Wicklow Mountains National Park is the largest of six national parks in Ireland, and also one of the most popular. It is located south of Dublin and comprises the area of 220 square km that stretches through County Wicklow and small areas of County Dublin. It was established as a protected area in 1991, and for a long time it has been attracting numerous visitors with its mountainous scenery, lush forests, long interesting history and various attractions. Its proximity to Dublin makes it a great one-day trip spot. The entry to the Park is free of charge, however, if you are arriving by car, you will have to pay the parking fee. So here are some things that you should know before visiting this gem of the Emerald Isle!
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What to see at Wicklow Mountains
The conservation of biodiversity and landscape is the primary purpose of Wicklow Mountains National Park. That means the park is covered in lush green forests, numerous lakes and mountain peaks, and all of those are home to various plant and animal species. Wherever you go in the park you will be greeted with breathtaking sights and scenery.
There are various sights in the national park, but the most famous one is the Glendalough valley.
This glacial valley, also known as the “Valley of two lakes”, is located near to the Laragh village. Many historic sites can be found in the valley, and also good walking trails as well as various visitor facilities. Within the valley are the ruins of an early Christian settlement from 6th century, founded by St. Kevin. Many churches, ruins and a round tower can be found within this Monastic City. Entrance to all historic sites is free of charge and they are open at all times.
Here you can see the Gateway, unique building in Ireland, and when you pass through this ancient entrance the rest of the Monastic City lies before you. The 30 meters high Round Tower is the most noticeable monument in the valley. The Cathedral is the largest building in Glendalough and it was constructed through several phases. Outside the Cathedral is St. Kevin’s Cross, with an unpierced ring. St. Kevin’s Church or ‘Kitchen’ is most noticeable for its steep roof formed of overlapping stone. Only ruins remain of St. Ciarán’s (Kieran’s) Church, but it is still an attraction worth seeing. The small Romanesque Priest’s House was almost completely reconstructed using the original stones in 1779.
Other sites near the Monastic City are the St. Mary’s Church, St. Saviour’s Church and the Trinity Church.
More monastic ruins can be found at the western end of the valley, some of those are the Reefert Church, The Caher, St. Kevin’s Bed and St. Kevin’s Cell.
Apart from its historic value, this national park offers an amazing scenery and a large area for recreation, hiking, rock-climbing or just relaxing and having a picnic with friends. During summer there are stalls for chips and ice creams at the upper lake car park and beside the Monastic City.
What to do at Wicklow Mountains
After you’re done exploring the ruins of the Monastic City why not go on a hike? You can choose from nine marked walking trails in the valley of Glendalough. Choose between anything from short half hour stroll to a long four hour hillwalk. In the National Park Information Office and the Glendalough Visitor Centre you can buy a leaflet containing both the map and descriptions of marked walking trails for only €0.50. They also have more information on the marked trails and local flora and fauna on their website.Among other things you can also enjoy water sports, wheeled activities, climbing and bouldering and picnics (picnic areas are provided at the Upper Lake in Glendalough).
No form of camping is permitted in the valley of Glendalough, but ‘wild camping’ is permitted in the rest of the National Park.
NOTE: If you decide to camp on the park grounds consult their website for the wild camping code that you are required to follow.
Where to stay at Wicklow Mountains
If you wish to stay in the here there are many accommodation options available adjacent to the National Park, the closest being right in the Glendalough valley.
- The Glendalough Hotel is located in the heart of the Glendalough Valley, they also offer a packed lunch option, great way to prepare for hiking!
- Glendalough International Hostel is another option in the Glendalough valley and it is open all year round. There are more options in the nearby town of Laragh.
Where to eat at Wicklow Mountains
You can’t go hiking on an empty stomach! If you decide to visit the national park you can choose between several places that serve food. There are a couple of restaurants in Glendalough and Laragh and also a few hotels that serve main meals and snacks. In Glendalough there are the Glendasan River Restaurant and Casey’s Bar and Bistro. And in Laragh you can choose between the Wicklow Heather Restaurant, Lynham’s of Laragh and the Conservatory (all marked on the map down below). In Laragh and other nearby towns, there are shops selling groceries and ready-made food, so you can go on your hike well-prepared. And also don’t forget the chips and ice-cream stalls mentioned above.
How to get to Wicklow Mountains
You can reach the Park by car, taxi, transfer and tourist buses (if you book a tour in advance).
- Car: Currently the easiest option, two main roads run alongside the Wicklow Mountains – the N11/M11 to the east and the N81 to the west. If you’re coming from Dublin take the N11/M11 south to Kilmacanogue village (24 km), take the slip-road from the N11 and follow the R755 to Laragh village (25 km) and from there just follow the main road to reach Glendalough. You can find car parks marked on the map down below.
- Bus: The park is reachable by public transport. Glendalough is serviced by a private bus service – the St. Kevin’s Bus. The bus departure point from Dublin is at St. Stephen’s Green park – north entrance, opposite Stephen Court. Tickets are purchased on the bus and the one-way ticket costs €13 and the return ticket €20. The journey lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes and the arrival point in Glendalough is at the Visitor Centre. There are two other bus services going to the area around Wicklow Mountains – Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus provide connections to nearby towns such as Enniskerry to the north, Rathdrum, Wicklow and Arklow to the east, and Baltinglass and Blessington to the west.
When to visit Wicklow Mountains
The park is open during the whole year, and every of the four seasons enchants this park in its own way. During the spring there are less visitors and the weather is nice, so it would be a good idea to visit the park in April or May. Whether you are visiting the park in spring or summer, always bring a jacket because it gets colder in the mountains. If you’re visiting in winter bear in mind that mountain roads may be dangerous or impassable due to snow and ice. Also remember to dress accordingly. The park also organizes different events each month, all the events are free of charge and everyone can participate. You can check their monthly calendar here. Last but not least, I’m sure you have heard about the infamous Irish weather, so, whenever you are visiting make sure that you don’t forget your umbrella!
Other things you should know
- Public toilets are available at the OPW Visitor Centre beside the Monastic City and at the Upper Lake car park. There are no public toilet facilities in the rest of the National park.
- The lost property facility is at the Information Office in Glendalough (call: 0404 45425)
- You can buy souvenirs at the Information Office at the Upper Lake and the Monastic City Visitor Centre in Glendalough, and also in Glendalough and Laragh villages.
- There are no larger predators in the park, but beware of ticks.
- In cases of serious accidents dial the emergency services on 112 or 999.
- Remember to bring water and snacks.
- Properly prepare yourself if you plan to go hiking.
FAQ – Wicklow Mountains National Park
The paths around the lawns by the Upper Lake are all wheelchair accessible. The National Park has long-term plans to make the valley accessible by wheelchairs. Meanwhile, wheelchair users that visited the park claim that the boardwalk around the Lower Lake wheelchair accessible, this path hasn’t officially been approved for wheelchairs, so if you wish to use it be careful.
Yes! Dogs are welcome in the national park but must be kept on leash. Make sure that your dog doesn’t stress the local wildlife and be aware of natural hazards. Specialized dog activities also occur sometimes. More info on code of conduct for dog owners you can find here.
At the Upper Car Park, the price is €4 per car, and at the Visitor Centre Car Park the prices for months June, July & August, and all Saturdays, Sundays and holidays throughout the year are €4 per car, €25 per bus and €15 for minibuses and camper vans. On all other days, it is free.
No camping is permitted in the Glendalough valley, but ‘wild camping’ is permitted in the rest of the park. There are no serviced camping and caravan sites within the National Park. Permits are required for groups of 10 or more.
Sport hunting is not permitted within the National Park, but you can go fishing from 15th March to 30th September (artificial lures only). But all fish you catch that is under 20.5 cm (8 inches) must be released.
Yes, you can, the Upper Lake in Glendalough is a popular swimming spot in the summer, but be aware that the lake is quite deep and has sudden depth changes. Inflatables are not permitted.
There are no ATMs within the park’s grounds, and neither Glendalough nor Laragh. The nearest ATM is outside the bank in Rathdrum, inside the Centre shop in Roundwood and in Blessington.