Why Now’s the Time to Book a Trip to Ireland

Oct 20, 2021

As befits a place known for its warm hospitality, the island of Ireland is open and ready to welcome you. But just as fittingly for a place known as the Emerald Isle, this North Atlantic gem is ready to dazzle you, too—each facet of local life a call to all kinds of experience seekers.

Read on for some of our favorite highlights, then press the Green Button on your own getaway.

For nature lovers

In 1923, poet W.B. Yeats was awarded a Nobel prize for giving “expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” But truth be told, after 74 years of exploring and immortalizing Ireland’s landscapes, even he missed a few spots. Point being: You could fill a literal lifetime, and then some, with the wild beauty of the place. So the trick to any visit is to lean into your own natural inclinations—and narrow your choices accordingly.

If it's all about the view for you...

Giants Causeway

Head to the Giants Causeway, where thousands of hexagonal basalt columns seem to tumble from the coastal cliffs of Northern Ireland into the Atlantic. Though scientists attribute the UNESCO-designated spectacle to volcanic activity tens of millions of years ago, the name speaks to an alternate origin story. According to legend, two rival giants used to hurl insults at each other from across the water, until one decided to build a stone pathway to reach the other. The second big man—not taking kindly to this idea—ripped up said stepping-stones, and the wild-looking rocky wreckage is what you see today.

While you’re on the Causeway Coastal Route, don’t miss the nearby Gobbins Cliff Path—a walk atop the Irish Sea that leads to primordial geologic formations, yawning caves, a natural aquarium and birdlife of all kinds—not least, the only puffin colony in mainland Northern Ireland.

Gobbins Cliff Path

For another signature seaside experience, head to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare along the Wild Atlantic Way, where you’ll find views for days along a 12-mile lookout-dotted coastal walk—or from one of the local boat tours. From on the Atlantic, you’ll have a whole new perspective on this iconic site, especially as you’re gazing up at the most soaring and surreal sections, some more than 700 feet tall. 

Another view not to miss while you’re here: the surreal—some would say lunar—landscapes of The Burren, a name aptly derived from the Gaelic for “place of stone.” Part of the same UNESCO Global Geopark as the Cliffs of Moher, this expanse of glaciated karst is home to dry valleys, sinkholes and caves—plus an unexpected mix of Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean flora.

If you like to pair nature with a little more recreation...

There’s beautiful biking throughout Ireland, and you can take advantage whether you’re a serious cyclist or not. The Waterford Greenway, for example, is an off-road 28.5-mile trail that runs along a former railway (read: very gentle gradient), with natural surroundings that include the Atlantic-bound River Suir, the emerald-sloped Comeragh Mountains and the shimmering Dungarvan Bay.

Waterford Greenway

Another former railway that’s grown into a stunning cycling path—County Mayo’s Great Western Greenway—runs 27 largely wooded miles around a bay bounded by slopes, among them, the lush Nephin Beg Mountains of the aptly named Wild Nephin National Park.

If you like seeing Hollywood's wildest landscapes IRL ...

Among Ireland’s natural wonders is a subset that TV and movie fans know long before arrival. Game of Thrones and Star Wars locations, in particular, provoke pilgrimage like few other secular sites on earth. And Ireland’s real-life versions are obligingly breathtaking.

Dark Hedges, Ballymoney

A good GOT starting point would be the Kingsroad—i.e., Ballymoney's Dark Hedges. Once you’ve experienced this tunnel-like avenue of beech trees, you can visit everything from the seat of House Royce (the real-life “Queen of Glens” known as Glenariff) to the scene of Jaime and Euron's final showdown (the seaside Cushendon Caves). And that’s all without leaving County Antrim. Of course, diehards want to create an entire, multi-county itinerary of GOT locations alone across Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, no true Star Wars fan can visit Ireland without laying eyes on one very particular sight: Skellig Michael, the UNESCO-listed islet on the Wild Atlantic Way that doubles as Luke’s hermitic hideout. Stunning and secluded, this bright-green pyramid-shaped outcropping makes perfect sense as the birthplace of the Jedi order because back on planet Earth, around 1500 years ago, Irish monks sought isolated spiritual practice here.

Skellig Michael

For history lovers…

Sometimes you want to travel across not only the seas, but also the centuries—and Ireland obliges on both counts. As for the span of history available to you on arrival: There’s everything from Stone Age burial sites to the 20th-century watering holes—perhaps most famously, those that make cameos in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Considering that range, again, you'll likely want to focus on periods of personal interest to you.

If you want to go back millennia ...

Newgrange, County Meath

At more than 5,000 years old, the epic ceremonial mound at Newgrange in County Meath predates the Egyptian pyramids and defies modern assumptions with its mortarless, watertight engineering and ongoing DNA revelations. Meanwhile, the nearby Hill of Tara, is home to everything from Neolithic ceremonial sites to the presumed coronation site of Ireland’s High Kings, some historical, some more likely mythological. Then there's Sligo’s Carrowmore, the largest megalithic burial site in Ireland, with 30+ known tombs.

If medieval times are more your thing ...

Head to Glendalough in County Wicklow, where you'll find remains of one of the oldest and most iconic monastic complexes in Ireland. Believed to have been founded by St. Kevin in the late 6th century, the complex still houses various ruins that date to the 11th and 12th centuries. Another can't-miss religious icon of the era is County Tipperary's Rock of Cashel, whose summit houses the haunting remains of the 13th-century St. Patrick’s Cathedral and 12th-century round tower, among other relics.

But as sacred medieval relics go, it doesn't get more famous or sought-after than the 1200-year-old Book of Kells—an illuminated New Testament manuscript on View (with a timed ticket) at the astonishing Long Room at Trinity College Dublin's Old Library.

Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin

If you want to see how the Middle Ages evolved into the Victorian era under one dramatic roof, head to Kilkenny Castle, arguably the most famous symbol of the eponymous county. With foundations dating to the 12th century—which are still visible in places—these walls have seen everything. Spend the afternoon exploring an astounding art collection, visiting the tea rooms (once a Victorian-era kitchen) and wandering through a lushly landscaped park and gardens.

If you're retracing your own roots—or just interested in the modern era ...

EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum

Modern history is no less compelling here, particularly to those whose families lived it. If that’s you, an ideal first stop is EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. The stories you’ll learn—of emigree scientists, politicians, poets and outlaws—are amazing, yet right at home in Dublin, where seemingly every kind of storytelling is elevated to an artform. Thus the wildly popular literary pub tours led by roving raconteurs. Decidedly less jolly, though just as fascinating, is one more hallmark of Dublin’s modern era: Kilmainham Gaol, which closed in 1924 after playing an outsized role in the Irish criminal justice system and imagination. A guided tour will reveal the stories of everyone from 18th-century rebel leaders to 19th-century convicts bound for the penal colonies of Australia. 

Commemorating an entirely different kind of ill-fated journey, Titanic Belfast is the world’s largest Titanic-themed visitor experience. So whether you’re specifically a Titanic buff—or just interested in modern maritime lore—head the city where the so-called “ship of dreams” was built to immerse yourself in this series of interactive exhibits.

Titanic Belfast

For lovers of the finer things in life

Whatever defines the good life for you—unique lodgings, decadent spa treatments, epic meals—you’ll find it an abundance around the island of Ireland.

If you love a standout stay...

For the most modern twist on unique lodgings, check out County Fermanagh’s Finn Lough Bubble Domes—essentially human-scale snow globes with creature comforts. Between the heated flooring and electric blanket that come standard with each dome, you’ll be perfectly cozy taking in the night sky or epic sunrise from your sweet woodland bubble.

Finn Lough Bubble Domes

But if you’re looking for something on a grander scale, “palatial suites” take on new meaning when you’re staying in an actual castle. Ireland is home to a number of them, and one of the most iconic is County Mayo’s Ashford Castle, an 800-year-old, 350-acre estate turned five-star resort. Already known for offerings that range from falconry to fishing, the property has introduced a series of extraordinary excursions this year—all curated by an Experiences Ambassador who sets up visits to local homes and artisan workshops. The result is an authentic introduction to indigenous craft, food, music and storytelling.

Ashford Castle, County Mayo

If you're all about the food and drink ...

Ireland's already renowned food scene has been seriously picking up steam, and Michelin stars, of late. Last year alone brought five one-star designations to the table, plus a couple of two-stars as well. And in spite of everything, 2021 brought another addition to the illustrious list: the one-star Dede at the Customs House, likely the only restaurant in its coastal village to serve Turkish-inspired, County Cork-sourced fare. 

Another unique spin on eating in Ireland? Hit the road on a Belfast Food Tour—a four-hour culinary survey of the city that kicks off with some of the best local producers in the historic St. George's Market—or a Dublin Afternoon Tea Trip aboard a vintage, treat-laden bus. If you’re looking for something a bit stronger than tea, Ireland obliges with everything from whiskey trails to a burgeoning craft cocktail scene—with standouts that include Dublin’s The Sidecar and Exchequer Bar.

Then again, with the right atmosphere, the specifics of what you’re drinking matter a whole lot less—as you’ll discover on the Belfast Trad Music Trail. Whether you’ve got a Guinness, whiskey or cider in hand, the best part of this musician-led tour is the lore (and lyrics) you’ll hear along the way.

If you're a wandering wellness seeker...

Irish seaweed is renowned (and regularly shipped overseas) for its therapeutic benefits. But much as you may have enjoyed the resulting treatments at spas around the world, there’s nothing like a traditional Irish seaweed soak in County Sligo—one of the epicenters of the early 20th-century bathhouse boom. To this day, you can experience an Edwardian-era version of the experience at Kilkullen’s Bath House in Enniscrone, where a a tub full of soft seaweed and hot sea water await. 

Of course, if you time your visit right (from now until March) Ireland is also home to different kind of immersive wellness experience: the naturally occurring chromotherapy known as the Aurora Borealis, which can turn the skies over County Donegal into an outsized kaleidoscope, especially at Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland.

Aurora Borealis over Lagg Church in Malin Head

Then again, arguably the best feel-good moments here are much more human in scale: the exchanges you’ll have—inevitably too numerous to count—with locals who make you feel welcome beyond words in Ireland.

Ready to go? Start planning your trip to Ireland with these trip ideas, helpful tips and incredible travel deals.

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