Dublin is essentially just like any other city, which can catch some travelers off guard. When most people think about Ireland, they picture the green, rolling hills and sheep wandering down the country roads. When your plane touches down in Dublin, there won’t be many hills or animals to see. The city is a cultural experience in itself, but being enclosed within the buildings can make you feel like you’re missing out on the stereotypical Ireland experience you see in the movies.
When I landed in Dublin, I was one of those travelers feeling a little thrown off. While I am completely in love with Dublin now, I was skeptical and homesick for the first week that I lived there. I wanted the scenery and the nature of the Ireland that I had heard so much about, but was under the impression I had to travel west for those views. I was very wrong. In the three months I lived in Dublin, I visited Glendalough and The Wicklow Mountains countless times and never got tired of it. There’s something about standing in a valley, looking out at a lake and being completely surrounded by mountains that makes you feel empowered and completely invincible.
Glendalough and The Wicklow Mountains are only about an hour south of Dublin and are easily accessible by car or bus. If you opt to go the car route, I highly recommend having a navigator in the front seat who will continuously remind you to “stay left.” It is extremely important to note that people drive on the left in Ireland, NOT on the right, which is more common and something you will need to adjust to. Thankfully there are plenty of signs to remind you of this, as well, but having a second pair of eyes is a good idea.
Driving a car to Glendalough is relatively direct and there is a parking lot right near the Visitor’s Center when you arrive. You can leave your car, use the restroom, ask some questions and be walking distance extremely breathtaking views. I am not going to pretend like I know the entire historical background of Glendalough, or like I remember everything my tour guide said, but I do know that the path takes you through a cemetery that was a part of a medieval settlement in the sixth century, which is really interesting. You feel like you have been transported back in time, imagining everything that has gone on in that valley previous to your arrival. There is also The Round Tower, located in the middle of the cemetery, and it is said that if you run around this tower three times you will be married within the next six months. I believed this at the time, but I did, in fact, run around the tower three times and am still single over a year later…maybe it will work out differently for you.
When you are ready to head to the lake, you will be presented with two path options. The first option is a paved road which will take you directly to the upper lake and is handicap-friendly. Taking the other option, which is sort of like a boardwalk, leads you past the lower lake and through the woods. You will also probably see some sheep, just be warned not to bring a dog, there are signs everywhere that say, “Dogs who bother sheep will be shot.” Let’s avoid that. The lower lake is nice, but is nowhere near as scenic as the upper lake. I don’t think I can even adequately describe how amazing the upper lake is, so I’m not going to try, you’re just going to have to go and experience it for yourself.
If you drive to Glendalough, you should plan ahead and drive through the Wicklow Mountains, as well. Glendalough is in County Wicklow and a part of the Wicklow Valley, so it is easily accessible to the roads through the mountains. I highly recommend having a map with you because phone signals are weak at the top of the mountains and you don’t want to get lost up there. I was on a tour every time I journeyed through the valley because I did not trust myself to find my way back out.
The Wicklow Mountains are straight out of P.S. I Love You. I’m not kidding, the actual movie was filmed in certain parts of the Wicklow Valley and if you end up with a driver who is willing to humor a bus full of American girls, than you may just stand right where Hilary Swank did when she met Gerard Butler. On the scenery side, The Wicklow Mountains are beautiful. It was pouring rain on my first trip, but that still didn’t take away from my amazement. I find staring out at an endless valley full of rolling mountains and barren land just so calming. Not everyone can relate to that, I am sure the complete nothingness up there could potentially trigger some anxiety, but I am telling you it is beautiful.
There are countless tours available to go to both Glendalough and The Wicklow Mountains. Usually, they go hand in hand, so if you are going to one, they usually take you to the other. You can find half-day or full-day trips, which is a good option to have depending on your trip itinerary. If you are coming from Dublin, your tour guide will give you a pick-up location to meet at in the morning or afternoon of your trip. Snacks are always necessary, especially on the half-day trip because you won’t be making many stops, but if you are on the full-day tour, you will be stopping at a coffee shop for a “tea and a pee” like my tour guide enjoyed saying.
I hope this helps you let Glendalough and The Wicklow Mountains change your life, as it did mine. I am going to leave you with wishes of safe travels and my favorite Irish proverb: “May your troubles be less and your blessings be more, and nothing but happiness come through your door.”