A truly magical place, Glendalough boasts both a wealth of history and breathtaking natural beauty, making it one of the top destinations to visit in Ireland’s Ancient East. Now part of the Wicklow National Park, the site has since developed from a monastic settlement in the 6th century to become a great spot for outdoorsy visitors looking to combine an interest in ancient history with an active element. The “Valley of Two Lakes” between the Upper and Lower Lake gives you the chance to unwind and connect with nature again and discover the fascinating history of this long gone settlement and its remains.
History is closely entwined with the landscapes here in Glendalough. Home to one of Ireland’s most impressive monastic sites, you’ll have more than a millennia of history right at your fingertips. Prepare for a stunning journey and find out things to do in Glendalough.
The starting point of your adventure
Once you’ve arrived in Glendalough, the best place to start your day out is the Visitor Centre set within the monastic settlement. It will give you an insight into the monastic settlement that was founded in the 6th century by Saint Kevin. He was a monk who lived as a hermit in a cave in Glendalough, eventually moving closer down to the valley and creating his settlement with his fellow monks to become one of the most famous Christian ruins in Ireland. They built the churches, cells and the central 30-metre high round tower making it a central point for Christian pilgrims within Europe. There are only 50 round towers remaining across the island of Ireland, but the one in Glendalough is one of the best-preserved.
The structures you see today are all that remain of a larger community that was ransacked by the Normans in the 13th Century. As you walk the grounds you’ll spot chapels torn down to their foundations and even a cathedral that’s missing its top half – could you just imagine what this place looked like in its heyday!
Hiking in Glendalough
As you’d expect from somewhere set in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, you’ve got fantastic opportunities to get out there and enjoy the great outdoors in the Garden of Ireland. From leisurely lakeside strolls to longer tours that take you right into the hills, there are hikes and walks around Glendalough to suit all ages and abilities.
Glendalough is a popular destination for day hikes not just because of the beauty of its hills, but also due to the fact that trails and routes are so easily accessible! From the monastic settlement you can go on your hiking adventure very easily. In fact, the staff at the Visitor Centre can provide you with walking maps for 50 cents should you need one, and you can select how many kilometres you want to walk depending on what trail you take. You can simply take a stroll through the ruins, or if you have a bit more time you could even go as far as doing a whole loop around the lakes. It’s a good long walk with some amazing views down the valley as a reward.
There is a 12km long hike called The Avonmore Way Walk that leads you through Clara Vale Natural Reserve along Avonmore River. Or take St. Kevin’s Way that is supposed to follow St. Kevin’s footsteps through the hills of Wicklow down to the valley of Glendalough (30km). Even bigger still is the Wicklow Way which you can tackle across several. Stretching a whopping 131km in total, it winds its way from Marley Park in Dublin all the way in Clonegal in Wicklow. It’s strenuous in places, but well worth the effort!
Scenic drives & nearby attractions
I’ll admit – I do love a good road trip! Whether you’re heading here from further afar or simply popping down from Dublin for the day, the winding roads and rolling hills offer some of the greatest vistas in Ireland’s Ancient East. If you come here by car you’ll be within easy reach of some other fantastic attractions and sights in Wicklow as well as great activities to keep the kids entertained.
Exploring Glendalough and Wicklow by car
Glendalough is ideal for combining your visit with a scenic drive. If you decide not to go on a big hike, you can still use it as a stopover location for a break during a wonderful drive through Wicklow’s nature. The Garden County – as it is also known – is ideal for getting into your car and exploring the numerous gorgeous places even in one day. A beautiful drive is driving East to West Wicklow on the Wicklow Gap. This one will reward you with great views of Glendalough Valley driving through the mountains.
Dublin to Glendalough
If you’re driving from Dublin to Glendalough you could use the Sally Gap Drive. Via Glencullen and Kilternan drive through Enniskerry. The Powerscourt Gardens and Waterfall are just a short drive from here. Then drive further to Sally Gap and follow the road leading down to Glendalough between Kippure and Djouce Mountain. Laragh is the village closest to Glendalough.
There are several waterfalls around Glendalough, one of them being Ireland’s highest waterfall! Make a scenic drive or hike extra special by visiting the Glenmacnass Waterfall, Powerscourt Waterfall or Poulanass Waterfall.
When driving from Dublin to Glendalough, stopping at the Powerscourt Estate is definitely worth considering. The highest waterfall in Ireland makes for a spectacular view! Keep in mind that there is a small entrance fee and that there are opening hours. Powerscourt Waterfall in Avoca is best reached by car and lays about 25 km from Glendalough. Combine it with a visit to the Powerscourt Gardens, another great place to spend half a day at.
People touring the Wicklow Hills will find a photo opportunity in the Glenmacnass Waterfall. The Glenmacnass River Waterfall runs just 10 kilometers north of Glendalough. Find a parking spot in the car park at the Old Military Road and make the 2 minute walk to the waterslide, where the water from the river falls into the valley below. After heavy rainfall the scene can be quite spectacular.
A short hike from Glendalough’s Upper Lake Car Park brings you to Poulanass Waterfall. Follow the pink route to find the breathtaking Poulanass Waterfall and plunge pools. Due to the rough tracks the 1.7 km hike is not suitable for pushchairs.
Glendalough with Kids
If you have children that love a good hike and are happy with just being outside, then Glendalough is your place. There is plenty of space for running around. Venture down to the lakes and when everyone’s tired, return to the Glendalough Hotel and take a little break in the bar or restaurant. There is no playground around the Glendalough Monastery but the site is accessible to buggy’s (for the most part) and a small changing area is present.
Clara Lara Fun Park is just a short drive from Glendalough in Rathdrum. With assault courses, woodland playgrounds, kiddie-karts and water slides this makes the perfect little break for your little ones. The place also offers other activities like mini golfing and the possibility to go boating on small lakes. To fill up your energy levels you can relax in the picnic area at the riverside and throw on the barbecue. The kids will love it!
Start planning your Glendalough adventure
Easily one of my favourite corners of Wicklow, the gorgeous valleys and the incredible history really set Glendalough apart from the rest and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the views you’ll come across during your hikes. To help you plan your own trip to Ireland’s Ancient East, be sure to have a look at my most recent staycation deals. Whether it’s a luxury spa retreat or a cosy country retreat, you’ll be sure to find the perfect deal for you!
As a Guru tip I particularly recommend Loughdan House along the Wicklow Way. The huge hill farm close by Glendalough overlooks Lough Dan, in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains. There they offer a guided or self-guided tour of Glendalough and other trails. It makes the perfect starting point for a trip to Glendalough in particular. If you have many hikes and drives upon your agenda, the staff there will help you out with any kind of question and can even offer you tours. The hill house provides you with en-suite rooms, laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. Look forward to a warming fire when you come back from your day exploring and enjoy a delicious home cooked meal with locally produced food.