Time to fall in love with Ireland
There is nothing quite as spellbinding as Ireland in fall. The country’s forests, parks and countryside erupt into a palette of golds, reds, oranges and purples, blending with the famed Emerald Isle greens. It’s as if a painter has taken an already-beautiful canvas and splashed it with colour.
A hike, a road trip, a round of golf – every scene seems designed to take your breath away. The changing of the seasons welcomes an abundance of festivals, celebrating music, theatre, comedy, opera, food and more – not to mention the supernatural!
And – this year in particular – the value is hard to beat. Rates of exchange from Canadian dollar to Euro are the most favourable they have been in 18 years, so travelling now means you'll get the most from every dollar you spend. In addition, rates on everything from a car rental to a round of golf also tend to be lower than they are in summer.
Here are some of our favourite ways to savour the fall season in Ireland.
Walks to remember – and recharge
Ireland is renowned for its innovative walking festivals. Guided by experienced locals, with options catering to all activity levels, they are a social and reinvigorating way to explore urban areas, winding coastal routes, scenic countrysides and charming villages. This is never truer than in fall, when the air is cooler and crisper, yet still comfortable. The Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival in October guides you through the “Garden of Ireland,” as County Wicklow, south of Dublin, is nicknamed owing to its dramatic valleys, mesmerizing ruins, rushing waterfalls and woodlands of Wicklow Mountains National Park.
On your hike, you might even come face to face with Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis; he’s a local! “It is a refuge where I restore myself,” he has said of Wicklow’s energizing vibe.
Home to over 26,000 acres of woodlands, mountains and famous Torc Waterfall (pictured above), Ireland’s oldest national park, Killarney National Park in southwestern Ireland, is also a must-see in fall. The park website has curated hikes of varying lengths and difficulty.
With its coastal cliffs and seaside dunes, Ireland is blessed with a third of the planet’s natural link golf courses (over 50!) and hundreds of beautiful parkland courses. It truly is a golfer’s paradise.
Best of all, golf clubs in Ireland welcome non-members, and most courses remain playable year-round (the weather rarely gets cold enough for them to shut down).
Courses are at their busiest from May to September, but come October, the crowds are thinner, tee times easier to come by, and you have the added benefit that the condition of the courses are typically still very good.
And even if your game isn’t on point, the scenery afforded by the autumn foliage (even more striking against the bright green grass) more than compensates. This is especially true at parkland courses like Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny, a 90-minute drive from Dublin airport known for its picturesque fusion of the modern and medieval. Powerscourt Golf Club, in Wicklow meanwhile, features two championship courses to pick from amid its spectacular grounds.
No matter where you tee off, continue the “craic” (the Irish word for “good times”) at the “19th hole,” a term golfers in Ireland cheekily name the traditional pubs they like to visit after a day on the links. Most of these watering holes have an open, crackling fire; warm up in the cozy setting while enjoying a pint of the Irish beer on tap, a savory dish of Shepherd’s pie and good conversation with local golfers.
The bewitching season
Ireland is, if you didn’t know, the birthplace of Halloween, originating over 3,000 years ago as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “SAH-win”), an ancient religious tradition of the druids that marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. The druids lit bonfires and dressed in spooky costumes to ward off evil spirits, believing the divide between them and the mortal world was at its thinnest this time of year.
The Púca Festival (Oct. 29 – 31), now in its fourth year, has quickly become a favourite of Halloween revelers for its immersive storytelling performances, haunting musical numbers, and light and laser shows. Its setting in Ireland’s Ancient East, including with a symbolic lighting of the Samhain fires at the Hill of Ward in County Meath, where the druids once performed their sacred ceremonies, gives extra authenticity to the atmosphere. The festival also includes fun for the family, having last year turned the grounds of Slane Castle, an 18th-century property framed by River Boynes, into a haunted playground with sound and visual installations and costumed creatures.
The Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin, from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31, returns this season celebrating the 125th anniversary of Dracula, and it’s a fang-tastic way to learn more about the epistolary novel and its Irish author, while getting into the Halloween spirit.
The festival features three days of outdoor screenings, theatre readings, music, guided walks and even a gothic ball. The Galway Macnas parade (pictured above) will attract thousands of revelers in costume for a spine-tingling display of dark magic and the macabre.
In Derry-Londonderry, the only completely walled city remaining in Ireland, Derry Halloween (Oct. 28 – 31) has grown to become Europe’s largest Halloween festival. It is a big reason why USA Today readers voted Derry-Londonderry the best Halloween destination in the world. Treat your taste buds to authentic Halloween dishes, like Ireland’s famed mashed potato and cabbage dish, colcannon.
From ghosts, goblins and vampires, to dragons, sorceresses and other mystical creatures! Game of Thrones became a pop culture phenomenon, and in 2022 spawned the prequel House of the Dragon. Indulge in your enduring love of the sprawling universe created by author George R.R. Martin with the Games of Thrones studio tour in Northern Ireland. Or take a drive along King’s Road to the majestic mystical Dark Hedges (pictured above) – one of the most photographed landmarks from the show.
A whale of a time
There is something transformative about watching dolphins and whales emerge from their ocean habitats – and autumn and early winter is the best time to see this off Ireland’s Atlantic coast. The Ireland government designated this body of water a whale and dolphin sanctuary in 1991, as the mammals treat it as a superhighway for eating and migrating to warmer waters.
Fin whales, so named for the distinct ridge along their back, are the second-largest mammal in the world after the blue whale, and swim these waters between September and December. Humpback whales, meanwhile, frequent the superhighway between November and January.
Dolphins also populate these waters until December, and have been known to swim and jump playfully alongside boats.
For a truly close encounter, go by tour boat from any number of whale-watching operators, such as in West Cork. Or if you want to stay on land, we recommend setting up look-out at the Cliffs of Moher (pictured below), Ireland’s most visited natural attraction (and where the movie, The Princess Bride, filmed the “Cliffs of Insanity” scene amongst other famous movie scenes.) Reaching 702 ft. at its highest point, the cliffs give you a sweeping, expansive view of the breaching mammals.
Beauty in abundance
Ireland is a year-round destination, welcoming visitors with warmth, beauty and unforgettable experiences no matter the time of year. But with the fabulous foliage, frighteningly fun festivals, fewer crowds on the golf greens and so much more, it’s easy to see why fall might just be the best time to fall in love with the island of Ireland.
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