One of the many reasons people visit Ireland, is to see its castles. There are hundreds, ranging from fascinating ruins to magnificent palaces that have been transformed into luxurious hotels, and everything in between.
If you'd like to fulfill your dream of staying in one, the good news is that you'll find something for nearly every budget. These castles in particular provide some of the best experiences of all, whether you're looking to be treated like royalty, enjoy a more laid-back experience, or, hope to glimpse a bit of the paranormal.
Dromoland Castle Hotel, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare
Known as the “hotel of dreams,” Dromoland, pictured above, dates back to the 5th century, but opened its doors as a hotel in 1963. The castle is the ancestral home of one of the few families of true Irish royalty, direct descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland from 1002 to 1014, and it remained in ancestral ownership of the King until 1962, when American industrialist, Mr. Bernard McDonough, purchased the estate and began renovations.
Today, it offers luxurious accommodations that are popular with honeymooners and others seeking a very upscale experience. The façade and towers, added in the 1830s, are reminiscent of knights and dragoons, while rooms feature lavish touches throughout. There are a variety of onsite dining options, as well as a golf course, spa, award-winning falconry school and activities like horse riding, fishing, clay shooting and archery.
Abbeyglen Castle Hotel, Clifden, County Galway
While Dromoland is truly unforgettable, my favorite overnight stay in a castle thus far, is Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. Significantly more budget-friendly, it's also more intimate, laid-back, and is renowned for its entertaining, friendly staff. Your stay begins with a hosted champagne reception that includes a fun history lesson on the castle. Abbeyglen also boasts a gorgeous mountain backdrop and beautiful rooms, including some that have four-poster beds, fireplaces and Jacuzzis. An award-winning restaurant onsite serves mouth-watering local seafood and Connemara lamb, while the piano bar offers a music-filled night afterward.
Ross Castle, County Meath
Ross Castle offers a very authentic medieval castle experience - just be aware that this is not the same castle that's in County Killarney, far from it. This one sits on the shores of Lough Sheelin in County Meath, about 60 miles northwest of Dublin. A stay in one of the tower rooms of this castle built in 1563 is sure to be something you'll never forget, though it may not be ideal for doing much sleeping. It's been ranked on Lonely Planet's Top 10 list of the world's "lesser-known haunted places," and guests have been known to hear voices when everyone seems to be asleep, or the sound of doors shutting on their own. Some have even felt the presence of a spirit at the edge of their bed while trying to get some shuteye.
I stayed here, alone, in the top tower room just a few years ago. Let's just say I did not sleep well that night, but it was certainly something I'll never forget, and don't regret doing for one minute. It is not a luxury experience, in fact, there were more than a few cobwebs and it could have used a good dusting, however, there are new hosts running the castle today, and it's said have been spruced up quite a bit since. The bottom line is that if you want authentic, you've got it here.