Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Ireland: a MUST-SEE or a tourist trap?!

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Ireland: a MUST-SEE or a tourist trap?!

Feb 25th, 2005, 12:33 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 3,254
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Ireland: a MUST-SEE or a tourist trap?!

I find myself mystified as to how to prioritize the billions of sights to see in Ireland. I finished reading one guidebook and have a nice little pile here...

What about Bunratty Castle and Folk Park? One book calls it a MUST-SEE, and the other book says to avoid it because it's a tourist-trap!

I generally like seeing villages "re-created" if they include authentic details... But we're not the type of family that enjoys standing in line to do tacky touristy things...

So we're not interested in kissing a slobbered-on stone (with apologies in advance to those of you who enjoyed this...) "To each his own"...As my father always said to me "we agree to disagree".

But I can't decide whether the thatched cottages and village street and school re-created here would be fun and interesting and informative, or whether we would end up wondering why we wasted our money on this?

Also, there are several places in Ireland where attempts have been made to re-create the past...are any of the others better than Bunratty?

Or is Bunratty terrific, the castle or the folk-park? What's your vote, is Bunratty a MUST-SEE or a MUST-MISS? Thank you!
Melissa5 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 04:47 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,761
Well I guess I'd put it somewhere between the two. It's a recreation but the buildings are authentic, they were all moved there from other locations. The castle of course, is where it's always been. So it is historically correct and we found it interesting (we love places like Williamsburg VA and Sturbridge Village, MA). But there were certainly tour buses there. Except for in the castle we were able to avoid the groups as the place is pretty big and when we'd see a tour group we'd just go in the other direction for a few minutes. I think I did find that it explained a bit about the history of Ireland.

We did not do the banquet at the Castle - that is a seperate thing.
isabel is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 04:55 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 1,314
I guess it depends on what kind of things give you enjoyment from a trip overseas. I spent all of 15 minutes there, hated it, and left. There was a mob of tourists, tour buses, and the whole place looked fake.

When I'm in Ireland I want to experience *genuine* Irish people and places. The only real Irish people at that place were ones selling tickets and tacky souveniers.

Normally, I like open-air folk museums because a country's traditional culture is often very hard to find, but that's not so in Ireland. Rent a car and drive around the countryside if you want to see real thatched houses that people actually still live in. Stop in a pub in small town and get to know the locals. You can sing with them instead of paying them to sing for you. In my opinion, that would be scarce Ireland vacation time much, much better spent.
Edward2005 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 04:57 AM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 3,459
Melissa5, we took the kids to the Folk Park in 95 (they were teenagers) and the whole family enjoyed the experience. We did not do the banquet because it didn't fit into our plans. I have heard mostly favorable reviews of it, though, and the people who have gone to it have had lots of fun.

We also went to Blarney Castle the same summer. While some of us did kiss the stone, I was unable to ungrip my seat to get over to it after my son said "Hey Mom, look down there!" The top of the castle seemed very high up, suddenly. The castle grounds are very lovely and worth a look.
allisonm is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 05:34 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 48
We went to the Folk Park at the end of our first trip in 2001. It was in October and there were no crowds. It was enjoyable but because it came at the end of our trip we realized while we walked through that we had seen "for real" examples of most of it during our week of traveling. On our three subsequent trips to Ireland we decided our time would be better spent by avoiding re-creations sites. It is a matter of personal likes but I wouldn't recommend the Folk Park.
mealdridge is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 06:19 AM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 1,165
I think Bunratty Castle is skibbable. It was not an impressive castle. We stopped by after getting into Shannon because it was convenient. Found it gimmicky. A friend had done the dinner and advised to skip it so we were not going to hang around all day for that. We headed to theBurren. On the other hand, Blarney was not bad (did not kiss stone--yuk!) and the grounds were nice.
nini is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 07:21 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 412

Bunratty is worh a look, but it's important to get a head start on the tour bus groups. Its location, of course - close to Shannon Airport and a highway - undoubtedly plays a big part in its popularity. Therefore, check the place's opening hours and try to attend close to opening or an hour or so prior to closing. This is especially so should you be visiting during peak tourist season.

Bunratty's location, however, isn't the sole reason for its popularity. The castle itself is one of the best preserved in all Ireland. It was built in the mid-15th century, with restoration done back in the 1950s. Inside you'll find a fine collection of furnishings, some of which date from the 1300s. Unfortunately, located very close to the castle is the hyper-touristy Durty Nelly's which does its best to detract from the castle experience. As to the folk park, some of the buildings are original to Ireland and were transferred to Bunratty; others are replicas.

If you're open to another theme park, you might consider one that is not far from Bunratty, and one that is much less frequented by tourists. It's called Craggaunowen, and its focus is pre-historic Ireland. Here, in a quiet lakeside setting, you'll find a ringfort, crannog, and, perhaps best of all, a curragh named the Brendan, after the famous Irish monk who purportedly sailed from Ireland to N. America centuries before Columbus. The Brendan was sailed between those two points, in the mid-1970s, which proved the Irish monk's voyage was indeed feasible.

Best of luck.

DavidD is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 12:06 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 3,254
Thanks everyone for your input. Edward2005, you make a good point about finding genuine Irish culture and people...which I have a great hunger for and endless curiosity about, as my favorite grandmother came from Ireland.

DavidD, if we do decide to see Bunratty, I'll remember your advice about trying to get there ahead of the tour buses!

We do plan to rent a car and stay in family-run B&Bs.
Melissa5 is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 08:00 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 495
Bunratty is good for half a day. There is a very nice family run pottery inside (O'Neils). It will be crowded. We usually spend our last day in Ireland at Bunratty. Skip Durty Nellies and walk across the street to the Creamery Pub for better food. There is also a small (by our standards) shopping area fright across the street. Good B&B a mile away is Inishfree. We have spent our last night there the last two years and will do so again this year. Short hop to Shannon.
JOHNOD is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 08:17 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,590
I think you've gotten some good responses. IMHO...a yes to Bunratty castle and village (even with the tourists), also yes to Craggaunowen close by, and no to Blarney stone stuff. We (older couple) were in the area a few years ago, and BTW did enjoy a nice dinner at Durty Nellies our final night...instead of castle banquet. Stayed in nearby Rocklands Bunratty B&B with hostess providing transportation. Good luck!

Bill in Missouri [email protected]
Ozarksbill is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 08:48 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
It certainly goes to show how different people's tastes are. We went in 2002 and enjoyed it a lot. And we are not at all touristy-trap people (I wonder who actually is when you get right down to it). We've been to Ireland three times and the only place we found touristy was Adare. I think the Irish are too irreverant to take any of their 'must sees' too seriously.

We wouldn't go back to Bunratty because we've seen it, but if we were taking someone who'd never been to Ireland we would certainly stop there. We were there in mid Sept and somehow managed to miss the tour buses. We enjoyed seeing the different houses and trying to imagine living there. My husband's grandfather came from Ireland and it put some context to some of the things we've found out about him.

When we were there they had people thatching roofs, which was amazing to see. They were also cooking traditional Irish foods in some of the larger cottages and the smells were heavenly. You could actually taste their wares at the teashop.

Not so heavenly were the peat fires in every cottage, but it was interesting to see how they actually made that pile of 'dirt' burn. (We'd been trying all of the week before in our self-catering cottage in Ardmore.)

We enjoyed the school and the printing press (Cuala Press), the tiny pub and the grocers'. The only negative was an American fr. North Dakota who insisted on haranguing the Irish guide because something in one of the houses wasn't authentic. I'm not sure how he knew that. Even his fellow travellers were embarassed. We didn't do the banquet, too many tourists in one room.

We even enjoyed Durty Nelly's (the mushroom soup with Irish soda bread was delicious). We went upstairs and there wasn't a soul.

Also enjoyed Craggaunowen. Virtually the only one's there on the day we went. Just lucky I guess. And didn't like, nor get, the Blarney Stone, but the area around the Castle was quite pretty. Enjoyed Cobh, Glendalough and Mount Usher Gardens. Have stayed away from the Waterford factory and distillery tours. And not great fans of Dublin.

It's always a judgment call on whether something is too touristy and not worth it, or touristy for a reason. At the end of the day you'll juggle about all the things you must see and those you're prepared to take a chance on. Personally, I think Bunratty Castle and the Folk Park are worth a visit.
rickmav is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 09:43 AM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 233
Everyone is different, but as one who doesn't like 'touristy' things I actually enjoyed Bunratty. When I first got there I didn't think I would---I mean hadn't I seen the 'real thing' in traveling Ireland. And yes I had, but Bunratty Castle and Folk Park really do a nice job of helping your imagination understand how the Irish lived on a day to day existence long ago.
adamsparks is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 01:37 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 1,216

I smell Rick Steves here!

I have been to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park many, many times. Each time I enjoy it in a different way. A few years ago there was a group of Irish women touring the park who were reminiscing about the past way of life that they remembered. It was such fun talking with them and having them point out everyday items and how they were actually used. What great memories they all had...and what characters they were! So it is an authentic "recreation". And I doubt that you will gain entry into just any thatched house you run across in Ireland (not that there are all that many left).

The castle itself is a place where you can wander around as you please. It is full of history and interesting antiques. There are wonderful tapestries, artwork, furniture, carved ceilings and even a sheila-na-gig! You can explore from the dungeons to the banqueting hall to the bedrooms to the battlements.

You didn't mention what time of year you will be going but my best advice is to avoid the weekends and to visit right at opening time. It gets very busy as the day goes on.

The Craggaunowen takes you back to pre-historic Ireland although it does have a castle there also (not as interesting as Bunratty). This is a good folk park in a different way; not as large as Bunratty FP but worth while.

The Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh is very well done. Although they have no castle you follow the story of immigration from Ireland to the New World.
IrishEyes is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 02:07 PM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 244
I personally loved it. It was the first thing I did just off the plane in Shannon. It was just a fun way to start off our trip, and we stayed for the banquet that night. I really enjoyed the Folk Park, seeing more how "real" Irish people lived.

However, I did also kiss the Blarney Stone (but much more enjoyed the grounds and the shopping).
Jun04ItalyHoneymoon is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 02:11 PM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 148
we felt it was worth a look see. we went as a group to the bnquet and found the food and entertainment was also worth going too. we had a ball but as with most things it is what you put into it that dictates what you get out of it
petertherabbitt is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 03:27 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,590

Do you mean that you are smelling like Rick Steves? That's the whiff I got in your nice description of chatting with the ladies at Bunratty. No offense...I liked it! But I do wonder if RS would find the Castle & Park too touristy. The time we were strolling the Park, BTW, they had a wedding which was a nice touch.
Ozarksbill is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 05:01 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 8
hello, On my tour of the south and west bunratty castle was the most fun thing we did. The villiage is very well reconstructed as is the castle. If you have dinner in the castle you can expect authentic medievil food and drink. You will get to taste an alcoholic beverage called Mead. It is like wine but derived from Honey rather than grapes. At the castle they perform medievil style entertainment all in character. Expect lots of singing and acting. It was a lot of fun.

No it isn't a tourist trap but expect to be surrounded by American tourists. You won't see any Irish people there ;-)
AZG is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 06:20 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 3,237
I found it a bit touristy for my taste and did not particularly like the castle. We stopped because we were flying out of Shannon the next morning and had a few hours to fill - it was worth that, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. There's a folk park at Muckross near Killarney that was less crowded - we enjoyed it more.
althom1122 is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 10:05 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 1,216

I wear deodorant and do my laundry regularly (no rinsing out my socks & undies in the sink) so I hope I don't smell like Rick Steves!! Do you mean that you think my encounter with the Irish women was fiction? Afraid not, things like that actually do happen in Ireland. Those women weren't there for the tourists. They were tourists themselves and had paid their admissions and were enjoying the park just as I was.

Melissa commented that one book says to avoid Bunratty Castle & FP because it's a tourist trap. This is what Rick Steves' Ireland 2004 book says about it: "Skip the Bunratty Castle and Folk Museum. I'd leave this most commercial and least lively of all European open-air folk museums to the jet-lagged, big-bus American tour groups (located just a potty stop from the Shannon Airport, past Limerick and on the road to Ennis)." That's why I smelled Rick Steves' influence in steering people away from Bunratty!

Now we are back to the "touristy" definition. My definition is a "tourist trap" meaning it is not worth the time or money to see. In that case Bunratty Castle & FP are worth seeing and not a tourist trap. Savvy people can even search the Internet for discount coupons offering almost half off admission to the castle & FP. If you mean that there are tourists there, you're right. There are tourists all over Ireland and all over Europe. But that doesn't make all Ireland or all Europe a tourist trap. We are all tourists as we travel to other countries (even if some prefer not to admit it).

After reading all the comments here, so far the general consensus is thumbs up for Bunratty Castle & Folk Park.

IrishEyes is offline  
Feb 26th, 2005, 11:38 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 746
On my 3rd trip to Ireland I finally got to go to a Castle dinner-Bunratty. It was my husbands first trip to Ireland. We had a great evening! Just to mention-we were both in our early 30's. Who did we spend most of the evening with? A couple and their grown children-from Limerick!! On another trip to Ireland and staying in Bunratty Village my B&B host told us that usually once a summer they attend the banquet themselves and really love it. That was the year my husband and I brought 8 friends to Ireland (London & Paris as well). Our first night entertainment was the banquet and my husband was picked out of the room of people and made to sing or he would be put in the dungeon-and sing he did and it was great Craic!

Also, I like it a lot better than the dinner the Folk Park.
Shadow is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:08 AM.