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Want to snap photos of some of Ireland’s most beautiful landscapes for your Instagram feed (or anything else)? You have a wealth of options, with everything from castle parks and gorgeous gardens to national parks and beyond. Whether you’re on the search for that quintessential photo of the spectacular western coast, soaring mountains or lakes, these are the most Instagrammable parks and gardens you’ll find in the Emerald Isle.
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A popular day trip from Dublin, Glendalough is one of the most beautiful destinations in the country. Translating to “Valley of the Two Lakes,” it’s famous for its breathtaking views and ancient historic heritage. It’s home to a monastic settlement that was established in the 6th century, complete with a round tower, a favorite photo-op. The settlement was a thriving city during its time, complete with homes, a farm, cathedral and other buildings as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical centers. This is also a great place for hiking, with miles and miles of scenic trails bringing lake and mountain views. In autumn, you’ll get some outstanding shots of brilliant fall foliage too.
Located in County Galway’s northwest, Connemara National Park is a hiker’s paradise offering everything from short, scenic treks to challenging multi-day routes. Throughout the Connemara region are miles and miles of possible strolls, but right in the park, you can enjoy a quick walk on the Ellis Wood Nature Trail which begins near the Park Office. The half-mile trek will bring you to a cascading waterfall along with a variety of trees, plants and wildflowers in the summer. The Diamond Hill Loop Walk begins at the visitor center and covers a little over 4.3 miles – from the summit, you’ll be able to look out to Tully Mountain rising over Ballynakill Harbour, the Twelve Bens and even the turrets of Kylemore Abbey.
Just 40 minutes south of Dublin and you can be enjoying the magnificent scenery in Wicklow National Park that’s been featured in a number of films and TV series, including “P.S. I Love You” and the History Channel’s “Vikings.” Vikings fans will recognize Lough Tay, also known as Guinness Lake. The small white sandy beach, deep sapphire waters and soaring Luggala Mountains provide the perfect Scandinavian-like setting for scenes set onboard the Vikings’ longships and Kattegat village. More idyllic photo-ops can be found on the seven-mile round-trip hike from Lough Tay to Lough Dan, much of it following alongside a tranquil river.
Located in the gorgeous Wicklow Mountains is the majestic gardens and Palladian villa of Powerscourt. Built in the 18th-century across 47 acres, it boasts vibrantly lush parkland, walled enclosures, ponds, waterfalls, statuary and ornamental lakes, along with secret hollows that might make you think fairies are real. Cascading terraces and formal landscapes were planned with carefully designed paths framed by the dramatic beauty of the surrounding mountains. It’s worth stepping inside Powerscourt House too, with its range of craft and interior shops focused on Irish design, while the Avoca Terrace Café serves up Irish artisan home-cooked fare.
Burren National Park is renowned for its diversity of flora and fauna, featuring a microcosm of the country’s wildlife along with Arctic-alpine plants that thrive, even growing next to others that are typically found in the Mediterranean. From a distance, it may seem like a stark, barren place covered in pale grey stone laced with crags and crevices, but it’s really anything but with a number of species that are rare elsewhere in the world, yet abundant here, somehow surviving in a place that seems to be nearly entirely made up of rock. It’s also home to the Poulnabrone dolmen dating back to the Neolithic period, sometime between 4200 BC and 2900 BC.
Killarney National Park is absolutely enchanting, looking as if it comes straight from the pages of an Irish fairytale. It’s filled with waterfalls, countless sparkling lakes, towering mountains, forest and a castle. There are all sorts of outdoor adventures for enjoying it, from kayaking and mountain biking to hiking. The short trek to Torc Waterfall is a must. It spills 60 feet from the Torc Mountains via a river known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl. You’ll get to take advantage of many photo-ops by walking that route that begins and ends at Muckross House which includes several historic buildings and formal gardens too.
Phoenix Park is Europe’s largest city park and provides numerous photo-ops, not to mention being an ideal place for a walk, or exploring on two wheels. It’s home to a herd of wild red deer and the President’s residence where you can see a candle lit in a window that continues to burn as a reminder that those who have left the country are welcome home. It also houses the Dublin Zoo, lots of lush landscapes and world-famous Victorian Tea Rooms which serves specialty organic tea and coffee, lunch items and fresh-baked desserts.
Located in a picturesque valley, Gleninchaquin Park provides magnificent scenery with gorgeous landscapes that include gentle streams, log bridges, mountain paths with carved steps, glens and lakes. An ideal place for a hike, you can enjoy views that overlook green meadows and a stunning rock face waterfall, particularly impressive after recent rains. It provides a great day out for experienced hikers who can reach high elevations, although there are treks that feature gentler terrain. Picnic areas are available too.
The magnificent Bantry House and Garden overlook Bantry Bay on the Wild Atlantic Way. Open to the public since 1946, it’s the ancestral home of the Earls of Bantry and while the title lapsed in the late 19th-century, the house is still owned and lived in by the 1st Earl of Bantry’s direct descendants. It includes a spectacular tearoom and eclectic family treasures, including an important collection of artwork primarily collected by the 2nd Earl of Bantry. The original design of the garden also dates back to the 2nd Earl who transformed the house and garden into a “Palazzo” like those he had seen during his travels across the continent.
The second-largest national park in Ireland, Glenveagh is one of the best places for adventurous hiking. It is remote and stunningly beautiful, a wilderness area with pristine lakes, cascading falls, and rugged mountains, including the more than 2,400-foot-tall Mount Errigal, County Donegal’s tallest. It has topped the list for treks ranked by National Geographic, bringing fabulous views of the Derryveagh Mountains and northern Donegal while being dotted with vast moors and romantic castles.
For gorgeous garden photos, head to the National Botanic Gardens, just a couple of miles north-west of Dublin City in Glasnevin. Founded in 1795, the gardens hold over 15,000 plant species and cultivars from a variety of habitats that come from across the globe. They’re also famous for their exquisitely restored and planted glasshouses. Particularly notable are the Turner Curvilinear Range and the Great Palm House, both of which have been honored with the Europa Nostra award for excellence in conservation architecture. Among the highlights are a rose garden, pond area, rock garden, an arboretum and herbaceous borders.
While many visitors skip this park and head right to the Antrim Coast, they’re missing out. The nine Glens of Antrim are incredibly picturesque with waterfalls, forest trails, serene lakes and lush, rolling hills. Each of the Glens offers their own unique charms, with Glenariff, or “Queen of the Glens,” considered the most stunning of all. Its lush wild beauty with tumbling falls includes a trail that skirts a sheer plunging gorge in Glenariff Forest Park. You’ll have no shortage of postcard-perfect photo-ops here.
The Enniskillen area boasts one of Europe’s best show caves and the longest known cave system in Northern Ireland. This series of natural limestone caves, named after a natural limestone arch called Marble Arch, features a fascinating natural underworld of waterfalls, rivers, passageways and chambers, with remarkable formations, including stalactites and stalagmites, glistening all around. A tour starts with a short underground boat ride to a path that brings you on an easy stroll through the narrow passages, with a relatively short but steep climb up 160 steps toward the end.
Lough Key Forest Park is less than two hours from Galway city, making it an easily doable day trip while featuring one of Ireland’s most photogenic lakes. It also offers a tree canopy walk, allowing visitors to take in views of the treetops as well as stroll nature trails while enjoying scenic lake views. You can also get some great photos and a bird’s-eye view from an observation tower. For a perspective from the water, rent a watercraft to paddle around the lake or take a boat tour to capture sights that include Castle Island with its medieval castle ruins.
This incredible peace symbol is also the second-largest hedge maze in the world. It was designed to commemorate the peace and reconciliation efforts of Northern Ireland over the past century. Made up of 6,000 yew trees, many were planted by residents from across Northern Ireland in December of 2000. The hedge covers 2.7 acres and is over two miles in length.