Just outside the western border of Phoenix Park is the former Guinness family holiday home turned Irish state mansion, Farmleigh. The vast house and lavish surrounding gardens were the longtime weekend residence of several generations of Ireland’s real first family.
When the Guinness clan moved to even fancier digs in England, they offered to gift the whole estate to the Irish government, who politely turned them down. Years later, the same government would buy the complex for €29 million. In the words of one local, it was “a very Irish deal, indeed!”
Today, the house and gardens are used for official state and diplomatic functions. President Barack Obama was famously photographed playing Ireland’s national sport hurling with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on the front lawn.
When not hosting state functions, the house and grounds are free and open to the public. A walk around the gardens and a guided tour of the great place are worth the time if you can get there. House tours run through the day on a first-come, first-served basis. Inside, you’ll see the elegant dining room and the official state china (all made locally, including glasses by Waterford Crystal), the grand entryway and staircase built to match the one in the Guinness family’s workaday home on St. Stephen’s Green, the oak-panelled study with a book-activated secret door leading into a secure underground panic room, and an iron-and-glass greenhouse with the old-timey name, “conservatory”—like the potential murder scene in Clue. When you arrive, immediately pick up your ticket for the next forty-five-minute tour and take a stroll through the gardens while you wait.
Outside, take a look at the sunken Dutch garden (like those at the War Memorial Gardens, see below), get lost in the Victorian walled garden, and walk through the magnolias to a short loop trail around the small lake.
Enjoy a coffee at the lakeside boathouse or your pre-packed picnic lunch on one of the many benches throughout the estate until the house tour begins.
Entrance to the estate is from Phoenix Park, at the White’s Road Gate. The easiest way to get there is by Dublin Bus: catch the 37 bus on Aston Quay (near the south side of O’Connell Bridge, terminating at Blanchardstown Centre) and get off at Castleknock Rd (Park Gate).
Enter the park and take a right on the pedestrian path, then another right at White’s Road to the Farmleigh entrance (Free; gardens and estate open daily 10:00–18:00, house tours operate less frequently in the offseason—check website for current schedule and occasional closures for state functions; www.farmleigh.ie).