Lough Tay Wicklow Mountains Ireland

10 Top Things to do in Wicklow: Plan 1 Perfect Day in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains

There are so many amazing things to do in Wicklow that you might be wondering how to best spend a day exploring the area.

If you’re planning a trip to Ireland and want to experience the natural beauty and history of the Wicklow area, you’re in the right place.

In this guide, you’ll find the best Wicklow things to do, especially if you have just 1 day, as well as maps and other practical tips to help you plan an unforgettable day in the Wicklow Mountains.

Are you ready to explore County Wicklow?

Dublin to Wicklow Map

On the map below, you’ll find the most popular places to visit in Wicklow. The area’s nearness to Dublin and Dublin Airport makes it easy to visit no matter how many days you plan to spend in Ireland.

In particular, if your trip to Ireland is fewer than 5 days, exploring County Wicklow is a great way to explore the Irish countryside while maximizing your time.

Dublin to Wicklow: How to Get There

Wicklow-Ireland Road in the Wicklow Mountains

County Wicklow is just a short drive south of Dublin and spans from north to south along Ireland’s east coast and to places like Blessington and Dunlavin at its western border.

The best way to get to County Wicklow is by car. Luckily, it’s easy to do. From Dublin Airport to arguably Wicklow’s most-visited attraction, Glendalough, is just an hour away.

There are buses and trains that connect Dublin Airport and Dublin City Center to popular spots like Bray, Wicklow, Greystones, and Glendalough. You can search for bus routes and timetables here.

Keep in mind, the Dublin to Wicklow bus routes or the Dublin to Wicklow train can get you to specific towns but it gets tricky to move around the area without a car.

If you’re hoping to spend a little time in County Wicklow without a car, it’s better to maximize your time with a Dublin to Glendalough day trip.

You’ll get to visit Glendalough, as well as places like Kilkenny and the Wicklow Mountains, without the hassle of managing the limited bus and train schedules throughout the area.

How to Plan a Perfect Day Trip to Wicklow

Wicklow Ireland Yellow Flowers at Glendalough

I visited County Wicklow as part of my 10 Day Ireland road trip itinerary. Instead of starting my Ireland trip in Dublin, I decided to rent a car and drive into the Irish countryside first. But you can also use this guide to plan a Wicklow day trip.

I started in Wicklow and it was a great decision! Not only did it help me get used to driving on the left, but being out in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains cured any jet leg, got my legs moving, and was an amazing preview of how much there is to see and experience in Ireland.

And even though there are plenty of places to visit in Wicklow, it’s an area where you can truly go at your own pace. After all, you do actually want to take time to savor the great views and spectacular scenery.

My flight arrived early in the morning and in no time I was leaving the views of Dublin’s outskirts in my rearview mirror. I spent the day comfortably visiting the first 8 Wicklow attractions on this list, in the order in which you see them below. (I did backtrack to Ballinastoe Woods just slightly after I decided I would have time after all.)

A few things to note, I traveled on my own so I could truly go at my own pace. I snacked along the way, and with the exception of a scone at Powerscourt House, I didn’t stop for a proper sit-down lunch.

10 Best Things to do in Wicklow

Below you’ll find some of Wicklow County Ireland’s best places, especially if you have just a day in the area.

Lastly, you might notice this list doesn’t include Bray or the Bray Head Cliff Walk. At the time of my visit, the trail was closed because of landslides.

1. Visit Powerscourt House and Gardens.

Powerscourt House Gardens Wicklow Ireland

Located less than an hour south of Dublin, the 47-acre gardens of the Powerscourt Estate are the highlight, as well as one of the top Wicklow attractions.

In fact, the breathtaking gardens at Powerscourt have been named the 3rd best in the world by National Geographic!

There are themed gardens based on different styles, like Italian gardens and Japanese gardens, and a wide variety of plants and flowers. From the Italian Garden terraces, you can enjoy the views of Triton Lake and Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance. You could easily spend a few hours strolling, however even with 1-2 hours, you can see quite a bit.

If you have time, definitely enjoy a scone with some tea at the Avoca Terrace Cafe! It’s the perfect spot to overlook the gardens, especially on a blue sky day!

Unfortunately, the mansion was destroyed in a fire in the 1970s. And, although it’s once again open, the inside has Irish artisan shops instead of being restored to its original state.

2. Catch a Glimpse of Powerscourt Waterfall.

Powerscourt Waterfall Wicklow Ireland

Just a few miles from Powerscourt Gardens is the Powerscourt Waterfall and at just about 400 tall, it’s Ireland’s highest waterfall.

There’s a parking area with restrooms and a coffee shop that also sells snacks and sandwiches. In just 30 minutes, you can walk along the trails to glimpse the pretty waterfall from different angles.

3. Drive the Scenic Sally Gap.

Wicklow Sally Gap Road View Ireland

This scenic road is a can’t miss while driving through the Wicklow Mountains! The road traverses through panoramic mountain passes at an elevation of over 1,600 feet and along the way you’ll have beautiful views of the Wicklow Mountains and popular lakes like Lough Tay. The only thing comparable to this section of Wicklow was my day trip from Galway into the Connemara.

On your map, look for R759 and the Military Road, R115. Where these roads intersect, is the actual Sally Gap. But it’s really the drive along these narrow roads, where you’ll be rewarded with the best views.

Be ready to pull off the road quickly, as pull-offs and small parking areas come up quickly. Once you pass them, another one may not come along for a bit, and finding a place to do a U-turn is almost impossible given how narrow the roads are.

Coming straight from Dublin, be sure your navigation steers you towards R115. If you’re coming from Powerscourt Gardens, you can head west along L1017 before turning onto R115.

However, a better option is to go south from the gardens along L1036 to R759, finally turning left onto Military Road (R115), towards Glenmacnass and Glendalough. This way you’ll pass by Lough Tay. The Ballinastoe Woods are also nearby.

4. Enjoy the Views of Lough Tay (Guinness Lake).

Lough Tay Wicklow Mountains Ireland

This famous lake is also known as Guinness Lake because it’s part of the private property of the Guinness Estate. The dark-colored lake with its small white sand beach will also have you imagining a pint of Guinness as you stare out over the Wicklow Mountains.

If you’re using Google Maps to navigate, look for the Ballinastoe and J.B. Malone parking areas for places to stop and see the lake. Also from the J.B. Malone pull-off, you can walk up to the J.B. Malone Memorial for another spectacular viewpoint to see the lake and the surrounding mountains.

5. Walk the Boardwalk in the Ballinastoe Woods.

Wicklow Ireland Ballinastoe Woods Boardwalk

The Ballinastoe Woods in Wicklow is one of the best walks in Wicklow and a bit of an Instagram celebrity because of its Lord of the Rings-like forest setting.

It’s also a great spot to get out of the car to stretch your legs and get some air, especially when you’re driving the Sally Gap and enjoying the views over Lough Tay.

There are different walks to choose from including the path with the wooden boardwalk. If your intention is to visit several of the Wicklow tourist attractions on this list, choose a shorter path. You can easily do an hour of walking before continuing on.

6. Experience Glendalough, the Ancient Monastic Settlement.

Monastic Settlement Glendalough Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, meaning “valley of the two lakes,” is one of the most popular County Wicklow things to do. Even with just 1 day in Wicklow, plan to spend some time visiting the beautiful valley of Glendalough.

Most famously, Glendalough is the setting of an ancient monastic city. This early Christian site was started in the 6th century, though the remaining ruins date back to between the 10th to 12th centuries.

As you walk around the site, you can go into the monastic ruins of the Glendalough Cathedral, walk under the monastic city gateway, and see the remarkably intact round tower. In between these spots are Celtic crosses and gravestones, as well as what remains of several other ancient structures.

The eerie tranquility at the site is undeniable and only interrupted by the bleating of nearby sheep and the trickle of water from the nearby stream.

There’s a visitor’s center with a parking lot and restrooms. Once you pay the small parking fee, you can visit Glendalough and walk the trails for free.

You will need to buy a ticket to see the interpretive exhibits inside the visitor’s center. However, I skipped this and focused on the ancient site and the surrounding trails.

Ireland’s ancient ruins from Glendalough to the Rock of Cashel and the Beehive Huts along Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula are a must-see for any Ireland trip!

7. Walk the Glendalough Trails.

Lower Lake Glendalough Wicklow Ireland

You can extend your time at Glendalough by walking the National Park trails, especially the walks that go around or alongside Lower and Upper Lakes.

From the main visitor’s center, the trail around Lower Lake is about 1.8 miles and takes about an hour. The paved path and boardwalk allow you easy access to the shores of the lake and pretty views of the valley.

Another popular walk is the Miners Road Walk. Starting from the Upper Lake Car Park, this out and back path is about 3.4 miles and takes about 1 1/2-2 hours to complete, depending on how long you spend exploring the ruins of the miners’ village. The mining of minerals like silver and zinc took place here for over 150 years, beginning in the late 1700s.

Both of these walks are great ways to experience the natural beauty of County Wicklow while seeing one of Ireland’s most famous ancient sites.

ProTip: If you’re an experienced hiker who’s interested in hiking in the Wicklow Mountains, you’ll find trail information on the Wicklow Mountains National Park website. These trails are often longer, challenging, and sometimes traverse into more rugged terrain. Among these trails is the multi-day, 80-mile Wicklow Way, one of the longest and most challenging hikes in Wicklow and Ireland.

8. Take in the Views at the Wicklow Mountains Viewing Platform.

Mountain Views Wicklow Ireland
Just one of the many breathtaking views over the Wicklow Mountains

Along R756, between Laragh and Hollywood, drive the Wicklow Gap. The road travels east to west through the mountains and is one of the most scenic drives in the area.

The route ascends to an elevation of over1,500 feet and from the Wicklow Mountains Viewing Platform, you can see the mountainous landscape and with a bit of luck all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Depending on your timing, there are other scenic spots along the way like King’s River Bridge and St. Kevin’s Pool that are great for a quick stop and some photos.

9. Admire the Mount Usher Gardens.

This is another famous garden in County Wicklow and one of the best in all of Ireland. However, the style is different from that of the Powerscourt Gardens. These gardens have a more wild, natural feel compared to a more precisely manicured formal garden.

The gardens include over 4,000 types of trees and shrubs with 30+ award-winning trees among them. For a peaceful way to spend some time outdoors, you’ll be hardpressed to find a prettier place to walk in Wicklow.

10. Hike to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

If you’re looking to do some hiking in Wicklow and perhaps work your legs after a long overnight flight to Ireland, the Sugarloaf trail is the perfect place.

This steep and moderately challenging loop trail is about 1.5 miles and takes about an hour to complete. Although, you’ll want to build in extra time to go at your own pace and, of course, feast on the views! It may not be the highest mountain in Wicklow but you wouldn’t know it on a clear day.

From the top, you’ll be able to see all the way to Dublin, south over Wicklow, and out across the ocean to Wales. The most popular trailhead to ascend Sugarloaf starts from the Great Sugar Loaf Car Park, just 40 minutes from Dublin Airport.

Best Hotels in Wicklow

There are plenty of places to stay, whether you’re looking for hotels in Wicklow with a spa, 5-star hotels, or quaint countryside B&Bs.

Below, you’ll find a sample of well-reviewed places to stay, should you want to stay longer in the Wicklow area. When I don’t stay at a hotel with a loyalty program, I use Hotels.com to book hotels because for every 10 nights I earn a free night.

  • Druids Glen Hotel & Golf Resort: This 5-star hotel in Wicklow is set on 400 acres in the Irish countryside, among the Wicklow Mountains and the coast. There is a spa, pool, restaurant, and bar on-premise. Rooms are elegant with a contemporary design.
  • BrookLodge & Macreddin Village: Set in its own village setting, this hotel features a spa, several places to eat, and a variety of accommodation types from country bedrooms to suites. On the grounds, you’ll have access to golf, walking trails, and bikes.
  • Woodenbridge Hotel & Lodge: This property holds the title of oldest in Ireland, established in 1608! It’s located near Avoca, surrounded by the area’s natural beauty. The rooms are modern but maintain a classic and intimate feel.

County Wicklow = Really Worth Visiting!

From nature lovers to outdoor adventurers, history buffs to road-tripping sightseers, Wicklow’s beautiful places and historical sites will be an unforgettable part of your Ireland trip!

So, what questions do you have about things to do in Wicklow Ireland?

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