As most boys, I grew up thinking castles, dragons and knights in shining armor were very cool; they were almost as cool as Ninjas and Transformers. In a lot of ways this comes from the fact that in the US, if anything is older than 100 years it is placed under historical protection and you are not even allowed to breath on it. We are so desperate for old stuff that we will buy a used bridge from London just to have ancient crap to call our own. Europe, with all it's riches, has ancient artifacts just lying around all over the place. It has so many that you can just rent them and that for what is actually a very reasonable price.
My family comes to Europe once every couple of years from the US. I thought it would be cool if this time we all went to Ireland. First, it lessens the culture shock a bit when my family can get around easier in English and second, because we have a family history in Ireland. After a quick search on Celtic Castles we found the castle of our choice. We had the luck of getting to stay in Ballynagowan Castle in County Clare, Ireland. From our experience there are many pros and cons to staying in a castle, the major ones are listed below.
- It's a Castle - Fact: castles are awesome. Therefore it is awesome to stay in a castle. I don't think it is needed to elaborate on that point any further.
- Price - the castle I stayed at could comfortably fit 7 adults. We went with 6 people just before the main season which cost 1350 € + utilities (~200 €). This means it cost us about 37 € ($50) per person per day. That is very good for a family European holiday. You, of course, have to add the price of a rental car to this; it is nearly impossible to get to the castle where we stayed without one.
- Size - Castles generally have plenty of room to offer. In the one where we stayed each room was relatively comfortable and there was three bathrooms. This meant everyone had their own space and there was no long waits or fighting for use of the bathroom. There was one main room with a lordly fireplace and a large kitchen for everyone.
- Location - there are a lot of options and locations to choose from. Celticcastles.com manages castles in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France. You will have the flexibility to set your home base anywhere you like. The castle we stayed at was deep in the Irish countryside. In our immediate vicinity were ruins, typical villages and the Cliffs of Moher. All very cool.
- Atmosphere - This is something that can't be beaten by a hotel. You are living in a piece of history. While in the castle I couldn't get over that we were casually eating a sleeping in a building that was built long before the foundation of the USA. It had been part of real turmoil and war. From the winding stairs that have been polished smooth by the centuries of people going up and down them to the large hall with gigantic fire place fit for a king.
- Stairs - If you have trouble going up narrow, winding slippery stairs this is not the place for you. Remember you will also have to carry and luggage and possibly firewood up and down them. This is not the US where things are altered in order to make it accessible for everyone. The castle was here first and it doesn't have to accommodate you. This is the general message for most historic places across Europe. Also, we all enjoy our Guinness or Irish whiskey but getting plastered and falling down the stair could result in serious injury or death. No joke.
- Musty - Castles are not the top of modern architectural design. The stone walls tend to pull in moisture from rain and the ground. The castle from our visit had three humidifiers running which needed to be emptied regularly. This meant that some of the rooms smelt damp and musty. this is mostly from rooms closer to the ground floor but it was an issue everywhere never the less.
- Heating - Stone is not exactly an insulating material. Ned Stark was right, "winter is coming" and a castle can be as cold as hell and it takes some time to warm up a bit. It isn't a warm cozy hotel room. What you lose in comfort you make up for style. Plus it isn't a problem for too long until you get the big awesome fire going.
Finding a castle - There are a number of sites out there but I can definitely recommend www.celticcastles.com
Car rental - We rented a car from Avis for 280€ for a week. We picked up the car in Dublin which is definitely trial by fire if you haven't driven on the left side of the road before. The hardest part is shifting and turning correctly on left and right turns. The rental companies are use to dumb americans because full coverage damage insurance was standard for the rental.
Driving on the Left - If you are scared of driving on the left, as I was, you can find some tips here.
Pictures of Ireland - For some pictures of Ireland please take a look at my gallery here
In the end it was definitely a great experience, one that I am glad to have checked off my bucket list. And if you can put up with the few downsides it is something I think that almost everyone can enjoy. What do you think about staying in a castle? Is it something you would like to try someday?
After a quick YouTube search I found this short video from Ballynagowan Castle where we stayed.