It may be Ireland’s second smallest county, but what Carlow lacks in size it more than makes up for in character. The county is small enough to explore over the course of two days with several popular trails waiting for visitors, including the South Carlow Adventure Trail, the Carlow Garden Trail, the Carlow Food Trail and the Mount Leinster Heritage Drive. With the Blackstair Mountains and River Barrow providing ample activities to enjoy in Carlow, if you’re a first-time visitor to the county, you’ll wonder why it took so long. Here’s your 48-hour guide to getting the most from the Dolmen County.
A Guide to Carlow
Day One Exploring Carlow
Begin your first day in Carlow by exploring the scenic Blackstairs Mountains, which separate Carlow and Wexford. The mountains have a number of walking routes to enjoy, with something for all abilities, but do make sure to have appropriate footwear. If you’re feeling active, make your way to the top of Mount Leinster and enjoy amazing panoramic views over both Carlow and Wexford. You can venture into Wexford by enjoying the picturesque Mount Leinster and Black Rock Mountain Loop, an 11.5km walk that will last anything from four to six hours.
Drive the Mount Leinster Heritage Drive
Once you’ve explored the beauty of Mount Leinster and the Blackstair Mountains, hop in the car and drive the 75km Mount Leinster Heritage Drive. As you leave Mount Leinster head west and make the Georgian village of Borris your first stop. While in Borris, take the time to visit the wonderfully charming Borris House. The ancestral home of the McMorrough Kavanagh’s, the ancient High Kings of Leinster, Borris House has been a significant building for Carlow, and indeed this part of South Leinster for some 600 years. Enjoy a tour of the house and stroll around the gardens to get a taste of some 600 years of Carlow history.
Stop in for some food at Clashganny House Restaurant before heading up the River Barrow towards Bagnelstown. If you’re still looking for somewhere to explore on foot, take a leisurely stroll along the banks of the River Barrow, where you can also try your hand at some angling, which is popular in the area.
As you head north towards Bagenalstown, be sure to visit the ruins of the 14th-Century Ballymoon Castle, which lies just outside the town. Bagnelstown Courthouse looks great lit up at night, while the town’s train station is considered one of the finest in the country. The Rudkins Mills on the town’s Quays is another popular destination, and while it is mainly in ruins today, it gives another insight into some of the grand buildings that Carlow had in days gone by.
Onwards to Carlow Town
From Bagenalstown, make your way to Carlow Town and call it a night. This historic town was once the capital of Ireland, and visitors today can look forward to discovering hundreds of years of history of this region when visiting the town. On your way to Carlow Town be sure to visit the quaint village of Leighlinbridge, home to the 12th-Century Norman Leighlinbridge Castle (also known as the Black Castle). Located along the banks of the River Barrow, this is a great place for a picnic as you prepare to stop in Carlow Town for the night.
Day Two – Begin with the Carlow Town Walk
The best way to explore Carlow Town is on foot, so leave the car and enjoy the popular Carlow Town Walk. The walk takes you face to face with many famous sites and monuments in the town including The Liberty Tree, Carlow Castle, Carlow County Museum and St Mary’s Church of Ireland. Get familiar with stories of the people of Carlow dating back hundreds of years. Take a stroll along the banks of the River Barrow before continuing on your journey around the county exploring some of the stunning gardens and stately homes that make up the Carlow Garden Trail.
As you depart Carlow Town to explore the county’s many garden areas, make a quick stop at the famous megalithic site of Brownshill Dolmen. This prehistoric tomb is a short drive from Carlow Town and the largest tomb of its kind in Europe. A tribute to some of Ireland’s first farming communities, the tomb is thought to date back some 5,000 years and is one of the oldest sites along the popular Ireland’s Ancient East trail.
Next Stop, Duckett’s Grove
From Carlow Town head east to Killerig and one of Carlow’s most iconic attractions, the spectacular Duckett’s Grove. This historic building was owned by the Duckett family since and has dominated the Carlow landscape for over 300 years. While some of the grounds today lie in ruins, the surviving towers and turrets that shape the grounds and the impressive Walled Gardens will provide plenty of opportunity for some memorable photos. Enjoy a walk around the grounds of Duckett’s Grove and take the time to marvel in a true landmark of Carlow history. Duckett’s Grove is open all year and is free to enter.
Marvel at the Beauty of Carlow’s Gardens
With over 20 gardens making up the Carlow Garden Trail, there’s plenty of beautiful scenery to explore as you travel from town to town. The Carlow Garden Trail includes a wonderful selection of historic gardens that have been lovingly restored and maintained throughout the years and newer, smaller gardens which have been beautifully maturing in more recent times. This trail and these picturesque gardens are the main reasons holidaymakers travel to Carlow throughout the year.
Head south from Duckett’s Grove towards the town of Tullow and the stunning Altamont Gardens, one of Carlow’s and indeed Ireland’s finest garden estates. Open all year (except for Christmas Day), Altamont Gardens have over 40 acres of dazzling gardens and wonderful riverside walks to be explored. While in Tullow, make time to visit a garden with a difference, the Chocolate Garden, Ireland’s only chocolate and ice cream factory. Get your sugar kick for the afternoon with the amazing award-winning chocolates, and enjoy a tour of the factory or a chocolate-making workshop.
From Tullow make your way towards the town of Clonegal on the border of Wexford and make Huntington Castle & Gardens your next destination. You can enjoy a guided tour of the house (which is still lived in by descendants of the original builders) or stroll through the wonderfully maintained gardens to get an appreciation for a building that has been prominent to Carlow for hundreds of years. If you’re travelling with kids, the castle grounds also have a kids playground to help keep the little ones occupied.
Finish Your Trip With a Tipple
Walking around the many stunning gardens that Carlow has on offer can be tiring work. Leave Huntington Castle and make your way across Carlow to Muinebheag and make the Carlow Brewing Company your last stop (it’s also known as O’Hara’s). Enjoy a tour of the brewery to find out more about this popular beer, and watch as the master brewers make some of Ireland’s most popular craft beers. Be sure to take a batch with you to enjoy back at your hotel or at home. Whiskey fans be sure to check out the popular Walsh’s Whiskey Tour which is just a short walk from O’Hara’s.
Head back to Carlow Town and call it a night with a meal and drink in one of the town’s pubs or restaurants. Among the most popular are Dinn Ri (recently named in our list of 17 great Irish beer gardens), Reddys, Ewing’s, Teach Dolman and Mimosa.
Plan Your Carlow Adventure Today
With a variety of ancient historic sites, picturesque gardens, scenic walks and activities to enjoy, Carlow really is a destination everyone should visit at least once in their life. Plan your break to Carlow today by checking out the latest Carlow hotel deals.
For more things to do in Carlow visit Carlow Tourism.
Images via Carlow Tourism