Ireland's Ancient East
After the spectacular success of the Wild Atlantic Way - the breathtakingly beautiful driving route the length of the west coast of Ireland - Failte Ireland (the Ireland tourist board) has tried to replicate this in the eastern part of the country. The plan was to take advantage of this area's abundance of ancient landmarks and abundant they certainly are,
The name Ireland's Ancient East is not entirely accurate as it covers a large swathe of the country, from Cork in the South West to County Louth on the border of Northern Ireland, plus many of the attractions are old but not ancient. However as much as I love to be pedantic, we're not here to split hairs and take away from a fantastic collection of visits.
As well as many hidden gems and quirky attractions (Spire of Lloyd, the inland lighthouse, anyone?) there are a lot of big hitters to be found.
Newgrange and Knowth - ancient burial tombs in County Meath that outdate the pyramids are surely the jewels in the crown of Ireland's Ancient East. Only accessible by joining a fascinating tour, you'll also be rewarded with two very photogenic ancient structures.
Loughcrew Cairns - the antithesis of Newgrange and Knowth, Loughcrew Cairns are burial mounds on top of a number of hills deep in the Meath countryside. This attraction is really off the beaten track, less commercialised and less staunchly protected. A peaceful spot that's great for a clamber around.
Kilkenny Castle - with it's thick grey walls, turrets and a 'don't mess with me' look, Kilkenny Castle is exactly what you want a castle to look like. This being said, we recommend that you leave the interior a mystery, as it is basically just a fancy house inside. Go exploring the rest of Kilkenny's medieval mile instead..
Trim Castle - A more authentic castle experience, Trim Castle is medieval fortress both inside and out, which was just the reason it features in Braveheart as York Castle. After a worthy tour of the keep be sure to get views from the river side as well as from the town to see Trim Castle in it's full glory.
Powerscourt House and Garden - the newest attraction on this list boasts one of Ireland's most beautiful gardens. The eclectic gardens and Palladian style mansion house also have wonderful views over the colourful Wicklow Mountains.
Glendalough - a 6th century monastic site set against the beautiful backdrop of the lakes of Glendalough. Visit the picturesque religious ruins - complete with impressive round tower - and then go for a walk on one of the trails around Upper Glendalough for a fantastic afternoon out.
Clonmacnoise - a set of monastic ruins peacefully located on a plain by the River Shannon which is excellent for a stop off from Dublin to Galway. This 6th century site offers some of Ireland's finest surviving Celtic crosses. If it was good enough for a Papal visit in 1982 then it's good enough for you.
Hill of Tara - be wary of this one. The Hill of Tara is an attraction that sounds fantastic on paper but in no way translates to reality. This site is extremely historically significant but there's just not much to see as it's all tucked away under a grassy mound. There are much better hills to visit in Ireland..
Rock of Cashel - just as spectacular from afar as it is from up close, the religious hilltop citadel of the Rock of Cashel has long been Ireland's most photographed site. A truly impressive collection of 9th and 10th century. ruins.
Rock of Dunamese
Spectacular views can be had of the multicoloured farming landscapes of the Laois countryside from the ruins of this 12th century hilltop castle. The ruins are wonderfully climbable which make them the perfect stop to stretch your legs. With no entry charges, this is the cut-price Rock of Cashel.