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Discovering Ireland: A Guide to Explore County Carlow

Do you enjoy the outdoors, art, museums, food and drink, or adventures? Ireland’s County Carlow has something for everyone to enjoy. This go-to travel guide will tell you about some of the best places to explore in County Carlow!

Continue reading to learn about all the amazing attractions you can find in County Carlow! We have covered everything that a travel guide should: outdoor activities, indoor activities, active activities, historical activities, and some activities which are fun for all the family.

Carlow Town: County Carlow’s Capital

Carlow Town is the capital of County Carlow. It is a vibrant and modern town which is home to many fun and exciting attractions. When exploring County Carlow, you must visit this counties capital. Here we have provided information on some of the best things to do within Carlow Town.

The Chocolate Garden of Ireland

Have you ever wanted to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Well, County Carlow has the perfect place for you! The Chocolate Garden of Ireland is a fully functioning chocolate and ice cream factory. Offering: chocolate workshops, a cafe, an ice cream parlour, and a free on site play area, ensuring fun for the whole family. For all food, and chocolate lovers, this is definitely one of the places you should visit when exploring County Carlow.

Opening Hours

Monday to Saturday: 10am to 5pm

Sunday and Bank Holidays: 1pm to 6pm

Prices

The chocolate workshops have to be booked in advance and is €12.50 per person

Chocolate Mould making is available daily without pre-booking, and is €10 per person

Accessibility

There is free and spacious parking for visitors, as well as indoor and outdoor seating.

The whole attraction is also wheelchair and pram friendly.

The VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art and the George Bernard Shaw Theatre

County Carlow VISUAL Contemporary Art Centre
‘Medusa Tree’ at the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art
Sourced: Flickr, Keith Ewing

If you enjoy art, culture, and innovative ideas, then VISUAL is the place for you! VISUAL is located in the centre of Carlow Town, on Old Dublin Road. Inside you will find four world class gallery spaces, and a 335-seat theatre for performing. You will also find the largest white-cube gallery space in Ireland. Throughout the centre you will be delighted to find five different galleries: The Main Gallery, The Studio Gallery, The Link Gallery, The Digital Gallery, and The Lobby Gallery. The Lobby Gallery is the smallest exhibition in the building and is used for various things. This space is used as a reading room, a process space where artists can test their ideas, an educational space, and for seasonal exhibitions. The Digital Gallery has been specifically designed to allow low lighting or total blackout. This blackout effect is created by use of large blackout drapes at both entrances. This gallery is mainly used for audio-visual and digital media work. The Link Gallery is the only non white-cube which has a large gallery-length window looking outside to a pool, making it the perfect space for quiet thinking. The Studio Gallery is a smaller space which is usually used for small exhibitions or single works of art. The Main Gallery which has walls which are made out of two layers of 18 centimetre MDF which is the perfect material to hang art and attach heavy loads. 

Alongside the VISUAL Arts Centre you will find the 320 seated George Bernard Shaw Theatre, with world class facilities. This theatre receives both national and international touring productions. It also hosts many locally produced shows and work. This theatre is named after one of Ireland’s most famous playwrights, and Nobel Laureate.  

Opening hours (Gallery, Box Office and Reception)

Monday: closed

Tuesday to Saturday: 2 pm to 5 pm

Sunday: 2 pm to 5 pm

Prices

All Galleries at VISUAL are free for all. The last admissions are 15 minutes before closing

Accessibility

Parking is paid during the day, and free after 6:30 pm. This centre is wheelchair and pram friendly as there is ramp access to the front entrance of the building, power assisted doors and lift access to all levels of the building. There are also designated spaces in the theatre for wheelchair users. The Box Office and Auditorium is also fitted with a T Loop which works with the majority of hearing aids. This centre provides support for people with different disabilities, so everyone has the opportunity to explore the world of contemporary art in County Carlow.

Delta Sensory Gardens

An Oasis of Peace and Tranquility

 

Guide to Explore County Carlow
Delta Sensory Gardens
Sourced: Flickr, Dougie Mariea

Delta Sensory Gardens opened in 2007, and is a large 2.5 acre site which consists of 16 connecting gardens, it was established in 1990 as an adult centre for people with learning difficulties. You will find this Oasis at the outskirt of Carlow Town on Strawhall Estate. Every season you will find beautiful scenery, plants, and seasonal bedding and accessories. One of the most stunning features is the Kugal water feature, the Kugal is a tonne of pink marble floating on a cushion of water.

There is an onsite cafe which serves breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea. There is also a craft area where visitors can make small hand made gifts which can be bought at the craft shop. While exploring County Carlow, this attraction promises a relaxing, and fun time, for everyone.

Opening Hours

Monday to Friday: 9 am to 5:30 pm

Weekends and Public Holidays: 11 am to 5:30pm

Prices

Children under 13-years-old: free

Concession: €4

Adults: €5

Yearly membership for one: €20

Yearly membership for couples: €35

Accessibility

This whole attraction is wheelchair and pram friendly. There is also a bathroom onsite, as well as a free and spacious carpark

Go-With-The-Flow Adventures

For those of you who love to explore the outdoors, and love a thrill, look no further! Go-With-The-Flow Adventures is the perfect place for you! This award winning company offers many fun, thrilling adventures which guarantee fun for all the family! This destination should be at the top of your list of places to explore.

You can trust your qualified guides to take you on amazing trails, water sports, and group activities. The River Barrow will take your breath away with its beauty, and stunning scenery of towns, villages, and rural environments.

There are countless interesting features to view and experience from the stunning scenery, to the historic old navigation channels used by Guiness to deliver Ireland’s favourite beer to the South-East.

Activities

Here are some of the amazing activities that you will have the opportunity to try:

Splash n Dash: This trail on the Barrow River is suitable for all, including beginners. This canoe trail offers thrills from travelling down weirs and waterfalls, and rapids, as well as surrounding you with stunning scenery. This trail is open daily in the morning and afternoon, make sure to book your slot in advance.

Wild Camp Safari: this self guided adventure will take you camping, canoeing, and through all the elements that nature has to offer. This activity is highly recommended for families, it is the perfect adventure for the family to bond, while exploring the outdoors. You also do not have to worry about safety as the River Bowen is one of the safest rivers in Ireland.

Barrow Discovery- Spills and Thrills: This team building activity will take up to three fun-filled hours. This activity will take you on a thrilling adventure on either canoes, kayaks, or river surfers. On this guided trail you will be taken up weirs and rapids, and shown stunning cottages, waterfalls, and an old castle.

Opening Hours

This activity centre is open during all seasons, however, it is recommended you book your slots in advance of arriving.

Prices

Each activity is priced differently. Here are some of the prices of different activities:

Whitewater Spills and Thrills: €35 per person (max. 20 people)

Canoe hires: begin at €25 her person 

Kilkenny Canoe Trail: Goresbridge to Graignamanagh: €49 per person

Carlow Castle

Carlow Castle
Carlow Castle
Sourced: Flickr, nullbox

Carlow Castle is a stunning ruin that you will find on the eastern bank of the River Barrow, near the centre of Carlow Town. This castle is one of the most important Anglo-Norman castles in Ireland, today you can see two towers and a part of an intervening wall, which are all that remain. This is the perfect place to explore, it is easy to access, and is full of historic importance.

Castle Carlow is open to the public on weekdays only.

History

Castle Carlow was the first of its kind built in Ireland. The earliest written record of this Irish castle is dated 1231. It is said that this castle was built by Medieval English nobleman, William Marshal the elder, between 1207 and 1213 whenever he was in Ireland. The castle was given, bought, and taken by many people throughout the years. It was handed over to the monarchy in 1306, given to Thomas Plantagenet in 1312, confiscated by the crown in 1537, bought by the Earl of Thomond in 1616, and was owned by multiple people until 1650 when it was taken by Oliver Cromwell, and later returned to the Earl of Thomond.

This castle was a towered keep, with a huge rectangular tower surrounded by four smaller three-quarter-circular towers. The inner castle was 16 metres by 9.2 metres, the towers had a diameter of 4.6 metres, and the walls were 2.7 metres thick. In 1814 the castle was widely destroyed by explosives. This was an attempt to make the space larger to be used as an asylum. The only areas which were not destroyed were the outer face of the west wall and the two neighbouring towers.

Oak Park Forest Park

Within this County Carlow travel guide, we had to include the relaxing and tranquil Old Park Forest Park. This forest park promises fun for all the family, and is perfect for those who enjoy walking in the outdoors. The park is full of different species of woodland, and animals. You will definitely spot some ducks or swans in the lakes, look quickly and quietly, as they may startle easily.

The Woodland Walks have been organised to bring you through a wide range of nature features, to ensure there are lots of things for you to explore. The walks extend over four kilometres, including the Butlers Wood Loop, the Lake Path, the Fox Covert Track, and the Sally Island Trail.

The Old Park Forest Park was awarded the 2013 RDS Irish Forestry Award.

Opening Hours

Old Park Forest Park is open seven days per week, throughout the year.

From April to October the park is open from 8 am to 9 pm

From November to March the park is open from 8 am to 4 pm

Prices

This park is free for everyone to access throughout the year.

Accessibility

Throughout the park there are wheelchair accessible walkways and bird watching areas. The Butlers Wood Loop is also wheelchair accessible. There is also toilets onsite, a large and free carpark, and many outdoor picnic tables.

Carlow County Museum

The Carlow County Museum is one of the best locations for those who are interested in art, history, and culture. This Carlow County Museum is one of Ireland’s newest local museums, and is an award-winning tourist attraction, making it one of the must-visit places to explore while in Carlow Town.

This museum will teach you about the heritage of Carlow, and you can view many pieces of world-class artwork. You will find on display the famous 19th Century hand-carved pulpit of Carlow Cathedral. You will also find the original gallows trapdoor from Carlow Gaol, the pipe of Captain Myles Keogh, and many interesting exhibitions. There are four galleries on display throughout the year, with lots of different, and interesting exhibitions.

You will find this museum in Carlow Town’s cultural quarter, on College Street.

Opening Hours

The Carlow County Museum is open all year, and last admission is half an hour before closing:

June to August:

Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 5 pm

Sunday and Bank Holidays: 2 pm to 4:30 pm

September to May:

Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 4:30 pm

Prices

Admission into this museum is free for all visitors. You can even book free guided tours for up to ten people.

Accessibility

This museum is wheelchair friendly, ensure fun for all. There is also many carparks nearby, the closest being the VISUAL Carlow Carpark and the Carlow Shopping Centre Carpark.

Brownshill Dolmen

Brownshill Dolmen, Carlow
Brownshill Dolmen, Carlow
Sourced: Flickr, Ringlander

Brownshill Dolmen is an amazing monument located near Carlow Town. This monument is a granite capstone which weighs over 100 tonnes, making it the largest monument of its kind in Europe, dating back to pre-historic times. It is signposted, and you will find it on the Hacketstown Road.

This is one monument which anyone, who enjoys the outdoors and history, should add to their list of things to see! This tomb was built between 4000 and 3000 BC. The chamber consists of two portal stones, which support the capstones, a large door stone and side stones. There are two overlapping capstones: one is 4 metres long, the second is 3 metres long.

Fun Fact: It is said that this chamber was used as a dwelling for a family in the 1840’s.

Black Castle

Leighlinbridge & Black Castle
Leighlinbridge & Black Castle
Sourced: Flickr, Dougie Mariea

You will find the historic and beautiful Black Castle in the village of Leighlinbridge. You can access this historic monument from the River Towpath.

History

Black Castle was built in 1181 for the Normans by John de Clahull, under Hugh de Lacy, the first Earl of Ulster. In the 1270s the Carmelites came to Ireland. They built and established their first friary in Leighlinbridge, near the castle. Following this, in 1543 the friary was suppressed, and was later converted into a fort with a surrounding wall in 1546 by Edward Bellingham. In 1577 the castle was captured by Rory Oge O’More, under the command of George Carew, and he destroyed parts of the town. Later, during the O’Neill rebellion in 1590s, the castle was repaired for the monarchy. Then, during the 1641 Irish Rebellion the castle was garrisoned by the Catholic confederation. The castle was then captured by Col. Hewson in 1649.

Opening Hours

You can visit this historic monument anytime, Monday to Sunday, for free. However, we would recommend you visit this monument during daylight hours.

Duckett’s Grove | Great Gothic Mansion

Duckett's Grove
Duckett’s Grove
Sourced: Flickr, Mike Smith

Duckett’s Grove was the home to the Duckett family during the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. The building was at the centre of a 12,000 acre estate, and this area dominated the Carlow landscape for these centuries. The Duckett Grove Walled Gardens surround the ruins of this great house with varieties of: roses, peonies, and more flowers and shrubs. The lower walled garden contains a variety of fruits, shrubs, and perennials. The restoration of the old paths and sunken bridge, and the planting of more trees and shrubs, have created a gorgeous garden.

The estate was designed in the Gothic revival style by Thomas A Cobden for John Davidson Duckett in the 1820s. The great mansion features many towers and turrets of different shapes. One tall octagonal turret rises from the building which is decorated with oriels and niches containing statues.

You will find this historic mansion in the town of Rainstown between Carlow and Tullow. This is definitely a destination you should visit when exploring County Carlow.

Opening Hours

Duckett’s Grove is open year round, during daylight time. It is advised you call in advance to avoid disappointment.

Duckett’s Grove Design – Craft and Gift Emporium is open:

Friday: 12 pm to 5 pm

Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 5 pm

Prices

It is free for all to access and explore Duckett’s House

Accessibility

Duckett’s House is wheelchair friendly, there are toilets onsite, and a large free carpark.

Borris House

Borris House County Carlow
Borris House County Carlow Sourced: Flickr, Purley Phottr

If you are exploring County Carlow during the summer months, Borris House should definitely be on your list of places to visit.

Borris House is another of Ireland’s historic, beautiful buildings. Please enjoy reading about it here in our blog.

Blackstairs Mountain

Blackstairs Mountain is one of County Carlow’s most well-known attractions. The mountain sits at near 800 metres high and is the perfect spot for nature lovers, and hill walkers. The climb to the top can be approached from many spots, including areas in County Wexford.

Please enjoy reading about this stunning mountain, and how you can explore it here in another of our amazing travel blogs.

St. Mullins Heritage Centre

Within the picturesque, historical village of St. Mullins you will find an amazing heritage centre. This heritage centre was originally a Church of Ireland Church built in 1811. It is located on New Ross Road, next to the famous monastic ruins and cemetery.

This centre was opened in the 1980’s, and its mission is to preserve the rich history of the townland through having multiple exhibitions to interpret the lands varied history. This heritage centre is the perfect location for visitors to step into, and explore County Carlow’s rich history.

Awards

The Carlow County Council awarded St. Mullins Heritage Centre the Mícháel Deering Cup for Community Endeavour in 2010.

The Munster Express and Dooleys Hotel, Waterford, presented St. Mullins Heritage Centre the Heritage Group Award for the South East Ireland in 2011.

Opening Hours

The heritage centre is open 7 days a week, throughout the whole year:

Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 12 pm to 5 pm

Tuesday: 10:30 am to 5 pm

Thursday: 2 pm to 5 pm

Saturday: 1 pm to 5:30 pm

Sunday: 2 pm to 5:30 pm

Prices

Entry into this heritage centre is free, however donations are greatly appreciated to go towards the upkeep of the centre.

There are small charges for guided tours. It is advised that you organise guided tours in advance of arriving. They offer school tours which are linked to The National Curriculum, tailoring for each groups specific needs.

There is a charge of €25 for Genealogy research cases.

Altamont Gardens

For all nature lovers, Altamont Gardens is the number one place that you should explore while visiting County Carlow. Altamont Gardens is a 40-acre large blend of formal and informal gardens, with beautiful walkways. These gardens are home too many different plants and native species. You can enjoy the stunning gardens, find peace in the tranquil area, and enjoy the lake and river on your journey.

The owner, and carer of the land, Corona North lovingly cared for the gardens for over 50 years died in 1999. In her will, she left the gardens to the State. Since, there has been ongoing restoration and maintenance to make sure every visitor has an amazing time exploring the gardens.

The highlight of your visit will be the walled garden situated in the grounds of the estate which are privately run by the gardener, Robert Miller.

You can find these gardens near Ballon, between Tullow and Bunclody.

Opening Hours

Altamont Gardens are open 12 months of the year, however opening hours vary each month. The gardens are open 7 days per week.

January: 9 am to 4 pm

February: 9 pm to 4:30 pm

March: 9 am to 5 pm

April 1st to September 30th: 9 am to 6:30 pm

October: 9 am to 5 pm

November: 9 am to 4:30 pm

December: 9 am to 4 pm (Closed on Christmas Day)

*Adverse weather conditions can change these opening hours*

Prices

Admission to the Altamont Gardens is free. Guided tours cost €3 per adult, and must be booked in advance.

Accessibility

There is wheelchair access to parts of the gardens. There are onsite toilets and a large, free carpark. Only guide dogs are allowed into the gardens.

Rancho Reilly

Rancho Reilly is a Pet Farm, activity centre and campsite. The interactive pet farm is home to many animals which you can hold and play with. There are bunnies, pigs, hen, snakes, and many more. Alongside this, there are many outdoor activities for the family to enjoy, as well as many playpark activities such as: a roundabout, sand pits and swings. There is also tractors, bikes, and a track to enjoy! For something a little more exciting, there is also the opportunity to ride a pony or donkey! This attraction is the perfect location in County Carlow for people of all ages to explore nature, animals, and camping life.

Camping

Rancho Reilly offers camping from €32.50 per night for up to five people. This includes free entry into the Pet Farm and Activity Centre. It also includes after hour access to some Pet Farm facilities, showering facilities, and a kitchen.

To ‘rent a tent’, you must be staying for a minimum of two nights, which costs €55 per night for up to five people.

To ‘rent a caravan”, you must be staying for a minimum if two nights, which costs €75 per night for up to five people.

It costs €5 per each additional person, and €2.50 per night for extra electric points.

Opening Hours

April: Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm

May: Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm

June: Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm

July and August: 7 days per week from 11 am to 6 pm

September: Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm

Prices

Admission into Rancho Reilly’s Pet Farm and Activity Centre is:

€3.50 per adult

€7.50 per child

It is free for children under the age of one.

Accessibility

Rancho Reilly is wheelchair friendly, and has wheelchair facilities. There is also a free carpark.

Ballymoon Castle

Ballymoon Castle ruins date back to the 13th Century or early 14th Century. The majority of this castle’s history has been lost over time, but it is said that it was built by the Bigod family or by the Carew family, who bought it off of the Bigods. In the late 1800s the castle was acquired by Michael Sheill.

Not much of the original castle is left. However, from the ruins we can see an 80-foot square courtyard, with 20-foot high granite walls that are about 8 feet wide. The inside of the castle is open, and the walls show us where the doors were positioned. There is a large double fireplace in the north side, from this we known that this was part of the great hall.

You can access this castle from Fenagh road, by walking across a small timber footbridge. You can visit this ruin any time of year, appropriate outdoor footwear is advised. This monument in County Carlow is perfect for those who enjoy exploring the outdoors and historic places.

 

Have you visited County Carlow, or explored any of these attractions? Please tell us about your visit in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this travel guide about Ireland’s beautiful and historic County Carlow, please enjoy more travel guides ConnollyCove have created for all your travelling needs:

Take a Trip with Us around County Kerry | Malahide Village: A Great Seaside Town Outside Dublin | Blackstairs Mountain, County Carlow | County Tipperary: Behold the Treasures of Ireland’s Nature | A Guide to Scotland | Attractions & Must-See Places | Art Gallery’s in Ireland: An Art Lovers Guide | Visiting Edinburgh | Ultimate Travel Guide | Art Galleries in Belfast: A Local’s Guide to Must-See Attractions  | Discovering Ireland: A Guide to Castles in Antrim | Discovering Ireland | Explore County Tyrone

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