Despite its small stature, the Emerald Isle has a mighty presence. Known for its fascinating history, breathtaking beauty, and charming cultural traditions, the country offers endless opportunities for exploration. Where to being? Here are our top ten things not to miss in Ireland.
1. The Cliffs of Moher – We being with one of Ireland’s most famous icons. These towering cliffs range in height from 390 feet to their most soaring heights of 702 feet above the waves of the north Atlantic Ocean. Don’t miss a chance to experience this area’s jaw-dropping beauty, located at the southwestern edge of County Clare.
2. Giant’s Causeway – Located on the northeast coast of Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway consists of nearly 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which were formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. Of course, Irish legend tells a different story: the causeway was built by giants in order to cross the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland. While versions of the outcome of this meeting vary, what is interesting, is that across the channel on the Scottish side, a very similar formation also exists! Today, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered the 4th greatest natural wonder in the UK. Don’t miss a chance to explore these column “steps,” extending from craggy cliffs into the Atlantic Ocean.
3. Kylemore Abbey – Grab Your cameras for this one! This monastery, built for nuns who fled Belgium during World War 1, was built on the grounds of the Kylemore Castle in 1920 and is absolutely stunning. The castle itself was constructed in 1867 as a residence for the Mitchell family and features more than 33 bedrooms. The estate was sold to other families over the next several decades before coming into the possession of the Irish Benedictine nuns. The nuns ran the Abbey as a Catholic school for girls until 2010. Today the estate offers tours of their impressive walled Victorian style gardens.
4. The Library at Trinity College, Dublin – Ireland’s oldest college (it was founded in 1592!), Trinity plays home to the famed Book of Kells. If you have a chance to visit Trinity’s centuries old library, don’t pass it up. Here you’ll find what’s been regarded Ireland’s “finest national treasure.” The Book of Kells, which was completed by St Jerome in 834AD, is an illustrated four volume manuscript depicting tales of the Gospels of the New Testament. Take a look for yourself and enjoy a fascinating dose of Irish history, religion, and culture.
5. The Ring of Kerry – If you were expecting royal jewels, we’re sorry to disappoint; this ring is actually a famed scenic route along County Kerry in southwest Ireland. Known for passing through iconic and picturesque landscapes, the route crosses Killarney and Kenmare before passing through the Iveragh Peninsula, Killorglin, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen, and Glenbeigh. An easy day trip, this driving route offers views of castles, a national park, Rossbeigh Beach, Moll’s Gap, the Torc Waterfall, and St. Mary’s Cathedral. The best way to experience this journey is with an experienced guide who can manage the sometimes tricky, narrow winding roads of the ring while pointing out the many points of interest.
6. Blarney Stone – The Blarney Stone is little more than a block of limestone located near the top of historic Blarney Castle, which is on the tentative list to become a World Heritage Site. What makes this stone special are the powers it is said to possess. The word “Blarney” has come to be associated with “clever, flattering” speak, so it should come as no surprise that legend has it that kissing the Blarney Stone bestows you with the “gift of gab.” It requires a bit of poise to achieve the kiss though, as custom mandates that the kiss must be given upside down and backward! Don’t worry though, there are assistants and guard rails there to help you reach the stone worry-free.
7. Ashford Castle – A feast for the eyes, this dramatic medieval castle has been painstakingly renovated in recent years to become the world’s finest castle hotel. Previously owned by the Guinness family, the original structure was built in the early 12th century. Situated on 350 acres surrounding the shores of Lough Corrib, the castle grounds offer a range of activities including fishing, falconry, horseback riding and more. Over the years this iconic property has played host to its share of celebrities and royalty and has served as a backdrop for films such as The Quiet Man.
8. The Dingle Peninsula – Marked as the northernmost peninsula in County Kerry, this area is home to Ireland’s Slieve Mountain range. At 951 meters, Mount Brandon offers a summit with tremendous views of the peninsula. The Peninsula is renowned for beautiful panoramic as well as Minard Castle, the shipwreck Ranga, and the Eask Tower- which is part of the Ring of Kerry. Many of these sites can be taken in during a scenic drive along Connor Pass, which also doubles as the highest mountain pass road in Ireland.
9. Galway City – Positioned in West Ireland between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay along the River Corrib, this populous Irish city is noted for both its history (dating to the 11th century) as well as its places of interest. Here you will find Lynch’s Castle, little more than a medieval townhouse, as well as the Church of Ireland St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church- which is the oldest remaining medieval church still in daily use in all of Ireland. There’s also an assortment of museums, canals, parks and other ancient castles to explore. This combination of offerings has earned Galway the title of Ireland’s “Cultural Center,” and it’s also been ranked in the top 50 cities worldwide to visit.
10. A Pint of Guinness – Finally, what good would a trip to Ireland be without a stop in one of her famed pubs for a tall glass of pilsner or stout? Temple Bar is a historic area in central Dublin. Unlike other parts of Dublin, it is promoted as a cultural quarter and has a lively nightlife. Popular venues include The Palace Bar, The Temple Bar Pub (pictured above), the Turk’s Head, Czech Inn (in the former Isolde’s Tower), the Quays Bar, the Foggy Dew, The Auld Dubliner (fine boys bar), and Bad Bobs. Order a perfectly poured Guinness at one of these pubs and step back in time while you take in all this neighborhood has to offer.
Considering a trip? Check out our collection of guided tours in Ireland.
Have you been to Ireland? If so, what was your favorite thing to see? Tell us in the comments below!