Glendalough Round Tower is an impressive sight.
It has been guiding pilgrims and now tourists into the incredible secluded Glendalough Valley for over 1000 years.
It is estimated that over a million visitors come to see the round tower and explore the nearby lakes every year.
Below, you’ll find info on its history along with what to see around it while you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about the Glendalough Round Tower
Although a visit to the Round Tower in Glendalough is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The round tower is located just off of the R757 road toward the Upper Lake at Glendalough. The tower is between the Upper Lake and the village of Laragh and is about a 4 minute drive from both.
2. One of the finest in Ireland
Glendalough Round Tower is one of the best preserved examples of an Irish round tower. Of the 60 plus remaining round towers, only 13 of them – Glendalough included – still have a conical roof. You can see how much care and effort went into constructing this tower in the lintel over the doorway which is carved from a single piece of granite.
3. Combine a visit with a stroll
From the tower, you can follow the grey arrows for the Woodland Road which is an easy 4km ramble through the surrounding woods. If you are looking for longer walks in Glendalough you can head south from the tower towards the river and join up with the orange arrows marking the Derrybawn Woodland trail which is an 8km walk that will take you by incredible views of the valley.
The history of the Glendalough Round Tower
Glendalough Round Tower is part of the Glendalough Monastic City. This early Christian settlement was founded by St Kevin in the 6th century as a retreat from the world.
The settlement grew and became an important pilgrimage spot. It was an incredibly important burial site as it was considered just as holy to be buried in Glendalough as it was to be buried in Rome.
The tower was constructed at some point during the 11th century. It is constructed from mica schist slate and granite. The tower stands at 30.48m and the base is 4.87m in diameter.
It has 8 lintelled windows, the 4 largest are at the top of the tower and each face a cardinal direction. The tower originally had 6 stories and the 4 remaining windows lit the 4 stories above the doorway.
The conical roof on the tower is not the original though it is a close replica. The tower was hit by lightning in the 1800s and the original roof was destroyed. The current roof was built in 1878 out of stones found inside the base of the tower.
Round towers like this one were built over a thousand years ago so historians are not entirely in agreement as to what their purpose was.
The Irish for round tower is ‘cloigteach’ which roughly translates to ‘bell tower’ so it is likely that the tower held bells and would have been used to summon the locals to mass or alert them to danger.
It is also thought that the tower was used as a safe space to hide during Viking raids as the door into the tower is located about 3.5m above the ground. It is also likely that the tower was used as a beacon for pilgrims.
Just as today tourists can see the tower from afar as they approach Glendalough, pilgrims travelling on foot hundreds of years ago would have spotted the tower as they made their way to this holy site.
Things to do near the Glendalough Round Tower
One of the beauties of the tower is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Glendalough.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the tower.
1. Poulanass Waterfall
Poulanass Waterfall is located right next to the Upper Lake car park inside the National Park. There is a lovely little looped walk marked with pink arrows that takes you up along the waterfall before crossing above it and hiking back down. The trail is 1.7km long and generally takes around 45 minutes.
2. The Upper Lake
The Upper Lake is a scenic glacial lake in the heart of Glendalough Valley. For the best views of the lake, head up to the Spinc boardwalk from the Upper Lake car park and follow the blue arrows. If you aren’t up for the climb to the boardwalk, follow the purple arrows for the Miners’ Road Walk which will take you along the north shore of the lake.
3. Walks galore
There are at least 11 great walks of varying lengths around the Monastic City and the lakes ranging from less than 2km up to 12km (see our Glendalough trails guide).
FAQs about the Round Tower in Glendalough
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Why was it built?’ to ‘Can you get into it?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
How old is the Round Tower in Glendalough?
The Glendalough Round Tower is over 1,000 years old and it, along with the Upper Lake, is one of the areas best-known landmarks.
How big is the Glendalough Round Tower?
The tower stands at an impressive 30.48m by 4.87m and can be seen from much of the surrounding area.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.