A 3-Day Epic Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary
No other Irish county deserves a dedicated three-day road trip more than county Wicklow. What is known as “the garden of Ireland” is filled with incredible sceneries and stunning historical sites. There are so many that a Wicklow road trip seems the most fitting way to discover as many of them as possible.
Starting in Dublin, this Wicklow road trip itinerary first follows the coastal plains of the county in the East, exploring historic gardens and houses nestled in breathtaking surroundings. It then takes the narrow roads to the Wicklow Mountains at the heart of Wicklow for some unforgettable panoramas. This road trip finally brings visitors to the lakes of western Wicklow, a lesser known part of the county but no less devoid of charm.
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Essential Tips for Planning Your Wicklow Road Trip
- Renting a Car | You can easily rent a car at Dublin airport. For the best deal, I use Discover Cars; this website allows you to compare prices between all the car rental companies available and even offer cheaper insurance, including full coverage.
- Bringing Your Own Car | Sometimes cheaper than renting, you can bring your own car over on the ferry to Dublin. From France, you can depart from Cherbourg with Irish Ferries. From Holyhead in Wales, you can travel to Dublin with Irish Ferries or Stena Line.
- Where to Stay | Better to book ahead your accommodation before hitting the road. Check booking.com for the best deals or read the latest reviews on TripAdvisor.
- Planning | Lonely Planet Ireland and The Rough Guide to Ireland are the two most comprehensive guides out there. If you have an interest in historical sites on this side of the country, I recommend taking with you Ireland’s Ancient East | A Guide to Its Historic Treasures.
- Three-Day Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary Map
- Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary – Day 1
- Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary – Day 2
- Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary – Day 3
Three-Day Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary Map
Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary – Day 1
From Dublin Airport, the easiest way to reach county Wicklow is the M50, heading southbound to Bray. The motorway bypasses Dublin entirely, so you won’t have to drive through the city. Don’t forget that you will have to pay the toll for using the M50.
Start Your Road Trip in Bray
If traffic is fluid on the M50, you should be in Bray in 40-50 minutes from Dublin Airport. Once there, you can easily park just north of the beach.
The town of Bray is a great first stop on your Wicklow itinerary. The heydays of Bray as a popular seaside resort are long gone, but the sleepy town remains a great destination to escape Dublin’s hustle and bustle.
Take in the panorama as you walk along the Promenade. You will find cafés on the seafront, perfect spots for a breakfast with a view.
MORNING | Powerscourt Gardens
Belly full, you can head to one of county Wicklow’s biggest attractions: Powerscourt Gardens, located just 20 minutes outside of Bray, in the pretty village of Enniskerry.
Once voted by National Geographic as the third most beautiful garden in the world, Powerscourt Estate is a definitive must-see. Built by the 1st Viscount Powerscourt, a striking 18th century mansion dominates large gardens that spread to the back of the house.
Allocate at least 2 hours to explore the grand terraces “à l’italienne”, the hundred-year old Japanese garden and the colourful walled garden. Don’t forget to stroll around the decorative lakes and climb the Pepperpot Tower.
Keep an eye on your watch, or you could be spending the entire day wandering this exquisite property.
Alternative Visit | Killruddery House
If you have already been to Powerscourt Gardens or if you are craving something off the beaten path, a visit to Killruddery House is a great alternative to Powerscourt Gardens.
Located just a 5-minute drive from the centre of Bray, Killruddery House is one of county Wicklow’s hidden gems. The house has been owned by the same family for generations and is still the current Earl of Meath’s family home. The owner descends from Lord Brabazon, a Belgian mercenary who helped William the Conqueror invade England in the 11th century.
You can take a guided tour of the elegant house. It was first built in the 17th century and remodelled in the 19th century. The glass dome built in 1852 after the fashion of the Crystal Palace in London is especially worth a peek.
The house is surrounded by beautifully designed gardens that include a French formal garden with twin Long Ponds, a Victorian walled garden with an orchard and friendly chicken, and even tall edges in “Goose’s Foot” pattern leading to solitary statues and more.
LUNCH: From Powerscourt Gardens, you can easily walk to the pretty village of Enniskerry for some lunch. You can either opt for a light lunch at a café or something more filling at Mac’s Bar, the local pub. With its clock tower dominating the village square and tidy flowerbeds, the village of Enniskerry is a truly inviting place to slow down and enjoy some Irish food.
If you opt to visit Killruddery House, head to Greystones for some lunch instead. On the main street, you will find a selection of cafés, restaurants and pubs to choose from.
AFTERNOON | The Wicklow Mountains
County Wicklow is famous for its mountains that have often been chosen as filming locations for movies and TV series.
From Enniskerry, drive 10 minutes to Powerscourt Waterfall. Part of the Powerscourt Estate, the waterfall is the tallest in Ireland and makes for truly astonishing views.
You will have to pay an entry fee before being allowed to continue to the car park, where you will also find a refreshment kiosk opened during the summer.
After your visit to the waterfall, continue south for 15 minutes along the L1036 before turning right onto the R759 towards Sallygap for another 5 or 10 minutes. Drive carefully as the road can be narrow at times. It can even be impassable during winter, so do not venture there if you see warning signs on the side of the road.
The road will take you to one of the most scenic viewing points in the Wicklow Mountains, with panoramic views over Lough Tay. Also known as the Guinness Lake, Lough Tay used to be part of the Guinness Estate and was used lately as a film location of the series Vikings.
It is still a private property today, but the lake can be admired from the side of the road. You should find a small car park at the viewing point.
EVENING & NIGHT | Wicklow Town or Nearby
It must be getting late by now, and it is time to think about dinner. The best option is to turn around and head to Wicklow town, a seaside town located a 30-minute drive from Lough Tay. On the Main Street, you will find pubs, restaurants, cafés and takeaways for your evening meal.
I would also advise heading to the local supermarket or convenience store and buy food for the next day. There won’t be many restaurants or cafés on the road, so better to stock up on sandwiches, bottles of water and treats.
There are few options available to spend the night in the area, therefore it is important to book ahead. In Wicklow Town and around, these options come highly recommended:
- The Bridge Tavern, Wicklow Town: This hotel is ideally located right in the centre of Wicklow Town and offers comfortable rooms for couples, families and solo travellers.
- Tinakilly Country House Hotel, Rathnew: This former Victorian mansion located by the sea offers 4-star accommodation, with some rooms even featuring four-poster beds.
- The Chester Beatty Inn, Ashford: This friendly, family run hotel has its own restaurant and bar and boasts superior customer service.
Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary – Day 2
This is day 2 on this epic road trip in county Wicklow. More discoveries await in the “garden of Ireland”. Ashford, north of Wicklow Town, is our first stop of the day.
MORNING | Mount Usher Gardens
In the village of Ashford hides Mount Usher Gardens. Created in the 1860s by Edward Walpole, a businessman from Dublin, Mount Usher Gardens are home today to an incredible collection of 5,000 plants.
The gardens extend along the River Vartry and follow the Robinsonian style where trees, shrubs and flowers are grown harmoniously and complement each other. Visitors are provided with a map of the gardens, so they can identify the many remarkable species of trees and plants thriving along the winding paths.
Allocate 1 or 2 hours to explore the gardens.
LUNCH: If you haven’t brought your lunch with you, you can stop by the Avoca café at the end of your visit for some light lunch options.
AFTERNOON | Kilmaccuragh Arboretum
From Ashford, take the M11 towards Wexford and take Exit 18. You should be at Kilmaccuragh Arboretum in 15-20 minutes.
Kilmaccuragh is Wicklow’s hidden garden. Created in the 17th century on the grounds of a former abbey, Kilmaccuragh Arboretum flourished in the 19th century under the work of siblings Thomas and Janet Acton, collectors and botanic pioneers.
Nearly forgotten after WWI and the deaths of the Acton’s heirs, the arboretum now enjoys a new life under the care of Glasnevin Botanic Gardens. Kilmaccuragh Arboretum is famous for having the largest collection of Himalayan rhododendrons in Europe. Come spring, they carpet the ground with a thin layer of pink petals.
As rehabilitation work continues, botanic treasures from the four corners of the world are rediscovered, and they can be admired by visitors for free.
LATE AFTERNOON | Brittas Bay Beach
Just a little over 20 minutes from Kilmaccuragh Arboretum, Brittas Bay Beach could be the most beautiful beach on Ireland’s East coast. Hidden behind unspoiled dunes, the long expanse of pristine powdery sand is a popular swimming spot.
Two paid car parks are located along the Blue Flag beach, one at the north end and one at the south end of the beach. At the height of the season, they can fill up quickly. Lifeguards are on duty on one section of the beach during the summer, so you can bring the entire family for a dip in the invigorating sea.
You don’t have to brave the cold waters to enjoy Brittas Bay, though. After a day out and about, you can take a stroll along the beach or just sit on the sand and admire the view over the bay, the perfect way to end your day.
EVENING & NIGHT | Arklow
Return to the M11 and drive to Arklow, a seaside town 30 minutes south of Brittas Bay. You can also take the more picturesque R750 along the coast to Arklow, but know that the road is narrow.
You will find a few restaurants and pubs on the Main Street in Arklow for your evening meal.
As for accommodation, best to book ahead once again, as there are few hotels and B&B in the area. Here come some recommendations:
- Arklow Bay Hotel: This rather large hotel two steps away from the centre of town includes a leisure centre with indoor swimming pool and sauna, ideal to chill out after a day on the road.
- The View at Moneylands: this B&B located on the edge of Arklow offers rooms with stunning views over the countryside.
- Valentia House: this homely B&B is located just a 10-minute walk from the centre of town.
Wicklow Road Trip Itinerary – Day 3
On this third day on the road, we’ll leave the coast behind us and return to the Wicklow Mountains before heading to the Blessington Lakes in the West of county Wicklow.
MORNING | Avoca
A 15-minute drive north-west of Arklow lies the pretty village of Avoca, nestled on the banks of the Avoca river. Here you will find an Avoca Handweaver store in what used to be an old mill, your chance to stock up on Irish made clothing, gifts and food from the famous Irish brand.
You will also find a café for some delicious breakfast, including locally made pastries. Café opens at 10am.
LATE MORNING | Glendalough Monastic Settlement
From Avoca, take the R752 then the R755, heading north to Glendalough, in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains. You should reach Glendalough in 30 minutes. You can park at the Visitor Center for a few euros.
Located in a quiet and lush valley with two lakes, Glendalough monastic settlement in one of Ireland’s most famous attractions. Founded by St Kevin in the early Middle Ages, the monastery became a centre of power, attracting hundreds of monks and pilgrims to the valley.
Today, the remains of five churches and a well-preserved round tower attract visitors from all over the world. The scenic location of this ancient monastic settlement plays, no doubt about it, a huge part in its success.
You will find maps of hiking trails at the Visitor Centre if you fancy some panoramic views over the valley and its lakes. Those less adventurous can follow the boardwalk for a stroll along the shore of the lower lake.
Allocate 1 or 2 hours in Glendalough to visit the site and walk around the lower lake.
LUNCH: Have lunch at the Wicklow Heather restaurant down the road in Laragh. It is best to book a table ahead as there are very few restaurants in the area.
AFTERNOON | Lake Drive Around the Blessington Lakes
From Glendalough, take the R756 towards Blessington, a scenic drive through the Wicklow Mountains, then turn right onto the R758 towards Valleymount. You should reach the Blessington Lakes in half an hour.
The Blessington Lakes are found in the West of Co. Wicklow. This reservoir was created in the 1940s by building a dam on the River Liffey and flooding the valley. It is the largest of its kind in Ireland.
One of the best views over the lakes is from the DJ Cullen Lake View Lounge, a pub with outdoor sitting area overlooking the Blessington Lakes. To get there, turn right onto the L4365, also known as the Lake Drive, until the next village.
The Lake View Lounge is the perfect spot for some food with dramatic views.
Keep driving along the winding Lake Drive towards the town of Blessington. As the narrow road twists and turns, the blue expanse appears and disappears against the lofty backdrop of the Wicklow Mountains.
If short on time, drive through Valleymount and head straight to Blessington to get to Russborough House.
AFTERNOON | Russborough House
Just 5 minutes outside Blessington, you will find the magnificent Russborough House, one of Ireland’s finest examples of 18th century Palladian manor houses.
The house, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Wicklow Mountains, was built by Joseph Leeson, the heir to a massive fortune. Inside, the lavish Baroque and Rococo decor contrasts with the classical facade.
Throughout the house, intricate decorative plasterwork, sleek marble chimneys, exquisite pieces of period furniture and fine paintings are on show under ceilings of impressive heights.
The house was acquired in 1952 by British millionaires and art collectors Sir Alfred Beit and his wife. The Beits established the Alfred Beit Foundation in 1976 to preserve and open the house to the public.
LATE AFTERNOON | June Blake’s Garden (if time allows)
As you make your way back to Dublin, 15 minutes away from Blessington on the N81, hides a little garden worth your time. Slow down as you approach the property, or else you might miss the gates hiding under the trees.
June Blake’s Garden is an exuberant and contemporary garden created on the grounds of a Victorian cottage. For a little fee, you can wander the three acres of land where plants from all over the world grow. In full bloom, the colourful garden is simply breathtaking.
Check out the opening hours before heading to the garden, as it not open every day of the week.
I hope this three-day Wicklow road trip itinerary will help you make the most of your time on the east coast of Ireland. Feel free to adapt this itinerary to your interests and the time you have available. You might not want to stop everywhere and take a slower pace. County Wicklow is also ideal for day trips from Dublin; check out this guide to the best places to visit in Wicklow for more details.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link, I earn a little money at no extra cost to you.
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