Founded by the Vikings in 988, Ireland’s capital and most populous city is a booming tech centre where most of the world’s biggest internet and social media companies have set up shop in some form or another. Even so, the city still retains its charm thanks to the elegant Georgian squares and impressive public buildings such as the Custom House, the GPO, and Dublin Castle.
Dublin has a strong multicultural fabric these days and celebrates a strong cultural heritage with works by Picasso, Monet, and Caravaggio exhibited in the city’s art galleries. The city is also a UNESCO World City of Literature, one of only seven worldwide, and it’s no surprise given that Dublin has produced writers like Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker over the centuries.
The world renowned Book of Kells is housed in the Long Room of Trinity College which was actually the inspiration for the Jedi library in Star Wars.
There are hundreds of bars and clubs throughout Dublin from traditional pubs like the Long Hall and Toner’s to contemporary watering holes such as The Church and the Porterhouse, not to mention the many fine establishments of Temple Bar. Of course, the city is famous for Guinness and touring the Storehouse is a must for many visitors to the capital where you’ll learn about the making of the black stuff and the origins of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leinster and Dublin environs
The countries which surround Dublin such as Kildare, Wicklow, and Meath feature monuments of Ireland’s past dating back millennia along with some stunning natural scenery. There’s the Hill of Tara, home of the High Kings of Ireland, and Newgrange – believed to act as a giant Stone Age calendar which is one thousand years older than Stonehenge and five hundred years old than the pyramids of Giza.
Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland, is home to the Wicklow National Park – one of the wildest and most beautiful places in the country – as well as Glendalough, a monastery dating from the 6th Century! The county is also a key filming location with the History Channel’s Vikings shot here.
These counties are also home to some of the most impressive stately homes in Ireland such as Castletown, Russborough, Avondale – home of Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Irish Home Rule movement in the 19th Century – and Slane Castle, the venue for many music festivals during the summer months.
Many visitors each year choose to take a cruise along the Shannon, the longest river in Ireland and the UK, which flows through the heart of this region, almost splitting the country in two.
There are also many bogs here which can be explored and have yielded not only peat for energy consumption over the years but also artefacts of key archaeological significance and, sometimes, the bodies of those lost to the marshes in ancient times.
You can visit the ruined 6th Century of monastery of Clonmacnoise, home to one of the most impressive Round Towers in Ireland, or explore Tullynally Castle and Gardens which is notable for its combination of Gothic revival and Georgian architecture while many tall yews have taken root in the grounds of the castle.
The Sunny Southeast, which gets about double the sunshine of the rest of the country, features many fantastic views of the coast and great beaches such as the one at Curracloe, used for D-Day landing scene in Saving Private Ryan.
County Wexford was the key focal point of the 1798 Rebellion and you can relive the conflict in the Enniscorthy Visitor Centre dedicated to the events of the rising. To get a taste of what life was like in Ireland even further back, the Irish National Heritage Park features accurate reconstructions of villages from Ireland’s distant past such as crannogs, houses built on manmade lakes during the Bronze Age to keep the wild animals that once prowled the country’s forests at bay.
Kilkenny is one of the most pleasant cities in Ireland and the castle one of the grandest in the country despite the destruction of the east wall by Oliver Cromwell’s army in 1650.
Tipperary’s most prominent feature is undoubtedly the Rock of Cashel, an iconic ruined monastery on the site where Saint Patrick is said to have converted the King of Munster to Christianity.
Waterford meanwhile is Ireland’s oldest city and the first founded by the Vikings and Reginald’s Tower – a museum about the city’s past – is the oldest civic building in an urban area in Ireland and the only one to retain its Viking name. Today the city is best known for Waterford Crystal, manufactured there until 2009, but tourists can still relive the making of the crystal at a dedicated visitor centre.
A hotbed of activity during the Civil War, Cork is frequently named as one of the world’s best cities to visit and here you’ll find festivals throughout the year such as the Guinness Jazz Festival and the world famous English Market.
Not too far from the city you’ll find Blarney Castle where visitors can kiss the Blarney Stone for the Gift of the Gab or tour one of Ireland’s handful of poison gardens. There’s also the seaside town of Cobh, the last port-of-call for the Titanic, and the Fota Wildlife Park.
The county is home to the town of Kinsale, Ireland’s seafood culinary capital, and Youghal, which featured heavily in the 1956 film adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Baltimore meanwhile, a quaint fishing village, was the scene of one of the largest pirate attacks in Irish history when almost the entire population were taken as slaves to be sold in North Africa and is worth visiting today for fine views of the Atlantic shore.
You can visit Mizen Head here, Ireland’s most southerly point, while the village of Glengarriff near the Kerry border allows access to Garnish Island, exotic Italian Gardens at the heart of Glengarriff Bay, while the Bamboo Park and Glengarriff Nature Reserve are highlights of any visit to the region.
Kerry is one of Ireland’s top tourist destinations thanks to the Killarney National Park and Muckross House as well as the breath-taking views on the Ring of Kerry.
The Skellig Islands are a seabird nature reserve and Skellig Michael, the bigger of the two, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the remote monastery at its peak which was founded at some point between the 6th and 8th Century. Access to the island, which lies 11.6 kilometres from the mainland, runs through April to October, weather permitting.
Limerick’s most recognised landmark is John’s Castle which was recently refurbished and offers a state-of-the-art interactive exhibit on life in the Middle Ages and the castle’s history. Adare Village, not far from Limerick City, is arguably the prettiest in Ireland and you’ll want to have your camera ready to take shots of thatched cottages here as well as 19th Century castle-esqueAdare Manor which is now one of Ireland’s most luxurious hotels.
Clare, Galway, and the Aran Islands
Clare is one of the most fascinating counties in Ireland as it is here that you’ll find the Cliffs of Moher, rising to over 200 metres above the Atlantic, as well as the Burren – arguably Europe’s most diverse floral regions where arctic and Mediterranean flowers thrive side-by-side.
There are also many tombs and monuments dating from the Stone Age and cave networks such asAillwee and Doolin, home of the largest free standing stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park meanwhile will give you an unparalleled taste of what Ireland’s past with a full scale historic village to explore and medieval banquets at the castle.
Galway is youthful city with a strong student population and well established cultural scene including festivals, pubs, and traditional Irish music. West of the city is Connemara, a stronghold for the Irish language and one of the rugged yet inspiring landscapes in the country.
Situated in Galway Bay between the two counties are the Aran Islands famous for the knitwear jumpers which bear their name and the Iron Age fort of Dun Aonghasa which sits right on the edge of the sea atop 100 metre high cliffs.
Mayo and Northwest
The coastal town of Westport is one of Mayo’s most attractive bases for any holiday in the area and home to the stately Westport House. North of the town are the CeideFields, where you’ll find not only the oldest evidence of farming in Ireland but also the oldest known field system in the world.
Cong, a village in Mayo and the setting of John Ford’s The Quiet Man rests amidst glorious scenery in all directions and beside Ashford Castle, an upmarket hotel.
Donegal is Ireland’s most northerly county, actually reaching further towards the pole than anywhere in Northern Ireland at Malin Head, and offers exceptional views around Mulroy Bay and Fanad Head where you can see ‘EIRE’ of Ireland spelled out in white rocks on the ground, this was done to inform Allied pilots during World War II that they were veering into neutral Irish airspace.
The Glenveagh National Park is home to a 19th Century castle-estate as well as one of Ireland’s most spectacular glacial valleys.
You’ll need pounds rather than Euros here but there’s plenty of compelling reasons to cross the border such as the walled city of Derry and the 60 million year old Giant’s Causeway, not to mention the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge nearby.
The Ulster Folk Park and Transport Museum explores daily life in the region’s past while the Ulster American Folk Park explores the strong ties between the province and the original thirteen colonies as well as the many US presidents of Ulster descent.
Belfast, Ireland’s second most populous city, is home to the Titanic Quarter where you’ll learn about the world’s most famous ship and the Ulster Museum which houses some of the most precious artefacts from the wreck of La Girona, the largest Spanish Armada ship which sank off County Antrim in the 16th Century.
Northern Ireland is also one of the key filming locations for Game of Thrones and an increasing number of visitors come to explore the real life settings for such key scenes as Winterfell, the Iron Islands, and the King’s Road.