Sheathed in acres of rolling green expanses, Phoenix Park is one of the largest city parks in Europe. This massive verdant swathe lies nestled in the west of the city, and is a mixture of wilderness and formal landscape gardens. Dotted with tree-cloaked boulevards, pristine tracts of grassland and open recreational spaces, the park is also home to some monumental, nationally significant edifices, too. The Ashtown Castle calls the park home, in addition to the towering Papal Cross which marks the visit of Pope John Paul II back in 1979, the stately Áras an Uachtaráin, the Wellington Monument which is a soaring tribute to the Duke of Wellington, and the teeming Dublin Zoo, are all nestled in its scenic, idyllic expanse. Among the many recreational activities offered here are Gaelic football, polo and cricket. Also enclosed within its viridescent fabric is a vibrant burst of plant life, while a bird sanctuary and a herd of fallow deer coexist in peaceful harmony. Playing host to an array of events, festivals as well as racing events, Phoenix Park is a massive window into the unbridled natural beauty and strategic finesse of Ireland.
A short bus ride from the city center, the splendid Botanic Gardens and its many floral wonders are a stunning treat to the senses. Accentuated all the more by the glimmering waters of River Tolka, these Irish gardens uphold an assemblage of hundreds of thousands of plants, and a smattering of botanical specimens. In all their floral glory, the gardens are a wonderland for naturalists and botany aficionados, its verdant course dotted by a string of splendid greenhouses, like the impressive, structural and glass-clad Curvilinear Range and the Palm House. The great glasshouses full of exotica were constructed in the mid 19th century and designed by Richard Turner, who was also the man behind the glasshouses at Kew Gardens. The gardens are divided into distinct areas of interest, featuring long herbaceous beds, a rose garden, alpine houses, a vegetable garden, orchid beds, an arboretum, a yew-clad walkway along the river, and a wonderful area exhibiting the various natural habitats of Ireland. Also sheltering willows plunging gracefully over gleaming waters, the National Botanic Gardens are a luxuriant canvas of natural glory and luminescence.
More than 235 species of wild animals and birds inhabit Dublin Zoo, a vast expanse within Phoenix Park. Created in 1830 and later restored and extended, this zoo is one of the oldest in the world. The thirty acres (12.1 hectares) provide lots of treats for the family, including a pet's corner and new attractions such as City Farm, Monkey Island and Fringes of the Arctic. The train ride around the zoo is also fun and a welcome rest for weary legs! Refreshments are available in the restaurant and coffee shop, while a variety of cuddly toys can be found in the gift shop.
Dublin's most famous park is steeped in history. It started life as common ground, not far from a lepers' hospital, and was eventually enclosed in 1664. The site of public hangings throughout the 18th century, it was not until Lord Ardilaun's patronage in 1880 that the park took on the landscaped form that we see now. Memorials are dotted around the flower beds, trees, and willow-fringed duck pond. James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and W.B. Yeats are just some of the famous names commemorated, while the Three Fates smugly measure the thread of humanity's destiny from their fountain at Leeson Street Gate. Free concerts are held on summer days in the bandstand.
The Hill of Tara, also referred to as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, is a site of great mythical importance and is said to have been the spiritual and political center of Celtic Ireland until the 11th Century. The spread of Christianity diminished the importance of Tara as a religious center, although Daniel O'Connell (the "Liberator") chose this location as the site for a famous political rally in 1843 that was attended by over a million people. The prehistoric monuments on this ridge bear testimony to its antiquity and mysticism. The Stone Of Destiny, also known as Lia Fáil, is one of its most significant landmarks, and holds sacred meaning in Irish mythology owing to its association with the Tuatha Dé Danann, an ancient supernatural race. The visitor center on-site gives more insight on its history and importance in Irish culture.
Developed as part of the Iveagh Estate in the 18th Century, these gardens are still one of Dublin's best kept secrets, so well-tucked away that they remain quiet and tranquil even in the height of summer. The gardens date as far back as three hundred years, and are collectively known as Dublin's 'Secret Garden', owing to their beautifully obscure setting. The grounds were laid out at a time when all things Gothic were in vogue, hence, it is no surprise that the park is replete with ivy-clad corners, statues and winsome grottoes. Gloriously bathed in beds of vibrant flowers, this sprawling, characterful site is also home to an array of attractions like the Clonmell Lawns, Coburg Gardens, the Winter Garden, a dainty yew maze, a rose garden and the splendid Dublin Exhibition Palace, which is a vast repository of Irish art. The gardens also shelter the eponymous Iveagh House and a jubilant cascade. These gardens are well secluded from the main streets, thus functioning as a peaceful oasis tucked away from the cacophony of city noises.
If you're considering spending a few days outside of the capital, why not check out Irish Cycling Safaris? This company specializes in customized Irish cycling holidays, covering the length and breadth of Ireland. Irish Cycling Safaris can arrange hotel or guesthouse accommodation and the planned routes take in historical sites, wildlife and other attractions. A luggage van also apparently keeps up with the intrepid cyclists, in case you get tired! Visit the company's website for details of itineraries.