Touring the Blarney Castle Ireland might seem a bit cliche - but it is charming and at the top of many must-see lists for a reason! Explore the gardens, wander the house, and maybe even lean back to kiss the famous stone in Cork County!
The first thing many people think of when exploring Ireland's countryside, for better or worse, is Blarney Castle.
The Blarney Stone is a famous legend (and pulls an intense crowd, especially in summer) as well as lot of rumors of untoward things happening on the stone at night (I don't think it's true, for the record - the castle grounds are heavily guarded and run by a private family.
While the whole Kissing the Stone nonsense gets most of the attention (sure, it's a good spot of fun but in my opinion quite overblown), Blarney is still a great visit full of gorgeous nooks and crannies to explore and most certainly worth a morning or afternoon to wander through. It's a great fit for groups with varied ages as well - both my parents, my husband and I, my cousin, and my kids loved exploring Blarney.
When you arrive at Blarney, you'll note the large amount of tour busses in summer seasons. The grounds are intensely crowded at times during peak summer travel months - but are quite manageable with a few tips.
First off, be sure to buy any tickets you will want to use in advance as you walk in. Visitors must pay to visit (our children were free, hooray!), and a short tour of the Blarney House is a separate price.
It would be a huge hassle to have to walk back to the entrance to buy a ticket to visit the house after already touring the Blarney grounds, so be sure to purchase when you enter if you think you will want to tour the house (note: children and photos are not allowed inside the Blarney Home.)
Secondly, you'll want to pay close attention to the tour busses if you're not on one. If the groups aren't yet at the castle and the line is short (or non-existent), book it over to the castle and see it without a crushing line. We waited in an astoundingly long line (hit the castle early in the morning or later at night to avoid crushes around lunchtime), but if we had toured the grounds first and done the castle later, we would have had a much shorter line and more room to explore the castle ruins.
I didn't kiss the stone on this visit (I had previously in 1999 when touring Ireland with some friends in high school), but my dad and my cousin did. Anyone who knows me could telly you the "gift of the gab" is not something I need help with - and my kids wanted to kiss the stone, but were too little, so we thought that we'd kiss a "side stone" to sort of assuage their pleas.
If you are going to plant a smooch, be warned - you get down onto your butt, lean back over a hole in the tower (there is a worker who helps to position you), and kiss the stone which sits slightly outside the tower. It's not an easy position to get into, and a bit freaky with the big drop underneath, but pretty simple and quick. They will also have a printed photo, Disneyland style, for purchase if interested after you kiss the stone and head back out of the castle.
After the castle comes the real fun (and often overlooked) side of Blarney- the grounds. My kids especially loved exploring the grounds - especially the fairy garden, and the tall hedges around the Blarney House.
Right away when you walk in (as of summer, 2016), you're greeted with cheery "yarn-bombed" trees. We loved the bright designs on these trees so much!
There is a poison garden, full of plants that are all lethal to consume (placards offer some history of the plants in the area as well as info on each plant) which is well work a walk-through, a small unmarked "fairy" garden which was a wonderful place to sit and look for fairies for the kids.
There are waterfalls, a peaceful river, stately gardens that are pristinely landscaped, and lots of fun trees perfect for climbing. It is a gorgeous place to visit, sit, walk through, and play in - and while the castle draws most visitors, there are tons of places on the grounds you can explore entirely by yourself even in peak travel times as everyone waits to kiss the stone.
The other ticketed option on the Blarney grounds, Blarney House, is a beautiful stately home with a fabulous history. Photographs (and children!) aren't allowed inside the home since it is a full time residence with lots of fragile antiques, so I don't have any snaps to share, but it was a quick tour that my husband, cousin and I all enjoyed. It is particularly interesting if you're a fan of shows like Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey to see an estate that is still privately owned and inhabited (though we really, really wished we could have toured the kitchen or more of the other areas and not just the bedrooms and living rooms the family currently use and still live in full-time.) It was fascinating to see some of the heirlooms the family has held on to- like the rent table (a table farmers and estate renters would come to physically deposit their rent into), gorgeous works of art, and unique woodwork.
From Blarney House, my husband, cousin, and I met back up with our kids and my parents (who skipped the house tour to watch the kids since they couldn't go on the tour of the house) at the small cafe for lunch and tea. The cafe sits in the stableyard, and has some lovely small tables outside where you can enjoy the sun (if you're lucky enough to spot some!), pretty flowers, and watch tours stroll past. I didn't see many tour groups go through the cafe area since they spent most of their time in line to kiss the stone and were on a quick turnaround for the bus - score another one for us for renting a car!
The cafe is tiny, with cafeteria style trays and quick service- but the food was pretty solid, a decent price, and offered a nice place to relax in the courtyard before we headed out of Blarney for the rest of our trip around County Cork.
Blarney Castle- Where to Stay, What to See, What to Do
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Where to Stay
Cork is only about a 15 minute drive from Blarney, so staying in the city center is a very easy option. There are also tons of gorgeous country cottages you can rent.
I recommend the River Lee Hotel in Cork.
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What to Do
Explore castle grounds, kiss the Blarney stone, wander the fairy garden, stop for tea at the cafe.
What to Eat
-Blarney Castle Cafe. Must order: beef and guinness stew, gelato, fresh pastries, tea.
In Blarney, you eat Guinness beef stew and crisps of the same flavor, as one does. #sweetcs #Ireland #tourism #travelblogger #travel #travelblog #wanderlust #cork #blarney #blarneycastle #instagood #visitireland @discoverireland #failte #?? #beefstew #food #foodblogger #foodgram #foodblog #foodphotography #foodporn #foodtrip #traveleats #eeeeeeats #forkyeah #tipsgroup
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-Across the street from Blarney Castle is the adorable Blarney town - pop into shops like the Blarney Woolen Mills for anything Irish your heart desires. There are also cute antique and jewelry shops in Blarney.
While most of the Woolen Mills shops around Ireland have the same stuff anywhere you go, you can sometimes find small trinkets in certain shops that you can't in others. I know tourist shops have a bad rap for limited and often kitschy offerings, but I genuinely like the woolen mills over other tourist traps anywhere else on earth because they do offer a ton of gorgeous, soft, and quality sweaters, blankets, and hats. Just walk past the obnoxiously stereotypical tee shirts (except for the puffin Star Wars shirts, those were so bad they were brilliant) and carefully browse the woolen items for some great finds.