From Dublin, our on-the-road trip to Ireland continues with a visit to the ancient monastic site of Glendalough, County Wicklow. Glendalough is an extraordinary place not only for its historical places, but also and especially for its naturalistic treasures, which can be easily discovered by walking one of the many hiking trails in the area. In this article we give you all the information about this truly amazing place and some useful tips!
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After exploring Dublin and its surroundings, our roadtrip to Ireland continues with a visit to the ancient monastic site of Glendalough, County Wicklow. The site, which is about an hour’s drive from the capital of the Republic of Ireland, is truly extraordinary not only for its historical riches, but also and especially because it is situated in the middle of a fascinating, unspoiled glacial valley, characterized by the presence of two lakes – Glendalough in Irish Gaelic means precisely “valley of the two lakes” – and lush vegetation. Many travelers who arrive here simply explore the ancient monastic site, located near Lower Lake, the lake further down the valley. However, if you are a walker and if the weather is good, our advice is to take one of the hiking trails that climb up the mountains. From there you can enjoy magnificent views of the entire valley and its two lakes. So here for you is all the useful information about the place and the hike we have chosen and some helpful tips!
Arriving by airplane
Most travelers choose to reach Ireland by plane. The island’s main airports are located in Dublin and Cork – in the Republic of Ireland – and in Belfast – in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. However, the island is well connected to Switzerland and the rest of Europe by several flights of the national airline Aer Lingus, Swiss* and, of course, the low-cost airline Ryanair. Dublin Airport is located about 11 km north of the city. If you have rented a car, the counters of the major rental companies are located in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.
Arriving by ship
Ireland can also be reached by ship, a popular option for those who enjoy on-the-road travel with their own car or caravan. Dublin has two harbor areas: Dun Laoghaire Terminal, southeast of downtown, and Dublin Port Terminal, northeast. Many companies connect the city with the United Kingdom. We suggest Stenaline, Irishferries, P&O Ferries. Alternatively, other companies connect Ireland with France (mainly with Cork, southern Ireland): Irishferries and Brittany Ferries.
The monastic site of Glendalough
Many visitors who come to Glendalough simply visit the famous monastic site that is located next to the Lower Lake, the lake further down the valley. The 6th-century hermit Kevin of Glendalough retreated to this ancient village, seeking a quiet place in which to devote himself to prayer. After him, many followed his example, and in a very short time around the place of his retreat a big village grew up consisting of churches, chapels and houses. Thus was born the first monastery, which over the years became one of the most influential religious centers in Ireland until its destruction by English troops in 1398. Today mostly ruins remain of the ancient buildings. Nevertheless, the place has a peculiar charm and the historic buildings still exude a certain spirituality, probably in part because of their location.
While visiting, noteworthy are the high circular tower overlooking the valley and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. In any case, we suggest you take a leisurely stroll throughout the site, observing the ruins and ancient tombs, some topped with elegant historiated Celtic crosses. Glendalough is easily reachable from Dublin in about an hour’s drive. Upon arrival, you can leave your car in the large parking lot located near the Visitor Center and walk from there. Should the official parking lot be full, attendants will guide you to an alternative parking area. Both parking areas charge a fee of €5.00 per car (approximately CHF 4.90). Entrance to the area, on the other hand, is free of charge and it’s always open. However consider that the parking areas may be closed early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
The "red" hiking trail
As already said, getting to Glendalough and missing one of the hiking trails in Wicklow Mountains National Park would be a real pity! Among the many trails offered, we chose the “red trail”, which from the Wicklow Mountains National Park Visitor Center climbs up the mountainside surrounding Upper Lake and returns downstream on the opposite side of the lake. To this trail, we added the walk from and to the Visitor center in Glendalough. In total, we walked about 13.5 km in just over four hours. The trail is generally well maintained and of medium difficulty because of the elevation and a couple of more exposed sections. At the highest part, spiked wooden boards (to prevent the risk of slipping) have been laid down to make it easier for hikers since the ground can be quite muddy due to frequent heavy rains. In any case, despite the approximately 400 meters of ascent, the trail is not difficult to walk. However, it should be said that in strong winds walking the narrow wooden planks can become complicated and require extra caution. Keep this in mind and take good hiking shoes with you! If like us you choose to follow this route, you will not regret it! The panoramic views of the entire valley, the two lakes, the monastic site at the beginning of the hike and the mining area at the end are truly postcard views, both during a gray day and even more so if the weather decides to give you a nice sunny day!
For the entire visit – hiking route and monastic ruins – we suggest you consider at least 5 hours. But if you have less time, no problem! Just choose one of the shorter lowland trails. You can find all the information at this link.
The mining area
Few people know that this narrow valley – together with the nearby Glenmalure Valley – has been for a long time a mining site for the extraction of lead, zinc and silver. Mining began in the late 1700s and continued until the late 1950s. Today the remains of the village are still visible in the form of small stone buildings, some really scenic. You will encounter them at the far edge of the valley and Upper Lake or as you descend into the valley from the “red trail”. You can best discover it by taking the “Miners’ Road Walk” (purple trail). You can find all the information about it at this link.
Although two visitor centers are available in the area, you will not find many dining options along the hiking trail. Therefore, our advice is to bring your own lunch with you. Instead, toilets are available both near the Glendalough Visitor Center and near the Wicklow Mountains National Park Visitor Center.
Insects are generally not a problem in Ireland, but during our excursion to Glendalough we were stalked by annoying little fly-like insects that left our arms and legs dotted for an entire day. Therefore, our advice is to bring with you a wide-spectrum insect repellent to use before you start your walk!