Howaya! This guide is packed to the brim with things to do in Offaly.
From the magical Birr Castle and the Tullamore Dew Distillery to the Slieve Bloom Mountains and much more, there’s something to tickle every fancy.
There’s even a pub with a resident pooch. But more on that later.
Things to do in Offaly in 2020
I’m going to break this guide up a little bit to make it easier for you to skim through.
Click on any of the sections below to be taken straight there:
- Things to do in Birr
- Places to visit in Offaly (across the wider county)
- Things to do in Tullamore
Things to do in Birr
The picturesque heritage town of Birr is heaving with charm and character.
Developed around the iconic Birr Castle estate, the town boasts tree-lined malls, avenues wedged with elegant houses built in the 1800s, and plenty of things to do to keep you occupied.
Let’s dive into the guide.
1 – Kick-start your visit with a coffee in Woodfield Cafe
We kick-off every guide here with a coffee/breakfast recommendation.
When you arrive in Birr, point your car, bike or nose in the direction of Woodfield Cafe and head in for some pre-adventure fuel.
If you’re feeling peckish, the food here is said to be fresh and tasty! Get in. Get fed and/or caffeinated. And hit the road.
2 – Take a tour of Birr Castle (Top of Tripadvisor’s list of things to do in Birr)
There has been a fortress on the site of Birr Castle since way back in 1170.
Interestingly enough, the Castle is still inhabited by the same family that acquired it in 1620.
That’s pretty nuts when you think about it.
During your visit to Birr Castle, you’ll learn about the absolute wealth of history that this castle has amassed over the years.
3 – Then head for a ramble around the spectacular gardens (and see what was once the largest telescope in the world)
One of Birr Castles biggest attractions is its extensive gardens.
Known for the beauty of its unusual landscapes, visitors to the castle can explore an impressive plant collection, peaceful gardens, and the world’s tallest box hedges.
Oh, there’s also a massive telescope…
Back in the early 1840s, the Third Earl of Rosse built the largest telescope in the world on the grounds of Birr Castle (yes, that’s it in the photo above).
It was with this telescope that the Earl discovered the spiral nature of some of the galaxies, and between 1845-1914, people travelled from every corner of the globe to use it.
A grand spot to whittle away an afternoon.
4 – Nurse a pint in a beautiful old thatch pub
There’s something immensely special about an old thatch pub.
At over 200 years old, the cosy Thatch Crinkill is one of the oldest pubs in South Offaly.
If you fancy a pint and a feed in a unique setting with a boat-load of atmosphere, then get yourself here for an evening.
According to the owners, ‘Today The Thatch continues to offer the very best of modern Irish cuisine always using the finest local ingredients and seasonal produce prepared by Executive head chef James McDonnell and his passionate team’.
You can’t bate a thatch pub.
5 – Plan your visit around Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival
I’ve heard from many people over the years that one of the best things to do in Offaly is to visit during the Annual Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival.
Now in its 51st year, the festival is known for its all-inclusive programme that includes:
- An opening parade
- An artisan and craft market
- The Ormand Flying Club’s Annual Fly-In and display
- The Olde Time Traditional Fair
- A busking competition
- Live music
- sporting and literary events
There’s also nightly entertainment in the local pubs and a spectacular fireworks display.
Places to visit in Offaly (across the wider county)
Right, we’re going to tip out of Birr and into the wider county, next.
You’ll find everything from skydiving to haunted castles in the next section of the guide.
6 – Spend a night if the very fancy Kinnitty Castle
Fancy staying somewhere swanky during your visit to Offaly?
Kinnitty’s Irish Castle Hotel is a 19th-century gothic revival castle situated at the foothill of the magnificent Slieve Bloom Mountains in County Offaly.
During your visit, you can explore 650 acres of parkland, relax with a drink in the cosy Library Bar, or grab a feed in the Sli Dala Restaurant.
Expect distinctively styled guest bedrooms, high ceilings, cast iron roll top baths, and original castle features.
During your visit, you can learn about the history of the castle, including how it was destroyed in 1209.
7 – Get Spooked at Ireland’s most haunted castle
You’ll find Leap Castle around 6km north of Roscrea in a town called Coolderry.
The castle here is often referred to as one of Ireland’s most haunted destinations, with TV shows like Most Haunted filming here over the years.
The story goes that a lady in red prowls the castle with a silver blade at night.
I can’t find one consistent story about what happened to her online, but the one that pops up most frequently tells of a woman that was held captive by the murderous O’Carroll’s.
The story goes that she gave birth in the castle and that the baby was murdered by the O’Carroll’s.
Another reason Leap Castle is said to be haunted is due to a grim discovery that was made in the early 1900s.
An oubliette (a secret dungeon) was discovered behind a wall in the chapel that contained hundreds of human skeletons.
It’s believed that the O’Carrolls would drop people through a trap door onto spikes laid out in the dungeon below.
8 – Test your nerve and get one of the best views in the land
If you’ve ever fancied giving skydiving a bash, then now’s your chance.
The Irish Parachute Club is a non-profit organisation that offers full training from beginner level to advanced.
If like me, you’ve never tried sky diving before, then the Tandam Skydive might appeal to you.
The tandem master does all the work during the skydive and training only takes 20-30 minutes.
All you need to do is enjoy the show.
9 – Head for a ramble around Lough Boora Discovery Park
Yes, that’s actually a sculpture in the park in the picture above.
One of many, in fact.
Those that visit the Lough Boora Discovery Park can ramble along fairy trails, try their hand at fishing, and check out some very quirky outdoor sculptures.
There are tours available here, but you’ll have better craic just heading off solo and stumbling upon a lovely mix of art and nature.
There are several trails at Lough Boora Parklands, from short strolls for those looking for a speedy ramble to longer treks to take you right the way through the parklands.
A visit here is one of the best things to do in Offaly with hard to amuse kids.
10 – Nurse a pint with these lads in Killeen’s of Shannonbridge
The chances are you’ll have seen a picture of the little fella that’s front and center in the photo above on Facebook or Instagram at one stage or another.
He’s gone viral a million times over at this stage.
You’ll find Oscar in Killeen’s pub in Shannonbridge, where he holds the fort with his owner Louise.
Killeen’s has been pouring a fine drop since 1929 and is well worth nipping into on your visit.
You might even meet Oscar.
11 – Lace up your boots and walk the Slieve Bloom Way
There are several walks that I have in my head to try and conquer over the coming year.
The Slieve Bloom Way is one of the ones edging towards the top of the list.
Although the highest point of this 3-day walk is only 527 m, the views you’ll be treated to are extensive as the surrounding countryside is nice and flat.
Expect high, heathery ridges, deep, gorgeous glens, and plenty of streams, forest roads, and peace and quiet.
One for a long weekend.
12 – Step back in time at Clonmacnoise
Clonmacnoise is another spot that tends to hit high in guides on things to do in Offaly.
This is an ancient monastic site not far from Shannonbridge that was founded by St. Ciaran in the mid-6th century.
Clonmacnoise became a centre of religion and learning and scholars used to travel from over the world to visit.
Although the site is now in ruin, it’s well preserved and managed.
Visitors here can see:
- 3 high crosses
- A cathedral
- 7 churches
- 2 round towers
You can also dig deeper into the rich history of Clonmacnoise at their visitor centre.
13 – Grab a feed with a view at Lukers
You’ll find Lukers in Shannonbridge, finely situated along the banks of the beautiful River Shannon.
This little gem dates back to 1757 and is split into two parts; the old section and the new.
The new section offers breathtaking panoramic views of the River Shannon and the surrounding area. The perfect place for a meal with a view with friends.
The old section is home to one of the best pubs traditional pubs in Offaly.
Things to do in Tullamore
We’re coming to the end of the guide, but there are still a few bangers left.
Next up is Tullamore, the capital town of Offaly.
Home to one of the finest distilleries in the land.
14 – Tantalise your tastebuds at the Tullamore Distillery
They’ve been making the amber drop in this neck of the woods since the early 1800s.
The Tullamore Dew brand was founded by Daniel E. Williams (D.E.W – a grand bit of knowledge for you) and brewed in the original distillery until 1954.
In 1954, the distillery closed down. The brand was bought by another Irish distiller in the 1960s.
Then, in 2010, the brand was purchased by William Grant & Sons, who built a new distillery on the outskirts of Tullamore.
In 2012, they opened a visitor centre in a refurbished bonded warehouse previously used by the original distillery.
They now offer a highly reviewed distillery tour that includes a whiskey tasting.
15 – Dodge the ghosts at Charleville Castle
You’ll find Charleville Castle just outside Tullamore.
Built in the 1600s, this castle is incredibly well preserved, in comparison to many others in Ireland from the same era.
According to legend, Charleville Castle is haunted by the ghost of a little girl named Harriet, who died tragically in the castle at the age of 8 in 1861.
Sights of her ghost have been reported many times, and by many different people, over the years.
A little girl ghost… bricks shat.
What places to see in Offaly have we missed?
The guides on this site rarely sit still.
They grow based on feedback and recommendations from readers and locals that visit and comment.
Have something to recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!
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.