I've seen a lot of gorgeous old buildings in my travels. And I've seen a lot of beautiful, natural landscapes too. Rarely have I been lucky enough to witness the two merge together quite like they do at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Ireland.
The Abbey is nestled into the bottom of the Twelve Bens, a mountain range in this northwestern part of the country. As if the building and its setting at the base of a mountain that is blanketed in green trees weren't enough for your eyes to feast on, it is situated directly in front of a lake. I think Mother Nature knew this view was so special, it needed to constantly show off its own reflection.
Fortunately, while my husband and I stood around and gawked at this incredible sight, there was plenty of fun for the kids to have, too. Here are a few tips to maximize your day at Kylemore Abbey.
1) Dig you camera out in the parking lot. One of the best views of the Abbey is unveiled as you walk toward it from the lot. So don't wait to get that camera ready... start snapping immediately. (I also find my kids are much more patient for posed photos right at the start of an adventure. Now is the time to grab that Christmas card photo that will impress all your friends!)
2) Walk to the Gothic Church and play along the way. We only took a brief tour through the Abbey itself. My kids weren't that interested in it, and my husband and I were happy to get back outside and continue to admire the views. Families will be happy to know that the walk from the Abbey to the Church is a large part of the Children's Play Trail that runs throughout the property. There were several areas for children to stop and partake in an activity along the way.
We loved the variety. There were musical instrument stations, friendly characters to climb on, etc. The kids were excited to see what the next station would offer them. And I was just happy they were both walking without complaining. (If the weather is wet that day, most of the walkway is under a heavy growth of trees, so you're somewhat protected from the rain.) The trail is very stroller friendly.
3) Make time for the Victorian Walled Gardens. Having already been at the Abbey for over an hour, we almost skipped the Gardens. They're quite a distance from the Abbey itself and the shuttle hadn't started running yet. I'm so thankful we made the time. The Gardens were my favorite part of the visit. Again, there are several areas for kids to play, plus they'll love running around among the flowers and trees. And the setting, much like the Abbey, is just spectacular.
If your kids are a bit older, I noticed a document that lists many of the plant varieties on display near the garden entrance. This is the type of place that begs for a scavenger hunt!
4) Speaking of the Gardens, take the shuttle bus. It is possible to walk from the Abbey to the Gardens, but it's quite a distance and mostly uphill. Certainly young children should take the bus. If they have extra energy after your visit to the Gardens, you could always walk back (when it would be mostly downhill). When you're buying your tickets at the entrance, just ask what time the shuttle will start running and how often (it varies seasonally).
4) Fuel up. There is a café near the entrance off the parking lot and also one near the Gardens. If the weather is nice, I recommend the latter. The garden café had outdoor seating and you could relax and let the kids play outside. The garden cafe's hours were more limited, however.
Or, do what we did, and just grab a snack at the entrance café, and then fill up with a proper pub lunch in the nearby village of Letterfrack after your visit to Kylemore is over. It'll give you more time to chat as a family about your favorite part of the day.
5) Make this your stop in Connemara. We were lucky to have three days in the region. But if you're just passing through on the way to or from other areas, then I'd highly recommend this as your go-to attraction. It offered some of the best views, especially of the mountains, and had enough to entertain our children. That said, give yourself at least 2-3 hours to spend here. And if you're visiting on the day of a performance or special event, you could easily fill an entire day.
The Abbey has been used for many purposes in its history. First as a castle, then as a Benedictine abbey, and finally as a girl's boarding school. But dare I say it has found its true calling at the present, which is to delight visitors with its peaceful setting, gorgeous grounds, and family fun.
This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walking on Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.