliff and looking out over the sea, the castle’s dramatic appearance is breathtaking.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency manages the castle as a historic monument. It’s open for visitors to explore – provided the sea isn’t too rough.

Dunluce Castle is a great stop-off point for those driving the Causeway Coastal Route, a brilliant way to explore the historic coastline. Be sure to head to the Mermaid’s Cave below the main castle to learn the story of a soldier who was lured to a watery grave.

6. Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle in Ireland
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Kilkenny Castle is a brilliantly preserved example of medieval architecture. Constructed in the early 13th Century during the Norman conquest of Ireland, the castle has seen constant use for the past 800 years. The prominent Butler family took ownership of the castle in the 1800s.

They added several Victorian modifications, creating a luxurious country estate. With fifty acres of land, a terraced rose garden, an opulent tea room and even orienteering trails throughout the grounds, the castle is a must for any visitors to Kilkenny City.

Throughout the year, it even hosts concerts, fairs, historical reenactments, and theater performances. Check the castle’s handy calendar for upcoming events.

7. Trim Castle

Trim Castle in Ireland
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The gorgeous Trim Castle features prominently in the Mel Gibson classic Braveheart. Trim Castle is the country’s largest and most striking Norman castle.

The massive central keep dominates the surrounding landscape, with 20 sides and walls up to three meters thick. Make sure to book a tour, as it’s the only way to get inside the main building and experience the stunning views from the top.

A guided tour is as little as five euros, and the guides are informative and engaging. Trim Castle has a long, fascinating, and bloody history, and these experts are the best way to hear all about it.

8. Belvelly Castle

Belvelly Castle in Ireland
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Visitors to Cobh, famous for being the last departure point of the Titanic, will pass Belvelly Castle before they cross the bridge to Great Island in Cork Harbour.

It has stood resolute on the water’s edge since the 1500s. The castle is a real looker. The surrounding waterways and landscape combine to create an impressive backdrop for photographers.

Belvelly Castle is privately owned, so you can’t enter. However, the €5 million renovation of the tower into a modern home was the subject of an episode of “The Great House Revival.” Visitors can see elements of the refurbishment from the outside, but the show gives a brilliant insight into the castle’s history and the great care taken to preserve and modernize it.

9. Dunlough Castle

Dunlough Castle in Ireland
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Dunlough Castle (or Three Castle Head) is a real hidden gem on the Mizen Peninsula in County Cork. Named for its three remaining standing towers, this ruin dates back to 1207 and was once an impregnable fortress.

Though remote, there is a car park a 30-minute walk away – be aware that a small donation is expected as the walk is through private land. Wear appropriate footwear and prepare for the walk, as there are a few steep inclines along the way.

Anyone who manages the hike will be spoiled with a breathtaking view. The castle ruins are set on the very edge of a lake with a sheer drop down to the sea on the other side. Keep an eye out for any spirits; the mythical White Lady might make an appearance. If she’s seen, it’s said that tragedy soon follows.

10. Doonagore Castle

Doonagore Castle in Ireland
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Any budding Disney Princess should make time for this Rapunzel-esque beauty of a tower in Doolin. Doonagore Castle is privately owned, so seeing the inside is not possible.

But the tower is so picturesque that it’s more than worth the trip up for the postcard photo. Those who enjoy the grislier parts of history may be fascinated by an infamous incident in 1588.

A Spanish ship crashed on the coast a short way from the castle, and 170 of the ship’s crew survived. They headed towards the tower for refuge until the local sheriff arrived and ordered them all to be hung.

Nowadays, Doonagore serves as a perfect stop-off for those exploring the delights of Doolin. These include The Cliffs of Moher, the nearby ferry to the Aran Islands, and the Burren National Park.

11. McDermott’s Castle

McDermott’s Castle in Ireland
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Lough Key in County Roscommon is a giant lake over 6 miles wide. The lake is home to over 30 islands, but Castle Island is the most enticing.

It hosts the ruins of McDermott’s Castle, a unique treasure dropped in the middle of nowhere. Due to its challenging location, the only way to explore the castle up close is by boat.

Regular boat trips run across Lough Key for around 17 Euros a person. The more daring can hire a rowing boat and take the journey themselves. This is a must for folklore enthusiasts as McDermott’s Castle is the stage for the tragic Legend of Una Bhàn.

12. Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle in Ireland
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It isn’t an exaggeration to say that a trip to Bunratty Castle is one of Ireland’s best and most unique days out.

There are guide-led tours of the fortress, but the real highlight is Bunratty Folk Park. A perfect recreation of a 19th-century Irish village, the park contains over 30 buildings and runs like a real Victorian town. The grounds play host to a magical Fairy Trail to entrance the little ones.

There’s even a beautiful walled garden at the manor house and a pet farm packed with animals for children to meet. Be sure to end the day by joining the Medieval Banquet, an authentic four-course medieval feast complete with honey mead and live entertainment.

13. King John’s Castle

King John’s Castle in Ireland
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Built by the villain of Robin Hood himself around 1200, King John’s Castle sits on the banks of the River Shannon. It remains in excellent shape to this day, dominating the town of Limerick.

The entire complex is open to explore for one ticket price. Inside, expect to find historical reenactments, medieval courtyard games, and stunning views.

But the pièce de resistance is an immersive interactive exhibition that uses 3D models and touch screens to bring 800 years of history to life. Climb the castle towers for an unmatched view of Limerick City.

14. Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland
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Standing on the shores of Belfast Lough in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus Castle is an imposing 12th-century fortress in excellent condition.

It’s the longest-serving Irish castle, having seen continuous use from the late 1100s to the present day. It’s also one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Ireland and is the only one of its age open to the public. There’s a helpful visitor information center inside and free guided tours of the keep and grounds.

There’s plenty on offer for families here. Dress up in period costumes, play giant board games, or explore videos and interactive exhibitions in the educational room. There’s even a sensory space for children who need a more relaxing environment.

15. Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle in Ireland
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Whereas most of the castles in Ireland are of the Norman design, Donegal Castle is a beautiful example of Gaelic architecture.

Built in the 15th Century and restored in the last 50 years, everything from the Gothic-style hallways to the arches and complex tower house is a sight to behold. There’s even a fascinating “trip staircase” designed with uneven stairs to trip enemy soldiers attacking the castle.

Guests of this special castle in Ireland can book guided tours in advance, but the architecturally minded may wish to enjoy it at their own pace as there is so much to admire. Heritage Ireland has even created a pictorial treasure trail for kids to enjoy as they explore the building.

16. Kilkea Castle

Kilkea Castle in Ireland
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Enjoy feeling like a king or queen on holiday? Look no further than Kilkea Castle. One of the oldest inhabited castles in Ireland, Kilkea is now a luxury hotel and resort.

The building has clear Tudor, Norman, and Gothic elements. But the spa, championship golf course, and world-class restaurants keep guests returning.

The hotel is decked out exactly as it would have been in medieval times, with ornately decorated rooms and massive fireplaces. Blending historical significance with modern amenities, Kildale Castle is the pick for castle hunters with a taste for the finer things.

17. Birr Castle

Birr Castle in Ireland
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Beautiful Birr Castle was built in the 1620s by the Parsons family and has remained inhabited by them ever since. Visitors can’t usually access the interior because the castle is a private home.

However, the family runs guided castle tours during the summer months – visit between May and September and pre-book to secure a spot.

For visits in the off-season, there’s still plenty to enjoy. The castle sits on 120 acres of pristine parkland, and there are waterfalls, playgrounds, interactive trails, and even a science center to explore. A highlight is the Great Telescope. Constructed in 1845, it was the largest in the world for over 70 years and remains on display here.

18. Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle in Ireland
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Dunguaire Castle is one of the most photographed castles in Ireland. Perched on the edge of Galway Bay, this pint-sized tower house recently reopened following a renovation.

Be sure to visit from April to October, when a four-course medieval banquet is available in the evenings (complete with entertainment).

During the day, there are tours, but guests can explore the area themselves. The views from the roof over the bay are worth catching, especially as the sun goes down on a clear day.

Enjoy These Incredible Castles in Ireland 

This list only scratches the surface of castles in Ireland! With thousands to explore, you’ll never run out of Irish castles to visit. Hopefully, this list will help you decide which ones to see first.

Got any questions? Any other famous Irish castles you think should be on this list? Drop a comment below.

Author: Simon Whitaker

Title: Writer & Editor

Expertise: Travel, Theatre, Gaming, Sports, Disney

Simon Whitaker is a freelance writer and copyeditor based in England. With one degree in Natural Sciences and another in Musical Theatre he considers himself a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, and his writing reflects his numerous hobbies and interests. Simon has been passionate about travel his entire life: From hurtling down alpine ski runs behind his Dad as a child to getting engaged in Singapore as an adult, he's collected a wealth of tips, tricks and recommendations that he loves to share.