Take a captivating journey through the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East with a trip to Wicklow. From the haven of the heathery hills to the lively hive of the seaside towns, the panoramic wilds of the uplands to the blossoming beauty of the formal gardens, Wicklow wows with its romantic landscapes and wins you over with its charming character.
As Autumn arrives Wicklow bursts into a riot of colour as the leaves on the trees put on a final dramatic display before yielding to winter. This is some of the finest autumn foliage in the country.
So, what are you waiting for? This Autumn, make a break for it to Wicklow where you’ll lose yourself in its natural beauty and find yourself falling in love with its wonderful ways.
Need some destination inspiration? Here are some excellent experiences to enjoy in Wicklow
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Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk
For an invigorating and inspiring stroll along the cliffside of Bray Head, follow the 7km Bray to Greystones Cliff Walk. The walk actually follows the rail line so you can start at Bray or Greystones and when you get to the other end, just hop on the DART if you need to go back to where you began.
If you start in Bray, the walk begins from the promenade bandstand or you can cut 1km off the walk by parking at the car park at Raheen Park. The first 3-4km are the most interesting in terms of sights and views so if you are short on time, or don’t want to end up in Greystones, just walk the first half and turn back.
The walk is relatively easy and takes you past some sites of historic importance as well as providing sweeping views of the East Coast. There is plenty of wildlife and wildflowers to keep the walk interesting and brighten up the cliffs. Yellow gorse, feathery ferns and old stone walls accompany you all the way. Make sure you look out for the trains going through the tunnels below the trail and scan around the rocks for playful seals. As you approach Greystones, there is a very tempting ice cream van selling all manner of frozen delights. Go on, you deserve one more 99 before Winter sets in.
The Happy Pear
Feeling ravenous after the cliff walk? Need to refuel for the walk back to Bray? The Happy Pear is a happening hotspot in Greystones. Just look at the queues! But don’t worry, they are fast-moving and there are plenty of tables out front, upstairs and out the back.
The Happy Pear is all about a feel-good vibe and good mood food and serves up the heartiest, healthiest and tastiest plant-based soups, curries, Buddha bowls, sandwiches and salads along with tasty treats sure to satisfy even the sweetest of tooth. Dig into a slice of the salted caramel pie washed down with the creamiest cappuccino and welcome to the pleasure zone.
Apart from the cafe, there is a greengrocer as well as a bakery for takeaway carbs and caffeine. Go early on the weekend to nab yourself one (or more) of the coveted cinnamon rolls. Don’t like cinnamon? There are jammy swirls without the offending spice.
You’ll find The Happy Pear on Church Road which is the main street in Greystones. Look for the bright orange signage.
Do you like history and hauntings? Then the wickedly good Wicklow Gaol will give you goosebumps as well as a great grounding in the history of Ireland’s most haunted building.
The gaol, located in Wicklow Town, is where many of the men of the 1798 Rising against British rule in Ireland were executed. And now, through a terrific and very realistic Virtual Reality experience called the Gates of Hell, you can live through the turbulent history of the gaol and meet the prisoners and hear about their plight.
After the Virtual Reality Experience, take a self-guided tour around the prison and sit in the cells and through the use of projections and audio-visual displays the history and past lives come alive in a very engaging and engrossing way.
Make your way into the dungeons and see the solitary confinement cell, visit the cell of the heroes of the 1798 Rebellion and that of author Erskine Childers before learning all about the paranormal activity that goes on here. Things don’t just go bump in the night, they happen in the daytime too. You have been warned.
If you escape from the gaol, treat yourself to some delicious dishes and refreshments at the Jailers Rest Cafe next door.
Kilmacurragh Botanic Garden
Living up to its reputation as being The Garden of Ireland, Wicklow has some blooming beautiful gardens that are open to visitors. The National Botanic Gardens in Kilmacurragh, located between Wicklow Town and Rathdrum, are one such example.
Built in 1697, Kilmacurragh House sadly sits in ruins waiting to be restored to its former glory but its gardens and grounds are thriving and flourishing with numerous plant species from around the world.
You can wander around at your own leisure and pleasure but we highly recommend joining one of the terrific tours to really get the most out of your visit. The history of the house, family and gardens is fascinating and the knowledgeable guides tell you all the tales that really bring history and horticulture to life.
The gardens were planted in the 19th Century and there is a spectacular collection of conifers and rhododendrons that flower from early springtime.
Meander through the wildflower meadows, rejoice in the beauty of the rhododendron avenue, delight in the double herbaceous borders and enjoy the tranquility of the Yew Walk, the Oak Avenue and the Fossil Lawn.
Apart from the beautiful flora and fauna, there are serene views of the pastures and hills with plenty of places to perch and enjoy a picnic or just the peacefulness. You can also grab a bite to eat in the lovely Acton Cafe, named after Thomas Acton II who built the house using stones from the ruins of a medieval abbey that once stood on the land.
Drive the Sally Gap
Trees reach across the tarmac to touch each other. Branches intertwine. The road flows underneath these romantic tunnels of embraces and then another painterly landscape takes your breath away. A deep glacial valley surrounded by verdant hills that roll off into the distant. Beautifully bleak moorlands of rusty reds, burnt browns and greens. A glistening stream snaking through the valley floor. A flourishing forest of fir, pine and spruce trees standing tall like a confident coniferous army. The landscape of the Wicklow National Park is enduring and ever-changing.
The Wicklow National Park covers most of the Wicklow mountains and two routes cross it from east to west: the Wicklow Gap and the Sally Gap. Both roads are incredibly scenic but the Sally Gap is also a great driving route. If you love to drive, you’ll love this route which flows through the park, like a ribbon of tarmac. There are also plenty of safe places and lay-bys for you to pull in so you can get out and walk in the hills and take photos.
One of the most picturesque places to pull over is high above Lough Tay. Known as the Guinness Lake, you can see the Guinness family mansion peeping out behind the trees and the slate-blue water has a white sand beach which, when looking at it from above, looks like a pint of the black stuff. I mean, maybe, if you squint.
Wicklow National Park also has many deciduous broad-leaved trees dated between 150 to 200 years old. During this time of year, their leaves turn into a tremendous arrangement of rich reds, shimmering yellows and glistening golds. No need for East Coast USA when you have fabulous Autumn foliage like this in East Coast Ireland.
Just past the beautiful town of Blessington in West Wicklow lies handsome Russborough House and its magnificent grounds.
Take a self-guided tour of this stately home and discover Russborough's remarkable history, which began with its construction by wealthy Dublin brewer Joseph Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown.
Apart from being absolutely divine in design and decoration, the rooms hold an impressive collection of fine art and antiques. You’ll also learn about the daring robberies that have taken place here.
There are also exhibitions and displays telling the story of the Beit family who once owned the house. This fabulous couple lived the high life and had loads of parties in Russborough with guests such as Jackie Onassis, Fred Astaire, the Churchills and members of the Guinness family. Wait until you see the photos of the glamorous gatherings. Oh if only these walls could talk!
You can also explore the extensive grounds and facilities. There is a cafe, Birds of Prey Centre, 19th-century riding school and a playground, too.
But it is the splendid displays of trees and plants that are the big draw. Wander through the woodland walk to the stunning rhododendron garden and swan about the bright blooms as if you are in a Jane Austen novel. Then, follow the perfumed air to the walled Victorian garden before following the fairy trail around Lady’s Island.
There’s also a terrific tree trail that takes you past some magnificent specimens including ancient beech, horse chestnut, Douglas-fir and yew as well as trees planted by President Mary McAleese and by President Michael D. Higgins.
As you enjoy the demesne, watch out for wildlife that calls the grounds home, like swans, foxes, badgers, hares and rabbits.
There is so much to see and do at Russborough that it is a fun and full day out for all the family and as the seasons change so too do the colours and character of the grounds. Each season brings something new.
Make a Break For It to Wicklow
With its cliffs and coast, gardens and goal, mountains and mansions, Wicklow is a destination for those into horticulture, hiking, history and hauntings. And as the romantic roads take you on a captivating journey through the colourful landscape, which is most resplendent this time of year, Wicklow will drive you wild with its natural beauty.
So, go on, make a break for it! It's time to start planning, time to start counting down the days and, most importantly, time to get excited for a wondrous tour around Wicklow this Autumn.
Limited capacity and procedures may be in place at visitor attractions, sites and restaurants so you are encouraged to book ahead to avoid disappointment.