One of the most magical "castles" in all of Europe, much-photographed Kylemore Abbey is visible across a reedy lake with a backdrop of wooded hillside. The storybook Gothic Revival, gray-stone mansion was built as a private home between 1861 and 1868 by Mitchell Henry, a member of Parliament for County Galway, and his wife, Margaret, who had fallen in love with the spot during a carriage ride while on their honeymoon. The Henrys spared no expense—the final bill for their house is said to have come to £1.5 million—and employed mostly local laborers, thereby abetting recovery from the famine (this area was among the worst hit in all of Ireland). Adjacent to the house is a spectacular Neogothic chapel, which, sadly, became the burial place for Margaret, who died after contracting "Nile fever" on a trip to Egypt. In 1920, nuns from the Benedictine order, who fled their abbey in Belgium during World War I, sought refuge in Kylemore and ran a girls' boarding school here until 2010. Three
reception rooms and the main hall are open to the public, as are a crafts center and cafeteria. You can prebook a guided hike and nature walk (€3 fee) uphill to the life-size statue of Jesus for an unforgettable view of the tranquil abbey and lake from above. There's also a 6-acre walled Victorian garden; a shuttle bus from the abbey to the garden departs every 15 minutes during opening hours. An exhibition and video explaining the history of the house can be viewed year-round at the abbey, and the grounds are freely accessible most of the year. Ask at the excellent crafts shop for directions to the Gothic Chapel (a five-minute walk from the abbey), a tiny replica of Norwich Cathedral built by the Henrys.