Ireland isn’t just divided into the north, south, east and west. There’s a whole stretch of the country that sits right between them all, a beautiful (and sometimes overlooked) area known as the Midlands.
It’s here that you’ll find little county Laois, where the rich cultural heritage of Ireland and beautiful countryside that’s as wonderful to look at as it to explore, awaits you.
When to Visit
Laois isn’t much different from the rest of Ireland in that it has a mild, temperate climate. Although it’s rainy here at times, you can visit all year round. Just be sure to check the weather forecast before your trip and pack accordingly.
(Water-resistant shoes and a rain jacket are always a good idea.)
Laois is easily accessible by train, bus or car. In terms of flights to county Laois, Dublin Airport is well within driving distance (85 km). If you don’t fancy renting a car, Aircoach also run buses to and from Portlaoise and Dublin Airport.
Towns in Laois
Portlaoise, Abbeyleix, Mountrath, Portarlington and Rathdowney.
- Laois is pronounced “Leesh”, in case you were wondering. An easy one by Irish standards!
- The county is situated in the south of the Midlands, in the province of Leinster.
- Laois was previously known as Queen’s County, in honour of Bloody Mary.
Our Top Picks for Tourist Attractions in Laois
To make sure you don’t miss out on any of the great stuff there is to do in Laois, we’ve put together this handy travel guide. Best of all, Laois remains relatively uncrowded and you won’t have to vie with other travellers for the best photograph or picnic spot during your scenic escape here.
PS: This hotel in Portlaoise makes for a great place to stay while you explore Laois!
1. Rock of Dunamese
How to get there: Just a ten-minute drive from Portlaoise on the N80 road.
The Rock of Dunamese is an imposing, Anglo-Norman fortress built on a block of limestone and perched above the rolling Laois countryside. Formerly the seat of the ancient irish kings of Laois, it was suspected to have been blown up by Cromwell’s forces in the 15th century.
All that’s left standing today are fragments of its grey stone walls, but it’s still well worth a visit here for unrestricted views of the Slieve Bloom mountains alone.
What else you need to know: No entrance fee, audio guide available from the Laois City Council site.
2. Emo Court
How to get there: Located just 2.5 km from Emo Village.
Emo Court is one of Laois’s most popular attractions. This stately home, boasting one of the finest neoclassical interiors in Ireland, was restored in the 1960s and subsequently gifted to the people of Ireland. This architectural beauty contains a treasure trove of history, set in some of Laois’s most spectacular scenery.
Enjoy a great day out exploring its magnificent rolling gardens, parklands and woodlands. You can even bring the dog.
What else you need to know: While entrance to the gardens is free, you can access the house by guided tour only during the spring, summer and autumn. Adults €8 per person, children €4 per person, family rate available at €20.
3. Heywood Gardens
How to get there: Located 22 km outside of Portlaoise, on the R432 regional road.
One of Laois’s hidden gems, the 50 acres of gardens, lakes and architectural delights that comprise Heywood Gardens is the perfect spot for the wild at heart. May and June are peak months for variety and colour, but you’ll witness botanical delights here all year long.
We recommend a stop at the meticulously maintained walled garden, where you can sit in quiet contemplation while taking in panoramic views of the countryside around you.
What else you need to know: Free admission, open year round.
4. Barrow Way
For a ramble that takes in all forms of nature, why not try either cycling or walking the Laois portion of the scenic Barrow Way, a 100 km walking trail that begins in Kildare and ends in Carlow?
The route travels alongside the Barrow river and boasts rolling countryside and stunning scenery along the way. And parents can breathe a sigh of relief; the path is also fairly navigable for small children and smooth enough for buggies.
What else you need to know: As shops are few and far between along the Barrow Way, we recommend packing snacks and drinks. If you plan to wander off the beaten track in search of the perfect lunch spot, be sure to prep some picnic food ahead of time.
5. Arderin, Slieve Bloom Mountains
How to get there: From Camross village, follow the signposts for Glendine. There’s a small car park right on the Offaly/Laois border, at the top of the gap.
The Slieve Bloom mountain range (the oldest in Europe) offers almost endless opportunities for adventurers, including stunning guided walks to events and activities throughout the year. You’re spoilt for choice here, but we highly recommend adding a hike up Arderin mountain to your Laois travel bucket list.
The highest peak in Slieve Bloom and the tallest point in Laois, Arderin will reward you with some seriously magnificent views at the top, no matter the weather.
What else you need to know: While it’s a relatively straightforward, 45-minute climb at 530 m, care should be taken during the initial ascent as the path is slippery due to the boggy ground.
6. Donaghmore Famine Workhouse
How to get there: A half-hour drive from Portlaoise on the M7 motorway.
The effects of the Great Irish Potato Famine were particularly acute in county Laois. The Donaghmore Famine Workhouse, constructed for the relief of the poor in the surrounding areas, is one of the only surviving workhouses of the hundreds that sprung up in Ireland from the early 1800s through to the 1920s.
The building has been carefully restored to its original 19th-century state to tell the haunting story of the families who lived and died here during this tumultuous period in Irish history.
What else you need to know: The museum is open Monday to Friday between the hours of 10:00am and 5:00pm. Entry fees are €5 per adult, with family rates available for €10. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
7. Lisduff Adventure Farm
How to get there: Located in Errill, southwest Laois, a half-hour drive from Portlaoise.
From the moment they step through the gates, your kids are going to love Lisduff Adventure Farm. There are a whole host of fun, all-weather activities to keep everyone occupied, from the adorable pet farm and duck pond to the two-story indoor play area, go-karting, bouncing castle and much more.
It’s also an affordable day out for the whole family – just bring a packed lunch for the whole family and relax in the farm’s picnic area afterward.
What else you need to know: Entry fee of €10 per person.
8. Lea Castle
How to get there: Drive 4 km east of Portlaoise, accessible via farmland around 500m off the Monasterevin road.
Lea Castle, a ruined, ivy-covered castle on the banks of the River Barrow that dates all the way back to the 12th century is, in a word, breathtaking.
Once the stronghold of the Normans, Lea Castle has known its fair share of drama and was claimed by various irish clans over the centuries. It’s also currently the focus of a large preservation project, but for now, it’s very much an off-the-beaten path option for tourists.
Be sure to stick around for the golden hour, when the sun sets over the ruined tower.