Have you ever planned a trip just to stay in a particular hotel?  One Christmas we received a card from friends detailing their stay at Ashford Castle in Ireland.  I took one look and said “we’re going there!”  And that’s how our 2-week Ireland road trip was born.

Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Cong, Ireland
Ashford Castle. Cong, Ireland

I don’t usually write specifically about hotels, but Ashford Castle was really more of a destination.  While our entire trip to Ireland was spectacular, Ashford Castle was definitely the highlight.  How many people can say they’ve slept in a real castle?  Ashford Castle is a medieval castle originally built in 1228 and expanded over centuries.  The castle has a fascinating history and a long list of owners including the Guinness Family from 1852-1939.

We learned that over 50% of the guests who stay here are from the US and most of those from California!  There have been many notable guests who have stayed here including King George V, Queen Mary, John Lennon, Oscar Wilde, President Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, John Wayne, Brad Pitt and Robin Williams….the list goes on, but you get the idea.

We didn’t know any of this until we got there and it’s not why we chose to stay there.  Here are all the reasons we loved Ashford Castle:

Ireland’s School of Falconry

The ancient form of falconry has been around for 4,000 years and Ashford Castle’s School of Falconry is the oldest in Ireland.

Entering Ireland's School of Falconry at Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
Entering Ireland’s School of Falconry at Ashford Castle

We signed up for a private Hawk Walk where we were able to walk through the grounds and fly our Harris Hawks from tree to tree.

The hawk house at the School of Falconry. Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
The hawk house at the School of Falconry

Our instructor helped us get outfitted with big protective gloves, explained how a hawk walk works and then introduced us to our hawks: Joyce and Killary.

Impressed with the hawk on her arm! Ireland School of Falconry at Ashford Castle, County May, Ireland
Impressed with the hawk on her arm! Watch the talons…
Meeting his hawk. Ireland's School of Falconry at Ashford Castle, County Mayo, Ireland
Meeting his hawk

Next we set out among the grounds to fly our hawks.  We learned about their exceptional eyesight, their speed and agility, and how they were trained at the school.

Heading out on our hawk walk. Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
Heading out on our hawk walk

We all got a chance to wear the glove (look at those talons!) and have the hawk land on our arm.

One of our hawks, Killary. Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
One of our hawks, Killary
It's pretty impressive to have a hawk on your arm. Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
It’s pretty impressive to have a hawk on your arm

The hawks would launch off of our arms and fly away into a nearby tree.

The hawk flying off to a tree. Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
The hawk flying off to a tree

We would watch the hawk for a bit and then raise our arm back up with a bit of food in our closed palm.  When the hawk returned we would give them the food.  Our instructor explained to us that the birds really only return for the food – so they have to make sure when the birds go out that they are hungry – otherwise they have no incentive to return to us.  So there was only so much food we could give the birds before they filled up and wouldn’t want to come back.

The hawk landing for his treat. Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
The hawk landing for his treat

It was such an amazing experience to learn about and fly these birds.  Falconry was a perfect choice for our family as we could all participate, there was no age minimum and no previous experience needed.

The Grounds

From expansive lawns and wooded trails to secret gardens there were plenty of places to explore at Ashford Castle.

Walking through the grounds of Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland
Walking through the grounds of Ashford Castle
Exploring the grounds of Ashford Castle at sunset. County Mayo, Ireland
Exploring the grounds of Ashford Castle at sunset
The grounds at Ashford Castle with Lough Corrib in the distance. County Mayo, Ireland
The grounds at Ashford Castle with Lough Corrib in the distance
Running through the grounds at Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Ireland. Cong
Running through the grounds at Ashford Castle

Horseback Riding at Ashford Castle

There was a large equestrian center for lessons, but we chose to head out on a trail ride through the grounds.

Getting ready for horseback riding! Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Cong, Ireland
Getting ready for horseback riding!

Riding through the forest was truly magical!

Horseback riding on the trails that wind through the grounds at Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Cong Ireland
Horseback riding on the trails that wind through the grounds at Ashford Castle

Cruising on Lough Corrib

We went out on the lake one morning for a History Cruise.  The boat departed at 10:30am from Ashford Pier which is just on the other side of the “moat” and just a minute walk from the castle. We enjoyed breathtaking views of the lake, many of the 365 islands and the surrounding Connemara mountains all while learning about the history of castle and the surrounding land.  It is the largest lake in west Ireland and the River Corrib connects it to the Galway Sea.  What we found fascinating was that since 2007 they have been conducting underwater surveys and have uncovered several historical objects such as a Viking vessel from the 10th century and also some canoes from the Bronze & Iron ages.  These historic wrecks are protected by the National Monuments Service.

Lough Corrib. County Mayo, Ireland
Lough Corrib

Approaching the back of Ashford Castle.  They were constructing an indoor relaxation pool for the spa when we were there.  It was set to open not long after we left.  It’s now open with set hours for the kids to enjoy as well!

The back of Ashford Castle. They were building an indoor relaxation pool while we were there.County Mayo, Cong, Ireland
The back of Ashford Castle. They were building an indoor relaxation pool while we were there.
The bridge that leads across the moat into Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Cong, Ireland
The bridge that leads across the moat into Ashford Castle

Inside the Castle

A knight in shining armour! Ashford Castle. County Mayo, Cong, Ireland
A knight in shining armour protecting the lobby!

Cinema

Hidden among the hallways & rooms of the castle was a cinema with red velvet chairs to relax in, a huge screen, and fresh popcorn, snacks & drinks.  They have a daily schedule of movies, however we stopped by when they weren’t showing a movie and asked if they could play something for us which they happily agreed to.  So we sat down with our popcorn & candy and watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the theater all to ourselves.  It was a pretty great experience!

Dining in a Dungeon

Dining in the Dungeon
Dining in the Dungeon

One of the on site restaurants is called “The Dungeon” and it’s really below ground.  It was pretty fun to eat underground in a dimly lit restaurant full of rich colors.  Plus our daughter lost her tooth while we were sitting at the table – how many people can say they lost a tooth in a dungeon in Ireland?  And she was even more thrilled that the tooth fairy found her and paid her in Euros.

Above the dungeon, George V Dining Room is known for its fine dining.  It is a super fancy, dinner jacket & tie required, acclaimed chef restaurant that we had no intention of bringing our three young kids to.  However, a buffet breakfast was served daily in the same dining room so we did get a chance to experience it (kind of).

Chess

Playing chess in the lobby at Ashford Castle. County Mayo. Cong. Ireland
Playing chess in the lobby at Ashford Castle

Every time we walked through the lobby of the castle, the kids would sit down and play a game of chess.  Cozy chairs, regal decor….not a bad place to play!

Other Activities

We only stayed at the castle for two nights which wasn’t enough time to fully experience everything Ashford has to offer.  Here are some more activities:

  • Kayaking
  • Cycling
  • Clay Shooting
  • Zip-lining & tree-climbing
  • Golf & Tennis
  • Stand up Paddleboarding
Enjoying their stay in the castle. County Mayo, Cong, Ireland
Enjoying their stay in the castle

Want to read more about our road trip around Ireland? Dublin, Kinsale & Blarney Castle, County Kerry & Killarney

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Stay in a real castle in Ireland! Located in County Mayo, Ireland, a stay at Ashford Castle is magical. Built in 1228 and expanded over centuries Ashford Castle offers falconry, clay shooting, horseback riding, kayaking, a spa, a cinema, lake cruising and endless grounds and gardens to explore.  Definitely add Ashford Castle to your Ireland itinerary!