Home to one of the country’s most popular historic sites, a 6th-century monastic complex, Glendalough, or ‘the valley of the lakes’, is set in an idyllic location between two lakes. An hour south of Dublin, Glendalough makes a popular day trip, as well as a common stop-off for hikers attempting the famous Wicklow Way, which runs through the valley.
The monastery was founded by the hermit monk St Kevin around 618AD and by the 9th century was among the leading monastic cities of Ireland, up until its destruction by the English in 1398. The ruins remain impressive today, with a collection of ancient churches, burial sites and monastic buildings sprawled around the Upper and Lower lakes. Most famous is the 112-foot-tall round tower, measuring 52 feet in circumference and featuring a conical roof, rebuilt with its original stones in the late 19th century. Other key sights include a 10th-century cathedral, the largest building on the plot, home to granite ‘St Kevin’s Cross’; St Kevin’s church with its conical capped belfry and a monumental gateway, unique in Ireland with its two-storied granite arches.
A huge part of Glendalough’s appeal lies in its spectacular surroundings, with the two lakes encircled with woodlands, verdant pastures and the hilltops of the nearby Wicklow Mountains National Park. Make the most of a visit by hiking around the lakes and following the marked trails between the ruins, then head to the Glendalough Visitor center, where a video and exhibition details facts and background information on the monuments.