Just south of the busy capital of Dublin, a hilly wonderland awaits. County Wicklow is known locally by several names, most notably, “The Garden of Ireland.” After spending a day on the roads and trails of this beautiful county, I find the nickname quite fitting—and I want to go back for more!
While I think anyone would agree that these picturesque mountains, high bogs, and historic villages would be best explored with a personal car and a few days of hiking, sometimes we have to look to group day tours when time and budget constraints keep us from the luxury exploring experience. Not that I ever stretch for the luxury option, anyway.
Recently, I was invited along on one of the most popular Wicklow day trips from Dublin: Wild Wicklow Tours. Looking at the trip itinerary and the price before the trip, it looked like a great day out and a great value. If the county lived up to its stellar reputation and this day trip was as fun as the reviews promised, I knew it would be a winner.
The tour, like most day tours from Dublin, picks up at various hotels and bus stops in and around City Centre. Again, like other tours, guests are treated to a pint-sized, entertaining Dublin tour as the coach navigates between pickup points and out of town.
The first stop was at Sandycove, just south of Dun Laoghaire, for a stretch and some photos of the rocky shoreline and the occasional swimmer in the cold waters of Dublin Bay.
From Sandycove, we followed the coast through some of Dublin’s swankiest neighborhoods, where Ireland’s rich and famous keep homes in Killiney and Dalkey. From there, we turned inland into the Wicklow Mountains proper for the real meat of the tour.
The next stop was a coffee break (not included in the tour price) at Avoca Handweavers—which also keeps a swanky shop on Suffolk Street in City Centre—cafe and market before heading towards the famous Sally Gap high mountain pass.
On our way to the pass, we stopped at a viewpoint of the Powerscourt Waterfall, an extended part of the Gardens of Powerscourt estate (not included on this tour). This is the highest waterfall in Ireland, and has long been a popular stop for Wicklow tourists.
Farther along, we passed the stunning viewpoint of Lough Tay (not to be confused with Loch Tay in Scotland), also known as “Guinness Lake.” Looking at the panoramic photo, the comparison is easy to see. Note the sandy beach giving this black lake a foamy white cap—just like a pint o’ porter.
On the highest peaks, we entered the upper boglands. These high-altitude wetlands define much of the landscape of these beautiful hills. Being March, the wild heather was dry and brown, but will be transformed into a sheet of brilliant purple come summertime.Small rivers and streams flow swiftly through these saturated hilltop bogs, including the earliest stretch of the River Liffey. The tidal, Dublin-defining monster is but a trickle up here near its source.
Another of these small rivers flows under a stone bridge made famous in the tear-jerking film P.S. I Love You. C’mon, you’ve seen it. Admit it!
The trip makes a lunch stop (also not included in the tour price) in one of Central Wicklow’s small villages before moving on to what is almost surely the real star of Wicklow, Glendalough.
This quiet, scenic valley is home to two lakes (from which it gets its name, translated as Valley of Two Lakes) and a world-famous ancient monks’ village. Any trip into the Wicklows should include a stop in Glendalough, and on the Sunday we visited (which happened to be Irish Mother’s Day), the ancient village and surrounding mountain trails were full of local families mixing with international tourists—all enjoying a perfect day out in one of Ireland’s most beautiful places.
With Wild Wicklow Tours, the driver and guide leads the guests through the sixth-century monastic settlement, beginning with the entrance archway and moving on to the most prominent feature of the site, the Celtic round tower.
After the brief tour of the monks’ settlement ruins, guests have the option to walk a pleasant twenty-minute trail from the village to the lakes. The well-maintained trails follow the banks of the lower lake at the bottom of the steep, forested hillsides surrounding this glacial valley, offering stunning views of the valley, the lakes, and the trees.
Before the walk, we were advised that, “Glendalough’s Upper Lake is probably the most-photographed place in Ireland. When we arrived at the lakeshore, we understood why.
Following a jaw-dropping look at the Upper Lake and the distant hills, it was time to finish the great day out. Back on the bus, we all enjoyed a toast to the trip with a free sample of Jameson whiskey. After a hearty slainte! we settled in for the (still scenic) drive back to Dublin.
We had a great time with Wild Wicklow Tours. I felt the trip was time-efficient and well-paced, an all-important consideration when looking at a day tour. The tour didn’t leave Dublin excessively early nor did it return too late to enjoy an evening in the city. We were never in the coach too long between the various photo stops.
Our driver and guide was a treat. As I’ve said before, the sights in County Wicklow—particularly Glendalough—really speak for themselves, so a tour guide can only aim to add some entertaining interpretation and context, which I felt our guide did very well.
I suspected the Wild Wicklow Tour would be a memorable day and a good value before we left, and my experience on the trip confirmed my suspicions. If an extended hiking or car trip through Ireland’s Garden isn’t in the cards, consider this day trip a great way to see some of the highlights for a good price.
Nuts and Bolts
- Tours operate daily, but advance booking is required to reserve a seat. Especially during peak season, make reservations as early as possible.
- Included in the price of the tour is the coach transport with commentary, a guided tour of the Glendalough monastic settlement (skipping the visitor center), and a serving of Jameson whiskey—a generous 20 mL for those keeping track at home.
- Not included in the price of the tour is the morning coffee and souvenir stop at Avoca and the pub lunch stop in the village. Make sure to have sufficient money on hand.
See my full disclosure for more about invited reviews.