After 3 months under lockdown in Dublin due to the global pandemic, the time has finally come for an Ireland staycation! Join us on a drive from Dublin to Kildare and discover safe and fun things to do in Kildare on a day trip. Living in Ireland, it's easy to look outward and focus on international trips. We did that ourselves for years. However, there are so many beautiful and historic places to visit in Ireland. 2020 is the year to turn inward and explore all that the Emerald Isle has to offer starting close to home where we'll explore what to do in Kildare.
Getting to Kildare
County Kildare is Dublin's neighbor and many people commute daily from Kildare to Dublin City. Even though it's close in distance, you'll still feel like you are a world away. But what's the best way to get to Kildare?
Car vs Public Transportation
If you have a car, Kildare is less than an hour away. A car also gives you increased flexibility in terms of the places you can access. Yes, the train runs to places like Celbridge and Kildare Town but many of the interesting things to do in Kildare are further afield. We normally love traveling Ireland by train but, I certainly don't feel ready to ride public transportation for a leisure trip. It just feels a little too risky so soon after lockdown.
Car Rental Options
But what if you don't have a car? We don't have a car so we hired one for the day. We researched our options and decided to travel in style by renting a Tesla from UFO Drive. UFO Drive has a few electric cars located in the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre Car Park in Dublin City. In contrast to Hertz, Sixt, or other traditional car rental companies, UFO Drive is entirely app-based. You sign-up for an account, book the car and then you don't even have to talk to a person when you pick up the rental. Unlike GoCar which is often useful for shorter drives, UFO Drive cleans their cars thoroughly between each passenger. There was even a bottle of water and a couple sanitizing wipes waiting for us.
Renting a Tesla from UFO Drive
How much does it cost to rent a Tesla from UFO Drive? It cost us about 120 EUR for the day. Yes, that's pricey, but it included extra insurance cover so we wouldn't have to pay an excess in the event that we damaged the car. In addition, it's pretty darn cool to drive what feels like a futuristic car. You control the car almost entirely using a large tablet situated between the passenger and driver's seat.
You also don't have to stop and pay for petrol before you return the car. The Tesla has a range of over 300 km on a charge and UFO Drive includes 200 km in the rental price (+0.30 EUR per km above this). With UFO Drive, there is no physical key to worry about. Attach a virtual key to your phone when you start the rental and use your phone to lock and unlock the car.
The only downside of renting a Tesla is that even the smaller model (we rented a Tesla Model 3) feels quite large. This can make things a little dicey on some of Kildare's narrower roads.
Now that we've got our rental car, what are some other post-lockdown considerations for an Ireland staycation in Kildare? Traveling post-lockdown requires careful planning and consideration to stay safe. What are some of the things I recommend?
Do Your Research
Do your research and plan your itinerary before you hit the road. While many establishments could open, not all of them have. Call ahead to find out if a place you want to visit is open and what precautions they are taking to ensure that visitors stay safe. For example, not every restaurant is adhering to precautions where I would feel safe. For example, in Ireland, a restaurant can put tables 1 meter apart if it's not possible to maintain 2 meters. I'm just not comfortable with that in an indoor venue so I would avoid going there. Inform yourself and then make choices suited to the level of risk you are willing to take.
Social Distancing and Etiquette
Prior to the global pandemic, I wouldn't have given a thought to being close to people or accidentally bumping into someone. I also wouldn't have thought twice about handing my camera to someone to take a picture. Consider in advance how you'll deal with social distancing. What happens if you get into an awkward situation. For example, when we visited the Irish National Stud and Gardens, one of the guides on our tour asked me if I wanted him to take my picture in front of the paddocks when he saw me lining up a shot. It felt really awkward but I told him that I didn't want to let anyone else touch my phone in light of the pandemic. I anticipated that something like this might happen and how I would react. The guide thanked me for keeping him in check. I told him that I wished it didn't have to be that way and smiled.
Consider also what you'll do if people get closer than you would like. In many circumstances it's easy enough to take a step back. In other situations, you may have to politely ask someone to step back if they are breaching a distance where you feel comfortable.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other Ireland staycation ideas near Dublin? Why not:
1. Take a photowalk in Maynooth
3. Visit the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve
4. Have high tea at Ardgillan Castle
5. Drive County Wicklow and spend a relaxing afternoon in Mount Usher Gardens
6. Alternatively, take public transportation and go hiking at Glendalough.
Or, go further afield with a West Cork road trip.
Road Trip Supplies
Make sure to think about your road trip supplies. Write down a checklist before you go. Make sure to bring a mask or two (and two plastic bags; one for the clean mask and one for the dirty mask) for indoor situations where social distancing isn't possible and for using the toilet. Bring hand sanitizer and some sanitizing wipes. We used hand sanitizer regularly and wipes to ensure an extra level of cleanliness in the car and when eating.
What to Wear on an Irish Day Trip to Kildare?
Under normal circumstances, you could easily nip inside a shop, pub, or restaurant if the weather turned inclement. Now, outdoor activities feel safer and going inside can have significant risks associated with it. Bring layers that you can add or shed based on the temperature so you won't feel compelled to go indoors simply to warm up. Wear quick drying trousers, waterproof shoes, and a rain jacket. Don't forget your umbrella. Of course, sunglasses and a hat are useful too in case the sun comes out. As they say in Ireland: if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes!
What to Do About Food?
In the before times (before coronavirus, that is), we would have been quite spontaneous about where to eat on a day trip. That has all changed for us post-lockdown. Not every cafe or restaurant is open and those that are may or may not be maintaining a standard you are comfortable with. We ended up packing a picnic lunch for our road trip to Kildare. If we had found a place we were comfortable eating, we would have stopped and taken the food we brought back home. We called ahead to one place in Kildare Town where we were interested in having lunch. We learned that they were only enforcing a 1 meter distance between tables and the staff would not be wearing masks. For me and my level of risk tolerance, that was a showstopper. I'd much rather have a picnic in the car or in the park instead.
Where Can I Use the Toilet?
Another consideration is where you'll be able to use the toilet. Even some attractions in Kildare that are open like Castletown House indicate on their website that the public toilets are closed. Limit your liquid intake to minimize how many times you'll have to go. Make sure to plan in bathroom breaks on your Ireland staycation itinerary. Kildare Outlet Village had pristine toilets. They also did temperature checks on the way into the shopping centre and there was lots of hand sanitizer around the place. The Irish National Stud and Gardens also has public toilets that are open to visitors.
Things to Do in Kildare Where You Can Maintain Social Distancing
For our first trip, post-lockdown, we focused on things to do in Kildare where we anticipated that we'd be able to maintain social distance. Our Ireland staycation day trip itinerary in Kildare included:
- Conolly's Folly
- The Wonderful Barn
- Kildare Town
- The Irish National Stud and Gardens
- Old Kilcullen
- Blessington Lakes
Map of Things to do in Kildare Ireland
Click on the handy map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps where you can explore our Dublin to Kildare day trip driving route and the things to do in Kildare where we stopped along the way.
Things to do in Kildare in Detail
Now let's take a look at what to do in Kildare on a day trip from Dublin in detail.
Our first stop was Conolly's Folly near Castletown House. Irish follies are structures that look old and important but really are more modern and don’t serve a useful purpose. Conolly's Folly is a grand multi-storied affair. Sadly, the weather was overcast and grey. Conolly's Folly does look a lot nicer with a bit of blue sky (even if it's computer generated!).
The Wonderful Barn
Kildare is full of hidden gems. We scoped out some of Kildare's local attractions on Google Maps before embarking on our day trip. We noticed The Wonderful Barn near Leixslip and just had to check it out.
The Wonderful Barn is often treated as a folly, but it had a useful purpose in fact. The Wonderful Barn was built in the mid-18th century as a grain store. Two smaller barns flank the main silo and housed pigeons who ate any spilled grain.
There is no official parking at the Wonderful Barn. We parked in a nearby residential street about 1 km away and hiked over. I'd consider The Wonderful Barn to be one of the most interesting and photogenic places within day trip distance of Dublin.
Kildare Outlet Village
Next stop? Park at Kildare Village and use the loo. If you have extra time and it's not too crowded, have a browse in a shop or two. Just make sure you bring your mask and put it on before entering each store.
It was lashing rain in Kildare Town but we didn’t let it stop us. Park on Market Square just across the street from the Kildare Town Heritage Centre. Pay and display and then do a quick circuit of the grounds of St. Brigid’s Cathedral and round tower.
The main street running through Kildare Town also features a few beautiful buildings covered in ivy with colorful doors that rival the best Dublin doors I've seen. Look for a coffee or lunch in Kildare Town or eat your packed picnic.
The Irish National Stud and Gardens
Now for the main attraction of our day trip to Kildare and one of the most popular tourist sites near Dublin: The Irish National Stud and Gardens. The Irish National Stud is the perfect place to learn about Ireland’s world-leading horse breeding industry.
The Irish National Stud was founded by what can only be described as a turn-of-the-century Scottish playboy and astrologist: Colonel William Hall-Walker. Even if his approach of keeping or selling horses based on their star charts was flawed, he was still incredibly successful.
The Irish National Stud offers daily guided tours included in the 14 EUR admission ticket. We took a 1 hour outdoor guided tour. We got to meet Invincible Spirit, Irish National Stud's top stallion. A stallion's main role is to sire as many future winners as possible. Did you know that it costs 100K EUR for a mare to have a go with this fella? He’s definitely a happy boy.
We also got to meet some mares and their foals frolicking in the paddocks. There is even a paddock for some super-famous geldings like Beef or Salmon (more known on the jumping circuit). Many of these horses earned over 1m EUR in their day and now call the Irish National Stud and Gardens home.
The Irish National Stud also features gorgeous gardens centered around a lake. St. Fiachra’s Garden was extra-special and worth spending some time walking around.
Make sure to wander around to see the ruins of the Black Abbey on the property. We also discovered a tiny paddock featuring miniature Argentinian horses. What a surprise! Take a few minutes to read the exhibits about the history of horse racing in the Irish National Stud museum.
Don’t leave the Irish National Stud and Gardens without having a wander around the small but idyllic Japanese Garden. There are all sorts of hills, tunnels, and grottos to explore. Just watch your footing! It can be slippery.
How were the safety precautions at The Irish National Stud? There was plenty of hand-sanitizer and the toilets were open and very clean. I wish the tour was not so large (maybe 20 people) but it’s all outside. Stay to the back to control your own social distancing and you'll be grand.
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Interested in taking your Kildare road trip further? Extend your Dublin day trip into County Laois to the Rock of Dunamase, a 12th century ruin that is absolutely badass. Located less than a 30 minute drive from Kildare Town, The Rock of Dunamase is a great spot for a short hike to stretch your legs before undertaking the return drive to Dublin. The ruins of the Rock of Dunamase are free to enter and feature sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Allow between 30 minutes and one hour to properly explore the ruins of the Rock of Dunamase. Note that the road leading to the Rock of Dunamase is incredibly narrow and parking is limited.
After spending a fascinating few hours at the Irish National Stud and Gardens, we continued our day trip in Kildare at Old Kilcullen. There are a few parking spaces right out front. Enter through the pedestrian gate and then climb three precarious stone steps to enter the graveyard and enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Old Kilcullen was simply intriguing. The round tower in the graveyard was partially destroyed during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
From Old Kilcullen, you can drive directly back to Dublin or take a short detour through County Wicklow to Blessington Lakes.
There is a small parking area and boat dock near Russborough House. We pulled into the small car park and took a short walk to stretch our legs. Blessington Lakes is beautiful and is also fun for birdwatchers. We spotted a happy bullfinch feeding on berries.
Headed for Home!
Home at last! I couldn’t be happier with our Kildare day trip. It was my first 20,000 step day in a while. We enjoyed lots of fresh air and got some exercise while treating ourselves to a super-cool and dare I say futuristic car rental experience with UFO Drive. I'm looking forward to more Ireland staycation experiences in the coming months.