There are so many wonderful things to do in Wicklow, Ireland, from hiking to visiting historical sites to sipping cocktails in charming seaside towns. Most people will visit Wicklow for its natural beauty, with the stunning and almost mystic Wicklow Mountains taking center stage. The most popular destination for visitors is Glendalough, a lake surrounded by a beautiful hiking trail and a nearby monastic site.
Things To Do in Wicklow, Ireland
Wicklow, Ireland is often called the Garden of Ireland, so named because it is the Irish county with the highest percentage of woodlands. Read on for my list of the best things to do in Wicklow, Ireland.
1. Hike in Glendalough
My favorite thing to do in Wicklow is hike the Spinc Trail, an approximately 6 mile loop around the Upper Lake in Glendalough. The hike offers incredible views of the lake and nearby mountains, as well as a waterfall and bridge over a stream crossing.
I suggest that you hike clockwise around the lake, unless you’re not sure if you’ll be able to finish. Hiking clockwise lets you complete the hardest parts of the climb first, then you’ll spend the majority of your time coasting down and enjoying the views.
My favorite part of the Spinc Trail is the forested stretch near the car park, to the right of the lake when you stare out at it after you arrive. If you have limited time or are visiting during inclement weather, head out in a counterclockwise direction and hike through the forest until you reach a set of ruins. The hike to and from the ruins will take about 45 minutes each direction, a perfect way to get a sense of the area without completing the more demanding climb on the other side of the lake.
Wear warm clothing and dress in layers, as the upper portion of the hike can be quite chilly.
Do you have to pay to go to Glendalough?
There is a small charge for parking but otherwise there are no fees to visit Glendalough. As of this writing, the parking fee is 4 euros per car, payable in cash. The monastic ruins are free to visit, and there is some public parking available near the site and in the town of Glendalough.
2. Have a pint of Guinness at the Wicklow Heather Pub
The Wicklow Heather is a classically decorated Irish pub serving classical fare in Lauragh, a small town near Glendalough. It’s a great place to stop in for a pint after you finish a long hike and are feeling ready for a filling meal in a warm atmosphere. At the Wicklow Heather, you’ll find a few vegetarian options, but the menu is fairly meat-centered. If you’re vegan or have other dietary restrictions, I’d suggest that you take a look at the menu before you go to be sure there’s something that you’ll enjoy.
3. Hike in Glenmalure
Glenmalure is a glacial valley in the Wicklow Mountains where you can find several wonderful hiking trails, the iconic Glenmalure Lodge and Pub, and even some great camping spots. If you’re visiting during the colder months, be aware that the road into Glenmalure can sometimes become icy and difficult to pass when the road ices over. If you encounter ice on the road, proceed with extreme caution.
Hike Lugnaquilla, Wicklow’s Highest Peak
Whether you plan to hike Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s largest peak, or not, consider climbing Lugnaquilla. Lugnaquilla is Wicklow’s highest peak, located in the Glenmalure Valley. It’s a moderately strenuous climb, mostly because some of the trails to the summit aren’t clearly marked and a stretch of the “trail” goes through a muddy bog.
For the easiest and most rewarding climb, go up and down the switchback route visible from the road into the valley. This trail is easy to find and follow, offering views of the valley nearly all of the way up and down the mountain.
4. Shop for gifts at Avoca in Kilmacanogue
Avoca started as a woolen mill, where artisans made hand woven blankets and clothing for the people living in the Wicklow Mountains. Now, they still have a mill that you can visit in the town of Avoca, but they’ve expanded their offerings to a collection of cafes and stores throughout Ireland. My favorite of these stores is the Avoca in Kilmacanogue, which features a prepared food bar, a cafeteria style cafe, a restaurant with huge glass windows overlooking the forest, and a shop.
This is the perfect place to spend a few hours shopping for gifts, eating some delicious baked goods (like their cheese bread!), finding the perfect cheese for your charcuterie board, or dining in their cafe. I love their small book and card section, which would be the perfect place to pick up a small gift for a friend or loved one. You can also buy houseplants, pots, and other small care items in the adorable garden store near the wine section.
5. Cliff Walk from Bray to Greystones
There is a beautiful cliff walk that connects the seaside towns of Bray and Greystones. You can start in either town and walk along the clearly marked trail for as long as you like, or until you reach the next town over. For large parts of the late summer and early fall, you’ll find plump blackberries growing on the bushes that line the walking path.
Once you’ve finished the walk, you can either turn around and hike back or hop on the train that connects the two towns.
6. Explore Bray
Bray is the largest town in Wicklow with a population just over 32,000 people. It has a small but cute downtown, including a McDonalds set into a 19th century building that was dubbed one of the coolest McDonald’s restaurants in the world by USA Today. Near the McDonald’s is Copper and Straw, a great coffee shop that serves espresso drinks and plenty of baked snacks.
Head to the seafront for the best restaurants and most exciting nightlife, including Fika, a rooftop bar that serves tasty, well balanced cocktails and small bites. If you sit outside on their patio, you can watch the boats sail by as you nibble on an appetizer like elote corn or tacos.
The best place to grab dinner in Bray is undoubtedly Daata, an Indian and Pakistani restaurant that serves especially tasty food. Their saag paneer is delicious, especially when paired with their Pilau rice and garlic naan. If you’re in a rush, they will package your food to go in containers that stand up remarkably well to a 30 or 40 minute car ride.
Feed the swans in Bray
If you’re an animal lover visiting Bray, you might enjoy feeding the swans that collect on a small beach on the north side of town. The swans are impressive and elegant in person, often draping their heads over the backs of their bodies.
Thawed peas are the perfect snack for the swans, so before you head to the harbor pick up a bag of frozen peas and let it melt in your car. Bread isn’t conducive to the swans’ health and should be avoided. Other vegetables and leafy greens are good options if you can’t find frozen peas or don’t have time for them to thaw.
7. Wander through Greystones
The seaside town of Greystones has several tasty restaurants, including the Happy Pear and Eleven Deli, both of which are perfect for a quick lunch. Be sure to also make your way to the pebbly beach and seafront, where you can sit and watch the water lap the rocks. There are usually swimmers, so you could even go for a dip if you’re not too concerned with the cold.
Or, for a more unique and local activity, you could visit a sauna in Greystones.
If you wanted to try Daata in Bray but aren’t able to make it, you can try their Greystones location.
8. Eat at the Happy Pear in Greystones
The Happy Pear is a vegan restaurant run by twins in the seaside town of Greystones. The owners are very popular locally, and you can sometimes see them running shirtless on the beach or diving into the sea nearby. You can watch an interview with the brothers who opened the Happy Pear on Season 2, Episode 2 of Somebody Feed Phil, a TV show on Netflix that chronicles food and travel around the world.
Once you arrive at the Happy Pear, you’ll find a small shop that carries local vegetables and snacks, as well as a refrigerator case of homemade dips and spreads. My favorite of these spreads is their vegan take on classic pesto, the Lovely Basil; I use it all of the time to make pasta with pesto and vegetables.
Adjacent to the small shop is a bakery with pastries and breads, along with a small coffee setup. If you’re in a hurry, you can grab a spread from the shop and a freshly made focaccia from the bakery before heading off on your next adventure.
If you have time to stay a while, inside you’ll find a cafe that serves up mostly vegan comfort foods like shepard’s pie and bean stew. After you order, you can take your food outside on a nice day and eat in the sunshine on their back patio. The Happy Pear has even put out a few cookbooks if you’re looking for a local gift when visiting Wicklow, and you can pick one up before leaving the restaurant.
9. Swim in Brittas Bay
Brittas Bay is a small beach in southern Wicklow where locals love to hang out and enjoy the sunshine. The beach attracts lots of seals and seal pups, so be sure to give them plenty of space if you happen to encounter one. Dogs are allowed at Brittas Bay, so you’ll see lots of furry friends running along the beach and into the water.
My favorite spot in Brittas Bay is just south of the main beach. At low tide, you can walk around the rocky outcropping and reach a smaller, more private beach that’s tucked back from the action. Just be sure to leave when the tide starts to roll in so that you don’t get stuck!
10. Explore the idyllic town of Enniskerry
During the summer of 2021, the already idyllic town of Enniskerry was transformed into the set for Disney’s upcoming Disenchanted movie. The set was ornate and drew in people from the surrounding area, everyone wanting to get a glimpse of the Disney magic.
When it’s not the setting for a Disney movie, Enniskerry is a charming Irish town with a few pubs, a couple of coffee shops, and a quaint stone tower in the center to enjoy. My favorite cafe in Enniskerry is oHSo, a small coffee shop that serves tasty sandwiches and decent coffee, perfect for a quick bite while you’re in town.
You won’t need to spend long in Enniskerry to get a sense of its charm, and it’s close to Powerscourt so you could easily combine these two stops for an afternoon itinerary.
11. Visit the Stunning Gardens of Powerscourt
When my sister visited Ireland in 2021, this was her favorite activity. The Powerscourt Estate is surrounded by sprawling gardens modeled in the style of different countries. There’s a Japanese garden, an English garden, and an Italian garden, all of which you can see easily while walking the grounds.
There’s also a huge water feature at the base of the Italian garden, complete with statues and lilypads along the banks of the pond. Tucked away from the main area, you’ll find the Pepper Pot, a small stone castle shaped after a pepper grinder that is surrounded by trees with limbs that stretch down to create a perfect spot to sit and read a book.
After you’re finished wandering the gardens, stop for a tea at either the Powerscourt Cafe or the Avoca Cafe, both located near the ticket office. There’s also an extensive Avoca shop that carries food items, clothing, books, stationary, and plenty of other small gifts.
12. See the enormous Powerscourt Waterfall
Though they share a name and are part of the same estate, the Powerscourt Waterfall and Powerscourt Gardens are a short drive apart and visitors will need to purchase separate tickets. The nearly 400 foot (131 meter) waterfall is impressive, descending from high in the rocks and creating huge splashes when it hits the rocks below.
There are barbecues and picnic areas all around the base of the falls, so you could easily bring a picnic with you when you visit.
13. Contemplate life’s biggest questions at Victor’s Way
Victor’s Way is a granite statue garden intended for adults only, with artwork featuring biting social critiques and thought-provoking pieces. The garden is sizable, featuring an open field and a forest walk for visitors to meander through. The most Instagrammable spot is the snake’s throne, which typically has a line of people off to the side waiting for a photo.
My favorite piece is the giant middle finger in the center of a long grassy expanse.
Victor’s Way is closed during the winter months, so plan a visit while the weather is warm. After you’ve wandered through the gardens, visit the extensive gift shop for goods imported from India. You can even buy a singing bowl and mallet, a perfect addition to your meditation and yoga setup at home.
14. Swim in the Avonmore River
The river that flows through County Wicklow is the Avonmore River, a popular swimming spot for locals. There are spots to take a dip in the water throughout its course in Wicklow, but a very popular spot is in front of Saint Patrick and Saint Killian Church next to the Clara Vale Bridge. The water levels can vary dramatically depending on rain and local conditions, so proceed with caution, wear a life preserver, and never enter the water alone.
There’s also a spot along the path in the Clara Vale Woods where you can easily dip your feet in the water without climbing in. Follow the path from the car park for about 30-45 minutes and you should see a small stream that feeds into the river on your right.
15. Hike through the heather in Trooperstown
One of the most memorable things to do in Wicklow is to hike around the heather-covered area around Trooperstown. The large hills offer expansive views in every direction, and you can even see a bit of the sea from the very top if the weather is clear enough.
There’s no singular route to hike Trooperstown, but the easiest way to see it is to park in the Trooperstown Car Park. Drop a pin on Google Maps before you walk away from your car so that you can find your way back. Then, you can wander along the trails and footpaths through the heather, pausing to collapse into a particularly fluffy patch. Be aware that the trails are not well marked, and there are many places where the trails appear and disappear without warning, mostly due to animal use.
Hiking around Trooperstown is a fun way to spend an afternoon any day of the week, but it’s especially enjoyable when the heather is in full bloom and the hillsides are blanketed in a soft purple hue.
16. Climb the Great Sugar Loaf
This is one of only a couple of things I have yet to do in County Wicklow, but locals rave about it so it definitely deserves a spot on this list. Mount Sugarloaf is a 1,644 foot (501 meters) tall, conic mountain that overlooks the town of Kilmacanogue. The hike to the summit is short but steep, climbing over 600 feet in only about 1.5 miles.
The footing on the path is rocky and can be unstable in parts, so take care to wear appropriate footwear and prepare for the elements.
17. Peer Beyond the Trees in Avondale
Beyond the Trees is a new attraction in Wicklow, a large wooden structure where visitors can walk up until they’re above the treeline and then slide down, assuming the conditions aren’t too wet. After climbing for several minutes, you’ll reach the very top of the tower, which offers stunning panoramic views of the Wicklow Mountains. If you decide to go, be sure to book ahead online and be aware that there is a charge to climb the tower, use the slide, and for parking.
This is a new attraction in Wicklow, another item on this list that I haven’t had a chance to visit yet.
18. Go for a forest walk in the Clara Vale Woods
The Clara Vale Woods are a hidden gem in the Wicklow Mountains, tucked a short drive from the much more popular hike in Glendalough. You’ll see almost exclusively locals along this trail, as it’s a popular spot for running and walking, especially on a sunny day. There is a car park just past Saints Patrick and Saint Killian Church, which has room for a few cars, and then head into the woods. The path follows the river for a couple of miles and is mostly flat.
There are several spots where you can step off of the trail and meditate, journal, or just steep in the beauty of the place – ideal for a quick self-care break while traveling. There is a way to make a loop out of the trail by turning left up one of the trails, but most people will just walk out and back towards the car. If you do decide to try to make a loop of the trail, be sure to pin the location of your car in Google Maps so you don’t get lost.
19. Take a tour of the Wicklow Gaol and eat breakfast in their cafe
The Wicklow Gaol is a jail that has been in use since 1798, at times housing important rebels in Ireland’s struggle for independence. It remained in operation as a prison until 1924, after which time it was used for various purposes or temporarily abandoned until it opened as a museum in 1998.
Today, you can visit the Wicklow Gaol to see life-size replicas of prisoners and learn about the history of the prison through the years. There is also a cafe that serves full breakfasts with indoor and outdoor seating, perfect for a snack after visiting the museum.
After you see the Wicklow Gaol, grab a coffee from The Good Life Coffee Shop on South Quay and then walk over to Black Castle, a set of ruins that overlook the sea. Be sure to also swing by The Fish Man, a local fishmonger who is occasionally visited by Sammy the Seal, a local ocean-dwelling resident and small-time celebrity.
20. Drive across the Wicklow Gap
The Wicklow Gap is a paved road that travels between two mountains, offering a direct route through the Wicklow Mountains. The drive is beautiful, especially on a clear day when you can see a distance from your car. I love to listen to “No Shortcuts” by Heather Maloney while in the Wicklow Gap because the song compliments the contemplative and expansive energy of the place.
You’ll see Glenmacnass Waterfall while driving through the Gap, a stunning waterfall that cascades over rocks parallel to the road. Near the waterfall is Tonelagee, a small peak near Lough Ouler, a heart-shaped lake. You can hike to the top of Tonelagee and then around Lough Ouler in a few hours, both of which offer great views of the valley.
If you do decide to hike Tonelagee, note that the trail is poorly marked and there are several places where you’ll need to walk through heather bushes on your way to the peak. I suggest proceeding with caution and marking the spot where you park with a pin on Google Maps to be sure you can make your way back if you get lost.
21. Join a Galz Gone Wild event (women only)
Galz Gone Wild is a community of women dedicated to making the outdoors more accessible. They have a free monthly event called the “Rise and Salt” where a group of women get together to run into the sea, then sit for a cup of hot cocoa and connect.
There are also paid events like the Sunrise Sauna and Hikes, which features a guided hike, a session in a riverside sauna, and tea and coffee to warm up. For more experienced adventure-seekers there are trips to climb infamous peaks (or parts thereof) around the world, including Killmanjaro and Everest Base Camp.
22. Explore the Killruddery House
The Killruddery House is part working farm, part restaurant, part adventure park, and part gardens, among other things. It has been a filming location for many movies and TV series, including the Count of Monte Cristo, Angela’s Ashes, and Ella Enchanted.
Within the Killruddery House is the Killruddery Grain Store Restaurant, a beautifully decorated eatery with plants draped throughout the space and big windows to let in as much light as possible. The food is tasty, and they occasionally serve a very delicious homemade green juice – you can ask if it’s available if you don’t see it on the menu. If you’re not in the mood for a full lunch, it’s a gorgeous place to sit and enjoy a coffee and a pastry on a day when you’re able to get a table.
On Saturday mornings, there is a farmer’s market in the Killruddery House, open to the public. There is a vegetable stand, several gift stands, a variety of food vendors, and even a few food trucks. In addition to the farmer’s market, the Killruddery store is also open, selling plants, gifts, food items, and even dried flower arrangements.
For adventure seekers, Hell & Back is a company that operates near the Killruddery House and runs challenge and obstacle courses for children and adults. Check their website for event dates, registration, and more information.
23. Play at the Clara Lara Funpark (kids’ activity)
Located only a few minutes’ drive from Glendalough, the Clara Lara Funpark is a local favorite for children visiting Wicklow. The part features a variety of family friendly activities like canoeing, boating, a big water slide, and mini golf. There are small wooden huts to store your belongings during the day, and barbecues located throughout the park for a family cookout.
Be aware that the line to get into the park can sometimes be hours long, especially during weekends in the summer. If you’d like to visit the Clara Lara Funpark during the peak season, I’d recommend arriving as early as possible. The line of cars is always especially long when approaching from the north, so if you can take a longer route and approach from the south you’ll be able to save lots of time sitting in the car.
FAQs: Things To Do in County Wicklow, Ireland
Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about visiting the Garden of Ireland.
Do I need a car to explore Wicklow?
Yes, you’ll need a car to explore Wicklow, unless you’re only planning to go straight to Glendalough and then return to Dublin. Most of the attractions in Wicklow are very spread out, often they’re 20-40+ minutes apart by car. Unfortunately, the public transportation in this part of Ireland is very sparse, so it would be very challenging to try to explore Wicklow on foot or by bus.
How do I spend one day in Wicklow?
If you would like to spend one day in Wicklow, I would recommend that you have a quick breakfast and then head straight for Glendalough. Hike around the upper lake or a portion thereof, then wander around the monastic ruins at the site nearby. Stop for a pint or a snack at the Wicklow Heather before heading out of Glendalough.
Then, either make your way to Powerscourt Gardens or Victor’s Way, depending on the time of year and the age of your group members, as Victor’s Way is considered an adult activity. Finally, make your way to Bray and walk along the waterfront, watching the swimmers or sailors as you go. End the day with a delicious dinner at Daata or one of the other restaurants facing the sea.
Is County Wicklow worth visiting?
Wicklow is definitely worth visiting if you’re traveling to Ireland and want to hike or otherwise spend time in nature. The Garden of Ireland is green and lush, filled with small spots to explore and things to do. If you only have a day to spend in Wicklow, be sure that you make time to see the Upper Lake at Glendalough and the nearby monastic ruins.
Is the Town of Wicklow worth visiting?
It depends. If you only have a short visit planned to Wicklow, I would recommend that you skip a stop in Wicklow Town in favor of the other activities I outlined in the “one day in Wicklow” section. However, if you’re exploring the county for a few days, I’d definitely recommend making a stop in Wicklow to see the jail, explore the castle ruins, and wander through the town.
How far is Wicklow from Dublin?
Wicklow is the country that borders Dublin to the south, so parts of Wicklow are only a few minutes’ drive from Dublin county. That said, the center of Dublin is about an hour’s drive from most of the attractions in Wicklow. Note that even if the drive looks short on a map, many of the roads in Wicklow are rather rural and can take a long time to navigate.
Where to Stay in Wicklow
When you’re deciding where to stay in Wicklow, the only thing you really need to decide is if you’d like to stay near Glendalough or outside of Glendalough. For most itineraries, it doesn’t make a huge difference where you decide to stay, as you’ll need to drive around the country in order to see the major sites. However, for those tight on time, I’d recommend staying within about a 20 minute drive of Glendalough to be sure you have time to see the sites.
Related post: Where to Stay in Wicklow, Ireland
Lus Mor Wicklow Way is a hostel and B&B located in Roundwood, about a 24 minute drive from the Glendalough Upper Lake car park. From Lus Mor, you can easily access the Wicklow Way, a thru-hiking trail mentioned earlier in this post. Visitors usually rave about Lus Mor’s great breakfast offerings, sparkling clean rooms, and central location.
Note that there’s another hostel located in Glendalough, the Glendalough Youth Hostel, which is closer to the park but not as highly rated. The Glendalough Youth Hostel would be a great budget choice if you’re visiting without a car and hoping to complete the Spinc trail or otherwise hike in the Wicklow Mountains. There is also a kitchen in the Glendalough Youth Hostel, so you can cook your own meals to save some money while traveling.
The Wicklow Way Lodge is an ideal choice at a moderate price point. Located only 15 minutes from the Upper Lake car park, you can easily access Glendalough and many other attractions during your stay. Similar to the Lus Mor B&B, guests rave about the breakfast offerings, including a great vegetarian option.
If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, the Powerscourt Hotel, Autograph Collection in the town of Enniskerry is the perfect spot. The hotel is designed to be grand and inviting, with beautiful rooms that look out over the Wicklow Mountains. The Powerscourt Hotel is a 40 minute drive to the Upper Lake car park in Glendalough, but only a few minutes from other destinations like the town of Enniskerry, Bray, and, of course, the Powerscourt Gardens and Waterfall.