The essential guide to Ireland: top 10 experiences
For many people, a trip to Ireland means a visit to Dublin. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’d be a shame to miss the rest of this amazing country. From storm-lashed islands on the Wild Atlantic Way to dramatic cliffs and award-winning attractions, there’s plenty to see and do. Scroll down for our 10 favorites.
1. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
Perched on the edge of the stunning Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site has a lot to offer. The pounding of the ocean has created 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that tumble down to the water. Walk the coastal paths, enjoy the views from the surrounding cliffs and visit the award-winning visitor center to find out more about the fascinating geology and myths that surround this place. Look out for the so-called Giant’s Boot, reputed to be a whopping size 93.5.
2. Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
The cliffs stretch for five miles and have provided an imposing backdrop for many films, including Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. They rise to a height of 214m and fall away into the roiling Atlantic Sea. On a clear day you can see as far as the three Aran Islands. Be sure to explore the history of the area and relax in one of the wonderful surrounding towns and villages, such as pretty Ballyvaughan, musical Doolin and laid-back Lahinch.
3. The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
This spectacular group of medieval buildings is set on an outcrop of limestone on the Tipperary Plain. The Rock has been woven into legends and stories throughout history – warriors, chieftains, kings, saints and bishops have all marked it as a seat of power. While you’re there, we recommend you head further into Ireland’s Ancient East: you’ll encounter plenty of remarkable tales told by the best storytellers in the world – the local people.
4. Slieve League, County Donegal
Yes, Ireland definitely does cliffs well. These ones are almost twice as high as the Eiffel Tower and have commanding views across Donegal Bay, all the way to County Sligo. As you walk up to the summit there are a number of lakes where you can stop for a breather. And if the weather’s warm, you can take a boat to the white-sand beach at the base of the cliffs, where you can often spot seals bathing at the water’s edge.
5. Ha’penny Bridge, County Dublin
The River Liffey runs right through Dublin’s center and is crisscrossed by several pedestrian bridges. The Ha’penny – so called because you once had to pay half a penny to cross it – is the city’s oldest. This pretty arched walkway, connecting north and south Dublin, is a prime location to take in the many sights that flank and frame the River Liffey.
We suggest you snag a window seat at the Winding Stair’s upstairs restaurant for views over the Ha’penny Bridge and river. They do a well-priced pre-theater set-dinner menu from January-November.
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6. Game of Thrones Territory®, Northern Ireland
From ancient redwood forests and hidden caves to plunging valleys and dramatic mountains, Northern Ireland has plenty of scenic backdrops. And if you’re looking for fantasy landscapes, mysterious woodlands and beautiful harbors, you’re in the right place – this is Game of Thrones® territory. Visit County Down to explore Tollymore Forest Park, Inch Abbey and Castle Ward, the backdrops for some compelling moments from the series. Further north in County Antrim you’ll find the instantly recognisable Dark Hedges (aka the Kingsroad) along with other filming locations along the Causeway Coastal Route.
7. The Skelligs, County Kerry
In the 6th century, intrepid monks rowed the seven miles from the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula, which juts out from County Kerry, to Skellig Michael, where they settled on this storm-lashed island. Today, visitors can take a slightly less harrowing 45-minute motorboat journey to the monastic complex, where 600 steep steps hewn into the rock will take you to the summit. Several species of bird call the island home, including puffins, gannets and cormorants.
More recently, Skellig Michael had a starring role in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". Lonely Planet also voted the Skellig Ring one of the top 10 regions to visit in the world in 2017.
8. Titanic Belfast, County Antrim
This Northern Ireland landmark was voted the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction at the 2016 World Travel Awards – and with good reason. You can uncover the secrets of the Titanic at the city’s visitor experience, which has full-scale ship reconstructions and interactive features over six floors. In the Titanic Quarter, Belfast’s maritime history is showcased in all its glory with the fully restored SS Nomadic and HMS Caroline ships.
9. Blarney Castle, County Cork
You’ve no doubt heard of the Blarney Stone and the legend that surrounds it: kissing the stone is said to endow the kisser with “the gift of the gab”. So for those who dare, a climb to the battlements to reach the famous stone could be well worth it. But the stone is only a small part of the Blarney Castle & Gardens estate. Take a relaxing stroll through the gardens or follow the trail through giant gunnera leaves and bamboo – you’ll find a giant dolmen stone, a set of “wishing steps” and a witch’s kitchen. Don’t worry about getting lost – this place is all about wandering...
10. Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal
Head to the northern tip of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way and you’ll find the Fanad Head Lighthouse, perched on a rocky outcrop. From the car park, you can stroll along the headland to get the perfect Instagram shot of the lighthouse framed by the Atlantic Ocean. And if you drive 10 minutes along the coast you’ll come to the Great Pollet Sea Arch, a stunning viewing spot where you might glimpse grey seals and whales.