When people working in Dublin want to flee from big city life they settle in quiet commuter towns like Naas.
Out in rural County Kildare you’re 35 kilometres from the capital and can de-stress on country activities like horse riding, golf and visits to grand old estates.
Naas is on the 18th-century Grand Canal, which is pretty as a picture along the towpath, and on Saturdays there’s a great little farmers’ market in town.
A breeze in the car to the southeast are the Blessington Lakes, set against the Wicklow Mountains, while in the opposite direction is the Bog of Allen, the largest peatland environment in Ireland.
There you can study the ecosystem and learn about the bog’s many centuries of human history at the Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park, or see how the other half lived at Coolcarrigan House and Gardens.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Naas:
1. Local Sightseeing
Naas has an array of manageable signposted walking trails, all signposted and none talking more than a couple of hours.
Some of the prettiest local scenery is on the peaceful towpath of the Grad Canal (pink route), which was built in the second half of the 18th century and is now used purely for leisure.
On the core trail you can take a self-guided trip around Naas’ 18th and 19th-century monuments.
The Town Hall dates from 1792 and previously served as a jail, while the Neoclassical courthouse was built in 1807 and is fronted by a dignified portico.
2. Coolcarrigan House and Gardens
In the same family for six generations now, this Georgian property dates from the 1830s and sits beside the Bog of Allen, formerly part of the estate.
That peatland was acquired by the Irish government in the 1940s to harvest the bogs for electricity.
Coolcarrigan welcomes visitors on select days throughout the year, but mostly concentrated around the summer.
You’ll be shown around the house’s refined interiors and see the church, built in the 1880s, which has Gaelic scripts on the walls chosen by the first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde.
The eight-hectare gardens are a joy, planted with a wealth of exotic trees and shrubs, and home to an arboretum with an irresistible wildflower meadow.
3. Blessington Lakes
In the northwestern foothills of the Wicklow Mountains, the Blessington Lakes make up an active reservoir used for water supply and to generate electricity.
Also called Poulaphouca Reservoir, it’s the largest man-made body of water in Ireland, and was created in 1940 when the River Liffey was dammed.
You can appreciate the landscapes without stepping out of the car, as the Lake Drive has amazing perspectives of the lake and the Wicklow Mountains, while passing through the lovely villages of Ballyknockan, Valleymount and Lacken.
On foot you can journey along the waterside greenway, while the southeast shore has a boat rental station if you fancy landing one of the monster pikes living in the water.
4. Russborough House
Near the west shore of Blessington Lakes is one of Ireland’s grandest Palladian stately houses, constructed between 1741 and 1755. The location is stupendous, affording views across the water to the Wicklow Mountains.
The estate is open from March to December, and a tour of the house is a must.
You’ll view a superb private art collection, with works by John Singer Sargent and Thomas Gainsborough, as well as unbelievably detailed original stuccowork on the ceilings produced by the Swiss Lafrachini brothers in the mid-18th century.
Russborough is also stacked with tapestries, porcelain, silver, carpets and antique furniture, as well as absorbing footage and 3D photographs taken by former owner Sir Alfred Beit on his travels around the world in the 20s and 30s.
Out in the grounds children will adore the beech maze, while the 18th-century walled garden has been returned to its former glory.
5. Moat Theatre
If you’re at a loose end on an evening in Naas you could always find out what’s in store at the Moat Theatre.
In a converted stone building the main theatre has 200 seats and books a diversity of acts, from plays, musicals and stand-up comics to classical ensembles, soloists, bands and choirs.
There’s something happening almost every night of the week, and in mid-June the theatre curates the Moat Performing Arts Carnival.
At this event there’s a menu of performances, as well as duck races, face painting and puppet shows for youngsters.
6. Naas Farmers’ Market
Trading every Saturday from 10:00 to 15:00, the Naas Farmers’ Market pulls in shoppers from around County Kildare.
Here you can pick up organic meat, fruits and vegetables, flowers, cheese, fish, homemade preserves and baked goods, all straight from the source.
The market stalls fill the courtyard of the Storehouse Restaurant, and keeps the little ones happy with face painting and games.
The outdoor cafe at the market has live music and food-tasting, while there’s an appetising selection of fresh food stalls, cooking up anything from paella to pizza if you get peckish.
7. Jigginstown Castle
The orange heritage trail in Naas will deposit you at this interesting historical fragment by the canal in the west of the town.
Jigginstown Castle was begun by Thomas Wentworth, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, in the 1630s.
There were lofty aspirations for this residence, as it was intended to be a place for King Charles I to stay when he was in Ireland.
But work was permanently interrupted soon after when Wentworth was impeached for misdemeanours in Ireland and reluctantly sentenced to death by the king, who had been fond of him.
Even in a state of half-completion it was one of Ireland’s largest buildings, and was the first to be constructed from brick.
Over the last decade the remnants have been stabilised and archaeological surveys have been carried out at this interesting site.
8. Newbridge Silverware Visitor Centre
Ireland’s leading silverware manufacturer has a factory shop and visitor centre at the brand’s HQ in Newbridge, 10 kilometres outside Naas.
Newbridge Silverware has been in business since 1934 and after starting out producing cutlery, moved onto jewellery, cookware and decorative items.
A diverting attraction at the visitor centre is the Museum of Style Icons, which has cleverly presented exhibits with genuine memorabilia for trendsetters like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.
Tours of the factory are offered by the visitor centre starting in summer 2018, shining a light on the workmanship that goes into Newbridge’s products.
9. Mondello Park
Heaven for racing fans, Mondello Park is the only international motorsports venue on Irish soil.
The circuit is only ten kilometres north of Naas and all through the summer has a schedule of motorcycling and car racing events.
At the moment the most prestigious of these is the Irish Rallycross Championship, normally taking place in July.
None of the events have an especially high profile, so you can come down on the day of a race for a dose of action.
If you have your own car you can come down for a “track day” to go full throttle on the course, or you can book a driving experience in an open-wheel race car or a Nissan 350Z to learn how to drift.
To get out into the lush greenery around Naas you can hit one the five courses that sit just a few minutes from the town.
These are Craddockstown Golf Club, Millicent Golf Club, The K Club, Tulfarris Golf Club and Naas Golf Club.
The most prestigious is the K Club, which has hosted 13 European Opens and the Ryder Cup in 2006. Naturally you’ll have to pay a little more for the honour, but if you don’t mind an early start, green fees are as low as €80 on a weekday.
If all that sounds a little too advanced, Naas Golf Club is a more reasonable round at an 18-hole parkland course that was founded back in 1896. The fairways are traced by mature chestnut, beech and elm trees and many of the holes were reconfigured by the renowned course architect Jeff Howes in 2002.
11. Horse Riding
Naas is in a region with an old equestrian and horse-breeding heritage: The Irish National Stud is only 25 minutes away, near Kildare, and there are prestigious racecourses all around, at Curagh, Punchestown and on the edge of town in Naas.
But if you or your loved ones want to book a riding lesson or venture into the countryside on a pony trek there are a few options.
In the school holidays you could bring children as young as five to the Abbeyfields Equestrian Centre for a one-off riding lesson and to learn about caring for a pony.
The Coolmine Equestrian Centre will take you out on longer trips: Trekking on the Dublin Mountain you’ll pass an ancient Pagan settlement and take in distant views of the famous Hill of Tara.
12. Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park
The mysterious Bog of Allen is the largest peatland environment in Ireland, and this award-wining day out right in the middle of the bog combines education and good old family fun.
The Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park is on 25 hectares and has gardens, exhibitions about the environment, and trails that weave through woodland and over the bog on footbridges.
You can dip into the 9,000-years of human history at the bog and find out about “bog bodies”, mummified human remains preserved in peat bogs for thousands of years.
Also here are indoor and outdoor play areas, a crazy golf course and a pet farm with pot-bellied pigs, alpacas, wallabies, rabbits and dwarf goats.
13. Hunting Brook Gardens
Open April to October, Hunting Brook Gardens sit on the south face of Lamb Hill in the northern foothills of the Wicklow Mountains.
The gardens are the brainchild of the eminent horticulturalist Jimi Blake, former head gardener at the famous Arfield Gardens in County Dublin.
A diversity of environments are packed into these contemporary gardens, from the Hunting Brook, which bubbles over granite stones, to rustic forest paths and a lush hilltop that has a standing stone from the Bronze Age.
Maybe most immersive of all is the terraced garden, planted with exotic shrubs, ferns, bamboo, dahlias and celmisia semicordata, with vibrant interplay between perennial and foliage plants.
14. Kildare Maze
One of the largest hedge mazes in the country, and the largest in Leinster, awaits just outside the village of Prosperous a quick hop north of Naas.
With a tangle of paths totalling 1.5 kilometres, the maze is an enjoyable brainteaser for young and not so young.
When you finally make it to the centre there’s a viewing tower to contemplate the Kildare countryside.
Also at the park is a smaller wooden maze, a crazy golf course, an adventure playground with zip-line, a cafe and a picnic area.
15. Stonebrook Pet Farm
Mainly open during the summer, the Stonebrook Pet Farm is another outing kids will love.
The farm is on bucolic pastures in the verdant River Liffey Valley and promises all sorts of animal encounters for youngsters.
They can meet tortoises, rabbits, dwarf goats, pigs, llamas, chicks, ducklings, goslings and lambs, many of which can be handled and fed.
The farm also has a large play area for kids, and parents can take a break over a cup of tea or coffee.