Why Ashford Castle is an Ireland Must
Ireland is a country full of castles, green hills, & cute country pubs ~ you’ll see plenty of all these things during any Ireland trip. But as far as grand castles go, Ashford Castle is hands-down one of my favorite anywhere. It’s 100% magical. Whatever your childhood dreams of climbing towers & turrets were like, chances are: Ashford will satisfy them. In this post, I’ll explain with words & photos why Ashford Castle is an Ireland must…
Once you enter the castle grounds, you’ll feel that you have “arrived.” Surrounded by 350 acres of woods, perhaps with a bit of afternoon mist settling on the tree tops as you wind up the elegant drive: you may feel as though you’ve been transported to an episode of “Downton Abbey.” Dark wood & a regal air greet you inside, along with a well-dressed valet. Wander the halls & discover the Billiards Room, or trod over to the Cigar Terrace. Have a spot of wine in the aptly-named Dungeon.
If you’re a lover of mysteries, history, or architecture, Ashford Castle will be love at first sight for you.
Ashford Castle Map
Ashford Castle lies in the town of Cong, on the west side of Ireland. From Dublin, it takes about three hours to cross the country on M-4/M-6. My friend & I took a more meandering route through southern Ireland, hitting Waterford first, then heading west to Killarney. After a few days, we headed north to the Cliffs of Moher, then stayed a few nights in Galway ~ a fantastic city. Then, from Galway to Ashford Castle is just a short 45-minute journey through stunning countryside.
Renting a car in Ireland is highly recommended.
Cliffs of Moher
Dublin International Airport
Activities at Ashford Castle
As soon as we arrived at the Castle, we were ready to get out and explore! The beautiful grounds were simply beckoning us outside. Likely, if you make it all the way to Ashford Castle, it probably means you’ve been sitting in the car for awhile, and are ready to give your legs a good stretch. Which is perfect, because there is no better place for a fantastic walk than the grounds of Ashford Castle.
While my friend checked out the Castle’s renowned School of Falconry, I decided to lace up my tennis shoes and go for a run. It was late November (around Thanksgiving time), and not raining: crisp and perfect weather for a run. Ashford Castle sits right on a lovely lake, and my run took me through the Estate Gardens then on to wooded paths surrounding the lake. The sun was near setting, and the reflections off the lake at that hour were stunning. Make sure to take a sunset stroll when visiting the Castle.
Aside from taking a walk or run through the grounds, other Ashford Castle activities include golf, tennis, viewing parties at the Cinema, wandering the Estate Gardens, fishing, learning about falconry (my friend did this & LOVED it), horseback riding, cycling, kayaking, clay shooting, archery, climbing trees, zip-lining, and cruising on the lake. And if you’re tired from the journey and just want to relax, there’s always The Spa, which was rated Ireland’s top-rated spa in 2016.
The tiny town of Cong is cute, but once you’re at the Castle, there are so many activities, it’s doubtful you’ll want to leave. And you certainly don’t need to. From reading a book in one of its many cozy, castle nooks to any of the activities listed above, the rest of the world simply seems to fade away while you’re at Ashford Castle…which is just fine.
Inside Ashford Castle…
Once you’ve done some exploring, you’ll probably be ready to head back to your room. And let me tell you: the rooms do not disappoint. Ours was a sumptuous white and cream, floral dream. For all the masculinity you’ll find downstairs, with rich, mahogany walls and strong wood accents, upstairs the feeling is decidedly more feminine. Plush bedding and fluffy towels, delicate chandeliers, brocade drapes and ornate wallpaper, cozy fireplaces and small, vintage touches placed throughout all lend to a graceful, elegant feeling. You will feel like royalty here.
Most rooms have views of the grounds from their stately windows, which adds to the expansive yet somehow cozy feel of the castle. Though the Castle is grand and luxurious, the designers have gone out of their way to make the rooms feel unimposing. For all their grandeur, the rooms at Ashford Castle are still warm and inviting, and perfect to curl up in.
One of my favorite things to do at the Castle, particularly in the wintertime, was to cozy up with a nice, Irish (or French) Coffee in one of their many bars downstairs. My personal favorite? The Drawing Room, with its large picture-windows overlooking Lough Corrib. This was the bar I gravitated to over and over again. It’s the perfect meeting place being close to the lobby, and makes for a great place to sit solo or with friends, as it’s more casual than the other restaurants in the Castle.
Are Pets Allowed?
Unbelievably, pets are allowed at Ashford Castle! Though I rarely travel internationally with my dog, if I lived in Ireland, I’d strongly consider bringing him here. The grounds alone are a dog’s absolute dream come true. It’ll set you back an extra 40 Euros per night to bring Fido along, but since the castle is already a splurge, it may just be worth it.
How Much Does Ashford Castle Cost?
Staying at the Castle costs a pretty penny ~ luxury like this doesn’t exactly come cheap. Check prices for your specific dates here. I’ve done some digging on pricing, & the cheapest I can find is around 250 Euros per night ~ then it goes up from there. Prices are higher in summer, lower during winter. When we stayed back in November 2014 (low season), we purchased our stay as part of a Groupon package. For $1,200 USD, we received 10 nights in Ireland, in a mix of castles and B&B’s, plus airfare from the U.S.
The receptionist at Ashford Castle said that the Groupon deal was the absolute cheapest way to stay at the Castle ~ so if you’re on a budget, check some deal sites before you book.
Other Lodging in Cong, Ireland
Because Ashford Castle only has 83 rooms, you may find that, unless you’re booking well in advance, the Castle is fully booked. But don’t worry! You have options. In the town of Cong, there are several places to stay, including some great B&B options. A few good options include The Lodge at Ashford Castle (not quite as opulent as the Castle itself, but you still have access to its amenities), Villa Pio Bed & Breakfast, and Hill View Farm Cong. All these options will be less expensive than the Castle itself, & you can still visit Ashford for meals & activities, if you choose.
Goodbye, Ashford Castle!
You’ll be thinking about Ashford Castle long after you leave…there’s something about it that stays with you. Rather like another Irish destination, the dreamy Cliffs of Moher. And both are the kind of places you may want to return one day…