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A Guide To The National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh

A Guide To The National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh

The National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh are well worth a visit!

And, although you’ll rarely see them in guides to the best walks in Wicklow, there are some brilliant trails to tip along here.

There’s also some glorious walled gardens, a fine bitta history to discover and a cafe for a pre/post-walk coffee.

Some quick need-to-knows about Kilmacurragh Gardens

Although a visit to Kilmacurragh Gardens is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Kilmacurragh Gardens are in east Wicklow. They’re a 30-minute drive from Glendalough, a 15-minute drive from Wicklow Town and a 25-minute drive from Arklow.

2. Opening hours

The gardens are open every day of the year (except Christmas day). Opening hours are 9am until 5pm (last admission at 4:30pm) between mid-February and October, and 9am until 4:30pm (last admission at 4pm) between November and mid-February. 

3. Prices

Entrance to the gardens is free, although you may want to bring some spending money for a coffee and a cake at the on-site cafe!

4. Steeped in history

Kilmacurragh’s history goes back long before the gardens were established, to a 7th-century monastic site. Although none of the monastic buildings remain, a small pond on the estate was once a fishing pond for the monastery and the old abbey ruins are beneath the present-day Chinese gardens. 

About Kilmacurragh Gardens

Kilmacurragh Gardens

Photos courtesy Failte Ireland

The site where the Kilmacurragh Gardens stands today has a rich history dating back to the 7th century. There was an abbey on the grounds which survived up until the dissolution of the monasteries.

In the 1600s, the estate was granted to the Acton family and in 1697, Thomas Acton II had the old abbey torn down.

He used the remaining stone to build a Queen Anne house on the grounds which lies in ruins today. However, the old abbey foundations still remain, beneath the Chinese garden! 

During this period, the house was surrounded by a Dutch-style garden, which was extremely fashionable at the time.

Over the years, various family members made contributions to the gardens, but during the Victorian period, when Thomas and Jane Acton inherited the estate, the gardens flourished.

This is thanks to Thomas Acton’s friendship with David Moore, the curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

Under his guidance, the garden became home to an incredible collection of exotic plants that were brought from all over the world. 

The Acton family left the estate in the 1900s due to financial pressure following several family tragedies, and since 1996, the gardens have been managed by the National Botanic Gardens. 

What to expect from a visit to Kilmacurragh Gardens

If you’re looking for things to do in Wicklow, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy at Kilmacurragh Gardens.

Below, you’ll find info on the tour, the walks and some of the garden features to keep an eye out for.

1. The tour

There are free guided tours at 12pm and 3pm daily, from mid-March until October. These are a great chance to get more info on the garden’s plants from a knowledgeable (and passionate) tour guide.

2. The Victorian double borders

Kilmacurragh’s renowned Victorian double borders have been lovingly restored by the National Botanic Gardens. In the summer, they burst to life with bright and exotic herbaceous plants and flowers. 

3. The wildflower meadows

The gardens have a restored Irish wildflower meadow which is decorated with changing flowers throughout the seasons. Depending on the time of year, you can enjoy snowdrops, narcissi, crocuses, and native orchids growing amongst other local flowers and grasses. 

4. The rhododendrons 

Kilmacurragh Gardens has a rhododendron collection dating back over two centuries. Since the National Botanic Gardens took over management in 1996, this collection has only grown and now holds an impressive 180 species and 420 varieties. Early April is the best time to see the marvellous collection in full bloom. 

5. The Fossil Lawn

The Fossil Lawn is a good way to see how plants have evolved over the years. Ancient plants like the monkey puzzle and maidenhair tree are planted alongside their close relatives wollemi and kauri pines and coastal, giant, and dawn redwood trees. 

6. Monk’s Walk

Monk’s Walk is a magnificent yew tree-lined avenue planted along an old road that was once used by pilgrims to walk between the old abbey and Glendalough. 

7. The Broad Walk

One of the garden’s most spectacular features, Jane Acton herself had a hand in planting the Broad Walk in the early 1870s. The walk is planted with alternating rows of crimson and white rhododendrons and Irish yew. It’s best seen in April when the rhododendrons are in bloom. 

8. The Acton Cafe

The Acton Cafe, run by Brambles, is open daily with indoor seating and a newly opened outdoor patio. It’s a great place to stop for a coffee and a cake in between exploring the gardens. They also have quiches, sandwiches, and salads for a light lunch. 

Things to do near Kilmacurragh Gardens

One of the beauties of Kilmacurragh Gardens is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Wicklow.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Kilmacurragh!

1. Avondale Forest Park (15-minute drive)

Avondale Forest Park

Photos by Coillte via Failte Ireland

Set in a 500-acre forest, Avondale Forest Park has seven walking trails, an exhilarating treetop walk that takes visitors high up into the forest canopy, and a 360-degree viewing tower. 

2. Brittas Bay Beach (20-minute drive)

Brittas Bay Wicklow

Photos courtesy Celtic Routes via Fáilte Ireland

One of the most popular beaches in Wicklow, Brittas Bay Beach has Blue Flag status, with a summer lifeguard service, two car parks, public toilets, and a surf school. 

3. Greenan Maze (20-minute drive)

greenan maze

Photos via Greenan Maze on FB

Greenan Maze has two outdoor mazes (a newly replanted beech maze and a flat maze), several museums, and a tranquil nature walk through wetlands and native woodland. 

FAQs about visiting Kilmacurragh

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is it worth seeing?’ to ‘Is it still free?’.

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.

Are dogs allowed in Kilmacurragh?

From what we can tell from their website, dogs are allowed at Kilmacurragh Gardens once they are kept on a lead at all times.

Do you have to pay into Kilmacurragh Gardens?

No. Kilmacurragh Gardens is one of a handful of free gardens in Ireland. Another example is the Botanic Gardens in Dublin.

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