With its storied past – something reflected both in beautifully restored buildings and intriguing ruins – a trip to Ireland works wonders on the imagination. This especially rings true if you decide to make like a royal and lay your head down in one of the country’s countless magnificent historic castle hotels. If you’re in the market to call an Irish castle home for a night or two (or more, but it’s always more fun to tour around), these 10 spots take accommodations well beyond the typical, with a fusion of medieval backdrops with modern comfort.
At Waterford Castle – located on its own private island on the River Suir in the suburbs of Waterford City – the world-class golf is just as much of a draw as the magical accommodations. A complimentary car ferry takes guests across to the breathtaking and picturesque property. Aside from the intriguing history lesson, a stay here can include gourmet food, tennis, and walks through gardens and nature trails.
For a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, the sprawling Ashford Castle in County Galway is worthy of the splurge. The 800-year-old castle is Ireland’s first five-star hotel and the former home of the Guinness family. Guests can expect the royal treatment, with rooms with rich and layered interiors, exquisitely landscaped gardens with an emerald lake, an award-winning spa, and gourmet cuisine from renowned chefs.
In southwest Ireland, the second Earl of Dunraven and his wife built the luxurious and fairytale-like Adare Manor in the mid-19th century. Inside its enchanting walls, you’ll find a gallery inspired by Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a full-service spa. Outside is a celebrated golf course that has hosted two Irish Open tournaments. The castle also shines in the location department and is within a day trip distance to famous spots, like the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Blarney Castle, and The Ring of Kerry.
The artistic set finds solace and creative inspiration at the dreamy Ballynahinch Castle in County Galway. Sitting at the base of the Twelve Bens mountain range among ancient woodlands, the 700-acre property features a private lake and river where guests are invited to go salmon and trout fishing. Though simpler in amenities than some of the swankier revamped castles, there’s something about this romantic spot that makes it a go-to among artists and writers – including Canada’s own Margaret Atwood.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of rugged mountains and lake water, Lough Eske Castle is the only five-star hotel in County Donegal. Here, you’ll find refined hotel suites converted from former stables, a luxurious glass-walled spa with an indoor pool, peaceful nature trails, and celebrated dining that puts local ingredients front and centre. Nearby activities include exploring Glenveagh National Park and hiking up the dramatic Slieve League sea cliffs.
While many of Ireland’s castle hotels are relatively secluded and far from the action, the Clontarf Castle Hotel sits just 10 minutes from Dublin City Centre. The enchanting 12th-century castle is surrounded by the Irish Sea and peaceful golf courses and features contemporary touches throughout. The hotel is known for exquisite Irish food at Fahrenheit Grill, one of Dublin’s top grill restaurants. Meanwhile, the hotel’s welcoming bars and restaurants are typically filled with locals and tourists alike.
Once owned by Eric Clapton as a country house, the stunning Barberstown Castle hotel is filled with plush rooms, surrounded by lush, greenery and complete with cozy open-log fires, fine dining, and an authentic, character-rich Irish pub in a former coach house. The four-star accommodations sit 30 minutes from Dublin’s city centre and in close proximity to transportation gateways to explore Ireland’s intriguing Ancient East.
Dating back to the 16th-century, the five-star Dromoland Castle Hotel in County Clare is no stranger to a slew of famous faces. The castle – which underwent a massive renovation in 2019 – was originally home to the O’Briens, the royal descendants of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. The sprawling 450-acre property features a celebrated gold course, sophisticated spa, horseback riding, archery, tennis, clay shooting, and falconry. Guest have included everyone from the King and Queen of Spain, to Robert Reford and Bono.
In Northern Ireland, the storied Ballgally Castle Hotel is a favourite among ghost seekers thanks to a notoriously haunted room with a chilling backstory. In addition to the goosebumps, guests can expect no shortage of inspiring scenery, as the charming 17th-century castle overlooks the golden sands of Ballygally Bay and offers uninterrupted views across the Irish Sea. The castle features modern facilities and is located close to attractions like the Causeway Coastal Route, Bushmills Distillery, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and the Game of Thrones tour.
In April 2019, a formerly derelict castle was given a new lease on life with the opening of Killeavy Castle Estate, which was quickly awarded Castle Hotel of the Year at the Irish Hotel Awards. The 45-room boutique luxury hotel puts wellness front and centre, with forest bathing in the rural wilderness, an impressive full-service spa that’s complete with a mountain view hydro pool, and a buzzed-about restaurant that uses ingredients fresh from the sprawling property’s on-site farm.
Featured Image: Ashford Castle