Ireland is a popular place. In 2019 alone, more than 11.3 million people visited. Nearly all travelers begin their trip in Dublin, and many choose to stay in the capital rather than experience the rest of the country. The overload of tourists to this small metropolis in high season can feel overwhelming. To escape the crowds, we explored areas just an hour outside the city center, where we found magnificent historic sites, charming towns and a quieter side of Ireland.
Malahide Castle and Gardens
Malahide Castle and Gardens is located 13 miles northeast of Dublin, within a regional park in the pretty seaside town for which the castle is named. King Henry II granted the land on which the estate sits to Richard Talbot in 1185 as a reward for Talbot’s service as a Norman knight. The stronghold remained in the Talbot family for eight centuries, one of the longest tenures of a single family in the history of Ireland.
The imposing medieval château, whose oldest piece is the three-story central tower, is surrounded by more than 250 acres of magnificently maintained gardens. On our tour, we visited the Great Hall, a sumptuous banquet room lined with stately portraits of the aristocratic Talbot family painted over generations, and several dark-paneled drawing rooms showcasing elaborate wood carvings, original antiques and furnishings dating to the 1600s. While our guide’s presentation was a bit hokey — we could have done without the ghost stories — he pointed out historical details of the castle, including the traditional fabrics and ornate moldings. The highlight of this estate, though, is its all-encompassing parkland. Regal peacocks roam the property, and garden nooks are ideal for relaxation. Within a walled garden is a butterfly house, and meandering footpaths leading to the Fairy Trail, where colorful “fairy” homes and hidden sculptures delight both children and adults alike.