Day trip from Dublin: Driving through the Wicklow Mountains Ireland

Dublin, Ireland is a great city to explore by foot and public transit, but there’s so much beauty and history in the Irish countryside, families will definitely want to head out of the city limits at some point. We took the following day trip from Dublin a few years ago without kids, but due to the relatively short driving distances between stops (at least by Western US standards), this itinerary is ideal with kids, too.

wicklow-mountains

It’s easy to rent a car for one day from Dublin. In fact, you can book with a company you already know and trust from the US, like Enterprise. We chose to rent (or hire) our car from Dublin Airport for as low as 32 Euros; the key to low fare is to always hire and return the car to and from the same location. We took the express bus from our lodging in Dublin to the airport (always a quick and direct route), rented our car around 7 am from the kiosk in the main arrivals terminal, and returned it around 7 pm. We were back ‘home’ at our Dublin hotel by 9 pm. Here’s where to head:

1. Wicklow Mountains to Enniskerry

Leave Dublin and head south into the Wicklow Mountains towards the village of Enniskerry (about 3o minutes from the city). This will be your first glimpse of Irish country life. Stop for a snack or coffee, or head through to nearby Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, with a waterfall and gardens to walk through.

wicklow-mountains-sally-gap

2. Sally Gap to Glendalough

From Enniskerry, drive into Wicklow Mountains National Park to Sally Gap, stopping en route for plenty of photos and a short walk or two. The Wicklow Mountains are stark, windswept, and stunning in their simple beauty, and walking through them, it’s very easy to imagine ancient life in Ireland. Stop in Glendalough, one of the most picturesque glens of County Wicklow and home to sixth-century St Kevin’s Monastery. The national park has a visitor center in Glendalough, and families can find nine well-marked walking trails. The walks vary from short half hour hikes to ‘hill walks’ of half a day. Maps of the walks are displayed at the visitor center; all the walks start at the National Park Information Office near the Upper Lake.

3. Glendalough to Kilkenny

From Glenalough, head down to Kilkenny, one of the longer stretches of drive, but still very scenic. Kilkenny is worth the drive: Kilkenny is home to numerous historical buildings and landmarks, including stunning Kilkenny Castle. Take the tour inside, walk the grounds, and then grab food in any of the village pubs. If time allows, a visit to medieval St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower is fascinating, and another great example of period architecture for kids. Consider eating a meal at Blaa Blaa Blaa sandwiches before departing.

kilkenny-castle

4. Return to Dublin via N7

The entire driving loop will take visitors under four hours, but with stops and meals, plan for at least 12 (a full day).  Take your time: we made several road-side stops on the route back, including to an ancient cemetery, a local pub, and another short hike to a vista. By all means, if time allows, make this a two day trip with a stop overnight in Kilkenny.

Point-by-point Google map to plan your trip:

wicklow-mountains-day-trip

This post was done in partnership with Enterprise Rent-a-Car but they had no input on the content. All opinions are my own.

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee / Ivan Walsh

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. Christine Rickert says:

    During our recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I used this post to guide ourselves on a side trip and found it to be most useful. We left Dublin airport about 9 in the morning and headed south, taking our time. The scenery was beautiful, breathtaking actually! It was a little chilly and we were amazed at the colors of the landscapes around us. We did not actually stop in Enniskerry but drove around it a couple times. We were saving most of our time for Kilkenny that afternoon. We made a pitstop at a wool outlet in Glendalough and made a lovely purchase. However, our biggest disappointment was not feeling comfortable to leave our car parked in the parking lot of the Glendalough Visitor Center. Once in Kilkenny, we parked in a public lot and toured the city. The castle was great, as was the Smithwick’s Experience. We ended up eating at Bollard’s, a little pub just down from Smithwick’s that was amazing! As the rest of our group was not due into Dublin until the next day, we chose to only drive as far back as Naas and stay the night. I would recommend this trip any time.

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