Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors

Visit Laois – Get Outdoors

The county of Laois is steeped in history, from the first hunters and gatherers 8500 years ago to the medieval times of legendary Fionn MacCumhaill – it’s said he was born in Ballyfin, in Laois. From Viking raids to its title as ‘Queen’s County’ and back to ‘Laois’ again. And along with this colourful history comes its natural beauty of river ways, mountain hikes, woodland strolls, manor gardens, bog walks and ancient ruins. There are so many reasons to visit Laois and this article and my photography are here to inspire you to get outdoors and explore it.

I’m very lucky to be living where I am, in Athy, Co. Kildare because the county of Laois is just minutes away. And there is nothing my family and I adore more than exploring, discovering and rediscovering Ireland. Love where you live!

For more travel inspiration have a read of these:

ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LEAVE NO TRACE – visit Laois but bring all those picnic, snack and play things home with you.

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors

Rock of Dunamase

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Rock of Dunamase

Location: Aghnahily, Dunamaise, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 53°01’51.9″N 7°12’29.4″W

Top Tips:

  • Firstly you can’t visit Laois and not visit ‘The Rock’.
  • The Rock of Dunamase is steeped in a colourful history – so before you go, read about it – it’ll set the scene for your exploring. And if you have children it’s a great way educate them on Irish history and heritage – and an interactive way, because as you explore the site you can ask them questions about it, like where they think the ‘murder hole’ for throwing boiling water at enemies might have been. If you don’t have time to read about ‘the rock’ before you go, be sure to read the information boards on site.
  • The sights from the top of the rock are beautiful but be advised if you are planning a picnic – it gets very blustery up there, even on a gloriously sunny day.
  • For inspiration visit my article for lots of photographs and more tips: Rock of Dunamase, Co Laois – A Childhood Favourite

Emo Court House & Parklands

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Emo House

Location: Emo, Portarlington, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 53°06’26.3″N 7°11’52.9″W

Top Tips: 

  • If you do get the chance to take a tour of the house, do, I did, but it was many moons ago so I’m ready for a refresher!
  • The gardens and parklands are gorgeous throughout all seasons. Witness the flowers and fauna change, from spring through to winter.
  • In the hotter weather months Emo gardens and parklands are perfect for a picnic – there are a handful of picnic tables near the car park but a blanket on the grass works well throughout the site. And if you haven’t time to prepare a mini-feast there’s always the on-site café which is always brimming with sweet treats.
  • For more information and tips visit my article: Emo Court House and Gardens, Emo, Co. Laois.

Abbeyleix Bog Walk

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Abbeyleix Bog Walk Laois

Location: Knocknamoe, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 52°54’22.3″N 7°21’10.6″W

Top Tips:

  • Abbeyleix Bog Project is a beautiful spot for all ages. Our littles love exploring the open spaces from the tree-lined walks to bog boardwalks.
  • Be mindful if your littles are still in prams or buggies, or if you need an aid to walk as not all the boardwalks are broad enough to carry them.
  • There are information boards advising on what flowers, fauna and wildlife you might spot – take a photo of these boards and use the information as a reference as you walk.
  • For more information and tips visit my article: Abbeyleix Bog Project – A Beautiful Bog Boardwalk through Irish Nature

Heywood Gardens

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Heywood Gardens - Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll

Location: Ballinakill, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 52°53’07.0″N 7°17’45.6″W

Top Tips: 

  • Heywood Gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (you might recognise his work – War Memorial Park, Lambay Island and Howth Castle), and Gertrude Jekyll. It’s said that architect Lutyens designed the formal gardens, which are the centrepiece of the property and designer Gertrude Jekyll landscaped them. And they were completed in 1912.
  • Often known as ‘Lutyens’, Heywood Gardens offers 50 acres to explore. This area is filled with its formal gardens that include a tree-lined terrace, sunken garden and pond, as well as lakes, a woodland and wonderful architectural features and ruins – including a window from Aghaboe Abbey. And as the park is set into a hillside, the beautiful views from the south-east takes in no less than seven counties!
  • If bringing a picnic, the formal gardens are a great choice with a number of little nooks and seats to perch upon.
  • I’ll be writing a article on Heywood Gardens soon so be sure to pop back to our Travel the Island of Ireland page.

Oughaval Woods

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Oughaval Woods Picnic

Location: Oughaval Woods, Stradbally, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 53°00’13.5″N 7°07’38.2″W

Top Tips:

  • Once part of the Cosby Estate, you can still to this day stumble, hopefully not fall, upon parts of old estates stone walls and if you follow the signs a folly known as ‘Cobblers Castle’ that was actually built upon the remains of a pre-christian castle!
  • And speaking of christian – you can also explore the ‘Mass Rock’ – this was an area deep within the woods where people gathered for mass during Penal times. You’ll know it when you see it as there was a stone cross erected in the 1957 to mark its history.
  • With over 150 hectares to roam, the walking trails are suitable for all ages and fitness. I’ve actually traversed the woods in the dead of night with my local walking club Walking!
  • If bringing a picnic, there are some picnic tables near the entrance but you’ll easily find a spot along your walk to take a break and enjoy a snack. If you haven’t prepared an outdoor feast there are some great cafés in Stradbally Village for some ‘grab and go’ goodies.

Kellyville Lake

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Kellyville Lake Reflections

Location: Kellyville, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 52°59’35.2″N 7°04’44.1″W

Top Tips:

  • Kellyville Lake is a fantastic spot for witnessing Irish wildlife throughout all seasons. On our trips we’ve adored the beautiful butterflies, colourful dragonflies, dynamic ducks and sophisticated swans.
  • With an area of 12 acres, Kellyville Lake is actually a man-made lake that was once nearly lost to silt, but thankfully rescued due to local and national projects including the ‘The Lakes of Laois Project’ and ‘Inland Fisheries Ireland’s Funding’. So with this in mind you’re sure to spot an angler or two on your walk.
  • Although there are a couple of benches around the lake, and because there aren’t many flat green areas, isn’t very suitable for a picnic in my opinion. So you’re better off dining in your car or at your bike.

Ballintubbert Gardens & House

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Ballintubbert Gardens & House - The house

Location: Ballintubbert, Stradbally, Co. Laois, R14 E954

Google Maps Coordinates: 52°59’02.4″N 7°05’05.5″W

Top Tips: 

  • Yes I know this article is titled ‘Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors’ and indeed visiting Ballintubbert Gardens & House isn’t entirely free because adults are €5 per visit. However the good news for many readers is that  children under eight years old are free – and there’s a playground on the property for them too. The gardens are available to explore on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • Did you know that Poet laureate C. Day–Lewis was born at Ballintubbert House?  That Darth Vader actor Sebastian Shaw lived there? – an avid herbalist he developed the herb garden. And actor Sir John Hurt who lived there during the 1990’s had a major role in restoring the original gardens to their former glory?
  • There are a number of gardens within the ‘gardens’ to explore including the Rose Garden, and the aforementioned ‘Lutyens Garden’.
  • We brought a small snack with us for our littles the times we visited, which we enjoyed around the sunken pond. Since our visit refreshments and pizza are available at the house, but I’d check before you arrive to confirm they are available if you plan on eating there.

Timahoe Round Tower

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Timahoe Round Tower and Church Ruins

Location: Timahoe, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 52°57’36.9″N 7°12’11.2″W

Top Tips:

  • Timahoe Round Tower is a great spot to get out and about to for historical lovers but especially if you have little children who have just learnt about Vikings. In fact the area celebrated the Viking raid at Timahoe with the first of its festivals in June 2019 where it celebrated 1100 years since the raid that took place in 919!
  • Along with monastic and viking history, the Tower itself adorns a doorway that is said to be the most elegant in Ireland. And the church that was once a library is now a community-led heritage centre. Keep an eye out for the sculpture depicting St. Mochua’s desk (the patron of the parish) along with his three pets – a rooster, a mouse and a fly – whom are all said to keep him on his toes when it came to waking, sleeping and praying. Read more about the history of Timahoe Round Tower here:
  • Back to exploring with your little ones – once they’ve given up trying to scale the tower, take a short stroll across the road to the playground – it’s a super space with a mini-tower, slides, swings and zipline.

The Barrow Way Walk

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Barrow Way Walk - Vicarstown

Location: Grand Canal Barrow Line, Vicarstown, Co. Laois

Google Maps Coordinates: 53°03’06.6″N 7°05’01.3″W

Top Tips:

  • There are a number of routes you can take along the The Barrow Way but of course as I live in Athy, the most common one I’m familiar with includes my hometown. It’s the Vicarstown in Laois to Athy in Kildare walk – approximately 11.7km.
  • Did you know The Barrow is the second longest river in Ireland. And there are parts along this beautiful river that are still relatively ‘unknown’ and thankfully abundant with Irish wildlife.
  • Wear good walking shoes, prepare for four seasons in one day, the walk I’ve mentioned suits cyclists. Bring a camera and pack a picnic or grab a bite in Athy – there are a number of dining options to choose from.
  • The best information I have found online for The Barrow Way walk are from:

Slieve Bloom Mountains

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Slieve Bloom Mountains

Photos Glendineoregan, Co. Laois – 53.103877, -7.538744


The Slieve Bloom Mountains are actually in Laois and Offaly. Here are just a handful of places you can start to enjoy in Laois – along with links to help you explore them.

  • Slieve Bloom Way – Glenbarrow Looped Walks
  • Ridge Of Cappard Boardwalk – Gorteenameale, Co. Laois – Capard Boardwalk, Glenbarrow Route
  • The Cut Forest Recreation Area – The Cut is located on the mountain road between Mountrath and Clonaslee
  • Monicknew Forest Recreation Area – Monicknew is about 11.5 km south of Clonaslee on the road to Mountrath via the Cut road

Google Coordinates:

  • Glenbarrow Trailhead Parking Area  – 53°07’21.0″N 7°27’07.9″W
  • Ridge of Cappard Parking Area – 53°06’28.3″N 7°27’22.5″W
  • The Cut Forest Recreation Area – 53.092763, -7.557557
  • Monicknew Forest Recreation Area – 53°04’14.3″N 7°32’35.7″W

Top Tips:

  • Do some research before you go, pinpoint where you want to explore and use google maps or whatever GPS service you prefer to help you get there.
  • On our last visit we found the road signs to be of little use, hence my recommendation of using a map. However there’s a good chance they’ve been fixed or updated since and are no longer pointing into ditches or facing the wrong way!
  • Wear good walking shoes, bring a picnic, take photos, walk the boardwalks, take in the fresh air and scenery.
  • And have a sense of humour if you do get lost …

Visit Laois – 10 Fabulous Free Things to Do Outdoors - Slieve Bloom Mountains - The Cut not The Clit

We hope you enjoy this ‘Visit Laois’ article and it encourages you to visit your own home county or discover more of Ireland.

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