Discover the Gardens of Ireland's Ancient East

Whether they be grand and formal or quirky and unusual; bursting with riotous colour or quietly contemplative; the gardens of Ireland’s Ancient East are a joy to behold in spring, full of surprises around every corner...

Explore these superb outdoor spaces as you discover the sprawling natural assets of vast estates and admire lush Asian-inspired gems. And each garden has its own unique features to enjoy: when your plan your visit, be sure to leave time to relax and fully embrace the experience. Many gardens also surround great houses, giving you the opportunity to do some touring indoors – and learn about the previous owners who had a hand in bringing all this splendour to life.

Having been inspired by the scenery, visit an on-site garden centre to help create your own outdoor masterpiece, or check out a gift shop to browse and buy to your heart's content – and nothing tops off a few hours of fresh air like a trip to the tearooms for freshly baked scones and homemade jam.

Feast your eyes on the verdant vistas, listen to the birdsong, breathe in the scented breezes and feel the sun on your face... a treat for the senses awaits!

A fountain in front of Huntington Castle
The treehouse at Birr Castle
Left: A fountain in front of Huntington Castle | Right: The treehouse at Birr Castle

1. Huntington Castle and Gardens

Be transported back to 1625 with a trip to Huntington Castle and Gardens in County Carlow. The historic garrison not only offers stunning gardens with unique strolls along the Yew Tree Walk or the Lime Tree Avenue but also galleries full of art and notable architecture (a tour of the castle is recommended, and includes a visit to the Egyptian Temple of the Goddess Isis in the basement!). While exploring the grounds of the castle why not take time out to pet some lambs or admire the peacocks at the castle's farm, then enjoy a restorative cuppa in the lovely tearooms. Don't forget to pick up some local crafts or homemade jams from the gift shop as mementos of your day or even better – stay the night in their B&B or self-catering accommodation to really get the full Huntington Castle experience.

2. Birr Castle

County Offaly offers a garden to remember in the form of the grounds at Birr Castle. Famous for its Great Telescope (the Leviathan) and interactive Science Centre, the castle also has an interesting history dating from medieval times, and much of it is reflected in the gardens. With rare plants from all over the world collected by the Earls of Rosse on their travels, the gardens – spread over 50 hectares – are a haven for all nature lovers. With formal gardens, terraces and walks by lakes and rivers, the grounds offer something new at every turn. Take the children along and let them play in Ireland's biggest treehouse, or learn about how the best mechanical, mathematical and creative minds from across the globe once flocked to Birr when it was the place to be (if you were a mad scientist, engineer or astronomer).

The Italian Gardens at Powerscourt
Walking through the blooms at Mount Congreve Gardens
Left: The Italian Garden at Powerscourt | Right: Walking through the blooms at Mount Congreve Gardens

3. Mount Congreve Estate Gardens

While in County Waterford exploring the Waterford Greenway (only a stone's throw away), why not take some time out to see one of Ireland's best gardens; Mount Congreve Gardens. Crafted with passion by Ambrose Congreve and inspired by the stunning Exbury Gardens of Lionel de Rothschild, the gardens have treelined paths weaving through the 100-acre demesne. In springtime they are alive with colour from one of the largest collections of rhododendrons – and whatever the time of year, you can admire the pretty Japanese pagodas and breathtaking views over the river. Don't forget to call into their Garden Shop and get all you need to create your own dream garden, then design it over a hot drink in The Dairy Café as you sit for a spell.

4. Powerscourt Estate and Gardens

Stand awestruck and take in the beauty of County Wicklow and the Great Sugar Loaf mountain from the upper stone terrace at the Powerscourt Estate. Designed by the architect Daniel Robertson, the exquisite green terraces cascade down to lily-pad dotted Triton Lake, flanked by an impressive life-sized pair of winged horses. What lies beneath your feet is an estate with a dazzling variety of experiences, from a Japanese garden to an intriguing cemetery for dearly departed family pets. Climb the Pepperpot Tower, stroll through the Italian garden, enjoy the vista before you with tea and cake in the house's Avoca Terrace Café – and don't miss a chance to pick up some gifts upstairs at the Design Loft. Keep a look out on their website for kids' activities throughout the year, and whenever you visit you can also check out the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall. It's no surprise that National Geographic named this as one of the top three gardens in the world – enjoy a sneak peek at its delights here.

The Japanese Gardens at the National Stud in Kildare
The gardens at Emo Court
Left: The Japanese Gardens at the National Stud in Kildare | Right: The gardens at Emo Court

5. The Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens

Ireland’s equestrian country plays host to the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens with its exotic outdoor spaces that transport you to a place of calm and serenity. These County Kildare gardens were devised by the Stud's eccentric founder Colonel William Walker and laid out by Japanese master horticulturalist Tassa Eida and his son, Minoru. Featuring bridges, a teahouse, rocks, water, stone lanterns and bonsai they are custom-made for meditation, renowned as being some of the finest of their kind in Europe. Also within the Irish National Stud itself (where you can learn about the area's horsey history with a visit to the Horse Museum), St Fiachra’s Garden offers outdoor contemplation of a different kind – here, natural beauty is set around replica monastic cells.

6. Emo Court

The vast neoclassical Emo Court in County Laois was designed by acclaimed architect James Gandon and is filled with fascinating history, not least of all the tale of its creation – while construction commenced in the 1790s, it was not completed until the 1860s. But much of the house and garden’s current appearance is down to Major Cholmeley Harrison, who bought the property on a whim in 1969 having seen it advertised in a newspaper. The gardens surrounding the house were first laid out in the 18th century: take in the formal lawns, a lake, majestic sequoias and rare flora framed by woodland walks with the handsome peaks of the Slieve Blooms in the distance. While you wander, keep an eye out for the red squirrels hiding in the trees – though they're rarely seen in Ireland as a rule, this area is a particular haven for these adorable tufted-eared creatures. When you've worked up an appetite, refresh yourself with a drink or snack at the Emo tearooms.

More To Explore In The Great Outdoors

And that’s just a sampling of the ways to get out and about in Ireland’s Ancient East!

For more attractions and activities
 check out the See & Do section