With the inclusion of fortification ruins, there’s an astonishing number of castles on the island of Ireland – estimated to be at around 30,000 – some of which have been transformed into the most luxurious hotels in the world. While the western European island has had no royalty living there for over a thousand years, the castles were initially built for defense and designed as significant, fortified homes for chieftains or Anglo-Norman settlers trying to conquer the country at the time.
Over the years, many castles in Ireland have been transformed into the most lavish properties standing today, offering guests the opportunity to experience the life of the landed gentry. Surrounded by lusciously well-manicured gardens, rolling green hills, a relatively mild – albeit moist – climate, and countless reports dubbing the people of Ireland some of the friendliest in the world, nothing is comparable to an Irish castle stay.
With Ireland’s incredible transformation in recent years into an LGBTQ+ haven, perhaps you’re looking to host your fairytale wedding on the Emerald Isle or spend your honeymoon in an oasis of peace and tranquility. Or you’re looking to get pampered on your next European vacation; whatever it may be, these castle hotels can offer it all.
With renovations over the years, the properties listed below, in no particular order, have all been outfitted with the most modern luxuries, such as award-winning fine dining restaurants offering world-class service and the apotheosis of Irish cuisine, spas providing beauty treatments genuinely fit for royalty, indoor swimming pools, fully equipped gyms, on-site bars opened from morning to last-person-standing, and other opulent amenities within your purlieu, making your stay in these centuries-old castles your most impressive vacation yet.
COURTESY DROMOLAND CASTLE
Dromoland Castle, located in County Clare, is a luxurious hotel that offers guests a unique Irish experience. Built in the 16th century, the castle has a rich history and stunning architecture that will leave visitors in awe.
From lakeside lookouts to sumptuous suites, each room is beautifully designed to reflect the elegance and charm of the castle’s past and thoughtfully designed to meet royal approval. All rooms are equipped with modern amenities such as high-speed internet, flat-screen TVs, and luxurious cloud-like mattresses to ensure a comfortable stay for all guests. Some of the rooms are even dog-friendly!
The castle grounds cover over 450 acres, including a lake, walled garden, golf course, and walking trail. Guests can stroll through the magical gardens that share the same designer as the Garden of Versailles, picnic by the lake, or try their hand on one of their motorized buggies to enjoy all the splendor. The impressive 18-hole golf course, designed by renowned golf architect Ron Kirby, is a challenging and picturesque course that offers stunning views of the castle and the surrounding countryside.
The Dromoland Castle Spa is the perfect retreat for those looking for relaxation and pampering, offering a range of treatments, including massages, facials, and body wraps, all designed to rejuvenate and invigorate. The spa also features an indoor pool, a sauna, and a steam room, providing the ultimate relaxation experience.
The castle’s dining options will undoubtedly impress any guest with a refined palate. The award-winning Earl of Thomond restaurant offers a fine dining experience celebrating the best of Irish cuisine, focusing on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. A harpist plays beautiful background music during the weekend dinner service, and their 9-course tasting menu is a must-try! The same restaurant serves a delicious breakfast buffet and à la carte menu with an assortment of freshly made juices and immunity-boosting concoctions. Additional dining options are available throughout the castle, whether lingering in The Gallery, snagging a fireside sofa for an Afternoon Tea extravaganza, rowing out onto the lake for a champagne picnic, or sneaking away to your suite for a private dinner for two!
The castle offers adventure seekers various activities, including archery and clay pigeon shooting. Or you can opt for a one-on-one consultation with the resident genealogist to discuss her findings and potentially visit towns, graveyards, castles, etc., where your family may have originated.
Sanitized pens upon check-in and a sanitized “fresh remote” coming in a bag are additional heavenly thoughtful touches for the germophobic –myself included – community!
Dromoland Castle has hosted many famous guests over the years, including numerous heads of state, celebrities, and members of royal families from around the world. Some of the most notable guests include Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, Richard Branson, and U2 frontman Bono. These are just a few famous guests who have enjoyed the stunning rooms, beautiful grounds, luxurious amenities, and hospitality of Dromoland Castle over the years.
With Shannon airport just eight miles away and many outdoor activities located nearby, such as the Cliffs of Moher, Dromoland Castle is a magnificent playground for Irish country pursuits.
Kilkea Castle & Golf Resort, located in County Kildare, is a luxurious destination that combines the historic charm of a 12th-century castle with modern amenities and stunning natural surroundings. The resort offers a variety of accommodations, from 11 individually designed rooms in the castle to spacious self-catered lodges or carriage rooms, some of which have private entrances, on the resort's 180-acre grounds, all designed with comfort and relaxation in mind.
The 18-hole championship golf course, set amidst the picturesque backdrop of the rolling Irish countryside, provides a challenging and scenic experience for golfers of all levels. The resort also features a spa - a small but true hidden gem – that offers a range of treatments and services, including massages, facials, and body wraps, as well as a sauna and steam room, a fitness center, two tennis courts, multiple dining options, and a range of other activities, including archery, off-road driving, and nearby horseback riding, which can be organized through the hotel’s Equine Concierge team. With its unique blend of history, elegance, and outdoor adventure, Kilkea Castle & Golf Resort is a must-visit destination for travelers looking to experience the best of Ireland.
While the castle was originally built in the 12th century, it has passed through the hands of several powerful families, including the Fitzgeralds and the Wellesleys. In the 20th century, Kilkea Castle fell into disrepair and was abandoned for many years. However, in 2012, American businessman Jay Cashman and his wife Christy purchased the castle and embarked on a massive restoration project to bring it back to its former glory. Today, Kilkea combines the historic charm of a medieval castle with modern amenities and comforts. Its rich history remains evident in its architecture, artwork, and artifacts displayed throughout its halls and corridors.
For something a little more unique, Restaurant 1180, aptly named to honor the year the castle was built, offers guests a fine dining experience overlooking the captivating rose garden.
With their ‘one wedding per day policy,’ the castle is fully equipped to create the wedding of your dreams, with its onsite events team providing exceptional bespoke service to complete your fairytale Irish castle wedding.
Depending on traffic, the journey from Dublin airport and all that Dublin city has to offer is approximately one hour away by car. www.kilkeacastle.ie
COURTESY CASHEL PALACE
Cashel Palace is a historic hotel in the heart of the picturesque town of Cashel in County Tipperary. Built in the 18th century as a bishop’s palace, the property has a rich history that has been carefully preserved over the years.
While technically not a castle per se, the original palace was built in the 1730s by Archbishop Theophilus Bolton. Overlooking, and with a private entrance to the Rock of Cashel, one of Ireland’s most visited historical castle attractions, built between the 12th and 13th centuries, Cashel Palace was designed in the Palladian style, with a grand facade and symmetrical wings. In 2016, the Magnier Family purchased the iconic palace, and with no expenses spared, transformed it into the luxury hotel it is today.
The bedrooms are spacious and comfortable, with luxurious bedding and high-quality, tech-savvy amenities. Still, many visitors will vouch that the standout features of Cashel Palace are its dining options. The hotel’s restaurant serves modern Irish cuisine using locally sourced ingredients and a menu that changes seasonally, all perfectly prepared by the hotel's talented cuisine team and an on-site sommelier on hand to suggest a wine pairing to enhance the culinary experience further.
Cashel Palace serves a mouth-watering traditional Irish Afternoon Tea in their bright, airy Queen Anne Room. You will find stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the Rock of Cashel – the perfect setting for lingering over homemade scones, expertly created sandwiches, delicious pastries, and decadent treats.
The atmospheric wine cellar houses an impressive selection of wines from around the world, and the Guinness Bar is the perfect setting for a convivial night of drinking.
The hotel’s spa is a soothing sanctuary with luxurious, results-driven treatments using Valmont products and state-of-the-art leisure facilities such as the sleek indoor/outdoor pools, jacuzzi, thermal suite, seaweed baths, and an elegantly decked out gym.
The decor of Cashel Palace features traditional and stylish design elements, juxtaposing antique furniture with plush modern fabrics and contemporary artwork, with each room and public space carefully curated to create a sense of elegance and comfort with an overall equine theme, fitting since the Magnier family has been at the head of Ireland’s Thoroughbred horse racing and breeding legacy for generations. The hotel’s Equine Concierge team can also organize a horseback ride at local riding centers, some of which have mountain trails, or a tour to the Magnier family’s world-renowned Coolmore Stud Farm just mere miles from the hotel.
Cashel Palace is also a popular venue for weddings and other special events, with several private spaces and numerous areas for memorable photo opportunities, including a beautiful ballroom, a cozy library featuring a fireplace and an extensive collection of books, an ornate staircase, and a grand foyer, making it an ideal location for a grand celebration. Unsurprisingly, the palace has hosted many glamorous guests and royalty, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, and Prince Joachim of Denmark. www.cashelpalacehotel.ie
Killeavy Castle Estate
COURTESY KILLEAVY CASTLE ESTATE
Ensconced in the heart of County Armagh in Northern Ireland, Killeavy Castle Estate is a magnificent mid-19th-century castle that has been beautifully restored by its current owner, Mick Boyle, into a luxurious hotel where visitors can experience its historic charm, grandeur, and elegance while enjoying modern amenities and comforts. The estate spans over 350 acres of lush greenery and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, making it the perfect destination for a romantic getaway.
Besides coming across one of the hotel’s many friendly peacocks, the highlight of staying at Killeavy Castle Estate is the dining experience. The hotel’s beautiful 2 AA rosette fine dining restaurant serves a range of mouth-watering dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. Their four and seven-course tasting menus, showcasing the incredible talent of the kitchen staff, are supplemented with sweeping views of the estate and castle. The menu changes seasonally, and guests can expect to enjoy a unique dining experience each time they visit. The castle also serves the best Afternoon Tea in Northern Ireland, which can be enjoyed in various nooks and crannies of the hotel. Bar snacks, sandwiches, and main courses are also served daily in the Estate Bistro Bar, which offers scenic views of the surrounding farmlands.
The rooms at Killeavy Castle Estate are beautifully decorated and offer a range of amenities, including en-suite bathrooms and plush bedding. The hotel offers a variety of room types – 45 options in total with four beautifully decorated bedrooms in the actual castle – each with its own unique features and charm.
For those looking to relax and unwind, Killeavy Castle Estate offers a relaxing spa sanctuary where you can take a dip in the indoor mountain-view hydro pool or unwind in the Tylarium, a combination of a sauna and steam room that purifies and detoxifies the body. Complete with a wellness center and multiple treatment rooms, guests can indulge in massages, facials, and body wraps, all designed to rejuvenate and revitalize the body and mind.
Guests can also take advantage of the estate's outdoor activities, including hiking and cycling on one of their electric-assist bikes. The estate’s beautiful gardens and walking trails provide the perfect backdrop for a leisurely stroll or a picnic with loved ones.
In addition to its beautiful location and amenities, Killeavy Castle Estate is also committed to sustainability and eco-tourism. The hotel’s farm-to-fork philosophy ensures that all food is locally sourced, and the estate's gardens provide fresh produce for the restaurant. The hotel also uses eco-friendly cleaning products and implements sustainable practices wherever possible.
Its historic charm, stunning surroundings, friendly staff, two nearby international airports (Dublin and Belfast), and modern amenities make it the perfect destination for a wedding, romantic getaway, family vacation, or even a corporate retreat. www.killeavycastle.com
COURTESY ASHFORD CASTLE
Located deep in the heartland of County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland and set against a spectacular backdrop of labyrinthine forests, sparkling lakes, and rolling mountains, Ashford Castle has witnessed enormous change since its foundation nearly eight centuries ago in 1228. This superb castle will create lasting memories for all who visit by offering a luxurious retreat with 83 individually designed and generously proportioned guest rooms and suites, multiple dining options, magnificent gardens, a brand-new thermal spa, and a fitness center. The property boasts an impressive high population of evergreen and conifer trees to help keep the estate in color all year round.
The George V Dining Room, built in 1905, is an elegant setting with rich, paneled walls and twinkling Waterford Crystal chandeliers, and it bestows an extravagant sense of occasion. The resident pianist plays softly in the background while guests relax and enjoy exceptional dishes prepared using locally sourced ingredients. From the end of February to November, hotel guests are invited to join the staff to forage for wild berries in the estate’s walled gardens to make homemade jams and chutneys.
The long-established tradition of Afternoon Tea has been wonderfully preserved at Ashford Castle since 1868 – you'll even notice the original silver tea set displayed in the Connaught Room, which was presented to Lord and Lady Ardilaun to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in 1896. Today, guests can relax and enjoy a delicious Afternoon Tea with stunning views, a selection of finger sandwiches, homemade scones, pastries, and individually sized cakes. You can choose from a vast selection of teas or make the most of it and enjoy a glass of champagne while indulging in the must-experience mid-day affair.
For entertainment and outdoor activities, there is an equestrian center for guests to take advantage of the numerous trail rides around the estate, a beautiful 9-hole golf course, archery, a regulation-sized snooker table with a nearby cigar terrace, a 32-seat cinema showing a selection of movies for all ages, an underground wine cellar showcasing over 3,000 bottles from over 12 countries, and so, so much more!
Many famous people have visited Ashford Castle over the years. Some notable guests include President Ronald Reagan and Irish actor Pierce Brosnan. The castle has also been a filming location for several movies and TV shows, including The Quiet Man starring John Wayne.
Suppose for some reason you want to leave the 26,000-acre estate during your stay. The castle is conveniently located by car to nearby attractions, including hiking Diamond Hill at the Connemara National Park, visiting the Victorian Walled Gardens at Kylemore Abbey, and witnessing Ireland's only Fjord in Leenaun. www.ashfordcastle.com