Where to Go in Ireland
Travel to Dublin for a lively literary pub crawl, gain invaluable insight into Ireland’s political history on a tour of Belfast, and eat delicious Irish cuisine in waterside Kinsale: the gourmet capital of Ireland. Follow the winding roads of the Wild Atlantic Way into the uncommonly beautiful indentations of the Dingle Peninsula for rippling blue waters and towering mountain panoramas, and trace ancient beaches and uninhabited islands to the UNESCO-listed Cliffs of Moher: 14KMs of pure windswept drama.
To really get to know Ireland, tour the path less traveled, walking windswept beaches on Mór island, and along hilly scenery on Clare Island, visit Hook Lighthouse — the world’s oldest operational lighthouse on the Hook Peninsula, or drive the iconic Ring of Kerry for engaging rural villages and 26,000 stunning acres at the idyllic Killarney National Park.
Immerse yourself in Ireland’s regal past with a falcon flying lesson or two, the preferred sport of ancient Irish kings, and spend the night in stately castles overlooking the bucolic majesty of the Irish countryside, warmed by a crackling fire and a glass of Irish Whiskey.
Best places to go in Ireland
Here is a summary of some of the best and most popular areas to visit
Set into the beautiful curves of Dublin Bay, Ireland’s charismatic capital is a beguiling contrast of the old and new, with stunning sights spanning architecture, literature, and ancient Gaelic tradition. After years of regeneration, the city’s old cathedrals and churches, Georgian Squares, imposing castles, and traditional pubs, are punctuated by a gleaming collection of luxury hotels, glass towers, and modern renovations of classic buildings (notably St. James with its striking neon-lit glass spire, The Liberties Lantern) as well as some of the country’s best restaurants and bars. All of Dublin’s sights are within easy walking distance of each other: from Temple Bar’s street art trails and whiskey distilleries to the delicate arch of the Ha’penny Bridge stretching across the River Liffey, and the grandiose neo-classical buildings of Trinity College Dublin.
Guinness aficionados should explore the Guinness Museum’s high-tech installations and exhibitions, while those interested in learning more about the Irish people and their impact on the world, should visit the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum, an award-winning interactive museum that details Irish history and culture through modern installations and Virtual Reality exhibits.
The second largest city on the island of Ireland, Belfast’s busy streets are caught up between the quayside and a smattering of mountains looming over the town. And what Belfast may lack in prestige when compared to Dublin, it makes up for with spades of traditional Irish ambiance, found across a small collection of diverse neighborhoods. Visit the Cathedral Quarter for modern bars, chic restaurants, and classic Irish Pubs ideal for nights spent tasting Whiskey and modern Irish fare, the city center for lively markets and tranquil gardens, and the Titanic Quarter to see one of the city’s newest neighborhoods risen from the shipyard where the infamous Titanic was built.
Those seeking out the lyricism of traditional folk music and the Irish language will find both in the Gaeltacht Quarter, while a worldly collection of museums, galleries, and gardens await in the Queen’s Quarter.
Kinsale (County Cork)
Ireland’s south coast is spectacular, with ruins and 19th-century lighthouses looking over the feral Atlantic coastline contrasting with the serenity of the Irish countryside. But perhaps the most beautiful destination along these picturesque shores is County Cork’s sublime Kinsale, a little village clinging to a wind-beaten coast, painted in striking pinks, blues, greens, and yellows, and renowned as Ireland’s most outstanding foodie destination. Explore the little village via its skinny roads and quaint backstreets, sipping tea and coffee in lovely cafes, and a Guinness or two in a local pub before sampling the sea-fresh seafood in one of Kinsale’s renowned restaurants.
Two ruined forts lend an ancient atmosphere to the clifftops of Kinsale, while in the town, the Kinsale Museum traces local history through exhibits and artifacts housed in an antique building that dates back to the 1590s. Numerous beaches and coves frame sublimely clear waters, but Dock Beach, with views of the surrounding hills, is arguably the best, and it’s an excellent choice for kayaking.
One of County Kerry’s most impossibly pretty sights, once named “the most beautiful place on earth” by National Geographic, the rural Dingle Peninsula is the purest Ireland. Trace the enchanting curve of Brandon Bay for surfing, wild sunbathing, and walking amongst Ireland’s glorious nature, and seek out secluded sandy coves for tranquility even at the height of summer. History lovers should walk amongst the mysterious Monastic sites dating back more than 1500 years and take a look at the 12th-century church at Kilmalkedar, while the lush forests, mountains, and lakes in the Glanteenassig woodlands provide plenty for travelers hoping to get off the beaten path.
Leave the mainland behind for the intensely beautiful Blasket Islands, the western extreme of Ireland, with 3 uninhabited islands filled with abandoned ruins, Atlantic views, and nesting seabirds (shearwaters, terns, puffins, etc). Various hiking trails are elevated by natural vistas, but the best are on Great Blasket, where there’s also a stunning white sand beach called Trá Bán, backed by those beguiling emerald hills.
Arguably Northern Ireland’s best-known stretch of coast, Antrim’s Atlantic shores offer a cinematic landscape of striking coves, wind-carved crags, and vast expanses of moorlands and glens. Stories abound in this part of Ireland, with legends attached to every rock — the oldest of which are 300 million years old. Drive the Antrim Coast Road from Ballycastle to Larne to see some of the island’s most staggering coastal sights, taking in everything from stately castles and ethereal woodlands to rural beaches and mysterious caves.
A highlight of Antrim is the Giant’s Causeway, as legendary as it is beautiful, and Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Irish myth tells us that the causeway was built by two warring giants — one from Ireland and the other from Scotland — to fight on but this unique landscape is the result of molten basalt that contracted as it cooled, creating striking geometric walkways and stark cliff faces.
At three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher, the Wild Atlantic Way’s best-kept secret, the Slieve League cliffs are Ireland’s largest and most awe-inspiring natural sight. Travel to the top of the cliffs and an incredible vista of the Atlantic, the Rathlin O’Byrne Island, and Donegal Bay sweeps across the horizon in a symphony of fierce surf and emerald topography, while two iconic rocks known as the Giant’s Table and Chair sit in the waters of the bay below.
Nearby Benbulbin is notable for its atmospheric megalithic tombs, while Knoch na Rí at Carrowmore has one of Europe’s oldest Neolithic cemeteries — dating back to 3200 BC. Travel between Slieve League and the attractive little town of Sligo to visit the ruins of medieval oratories and churches in the tranquil Inishmurry, an ancient Irish monastic settlement enclosed by 15ft walls.
Dreamy Galway is a pleasure to explore on foot, with numerous historic sights and bohemian pubs bundled up with boisterous traditional nightlife and some of Ireland’s best restaurants, all within easy reach of the Burren megalithic tombs and the Cliffs of Moher, as well as the city’s Blue Flag Beaches: Salthill Beach and Silverstrand Beach. Stroll along the Salthill promenade for idyllic sea views, visit Galway City Museum to learn about the medieval roots of the city of the tribes, and trace the city’s history via the Spanish Arch, a stone extension to the original city walls, cradling the banks of the salmon-crowded River Corrib.
Quay Street forms a convivial main artery in the old part of the city, with centuries-old pubs packed with local students and live bands, but venture down an alley or two, and you’ll find art installations, street performers and chic restaurants serving oysters plucked fresh from nearby Galway Bay.
Look out to sea from County Clare or Galway, and the craggy desolate beauty of the Aran Islands is easily seen. Journey across the water to Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer to embark on an island-hopping adventure, exploring unspoiled beaches, weather-beaten cliffs, ancient stone ruins, and even a shipwreck or two. Explore the islands via cycle and scenic hiking trails that lead into cloudy mountain peaks or, on Inishmore, ride in the carriage of a traditional pony and trap for a tour of mystifying monastic sites, ancient stone walls that divide the countryside, and the stunning Dún Aonghasa hill fort perched atop a breezy 100-meter-tall cliff.
But perhaps the Aran Islands’ most intriguing feature is their isolation which while creating a stunning, wind-sculpted allure, also nurtured their ancient Gaelic culture, ensuring that Irish Gaelic remained the main spoken language of the Aran islands.
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