The Irish National Stud, 1.5km south of town, is the big attraction in Kildare – visitors have included Queen Elizabeth II. Owned and managed by the Irish government, the immaculately kept centre breeds high-quality stallions to mate with mares from all over the world. You can wander the paddocks and go eye-to-eye with famous stallions, or take a 45-minute guided tour (four daily; included in admission). Around 3pm in the spring, you'll see the foals being walked back to their stables.
The stud was founded by Colonel Hall Walker (of Johnnie Walker whiskey fame) in 1900. He was remarkably successful with his horses, but his eccentric breeding technique relied heavily on astrology: the fate of a foal was decided by its horoscope and the roofs of the stallion boxes opened on auspicious occasions to reveal the stars above and hopefully influence the horses' fortunes.
Guided tours take place every hour on the hour, with access to the intensive-care unit for newborn foals. If you visit between February and June, you might even see a foal being born. Alternatively, the foaling unit shows a 10-minute video with all the action. Given that most of those foals are now geldings, they probably have dim memories of their time in the Teasing Shed, the place where stallions are stimulated before 'covering' a mare. The fee for having a mare inseminated by the stud's top stallion can be as much as €120,000.
Other attractions on-site include lakeside walks, a 'fairy trail' for kids and the Irish Horse Museum, a celebration of championship horses and the history of horse racing. You can also visit Colonel Hall Walker's Japanese Gardens (part of the complex), considered to be the best of their kind in Europe. Created between 1906 and 1910, they trace the journey from birth to death through 20 landmarks, including the Tunnel of Ignorance, the Hill of Ambition and the Chair of Old Age.