Lough Tay, 2 day trips from Dublin

2 Day Trips from Dublin: Visit Wicklow National Park and Howth Head

Ireland

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One of my favourite things to do when on a city break is to -ironically- break away from the city for one day -or two- and explore the surrounding areas of natural beauty. Whilst I do love exploring new cities and getting lost in their streets and their culture, I’m an outdoors girl at heart. Nothing makes me happier being surrounding by nature and coming across a view that takes your breath away. That’s why my 2 day trips from Dublin were my favourite days on my Dublin trip by far.

When researching, I had to find day trips from Dublin without a car, as unfortunately, I still don’t drive. This is usually a massive hindrance to me when it comes to day trips and hikes because getting around rural areas on public transport can be really difficult. However, I was glad to find multiple day trips out of Dublin that didn’t require me to have a car. So, if car rental isn’t an option for you either, you’re in luck!

If you’re still unsure about your Dublin sightseeing itinerary, read my guide to Dublin, featuring everything you need to know for a fun-packed time in the city centre. Otherwise, read on to get the lowdown on the easiest (and best) Dublin day tours!

Wicklow Mountains from Dublin

Whilst looking up day tours from Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains National Park was an option that kept creeping up. However, it was often left in the shadows of some of the more popular Dublin excursions, such as the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Galway city and Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Some even suggest a day trip to Belfast from Dublin.

Initially, I was tempted to go all-in on one of these popular day tours from Dublin, however, upon further research, all of these destinations are much further afield and also very touristic. While this doesn’t mean I’m discounting the idea of visiting these places in future, it means that for me, they’re not ideal day trips from Dublin. I’d much rather visit these famous Irish destinations on a full road trip of Ireland -on a full wild Atlantic way excursion perhaps-, where I’ll have much more time on my hands.

Wicklow National Park, on the other hand, is relatively close to Dublin, so it’s easy and quick to get to. This means less time on transport and more time absorbing the absolute breathtaking beauty of the Irish landscapes.

Getting to Wicklow Mountains from Dublin

As I invested in a fully guided Wicklow Mountains Tour from Dublin, hosted by Wild Wicklow, I explored the national park for a full day via coach.

I had never been on a guided day tour before visiting Dublin, so I was initially quite reticent. I’m usually extremely adamant that I want to explore a destination independently -I actually just hate being around strangers-, however as public transport didn’t seem to be an option, I decided that I would sacrifice my autonomy in order to see the mountains.

Although I did look into visiting the national park by public transport, the options seemed limited, and even if I managed to get the bus to one or two viewpoints, I wouldn’t have been able to see as many sights as I got to see on the guided tour.

Wild Wicklow’s full scenic day tour of the Wicklow National Park has thousands of 5* reviews on TripAdvisor and is rated one of the top Ireland bus tours. Therefore, I felt like it was a safe bet that it was at least decent, and I went for it.

Wild Wicklow’s Guided Tour

The guided tour of Wicklow National park operated by Wild Wicklow completely changed my mind about guided tours, which is surprising considering how incredibly stubborn I can be.

The main reason I loved the tour so much was because we got to see so much throughout the national park and on the way there.

However, I was also blown away by how much I loved having a local expert take us around the national park and engage us enthusiastically with detailed information about each area and landmark.

Although I do like to research different places that I visit either prior to or during visiting, there were many details that our guide told us that I wouldn’t be able to find online. I admit, there’s also something about an Irish accent that makes me want to listen.

Dun Laoghaire

Another thing that I loved about taking a guided tour to Wicklow was the stops that the guide took along the way to Wicklow National Park. The first stop we made on the tour was a brief visit to Dun Laoghaire -pronounced ‘Dunleary’-, an adorable coastal suburb on the way out of Dublin.

According to our guide, Dun Laoghaire was established in the Victorian era with the dawning of the railways. The newly built railways that connected Dublin to cities further afield led to new residential areas such as Dun Laoghaire to pop up along them.

The town’s name ‘Dun Laoghaire’ is Irish for ‘fort of Laoghaire’ and refers to the 5th-century king of Ireland, Laoghaire mac Néill, who used the site during his time as a base to carry out raids on Britain. The remains of the fort can be seen at the National Maritime Museum of Ireland.

Dub Laoghaire, 2 day trips from Dublin
Seaside town Dub Laoghaire not far from Dublin

Dun Laoghaire is also famous for being home to the James Joyce towera Martello tower named after the Irish writer James Joyce, who stayed there for 6 nights in 1904. If anyone has been brave enough to read the monster novel Ulysses – I tried when I was 17- the opening scenes are set in this tower. There is now a museum in the tower dedicated to James Joyce and admission is currently free.

Dub Laoghaire, 2 day trips from Dublin
Dub Laoghaire in the morning light

Avoca Handweavers

We eventually left Dublin and entered County Wicklow via Dalkey, a trendy coastal suburb, where various famous Irish musicians live, such as Enya and Bono.

Next on our tour was a visit to Avoca Handweavers, where we stopped for refreshments and to have a look around the store, gardens and café.

Avoca originated from a mill in Avoca village that was set up in 1723 as a co-operative for local farmers to weave their sheep wool into clothing. In the 1920s and 1930s, the mill was turned into an international business, run by three sisters who sold handwoven rugs and wool fabric all over the world. However, in the 1960s, the mill fell into disrepair.

After being bought by the Pratt family, the mill began to thrive yet again in the 1990s, selling handwoven fabrics, as well as ceramics, candles, soaps and food. Now there are 12 locations across Ireland you can visit to peruse the traditional Irish products.

We visited the Kilmaconoge store, home to Fernhouse Cafe and Sugar Tree Cafe as well as a stunning garden centre. If you’re looking to buy some traditional Irish souvenirs -that aren’t cheap and tacky- for family and friends back home, I would definitely recommend taking a look here.

Avoca Handweavers. 2 day trips from Dublin
Gardens at Avoca Handweavers

What to do in Wicklow National Park

After stopping in Dun Laoghaire and via Avoca Handweavers for refreshments, we travelled through Enniskerry village onto the Old Military Road that took us into the rolling green hills of Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Old Military Road

Military Road runs along the spine of the Wicklow Mountains, connecting the national park to its surrounding areas. It was built by the British army at the beginning of the 19th century as a way of being able to access the countryside of Wicklow easily and track down Irish rebels that hid out there following the 1798 uprising.

The road takes us through Glencree, where we pass the old barracks built in 1806 by the British army. The barracks were also used to house German Prisoners of War during the First World War and there is a German War Cemetery nearby, where 134 graves lie, mainly of German airforce and navy personnel.

The views from the road as we climb into Wicklow National Park are beautiful. On the flatter land at a lower altitude, you can see patchwork fields of varying shades of green and scatters of woodland. The hills that emerge from this land appear a lot more barren, stark and dark brown in colour, concealing secret beauties to be uncovered beneath its folds.

Military Road, Wicklow National Park, 2 day trips from Dublin
View of Wicklow National Park as we drive Military Road

As went higher in altitude and deeper into the heathland, the trees dispersed were replaced by a blanket of orange and brown heather.

Along the road, there are long trenches cut out of the ground, almost like small, shallow graves. This is because the park is made up of peat, which can be used as a form of fuel. The trenches are created from where people have cut blocks of peat from the ground to dry out and use as fuel.

If you come across a stream, you’ll notice that the water is extremely dark colour, appearing almost like Coca-Cola. This is because it has been stained by peat. In fact, the name of Dublin comes from the Gaelic Dubh Linn, which means ‘Black Pool.’

Lough Dan

Our first stop in the national park is at Lough Dan, a beautiful lake nestled in between the bright autumnal colours of the surrounding heathland. Wicklow National Park and County Wicklow in general is the filming location of many Blockbuster films. Our guide told us that Lough Dan in particular is the filming location for the climactic fight scene of Braveheart. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the film but now I might just have to.

We stopped here for enough time for everyone in the group to take some photographs of the wondrous view and then climbed back onto the coach, which took us even deeper into the hills.

Lough Dan, 2 day trips from Dublin
Lough Dan

P.S. I love you Bridge

The next stop in Wicklow National Park was the ‘P.S. I love you bridge,’ named as such after featuring in the 2007 blockbuster ‘P.S. I love you.’ In the film, the protagonist Holly (Hillary Swank) falls in love with Irishman Gerry (Gerard Butler), who just so happens to have the worst Irish accent ever imagined.

The pair meet in Wicklow Mountains National Park after Holly asks for directions back to her B&B in Dun Laoghaire (which, as you’ve already learnt, is definitely not walking distance from the middle of Wicklow) and then they walk together through the park, passing this exact bridge.

P.S. I love you bridge, 2 day trips from Dublin
P.S. I love you bridge

I tried to find out the actual name of this bridge, but it doesn’t seem to have any, other than ‘P.S. I love you bridge,’ so that’ll have to do! It’s a beautiful stone bridge, crossing a stream that tumbles over and through the rocks until it finally flows into a sweet little waterfall. The bridge is located in a massive expanse of bright orange heathland, stretching as far as the eye can see.

Wicklow mountains, 2 day trips from Wicklow
View of Wicklow Mountains

Lough Tay or Guinness Lake

After the P.S. I love you Bridge, we stopped at an absolutely stunning viewpoint overlooking Lough Tay. This view had the air actually stuck in my throa as I was so overwhelmed with its beauty. I probably would have paid the whole price of the tour just for this view.

Lough Tay is commonly known as Guinness Lake because it is particularly dark in colour (again, due to the peat) and has creamy white sand upon its Northern coastline that looks like the frothy head of a pint of Guinness (the froth slightly visible on the right bank in the picture below). The Northern coastline also forms part of an estate that is owned by the Guinness family.

It’s located between the Djouce and Luggala mountains and is actually private property, meaning you can’t access the lake without permission. However, this viewpoint from the Old Military Road was good enough for me.

Lough Tay, 2 day trips from Dublin
Lough Tay, otherwise known as Guinness Lake

I was actually so struck by the beauty of this view that I dropped one of my camera lenses down the mountain. Thankfully, it only stopped a few meters down and my brave friend clambered down to retrieve it for me. (Thanks, Cloé!)

Lough Tay, 2 day trips from Dublin
The view into the valley.

Glendalough Monastic Site

After a pub lunch, we headed into South Wicklow, towards Glendalough, one of the greatest landmarks in Ireland’s Ancient East. Glendalough, which is Gaelic for ‘two lakes’, is a valley in the national park that is named after -unsurprisingly- its two lakes, the Upper Lough and the Lower Lough.

However, Glendalough is mostly famed for its being the site of an Early Medieval monastic settlement, established in the 6th century by Saint Kevin. According to our guide, monastic settlements such as these formed the basis of Christianity in Ireland. Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and an integral base of education until the Norman invasion in 1214 A.D

Glendalough Monastic Site, 2 day trips from Dublin
Glendalough Monastic Site

In fact, the Round Tower (below) was used to serve as an early symbol of Christianity before the cross symbol became more prominent in later years. The Round Tower has four windows facing the Cardinal Compass points and has one entrance that’s nearly 4 metres from its base. This is so that in the event of an attack or raid, the valuable possessions from the community could be stored in the tower and be unattainable to invaders.

Glendalough Round Tower, 2 day trips from Dublin
Glendalough Round Tower

Glendalough Upper Lough

A short woodland walk away from the Glendalough monastic site, you’ll find the Glendalough Upper Lough. Interestingly, the two Glendalough loughs used to be one lake but separated over the years from an inflow of sediment.

On the South side of the lake, cut into the mountain face, is St. Kevin’s Bed, a man-made cave that St. Kevin lived in as a hermit for seven years in the 6th century. It was also where famous Wicklow rebel Michael Dwyer allegedly took refuge whilst on the fun from British soldiers. However, visitors are warned from trying to find it due to safety concerns.

Fascinating past aside, the Glendalough Upper lake is absolutely stunning and pictures rarely do it justice. I imagine that even those uninterested in its Glendalough’s rich history would love to spend some time absorbing its natural beauty, especially on a warm summer’s day.

Glendalough Upper Lake, 2 day trips from Dublin
Glendalough Upper Lake

There is no charge to see the Monastic site or the Upper and Lower Loughs, except for car park fees. However, if you do take a guided tour, these will obviously be included in the price.

Where to eat in Wicklow National Park

Our guided tour took us to Lynhams of Laragh for a traditional pub lunch halfway through our day. Lynhams of Laragh is a hotel and pub located in the centre of Wicklow Mountains National Park.

If you’re looking for a place to stay to elongate your time in the national park, this is a great independent family run hotel to stay at, with traditional features such as brick fireplaces and a really intimate, cosy atmosphere. Click here to find out more about it.

We didn’t get to stay at the Lynhams but we did get to try out the delicious food in the restaurant for ourselves. They also serve beers that have been brewed in the local area.

Howth Day Trip from Dublin

The second of my 2 day trips from Dublin was an outing to Howth, an easily accessible coastal suburb of Dublin, located on the peninsula of Howth Head.

As soon as I began planning my trip to Dublin, I knew that I wanted to spend a day by the coast. After some research into different seaside towns along Dublin’s coastline, such as Malahide and even Dun Laoghaire (which happily I still got to see on my Wicklow day trip) I settled on a trip to Howth, the main reason being that I was absolutely mesmerised by the potential views on the Howth cliff walk.

Although I was initially concerned that the December weather would make a day by the coast too cold, rainy and windy to enjoy, I’m happy that I decided to go on the Howth day trip regardless. Even though it was slightly overcast, it was never too windy or cold and the visibility was great. Luckily, Ireland benefits a lot from the gulf stream, meaning it rarely gets unbearably cold or icy in winter.

Getting to Howth from Dublin

DART train from Dublin to Howth

I travelled to Howth using the DART train, which was around €6 for a return ticket from Dublin Connolly, a station really close to our Dublin hotel. You can buy tickets easily at the train station using the ticket machines and get a train to Howth, or a train to Malahide that goes via Howth.

The DART train is an electric rail system that hugs the Eastern coast of Dublin, making it an easy way to get from Dublin to the seaside for a day out. I was also interested in day trips from Dublin by train because I find travelling by train super romantic- just me?

It takes about 20-30 minutes to get from Dublin to Howth on the DART train and the train station is located in the village of Howth, near the harbour.

Bus from Dublin to Howth

You can also get the 31 bus to Howth from the city centre of Dublin for around €3 each way.

The bus can take you from Dublin through Howth village and harbour all the way to Howth Summit. This is helpful for those who want to take a look at the spectacular views of the Baily lighthouse at Howth summit without embarking on the cliff walk.

Howth Tour from Dublin

If you’re not one for public transport, you have the option of taking a guided tour from Dublin to Howth. I explored Howth independently during my trip, however, I don’t doubt how helpful and informative guided tours can be, especially after enjoying my Wild Wicklow tour so much.

This half-day guided tour takes you to various stops on Dublin’s coast, including Howth and the stunning 12th century Malahide Castle (entrance included). If you’d like to spend more time in Howth, however, this tour actually takes you around the village and on the Howth Cliff Walk for spectacular coastal views.

If you decide to take either of these tours to and around Howth -or you already have-, I’d love to know how they went.

Things to do in Howth

Whether you’re after a quiet walk along the pier or a hike along the clifftop trail, there’s plenty to do in Howth for all ages.

Howth Village and Howth Harbour

Howth has a long and interesting history that stretches much further back than the majority of Dublin’s coastal suburbs; it was invaded by Norse vikings in 819 and has been an active trading port since at least the 14th century. Howth, much like Dun Laoghaire, has been immortalised by James Joyce in the novel Ulysses

The town is very quaint but can’t be called quiet. It’s a bustling town with a variety of independent stores and restaurants and also a big tourist magnet, meaning it can get quite busy. There’s plenty to do here even if you aren’t interested in the hiking trails, such as exploring Howth Castle, the Martello towers or spending some time in The National Transport Museum.

You can also take a stroll down the pier, towards Howth lighthouse. The pier is especially lovely as there is music being played by locals and the sound of laughing children playing on the nearby rocks.

Howth Harbour, 2 day trips from Dublin
Howth Harbour

At the end of the pier you get great views of Ireland’s eye, which is a small uninhabited island that lies about a kilometre from Howth harbour. The only signs of the island having ever been inhabited are the martello tower (on the left on the island in the above picture) and an 8th-century church that used to function as Howth’s parish church until it became too impractical.

Ireland’s Eye is a special area of conservation due to it being home to a large range of seabirds such as gannets, cormorant and even puffins. Do to this, Howth is extremely popular with wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers, especially during nesting season. In summer you can visit Ireland’s Eye on a tourist boat service from Howth harbour.

Howth pier, 2 day trips from Dublin
Howth pier with Ireland’s eye in the distance

Howth Cliff Walk

After enjoying a walk along the pier, I headed for the hills (literally) for the Howth Cliff Walk. There are a few different trails available from Howth that take you around its stunning, rugged coastline. The most popular is Howth Cliff Path Loop, which is a 6 kilometre loop which starts and finishes in the village and takes you via Howth summit.

The walk is relatively easy and quick but I definitely wouldn’t call it accessible for people with mobility issues (I read someone say it was even suitable for ‘grandma’s’, which I think is slightly deceptive).

You can find a map PDF here but you’re unlikely to need it. As soon as you’ve found the trail it’s extremely straight forward and there’s likely to be plenty of other people also doing the trail.

Howth cliff walk, 2 day trips from Dublin
Beginning the cliff walk- see the people in the sea!

As you walk away from the harbour and up into the hills, you’ll go past a small sandy beach where I spotted several people having a swim, which seemed utterly barbaric to me in December! However, according to my Wild Wicklow tour guide, Irish people are known to enjoy an ocean swim at all times of the year.

The walk was even more beautiful than I had hoped. You’ll walk through rolling green hills to stark, bright orange heathland and past rugged cliffs, decorated with tiny yellow wildflowers, all set dramatically against the turquoise sea. As you walk, make sure to look out for seals- they’re said to frequent the coastline all year round. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to spot one but let me know in the comments below if you have!

Howth cliff walk, 2 day trips from Howth
Stunning coastal views- the sea is so blue!

Howth Summit

The highlight of the walk is Howth Summit, where you’ll have spectacular views over Bailey lighthouse and the Southwestern edge of Howth head. By the time I reached Howth Summit, the sun was going down and was casting a warm golden glow over the landscape.

Bailey lighthouse was built in the 17th century after being commissioned by Charles II. The views of the lighthouse nestled among the rocks at the very end of Howth head are extremely striking. There is a trail that leads right down to the lighthouse, however as the sun was swiftly descending I decided not to take this detour.

Howth summit, 2 day trips from Dublin
Approaching Howth summit

Once you’re near the lighthouse you’ll see a sign and a trail that will lead you to ascend towards the car park at ‘The Summit’. For anyone with accessibility issues, I would consider driving to this car park to see the views without having to do the whole walk. Not far from the car park, you’ll find a bustling and warm pub full of people, which for those embarking on the cliff loop path, is a good place to stop for lunch.

You can then return to Howth Village along a path running parallel to your outward route. If you want to get back to the village quickly, you can also get the number 31 bus right back to the train station.

Howth Summit, 2 day trips from Dublin
Bailey lighthouse

Where to eat in Howth

In our taxi to the DART station, my driver inquired what I was up to that day. After telling him I was visiting Howth and him completely correcting my pronunciation -it’s more like HOOT than HOWF-, he suggested that I visit The Bloody Stream, a pub and restaurant right next to the train station that he claimed had the best fish and seafood around.

I decided to go with my new friend’s recommendation and ate dinner after my long and windy walk, at The Bloody Stream, that was indeed right next to Howth train station.

If there’s anything you take away from this blog post it’s this: eat at The Bloody Stream if you’re visiting Howth, it was my absolute favourite meal of the whole trip. The food was incredible and it was so warm and cosy with a wood fire burning in the hearth and sparkling fairy lights all around.

Even more Dublin day trips?

These 2 day trips from Dublin were absolutely incredible, however, there are countless Dublin excursions available on Get Your Guide if you want to peruse your options further, as well as half day trips from Dublin for those who don’t want to spend all day out and about. What day trips are on your itinerary? I’d love to visit the stunning Rede Rope Bridge in Northern Ireland when I return, that’s for sure.

I hope you find this post on the best day trips from Dublin helpful. I certainly enjoyed reliving my trips and creating this resource. If you have any further questions about either of these trips, don’t hesitate to contact me!

If you’re interested in reading up on more of my ideas for amazing day trips from great European cities, check out this post on taking an independent Monserrat tour from Barcelona or this post on 2 incredible day trips from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.

Let me know in the comments: Have you been to Ireland? Have you been on any different day trips from Dublin? What would you recommend?

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