Here, without further ado, are Manor Castles’ choices for Ireland’s top five best Castle Hotels in 2018!
Starting from the top, our number one is, not surprisingly, the world famous…
1) ASHFORD CASTLE, CO. GALWAY
Most Famous Guests: Oscar Wilde, Ronald Reagan, John Lennon.
The most renowned of all Ireland’s Castle Hotels, 5 star Ashford Castle in Co. Galway, is an extremely impressive property, with an extravagant setting, an imposing exterior and very lavish interiors. Those factors combined with a great range of modern facilities, fantastic food and extremely high levels of service, make Ashford Castle a fairly consistent choice for any list of the best hotels in Ireland, Europe, and quite possibly the world.Read Full Description:
They have a huge choice of rooms and suites, 83 in total, as well as one private ‘Hideaway Cottage‘ on the castle grounds. They are all individually designed, and with great attention to detail, containing many well chosen antique furniture pieces, works of art and high quality fabrics that compliment the castle’s original features. The result is old fashioned elegance and opulence but with all the modern luxuries of a five star hotel.
The grounds are as beautiful as you can imagine, the castle sits by the shores of Lough Corrib and has acres of formal gardens and lawns, as well as lots of wild, untouched woodland to be explored. Activities are numerous at Ashford and you can enjoy such things such as horse riding, boating, tennis, golf (9 hole course), archery, falconry, fishing and more without ever leaving the castle grounds.
The award winning, and beautifully designed, spa is a particular draw at Ashford Castle, with a great range of beauty treatments, holistic therapies, a gym and a swimming pool. The food too is world class, and can be enjoyed in four different dining rooms. You can go for fine dining in the very grand George V Dining Room or a more informal experience in The Dungeon or Cullen’s, and also enjoy afternoon tea like a Victorian aristocrat in the elegant surroundings of the Connaught Room. There are also numerous bars at the castle, and for smokers there is comfort and style at the roof top cigar terrace.
The cinema is a very nice, and quite recent, addition to the castle facilities. It mimics beautifully some of the more glamorous picture houses of the early to mid twentieth century and, in keeping with the theme, shows a lot of old classic films as well as the odd more modern classic. Maureen O’Hara & John Wayne’s The Quiet Man of course gets a regular airing. It was shot in the local area and the two main stars made Ashford Castle their base for the duration.
Ashford Castle lies on the northern edge of Lough Corrib, where Co. Galway meets Co. Mayo, and less than a mile from the lovely little village of Cong and its famous 12th century abbey. Going west from the castle you will find yourself in the fabled Connemara, land of mountains, lakes and some of Ireland’s most beautiful scenery. Galway city is about 40 minutes to the south while the journey from Dublin and its international airport should take about two and a half hours.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS ARE SAYING:
“The entire place was sheer perfection! Everyone should have this experience once. So opulent and beautiful. Absolutely breathtaking!”
“Truly magnificent! A very special hotel in an extraordinary place in Ireland.”
2) BALLYNAHINCH CASTLE, CO. GALWAY
Most Famous Guest: Former U.S. President Gerald Ford.
Consistently rated as one of Ireland’s best luxury hotels, the first thing to recommend about the four star Ballynahich Castle in Galway is the superb location. It has 350 acres of peaceful, mature woodland that sit below the Twelve Bens Mountains like a green oasis in what is very much the heart of Connemara, one of Ireland’s most beautiful natural landscapes. It will also impress with its extremely high levels of service, comfort and facilities, its salmon lake, its top class restaurant and welcoming bar, and also with its interesting, rather eclectic history.Read Full Description:
The castle hotel has a range of luxury rooms and suites in both the castle and the newer Riverside Lodge. The pick of the bunch, for those with the means, is the Lettery Lodge; a four double/twin bedroom private self catering lodge one minute’s walk from the Castle. It offers privacy, and supreme luxury and comfort, as well as tremendous views of Ben Lettery mountain from the ground floor master suite.
You will find all of the accommodation choices extremely comfortable and stylish, with an elegant, early 20th century ambience. Some of the rooms, but not all, also have four poster beds to take you back a little further in time, and most have stunning views over the salmon river or the Twelve Bens mountains behind. All of them have en-suite bathrooms equipped with Voya therapeutic seaweed products, satellite TV, and various amounts of seating space, with some of the luxury rooms and suites being extremely spacious indeed.
The main draw with Ballynahinch Castle though is what lies outside the rooms. Firstly in the castle itself there is a top class restaurant, The Owenmore, and a friendly, sociable pub, The Fisherman’s Bar, which has an inviting open fire and also does good food but in a (much) more informal atmosphere. There are also a few lounges and drawing rooms around the castle with a relaxed ambience, books and a supply of daily newspapers.
Outside the door you have the walled gardens, the labyrinth and tennis courts, and beyond that there is a really terrific natural environment to explore. Over four kilometers of marked trails along the river, the lake and through the mature woodlands where you might spot some of the numerous local wildlife which includes some very rare pine martens.
Apart from the on-site tennis court there are various other activities that can be arranged on the grounds too; from boat trips and some of Ireland’s best fly fishing, to clay pigeon shooting and mountain biking.
The castle is an ideal base for exploring one of Ireland’s most iconic regions, Connemara. The main town in Connemara is Clifden, about 15 minute drive away, a scenic place that sees many visitors, it has plenty of good shops, pubs and cafes. Roundstone, one the prettiest fishing villages around is also about 15 minutes away and nearby you’ll find two of Connemara’s best beaches at Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay.
Kylemore Abbey is another interesting and picturesque diversion, a convent home to Benedictine Nuns, it is a beautiful Victorian era building with lovely grounds and a particularly scenic location. Nearby you also have Letterfrack and the Connemara National Park to explore.
Connemara is a beautiful, very inspiring landscape and to appreciate the scenery fully you really should head for the hills. There is some fantastic hiking to be done around the above mentioned Connemara National Park, or right by the castle, around the 12 Bens and the Maamturk/Maumturk Mountains. All of this you can do on guided hikes from the hotel if you so wish or just go it alone.
A trip to one of Galway’s many Islands is another memorable day out, with the Aran Islands just south of Galway City or Inishbofin far off to the west being the most popular with visitors, but there are many many more to be explored off the beaten track.
Golfers will be taken care of here too, with perhaps Ireland’s most scenic course, the Connemara Championship 18 Hole Links being about 20 km to the west in Ballyconneely, and three more courses around Galway City at Barna, Oughterard and Oranmore. The hotel will be happy to arrange golf course bookings for you and can also arrange such things as horse riding or pony trekking along the beach, as well as various other tours and activities, be sure to ask at reception for tips and advice.
To get to Ballynahinch Castle Hotel from Galway City takes about an hour, just follow the N59 road north out of the city until about five kilometers after the village of Recess where you should see a sign for the turn off left for the hotel. If you haven’t got your own transport shuttle services can be arranged from pretty much anywhere around, including airports, just contact the hotel in advance.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS ARE SAYING:
“As you wind your way up a driveway to the main house at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, it feels as if you are entering another world. The gardens and surrounds are second to none. As you walk the many paths available to you, around each corner there is another awe inspiring nook or vista of garden or river to discover.”
“Our recent stay at this top notch Hotel was nothing short of spectacular. Top notch staff, incredible grounds, excellent food and spirits — I have been to many highly rated hotels in my life and this experience is second to none. Highly recommended!”
3) CLONTARF CASTLE, CO. DUBLIN
Most Famous Guests: Oliver Cromwell, George Frideric Handel.
The only castle hotel in Ireland’s capital, Dublin, the 4 star Clontarf Castle has luxury accommodation in what is now a blend of 12th-century castle site, 18th-century manor house and 21st century hotel. It takes a lot of good design to get the balance right and Clontarf Castle manages it, with the first sight of the very Celtic Tiger looking glass entrance foyer somehow managing to not look incongruous against the ancient ivy covered tower walls behind.
Once inside the theme continues with the bright and bold interiors balancing smartly the old and the new. In the bedrooms though the relatively modern usually edges it; think old fashioned luxury city hotel rather than classic castle hotel. Relatively modern or not though, they are stylish and chic and all things considered Clontarf Castle makes an excellent luxury city hotel with a historic twist.Read Full Description:
The accommodation consists of standard double rooms and ‘executive rooms’ i.e. suites which have an adjoining seating area and the extra charm of a four poster bed. Though nothing about the rooms stands out in terms of features, in particular historic features, they are all nicely designed, well appointed and thoroughly clean and comfortable. Facilities include interactive satellite TV, WiFi, a well stocked mini bar, air con, top quality beds and bedding, and some rather plush bathrooms.
The common areas are lively and fun, and you can find a lot going on in the evenings. The Fahrenheit Grill is a fine dining restaurant where you’ll find some award winning modern Irish food in an elegant setting with stained glass windows, wooden beams and paneled walls. For drinks, more food, and more informal socializing, there is the cosy, old style, Knights Bar and the contemporary cool ‘n chic Indigo Lounge which has an outside terrace.
Throughout the building there are fine collections of paintings and various other artworks, with the hotel even producing its own Art Trail brochure to help visitors find their way around it. There is a small gym at the castle too though guests may prefer to use their free pass to the much larger Westwood Gym and 50 meter swimming pool about ten minute’s walk down the road.
In terms of facilities Clontarf Castle doesn’t obviously have the range of say Ashford Castle, but then again most castle hotels don’t, but what it does have are extremely high levels of comfort and service, an award winning restaurant, a still enticing medieval atmosphere in much of the property, and all the convenience of being just minutes from Dublin city centre. And to help you get the best out of what Dublin has to offer you can seek the advice of their excellent concierge service.
About 10 minutes drive from the centre of Dublin is the seaside suburb of Clontarf. A somewhat ordinary residential area that, except for the attraction of its own castle hotel, wouldn’t see too many foreign visitors. It has a nice village atmosphere though and is a pleasant place to stroll around, with the sea never very far away. The famous Dollymount Strand on Bull Island is a very popular swimming spot in the area accessed by a footbridge from Clontarf. You’ll also find two highly regarded golf courses there; St. Anne’s and the Royal Dublin.
The name Clontarf has strong historical connotations in Ireland, for it was here, on Good Friday in 1014, that the Battle of Clontarf occurred. A watershed day in Irish history that is tempting to oversimplify as a Vikings versus Gaels battle, but whatever the narrative, one which is widely seen as putting an end to Viking political and military power in the country.
It is also notable for being the birth place of Bram Stoker, the gothic horror novel writer who created perhaps the most famous horror story character in history; Dracula. The house where he grew up is still there, No. 15 The Crescent, and is just a short walk from the castle hotel.
Getting to Dublin city centre from the castle is very straightforward, and if you haven’t got a car at your disposal there’s a bus stop right outside the door that will take you to there in fifteen to twenty minutes. Dublin airport can also be reached in about 20 minutes by car and airport transfers can be arranged.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS ARE SAYING:
“Absolutely Gorgeous!! Would recommend to anyone who is thinking of staying here. It is so charming and will definitely be an AMAZING addition to your vacation.”
“Loved the eclectic design and decor. The old and new combined beautifully. The service, food and accommodations were all delightful!”
“This hotel was outstanding…..we will be returning next year and stay here again with some family and friends. Staff was wonderful, very helpful and the food in the dining areas was the best in Ireland.”
4) BALLYSEEDE CASTLE, CO. KERRY
Just outside the town of Tralee, Co. Kerry’s only castle hotel is the 4-star Ballyseede Castle which has a history dating back to the 16th century and pleasingly blends its many modern comforts with historical grandeur and elegance. It has award winning food, beautiful grounds, and a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere throughout.Read Full Description:
It has a choice of rooms and suites both in the castle itself and in the nearby lodge. Be aware when booking which is which as the lodge accommodation, though pleasant, is a quite different experience. It is near the estate entrance; the site of the old gatehouse and is more of an upscale, modern, B&B, though guests do have access to the main building, the castle, throughout the day.
The rooms and suites in the castle are quite lovely, a step ahead really, with the beautifully furnished suites and superior rooms particularly being the height of comfort and space. You may find some of the standard double rooms (all are double, no twin rooms) quite small, or let’s say cosy, but they also are nicely furnished and apart from the size should not disappoint in any other way.
There are also a couple of elegant lounges in the castle with a fireplace and piano, as well as two restaurants and a bar. The food, as mentioned before, is a particular highlight, award winning in fact, with the O’Connell restaurant open for evening meals and the Stone Room restaurant devoted to serving up the excellent breakfast. The O’Connell is a fairly grand looking room but the atmosphere is generally relaxed, children are welcome, and there is no dress code as such, though smart casual might be at least expected. It tends to close quite early though when the evening’s entertaining usually moves on to Pappy’s Bar, a cosy, cheery pub with an open fire and a welcoming atmosphere. It also serves food, but only up until 8pm.
Outside the estate’s lawns and gardens give way to 30 acres of native, deciduous, woodland which have trails running through them and make for some very nice peaceful strolls.
In comparison to other castle hotels Ballyseede is low on facilities it must be said; no spa or sports activities on the grounds for example. It is though a place for a relaxing, recharge, break and for the more lively among you there are plenty of activities to be enjoyed in the surrounding area of North Kerry. The staff at Ballyseede can help you out with that and where to go and what to see in this lovely part of Ireland.
Even tourists with only a casual acquaintance with Ireland will probably have heard of Co. Kerry. It probably pips Galway and Cork as Ireland’s most visited rural county. Ballyseede Castle is just outside the town of Tralee, North Kerry’s main urban centre and a typical stopping off point on the way up from around Killarney and the south to the gorgeously scenic Dingle Peninsula. Tralee is also somewhat well known for the Rose of Tralee Festival, which has been adding a bit of slightly dubious glamour to the town every August since 1959.
Tralee though isn’t known keeping tourists in town for as long as the more popular towns in Kerry, the likes of Killarney, Dingle or Killorglin. That being said it is a lively, friendly town with some good pubs, restaurants and shopping, and it has some lovely countryside around it. No stay in Co. Kerry though would be complete without a journey around at least some of the Ring of Kerry, the amazingly scenic road that runs along the coastline around Killarney. So too the Dingle peninsula, west of Tralee, which has some more gorgeous mountain scenery, the Brandon Pass particularly, and leads on to the lovely, and very lively, harbour town which lends the peninsula its name.
The staff at Ballyseede Castle can offer plenty of advice and can organise activities for you in the local area. Kerry is spoiled with golf courses for example, with Ballybunion just to the north being the most well known though Killarney golf course is also very much on the map. Tralee too has its own golf course, an excellent 18 hole course designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer. It is in a very scenic location too, 9 miles west of the town, overlooking the sea near Barrow Harbour and near to Barrow Beach.
Horse riding can be organized from Ballyseede too, with some nice trails running around the nearby hills. Watersports can also be organized, everything from surfing on the wild Atlantic to boating and fishing.
Shannon airport is less than an hour and a half from the castle, with Limerick city being a little less. Cork city can also be reached in about an hour and a half, while the trip to Dublin will take about three hours.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS ARE SAYING:
“We were excited to stay in a castle in Ireland, and were not disappointed! This castle is beautiful, romantic, well maintained and decorated, and located in a breathtaking, scenic, and secluded area. The grounds are gorgeous! The atrium area is stunning. We loved our time here and wished we could have stayed longer!”
“Our Castle experience was everything we hoped for and more! Our room in the Presidents hall was over the top in comfort and beauty”
5) CABRA CASTLE HOTEL, CO. CAVAN
A very grand 4 star Castle Hotel convenient to Dublin Airport, Cabra Castle is a beautiful sight both inside and out, and a place where luxury and old world elegance is complimented by friendly, hospitable staff, good food and drink and the acres of ancient woodland of the surrounding Dun A Ri Forest Park.Read Full Description:
In the castle itself there is a choice of old style luxury double/twin bedrooms, while outside in the grounds there are the cottage or courtyard rooms, which though more modern looking on the outside, on the inside they are also very nicely finished and furnished in traditional style.
All guests have access to the castle itself, and it is a truly magnificent property. You can explore the old corridors, the various drawing rooms, the wonderful gardens outside, and of course the Courtyard Restaurant and Derby Bar. The interiors are beautifully elegant, full of period fittings and furniture that lend a distinctly old world atmosphere.
Being a place of historical interest, the castle also sees a number of day visitors, being open to the public between the hours of eleven and four in the afternoon.
The bar is open all day, serves light meals and snacks, and has a good selection of drinks. It has a nice outdoor terrace too, overlooking the gardens, while the restaurant, on the first floor, opens at 19:00 and has an extensive, award winning menu with much locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, as well as a comprehensive wine list.
There are tennis courts outside and a 9 hole golf course, and the castle grounds have plenty of paths and nature trails that lead on into the Dun A Ri Forest Park. Once part of the original Cabra Estate, Dun A Ri is now a national park and a place of ancient woodlands and quiet soltitude.
There are also other activities to be enjoyed in the local area including archery, clay pigeon shooting, horse riding and fishing, just ask at reception for advice and to arrange reservations.
Cabra Castle Hotel has gained something of a reputation over the years for spooky goings on. Various ghosts of unknown origin have been reported and there is the story of Sarah, a servant girl who allegedly fell in love with the owner’s son and was murdered by his father. This was thought to have happened by a bridge on the estate sometimes known locally as ‘Sarah’s Bridge’ and though is not known when exactly the story dates from, or even whether it is actually true or not, it hasn’t stopped imaginations running wild. It was once voted the world’s second most haunted hotel due to the number of guests reporting sightings and experiences.
Cabra Castle Hotel is about one hour from Dublin City, and even less from the airport, near the town of Kingscourt Co. Cavan, and bordering the counties of Meath and Monaghan. This area is one of farmland, lakes and woodlands, which includes of course the aforementioned Dun A Ri Forest Park. The park covers nearly 600 acres and, as well as being a place of great natural beauty, it has a wealth of history relating to the local area and to the Cabra Castle and Estate itself.
Within the park there is Cromwell’s Bridge which, though dating all the way back to the first Norman conquest of Ireland, was named as such due to fact that Oliver Cromwell and his troops had crossed the bridge on their way to defeat the O’Reillys, the original owners of the Cabra Estate.
There are also the ruins of Fleming’s Castle in Dun A Ree, which records show was constructed in 1607 by a Gerald Fleming, but which is also believed to have been the site of an earlier castle built by the famous Hugh De Lacy in the 12th century. Another nice little spot to rest your feet in the woods is what locals call the Wishing Well, likely to have been the site of a holy well and a place of pilgrimage in much earlier times.
To get to Cabra Castle Hotel from Dublin, first of all ignore any signs you may see for Cavan Town, which is quite a bit away from the hotel, and take the M1 as far as Ardee, Co.Louth, then the N2 to Carrickmacross Co. Monaghan and then the R179 towards Kingscourt Co. Cavan, but turning off to the left about 3km before Kingscourt.
From Belfast take the A1 down through Newry to Dundalk, from there take the R179 from Dundalk to Carrickmacross and from there take the R179 towards Kingscourt, but turning off, as mentioned above, around 3km outside the town.
WHAT OTHER GUESTS ARE SAYING:
“We could not have asked for a better stay at Cabra Castle. The castle and grounds are absolutely stunning; we felt so relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed our time there.”
“Hotel is absolutely gorgeous, and the grounds are beautiful and well kept. Everything was very clean and the staff was so helpful and friendly! We had an absolutely incredible experience! The restaurant was delicious as well.”