Ashford Castle is a stunning building and grounds set near the quiet rural village of Cong, County Mayo -- the shooting location of everyone's favourite olden-days Irish movie, The Quiet Man starring John Wayne.
French Style Chateau
While the original 13th century castle on this site has had several complete makeovers, the current building dates from the early 18th century, when a local family of wealthy Anglo-Irish landowners, the Brownes, decided to turn it into a French style chateau. The Brownes' crest of arms -- two double-headed eagles -- is still visible carved into the castle's structure today.
The chateau vibe of Ashford castle is retained both inside and out. Operating today as an upmarket hotel, the castle retains the experience of what it was like to live in a truly grand castle. Visitors who stay, or just visit here, often describe it as "a delight" and a truly magical experience -- if you are seeking that truly castle-like vibe. So many of Ireland's castles are in ruins, so castles such as Ashford, which have preserved much of their interiors, are exceptional.
Can You Visit Ashford Castle Without Paying to Stay There?
Of course, not everyone can afford to stay in a 5-stay luxury hotel. Or, you may simply not have time in your itinerary to do so. Luckily there are other ways to visit Ashford castle.
Option 1: Pre-book Lunch in the Castle Dungeon
In the summer months, the Castle runs a cafe/restaurant in its dungeon called "Cullens" which has a charming atmosphere. You must pre-book the lunch.
Option 2: Pre-book Afternoon Tea in the Castle
While not quite lunch, this is a deceptively, expensive option, although you'll get to see into the main interior of the castle. For afternoon tea for two (tea/coffee and some cakes for two) expect to pay in the region of 70 euros / 100 US dollars. (Yes, 100 dollars for a few small cakes. But in a real Irish castle. Look at the picture.)
Option 3: Visit the Castle Grounds / Gardens
For a 5 euros (upon entrance) fee, you can visit the grounds and take a walk around. Ask the groundsman for a map. There's no reason why you can't at least enter the lobby once you're in the grounds and you've paid your fee (it is a hotel after all). Also worth seeing on the grounds: ornate gardens, a lake and a playground.