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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 29 January, 2020
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How to do Glendalough like a pro - including the handiest free parking spot to leave the car

Denis O’Reilly of Wild Wicklow Tours shares his secrets for a hassle-free day at the lakes.

Signs marking the route to the upper lake.
Signs marking the route to the upper lake.

GLENDALOUGH IS ONE of Ireland’s most popular free attractions, with hundreds of thousands heading every year to the idyllic spot in the Wicklow Mountains, which is known for its history and its scenery. 

But how do you get the most out of a day trip to the ‘valley of the two lakes’? We asked Denis O’Reilly of Wild Wicklow Tours, who has been bringing visitors to the area for more than 20 years.

When’s the best time to go?

Glendalough is only a short drive from Dublin but it can be a busy spot, especially on sunny days and during the summer months. O’Reilly explains:

If you’re going in the car, I’d definitely recommend you head out early so you can start your day without too much hassle. If it’s a beautiful sunny Sunday, the car parks will get full by lunchtime and traffic backs up.

Pro tip: Consider going on duller days or during the off-season when the area will be a bit quieter. “Even if it’s misty or drizzly, it’s still fabulous,” O’Reilly adds. “There’s no weather that will stop you enjoying Glendalough if you’ve got the right gear on.”  

8156135749_d8da6b033a_k A misty day at Glendalough. Source: Flickr/livilou

Where should I park up?

There are two main car parks – one at the upper lake, which costs €4 for the day, and one at the visitor centre, which costs €4 a day at weekends and during the summer months, but is free at other times of the year or if you purchase a ticket to the visitor centre.

If you’re building Glendalough into a multi-day trip and want to leave the car behind for the afternoon, St Kevin’s Glendalough bus runs several times a day from Dublin and Bray, with tickets costing €7 for children and €13 for adults.

Pro tip: The upper lake car park might seem like the obvious choice for walkers, but the visitor centre parking is only 2km walk from the upper lake anyway, and you’ll be closer to the monastery for sightseeing.

What sights and photo opps should I check off my list?

Glendalough is probably most famous for its monastic settlement, with remains dating from the 10th-12th centuries, including the roundtower, the cathedral, and St. Kevin’s church. “If you only have a short time there, most definitely make some time for the ruins. They’re amazing,” O’Reilly says.

If you have more time to explore, head to Glendalough’s upper lake to take in the scenery, see some local wildlife and get the perfect photograph.

Pro tip: Walk the full loop around the lower lake, from the monastery to the upper lake or vice-versa. “It’s essential that you see the lakes and valley,” O’Reilly says. “It takes about 20 to 30 minutes on either the forest trail or the boardwalk, so it’s manageable for little ones or buggies. You can easily do the full loop in an hour.”

13723021364_3ccbb7af08_k The roundtower viewed from the river bed. Source: Flickr/davida3

And where’s the best spot for a sandwich?

For those who have worked up an appetite, there’s a restaurant at the Glendalough Hotel just beside the monastic settlement. O’Reilly also suggests a few options in the nearby village of Laragh:

The Glendalough Green, run by Clodagh [Duff], is lovely little deli with the best coffee in the area. And Lynham’s of Laragh do a great carvery, soup, sandwiches and stew. Plus they have an outdoor space where you can look out over the river.

Pro tip: Plan ahead and bring your own lunch. “The best trick is to bring a picnic and enjoy the national park,” O’Reilly adds. “At the upper lake there’s grass areas with picnic tables. There’s toilets there and at the visitor centre too – you’re never stuck.” 

54524702_1904279026343259_8000199508828880896_n A cup of tea before hitting the hills. Source: Facebook/Glendalough Green

How can I escape the crowds?

If you’re looking to get away from the crowds at the roundtower, go explore the area. There are nine waymarked trails in Glendalough, each posted with colour-coded arrows, which range from a half-hour stroll to a four-hour hillwalk.

Pro tip: Take one of the hiking routes up the Spinc, which go by the Poulanass waterfall and up the Wicklow mountains. “It’s a fabulous walk, probably suitable for kids from around 10 years old, and the views from the top are spectacular,” O’Reilly says.

And what’s one hidden gem the tourists don’t know about?

If you’ve already seen the monastery and the valley, walk in the other direction towards the miners’ village. Mining and processing of minerals such as lead, zinc and silver took place in Glendalough from 1800 to 1963, and visitors can now see the remains of old workers’ cottages and mining equipment.

Pro Tip: ”Walking along the side of the upper lake to the miners’ village, you’ll spot St. Kevin’s bed – the cave he is said to have lived in,” says O’Reilly. “That’s a little gem.”

More: ‘Hidden away between steep cliffs’ – 10 secret beaches around Ireland, from people in the know>

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Sarah Harford

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