The Irish are reason enough to visit Ireland. As told by the Irish saying, Céad Mile Fáilte or a hundred thousand welcomes, you will find no shortage of warmth and hospitality. Rich in folklore and storytelling tradition, Ireland is a land of music and lyrical wit. From walking the pleasant and somehow instantly familiar feeling streets of Dublin, there are only great options for your next destination. Explore the quiet fishing villages and Stone Age burial sites of the northwest, or wind your way along the southwestern stretch of the coastal Wild Atlantic Way and then pause for a few rounds of golf. Ireland is defined by rolling green pastures bounded by old stone walls and the thrum of the ocean crashing into rugged cliffscapes. Visit the castles and dramatic coastline of County Clare or mountains and jutting peninsulas of Kerry. Don’t forget Northern Ireland, a country brimming with natural beauty and a distinct flair of its own. Belfast is a city of hip-hotels with a glittering waterfront and thriving nightlife. Wherever you roam, let the good-humor of the Irish wash over you—and try to chase down the best cup of seafood chowder to accompany a dark pint of Guinness.
Dublin was the birthplace of literary giants such as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde; it’s a sophisticated, charismatic city and a shrine of Irish nationalism and spirit. Dublin is the classic Irish city featuring Georgian architecture, museums and historical sites, and an endless array of pubs. Walk along the River Liffey, cross the historic Ha’penny Bridge, see the 1200 year old Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library, or tour the Kilmainham Gaol. With the 13th-century Dublin Castle, the National Museum, and the Guinness brewery to explore, Dublin is a city of sights, rain or shine.
The capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast has been rapidly developing since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In many ways a brand new city, Belfast boasts a revitalized, pedestrian-friendly city center, and a lively waterfront lined by pubs and hip restaurants. Restored churches, theaters, and museums make Belfast an attractive and culturally vibrant city that is a pleasure to explore. To get a sense of historical and contemporary divides between Protestants and Catholics, take a tour of the political murals on the Falls and Shankill roads.
The Antrim Coast
A popular destination from Belfast, the Antrim Coast is one of the most scenic routes in Northern Ireland. Spend days winding along the stunning vistas of the Causeway Coastal Route and experience the dynamic clash of cliffs and sea. The most dramatic landmark is Giant’s Causeway, a four mile-long stretch of shoreline famous for its basalt rock columns that shoot skyward in a honeycomb of polygon stairs. Visit the 15th-century Dunluce Castle or Old Bushmills Distillery, and make sure to plan lots of time for scenic stops along the way.
The three major islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer are a quick ferry from Galway on the west coast of Ireland, but are a journey back in time. Visiting these stark, windswept islands is like stepping into an Ireland before its rural population migrated to the cities and across the Atlantic. Irish is still the first language in the Aran Islands, which are known for their unique karst-limestone formation, ancient stone forts, and strong cultural heritage.
County Clare possesses some of Ireland’s most dramatic coastline and encompasses several of western Ireland’s most unique natural attractions. Walk along the rippled limestone plateaus of the Burren or gaze out over the Atlantic as it crashes into the towering Cliffs of Moher. Spend a couple of nights relaxing in Doolin, the tiny village renowned for having the best traditional music in Ireland.
The Connemara region of County Galway is one of the most picturesque areas in Ireland. Peninsulas jag into the Atlantic and are strewn with hidden coves and beaches; inland, the mountains known as the Twelve Bens dominate the horizon. Connemara National Park is a tapestry of bogs, forests, and mountains, and nearby lies the serene Benedictine monastery Kylemore Abbey. Whether you explore the region hiking on magnificent trails, or drive the lonely roads wrapping the serpentine coast, Connemara’s beauty is utterly enchanting.
The Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry offers some of the country’s most impressive scenery. Located along the southwestern coast of Ireland, the awe-inspiring seascapes splash into beautiful inland hills and mountains. Narrow roads hug steep mountain walls and reward you with stunning views in every direction. With isolated walks and ancient archaeological wonders in every direction, and music-filled pubs in Dingle to end the day, this peninsula is a paradise. Get out on the ocean with the Dingle Dolphin Boat Tour or a ferry ride to the dramatic slopes of the Blasket Islands.
The northwestern region of Ireland offers a quieter, wilder destination. An area known for its castles, desolate and jagged coastline, and the quartzite Mount Errigal that almost glows white even before a blast of winter snow. The glory of the outdoors is tangible in the mountains and lakes of Glenveagh National Park and the prime salmon and trout fishing of Finn Valley.
Surrounded by hills and nestled between the River Roughty and Kenmare Bay, the small town of Kenmare is ideally located to start exploring the Beara Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. The Iveragh Peninsula is dotted with ancient ring forts, and the cliffside views are unremittingly beautiful. Kenmare is much more than a crossroads though; its streets are lined with vibrantly colored shops, gourmet restaurants, and fine hotels.
With an abundance of local attractions like St. Mary’s Cathedral, Ross Castle, and Muckross House and Abbey, it’s easy to see why Killarney is a popular place to visit. Situated just north of the MacGillycuddy Reeks mountain range and Killarney National Park, it serves as a great base for exploring the region. From the incomparable Ring of Kerry, head to Valentia Island or the UNESCO World Heritage site of Skellig Michael, before heading off to explore the Dingle Peninsula.
The small village of Kinsale in County Cork is set on a harbor filled with sailboats, small shops, art galleries, and delicious cuisine. The vast 17th-century Charles Fort once protected this harbor, and looks out over the River Bandon to its smaller neighbor, the James Fort. Take the Historic Stroll with an experienced guide to get a true sense of the town’s storied past. Kinsale is a great place to spend a couple of days exploring the coast, playing golf at the Old Head Lighthouse, and enjoying fantastic food.
With a large student population and strong Irish-language and artistic heritage, Galway is bursting with youthful vigor. A city of festivals and lively bars that are constantly energized with music, Galway is a favorite among foreign visitors and the Irish alike. The compact town center is a twisted nest of narrow lanes and medieval buildings, is brim full with cheerily painted pubs, and is a great place to find musicians performing in the streets. Pop into art galleries and hip cafés in the Latin Quarter, or follow the seaside promenade to Salthill for a fresh seafood dinner.