If your time in Ireland is limited, it’s well worth considering a stay in Dublin, followed by a few days high up in the fresh air and magnificent scenery of the Wicklow Mountains. So close to the capital that they’re often called the Dublin Mountains – by Dubliners, at any rate – they rise only to 924m at their highest point, Lugnaquillia, but form the largest area of continuous upland in Ireland. This granite mass is wild, desolate and sparsely populated at its centre, and, despite the influx of outdoorsy city-dwellers at weekends, never feels crowded. The range has been heavily glaciated to form attractive valleys, lakes and corries, while an extensive covering of peat supports purple heather and yellow gorse in abundance. To protect this huge natural playground on Dublin’s doorstep, part of the massif has been designated as a national park, and walkers are signposted onto the Wicklow Way, a managed, long-distance trail that bisects the mountains from north to south. Wicklow Tourism also produces a useful booklet, The Wicklow Walking Guide (available in tourist offices), which covers all manner of hiking across the county, with route maps and descriptions.
Public transport with Dublin Bus will get you to Powerscourt’s beautiful gardens and the neighbouring village of Enniskerry, and to the fine stately home of Russborough House on the western side of the mountains. Further south, the dramatic monastic site of Glendalough and its service town Laragh, along with the lofty village of Roundwood, are all accessible from Dublin on the St Kevin’s Bus service and make good bases from which to explore the mountains. The nearest village to the former home and estate of Charles Stewart Parnell, Avondale House, Rathdrum also has a station on the Dublin–Wexford rail line and a minibus service to Glendalough and quiet, picturesque Glenmalure.