Thanks to the DART rail network, the coastline of Ireland is an easy trip away. In under an hour, all these places make a great day out from Dublin, to enjoy the rugged east coast of the Irish Sea. From rocky walks along the coast from Dun Laoghaire or Bray, to the grand stately home of Powerscourt, add some variety to your Dublin trip.
Powerscourt House & Gardens
In the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain, Powerscourt's immaculate gardens and estate are a picture-perfect retreat. The house was restored from the 1603 original, after a fire, which now has stylish shopping and cafes inside, plus Tara’s Palace, Museum of Childhood. But the real jewel are the grounds, especially the Italianate Garden commissioned by the sixth Viscount Powerscourt in the 1840s. Ornate mosaic terracing, sixth-century statues and dazzling green lawns bring your eye to the 1,644ft peak of Big Sugar Loaf, in the Wicklow Mountains.
Getting there: DART to Bray, then bus 185 to Enniskerry village; then 1.5 mile walk.
This busy seaside resort in Co Wicklow, 12 miles south of Dublin, is a popular day trip for locals. Rising steeply from the long sand-and-shingle beach, with a mile-long promenade and colony of mute swans, is Bray Head, almost 800 feet high. At the top are fabulous views of the town and the Irish Sea; it’s also where a huge concrete cross was built to honour the holy year in 1950. It’s easy to see why this is a popular base for walkers, dubbed the Gateway to Wicklow. Begin at the bandstand on Bray Promenade Head for the scenic Cliff Walk, an easy-going 5-mile walk into the village of Greystones, with astounding views of the East Coast.
Getting there: DART to Bray
Dun Laoghaire & Sandycove
The harbour was established in 1817, and until recently was the port of call for ferries to Holyhead in Wales. These days it’s a cruise port, and the perfect starting point for a walk to Sandycove and beyond. Get an insight into the town’s seafaring history at the National Maritime Museum, located in the Old Mariners Church, which was built as a place of worship for sailors returning from their journeys. Head to Teddy’s for an ice cream (opened since 1950) then head on the coastal walk a couple of miles south to Sandycove, a tiny cove of golden sand. The historic Forty Foot is famous as a historic ‘gentlemen’s bathing place’ but women are now welcome to have a chilly dip in the Atlantic from the diving platform. Look out for seals! You’re very close to the James Joyce Tower and Museum where the famous author wrote "Ulysses."
Getting there: DART to Dun Laoghaire or Sandycove
Picturesque Howth is loved for its coastal walks, plus a boat trip (weather permitting) to Ireland’s Eye. This tiny island is bird sanctuary—bring your binoculars!—plus a long sandy beach. Regular boats leave in summer months. Back on the mainland, take the steep walk uphill to St Mary’s Abbey, built in 1042 by King Sitric of Dublin, which has excellent views of the harbour. Overlooking the bay also is the strategically positioned sturdy Martello Tower, one of 34 along the coast to ward off Napoleonic invasions. It also houses the charming Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio.
Getting there: Regular DART from Dublin to Howth. Ferries from Howth harbour to Ireland’s Eye
This pretty seaside town lies 8 miles both of Dublin, a visit which will probably be centred around the castle. The 12th-century Malahide Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest, is set among 250 acres of parkland. There’s an interactive exhibition inside which tells the story of its descendents, and guided tours of the magnificent reception rooms. The ornamental gardens are filled with plant species gathered from around the world by Lord Milo Talbot—there are 500 in total, plus a Victorian walled rose garden. For those who want to get on the high seas, Fingal Sailing School on the marina, offers windsurfing, kayaking and sailing activities.