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The best way to plan an Irish vacation is to take a town and country approach to your itinerary. That means touring Dublin or Galway, and getting a sense of the major Irish hubs, but also unwinding in the countryside and reserving an unforgettable stay at one (if not several) Irish castles. Fly direct to Dublin on Aer Lingus and start with a few days in the city. Dublin is a magical city in any season—while tourists come in droves each summer, visiting Dublin in the fall or winter feels extra cozy, and the gray skies arguably make the experience more authentic. From Dublin, take to the Irish countryside to see the Wild Atlantic Coast, the Cliffs of Moher, and of course, the famed Irish castles. Reserve your stay at these luxurious castles, which are as scenic as they are historic.
Dromoland Castle, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, has been an opulent Irish getaway since the 16th century. The 450-acre castle sits at the gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,553-mile route along Ireland’s west coast, and an hour from the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cliffs of Moher. Dromoland Castle has activity offerings for every age group—tennis lessons, an 18-hole golf course, horseback riding, archery, garden tours, falconry, and even a genealogy expert to help trace any Irish familial roots. The castle is a popular wedding venue for those curating an intimate but lavish, royal-feeling ceremony with bagpipers to serenade guests upon arrival and fireworks over the golf course to end the evening.
Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort
A 16th-century castle set on a 310-acre private island, Waterford Castle Hotel & Golf Resort is home to 45 three- or four-bedroom cottages. The castle also offers 19 lavish rooms and is decked out with the property’s original oak paneled walls—and brand-new Waterford crystal chandeliers. Play a round of golf on the resort’s 18-hole, par-72 Championship Golf Course, or try your hand at croquet or clay pigeon shooting. As for fine dining, reserve your table for dinner at the award-winning Munster Room Restaurant, which sources the freshest produce in the area. Follow this up with a nightcap at Fitzgerald Bar, which has an expansive selection of top-shelf whiskies. Waterford Castle is just 10 minutes from Waterford City and about an hour and a half from both Cork and Dublin.
Ashford Castle, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, is a regal property dating back to the 13th century. Outside Galway, the castle boasts an equestrian center, an expansive wine cellar, a billiards room, and a 32-seat cinema. Ashford Castle is also a paradise for guests looking to spend ample time in the great outdoors—the property overlooks Lough Corrib, one of the largest lakes in Ireland, and sits amidst a stunning emerald forest. Book their hideaway cottage, slightly removed from the castle and sitting right on the lake with private gardens, or reserve the Kennedy or Reagan suite within the castle. In the evenings, visit the George V dining room for high-end Irish cuisine or have a relaxed, family-friendly meal at Dungeon restaurant.
Lough Eske Castle
A luxe Irish castle dating back to the 14th century, Lough Eske Castle Hotel has been welcoming guests from around the world since 1861. The County Donegal castle, sitting along the sparkling lake Eske in close proximity to the Blue Stack Mountains, was supposedly “carved piece by piece from local stone carried by Clydesdale horses along specially constructed roadways.” Among the luxurious accommodation options for guests are opulent castle suites, or tucked away garden suites—which have private entrances within the castle gardens. It wouldn’t be a Irish castle escape without a delightful afternoon tea served in one of Lough Eske Castle’s drawing rooms, or a frothy pint of Guinness at the Gallery Bar. While staying at Lough Eske, be sure to set aside time to visit the on-property spa, near the water’s edge, which features contemporary design and organic treatments.
A 19th-century castle slated to host the Ryder Cup in 2027, Adare Manor, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, offers dramatic scenery that speaks to the true majesty of this property. In County Limerick, Adare Manor is known for its Celtic history and stunningly appointed public spaces throughout the castle. From The Gallery, where you can take your afternoon tea, to the more laidback Drawing Room, and The Oak Room, their upscale dining venue, every experience feels regal and classically Irish. Spend your days on the castle grounds golfing, learning more about the art of falconry, languishing at The Spa at Adare Manor, or sampling rare Irish whiskies.
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, in County Galway, is located right along the Wild Atlantic Way and is flanked by the 12 Bens Mountain range. For waterfront accommodations, guests can stay in Ballynahinch’s Riverside Suites, or for over-the-top luxury, rent out the adjacent Lettery Lodge, a curated five-bedroom house complete with a kitchen, multiple living areas, an outdoor dining space, a yoga room with panoramic views, and all the hotel’s amenities. To fully experience the Irish countryside, opt for a sumptuous picnic on the castle grounds, prepared by your hosts at Ballynahinch. Guests can, of course, also dine at the castle’s Owenmore Restaurant, which features picturesque terraces overlooking Salmon River.
Kilkea Castle Estate & Golf Resort
The 12th-century Kilkea Castle—now a 140-room luxury hotel—is “one of the oldest inhabited castles in Ireland.” Kilkea is a rare opportunity to unwind with all the modern amenities (think: a spa featuring hydrotherapy and ELEMIS products and an 18-hole par-70 golf course) in a truly historic setting. Guests can also take part in archery, horseback riding, tennis, and falconry, all on the castle grounds. For a romantic retreat, book the FitzGerald Suite, which sits at the top of the castle in the Round Tower and offers uninterrupted 360-degree views of the entire, lush property.