There is a great but cautious buzz about the place as the country is slowly opening back up. We were promised a summer and it looks like we’re getting it, with inter county travel and museums and places of interest all accessible again. The OPW gave us all a boost last week with the announcement that all of their fee paying sites around the country will be free for the rest of 2021. So if you’re looking to scratch off some of your map this summer on a budget, here’s a guide to of our attractions that are now free.
Ballycastle, Co. Mayo
In the boglands of north Mayo lie the Ceide fields - dwelling areas, megalithic tombs and fields which together make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world. The visitor centre is set against amazing rock formations and cliffs. Bring hiking boots and rain gear for the terrain and weather!
Kilkenny, Co. Kilkenny
This majestic castle stands right in the middle of Kilkenny city and is one of its most famous attractions. It is free to walk around the grounds but there is a charge for a tour of the castle. Make hay while the sun shines and get your tour this year when it’s free! Here’s what one local has to say about visiting Kilkenny!
Boyle, Co. Roscommon
This is always a free attraction. This beautifully ornate Cistercian monastery was built in 1161. The gatehouse hosts a visitors centre and you can book a free guided tour when you arrive. Over the years it was devastated by Cromwellian forces and then later it was used as a military garrison. However it remains well preserved and impressive. For more information check out what local man Harry has to say on our Boyle Abbey blog.
Clonmacnoise is the location of the remains of a 6th century monastery founded by St Ciarán. The monastery was a great centre of learning with students from all over Europe. You will find ruins of a cathedral, round towers, high crosses, several churches and early Christian grave slabs. In the visitor centre you can watch an audiovisual presentation which brings to life the history of this beautiful space.
Set in a stunning glaciated valley in the heart of Wicklow, Glendalough is the site of St. Kevin's monastery founded in the 6th century! View the amazing round tower, medieval stone churches and ornate crosses. There are 9 easy to follow walking trails to suit all levels of walkers. Our favourite is the Bird Walk where you can spot over 100 species of birds! If you haven't been this is a must to scratch off this summer!
Castletown House is a stunning Palladian mansion on a huge 550 acre estate. The parkland is open all year around and free to enter. The house usually has a charge but remain free for the rest of 2021! Prebooking is essential though.
Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork
The arboretum and gardens on Fota Island are a must see if you are scratching off Fota Island this summer. The gardens include ornamental ponds, formal pleasure gardens, an orangery and sun temple. The house, gardens and arboretum are free to visit but booking is essential. More info on the Fota House website.
If you are taking a trip to Fota make sure and visit the wildlife park also. The wildlife park is not an OPW site and is chargable, but is well worth the trip to see the Rothschild giraffe, Sumatran tigers and all the other fantastic animals as you stroll the 100 acre park.
Doneraile Wildlife Park
Doneraile, Co. Cork
Dubbed Cork's very own Downton Abbey, Doneraile Estate is a fantastic 160 hectare parkland and wildlife estate. The house was built in the 17th century and is an amazing example of Georgian architecture. The parklands include water features, amazing gardens and gardener's cottages. If you are lucky you might come across some of the fallow deer, red deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that roam the estate.
The World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne is situated on a bend on the banks of the River Boyne. It encompasses the passage tombs Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth which were built over 5000 years ago. Entrance to the site is through the visitor centre and booking is essential. Make sure you scratch off this amazing place this year!
The magnificent Skellig Michael is one of only two World Heritage Sites in the republic of Ireland. It is a monastery on an island off the Kerry coast. The monks lived there until the 13th century in beehive shaped stone huts and many of these exist still today. To follow the monks' footsteps you must climb 618 uneven steps. The Skelligs were made even more famous when they were used as the location for Star Wars film The Force Awakens in 2014. The site is currently closed but scheduled to reopen in late June 2021.
Rock of Cashel
Cashel, Co. Tipperary
The Rock of Cashel hosts some of the most impressive medieval buildings to be found in Ireland. You will find a round tower, a stunning romanesque chapel, a gothic cathedral, a high cross and a tower house. The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland’s most spectacular and most visited tourist attractions. Booking is necessary, and can be done online on the Rock of Cashel Website.
Cahir, Co. Tipperary
This 13th century defensive powerhouse stands right in the middle of Cahir, you can’t miss it! At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure still stands. For a guide to your day out when you visit Cahir castle, check out our blog.
Another stunning castle to scratch off your map, Parke's castle sits on the shores of Lough Gill, Co. Leitrim. This 17th century castle has been restored and the courtyard and garden areas are currently open. Keep an eye on Parke's Castle website to see when the battlements and interior will reopen.
Dun Aengus / Dún Aonghasa
Aran Islands, Co. Galway
Dún Aonghasa is a 3000 year old large stone fort which stands proudly at the edge of a sea cliff on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. A visit involves a short hike over rough ground so you will need to come prepared with hiking boots or walking shoes, and as always prepare for the weather! There is a fantastic new ferry service direct from Galway city now too making a trip to the islands much more accessible.
Wherever you end up in Ireland this summer you'll find an adventure. If you don't have your own Scratchable Map yet what are you waiting for, it's fun scratching off all our 62 attractions!