If there’s one thing we could really go on and on about, it’s Ireland’s ancient past. And with thousands of years of fascinating history, from early Christian and medieval through to Anglo Ireland, there’s plenty to cover.
If you want to stand in the shadow of ancient standing stones and megalithic tombs, climb the turret of a crumbling Norman castle, enjoy the peace of a solitary abbey, or follow the trail of the imprint left by the Vikings across Ireland, then a tour of Ireland’s Ancient East has plenty to offer.
What counties make up Ireland’s Ancient East?
Spanning 15 counties in total, Ireland’s Ancient East route is broken up into three main sections:
|Parts of Ireland’s Ancient East||Counties|
|The Land of 5,000 Dawns||Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Westmeath|
|The Historic Heartlands||Offaly, Laois, Kildare, Tipperary, Limerick, Carlow and Kilkenny|
|The Celtic Coast Counties||Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford and East Cork|
Getting Around Ireland’s Ancient East
From Neolithic sites to early medieval settlements, there are many locations where you can get a glimpse of life in Ireland in eras gone by, and many ways to see them. Whether you prefer to explore Ireland’s Ancient East by bus, car, bike, boat, or with the help of a guided tour, there are so many ways to get around this part of Ireland.
Where to stay in Ireland’s Ancient East
This hotel near Wexford town offers visitors the perfect base for your epic journey along Ireland’s Ancient East.
Things to Do in Ireland’s Ancient East
Ready to excite your curiosity at some incredible places of historical significance across the Ancient East? To help get you started planning your Ireland’s Ancient East itinerary, we’ve listed our top picks below.
1. Newgrange, Meath
If you want to visit something eerie but beautiful on your Ancient Irish excursion, Newgrange is sure to hit the mark. Probably the most famous prehistoric site in all of Ireland (it’s even older than the pyramids!) Newgrange is a beautifully preserved Neolithic passage grave cairn set on the slope of a hill, offering wonderful views of the surrounding Boyne Valley.
Newgrange is open all year round, with family ticket rates starting at €10. Access to the Newgrange exhibition is by guided tour only from Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Arriving early gets you first dibs on tickets before they sell out for the day (which they tend to do fairly quickly).
While you’re in Wicklow, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
- Brú na Bóinne
- Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns
- Hill of Tara (the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland)
- Kells High Cross
2. The Rock of Cashel, Tipperary
One of the best things about Ireland’s Ancient East is that no matter where you find yourself, a castle is never far away. Of these, the Rock of Cashel ranks among the most iconic. Said to be the very site where St Patrick converted the king of Munster to Christianity, this castle ticks all the boxes: turrets, rounded towers, a Roman chapel, a Gothic cathedral and outstanding views of the surrounding Tipperary countryside.
A visit here is like stepping into a bygone age. Among the rare relics on display are some of Ireland’s oldest frescoes and wall paintings. The sight of the Rock of Cashel silhouetted against the setting sun is spellbinding, so we highly stopping by as the golden hour sets in. The castle is open to visitors all year long, with the price of admission ranging from €3 per child to €17 for the family.
While you’re in Tipperary, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
3. Glendalough, Wicklow
If you’ve been googling the must-see places along Ireland’s Ancient East, you’ll no doubt see Glendalough (which translates to Valley of the Two Lakes) topping many lists. Glendalough is also home to one of the most important early Christian monastic sites in Ireland and one of the country’s most well-known tourist attractions.
Ice Age glaciers carved Glendalough into its current u-shape and moulded the upper and lower lakes from which Glendalough derives its name. You can take in the wild and spectacular scenery and admire the hills and lakes by hiking or cycling along the 7-mile trail. We advise packing a picnic and a raincoat in case of hungry bellies and moody skies!
While you’re in Wicklow, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
4. The Walled Garden at Beaulieu House, Louth
Ireland’s Ancient East has no shortage of green spaces to get excited about, but Beaulieu House and Gardens are well worth a special trip when the weather starts to warm up.
Home to a stunning walled garden with a world of flora and foliage and hidden archways that lead to secluded benches, you can easily spend a few hours soaking up the peaceful atmosphere here. (And that’s to say nothing of the hedge maze!)
Admission is €10 per person and free for anyone under the age of 16.
While you’re in Louth, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
- Kildemock Jumping Church
- Leprechaun and Fairy Cavern Carlingford
5. Burren Park, Cavan
If you’re interested in learning more about Irish prehistory, then Cavan Burren Park is a unique and awe-inspiring place to visit along the Ancient East. Free to the public year round, Cavan Burren Park is a part of the UNESCO Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, world renowned for its geological heritage and a continued source of fascination for archaeologists and visitors to the area alike.
The park spans over 10 km of walking trails that weave throughout Megalithic tombs, ancient stone walls and underground caves, together offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience that kids are bound to love.
While you’re in Cavan, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
6. Fore Abbey, Westmeath
Ruins and remains of monastic settlements are aplenty in Ireland, but the one you should really include in your Ancient East tour plans has to be Fore Abbey, located around a half hour’s drive from Mullingar.
While the monastery was founded by St Fechin in the 7th century and the monks have long since left, Fore Abbey’s impressive remains tell of past glory. Besides taking walk amongst the peaceful stone ruins, there’s plenty of climbing opportunities for kids. Best of all, Fore Abbey is seldom visited by tourists. This attraction is also free.
While you’re in Westmeath, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
- Belvedere House Gardens
- Tullynally Castle
- Athlone Castle
- Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park
- Hill of Uisneach
7. Lough Boora Discovery Park, Offaly
Head to Lough Boora Discovery Park for a unique outdoor adventure along Ireland’s Ancient East. Set in a peat bog deep in the rural midlands, Lough Boora has several walking and cycling routes open for visitors year round.
Luckily, the outdoor sculpture museum means you don’t have to choose between the outdoors and a bit of culture – this park offers the best of both worlds. Kids will also love the fairy trail, bird-watching, fishing and much more. Best of all? There’s a cafe on site if you’re feeling peckish!
Although admission is free of charge, parking will set you back about €4.
While you’re in Offaly, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
- Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre
8. Lough Gur, Limerick
Known as the home of the King of the Fairies among locals, Lough Gur is well worth visiting for its dramatic setting alone. A remarkable archeological site hidden away in the hills which centres a magnificent horseshoe-shaped lake, the thatch-roofed heritage centre at Lough Gur offers both guided and self-guided tours year round. The unique prehistoric monuments you can explore here include standing stones, burial mounds and forts that are more than 5,000 years old, predating even Stonehenge.
Since interest around Ireland’s Ancient East has kicked into overdrive, there has been huge growth in visitor numbers to Lough Gur but the size of the site means that you can easily escape the crowds. Admission fees range from €3 per child to €15 for a family ticket.
While you’re in Limerick, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
9. Corlea Trackway, Longford
Step into the Iron Age at Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, where the remains of a bog road constructed from oak and built over 2,000 years ago is now on permanent display since its excavation in the 1950s.
Conservation work on the surrounding bogland has been ongoing in recent years to ensure the buried road underneath continues to be preserved. If prehistoric people fascinate you, Corlea Trackway is definitely worth planning your Ancient East itinerary around. Admission is free.
While you’re In Longford, be sure to check out the Dolmens of Aughnacliffe.
10. Copper Coast UNESCO Global Geopark, Waterford
Ireland is an ancient land, formed over many millennia and its geoparks provide visitors with the best insights into how our breathtaking landscapes have developed over billions of years.
On your visit to Copper Coast Geopark, a UNESCO World Heritage site, you’ll uncover unique prehistoric landscapes and billion-years old geology and have a chance to join in the many wild and wonderful outdoor adventures offered here, right in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.
While you’re in Waterford, be sure to check out these spots on the Ancient East trail:
- Waterford Viking Triangle
- Medieval Museum
For more Ancient Ireland trip inspiration, we recommend checking out our Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Holiday in Wexford.
Note: All admission prices listed above are correct as of June 2019.