Travel writers all over the world rave about our incredible island with its magical castles, mighty mountains, and beautiful beaches, and now is the perfect time to see them in person.
People all over the world adore the Wild Atlantic Way, the legendary coastal 2,500km drive that runs from Donegal to Kinsale. Marvel at craggy cliff faces, roaring waves, and fiery red sunsets along this once in a lifetime journey.
It’s the ultimate Irish road trip with 15 signature discovery points along the way, stop at magnificent Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland, swim in the turquoise waters of Keem Bay in Mayo. Make sure you pick up your Wild Atlantic Way passport at the start of your journey, collect the stamps as you go and keep it as a souvenir from your trip.
You’ve looked at the photos, you’ve heard all the stories, but there’s nothing quite like standing on top of these iconic Cliffs of Moher for yourself. A trip to this special place in the heart of Clare is a rite of passage for every Irish person. You’ll find the largest colony of puffins in Ireland on the Cliffs of Moher, visit and meet these adorable seabirds with their brightly coloured beaks.
A visit to tranquil Coney Island in Sligo is as much about the journey as it is about the destination - it’s accessible only by car or foot at low tide. The remote island gets its name from the colony of rabbits who live there, follow the stone pillars that mark out the route and tell your friends how you walked to an island.
Featured in the recent Star Wars films, Skellig Michael in Kerry is one of Ireland’s greatest wonders. Steps carved into the steep rockface take you to a monastic settlement and beehive huts that date back to the sixth century. Landing tours to this otherworldly island are postponed until 2021 but it’s an unforgettable experience. In the meantime, there are some boat tours operating so you can see Skellig Michael from the sea.
Donegal's Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) is the Cliffs of Moher’s bigger, wilder cousin with some of the country’s best hiking routes on these sea cliffs, like the Pilgrim’s Path and the treacherous One Man’s Path. Hold your breath as you look down at the crashing waves far below you and if you have time, admire the cliffs from the sea with a boat trip from Teelin Pier.
What could be better than renting out a boat and cruising down Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon? As captain, choose where to set sail from and where to drop anchor. Experience the soothing atmosphere of Lough Derg, stop off at gorgeous Garrykennedy and spend some time in the pretty village of Terryglass.
You don’t expect to find caves like this in Ireland. Trek to Tipperary where Mitchelstown Cave’s three massive caverns are filled with stalactites, stalagmites and huge calcite columns. It’s an awe-inspiring sight but the main attraction is the 9m high Tower of Babel, one of the most incredible stone formations in Europe.
Don’t miss golden hour at Doolin Pier in charming Clare, as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean with outstanding views across to the Aran Islands and Galway Bay. For those on the east coast, watch the sun set from Dublin’s Killiney Hill to see the bay and mountains transform into a splendid kaleidoscope of colour.
How often do you get to see an actual dinosaur’s footprints? Head to Kerry and discover the fossilised tetrapod tracks at Valentia Island, thought to be at least 350 million years old. Scientists believe they were made when Ireland was still south of the equator. They are remarkably well-preserved, a snapshot of a moment in time from our prehistoric past.
Older than the great Egyptian pyramids, Carrowmore in Sligo is one of the most important megalithic sites in Ireland with an extraordinary collection of huge dolmens, tombs, and stone circles. Wander around the mysterious stone structures, immerse yourself in their rich history and uncover their ancient secrets.
Plan a trip to the grand passage tomb of Newgrange in Meath, book a guided tour and learn about the ancient history of this Stone Age monument. Famous for its Winter Solstice, watching the rays of the sun illuminate the ancient chamber at Newgrange is a true bucket list experience. Entry to the chamber for this annual event is by lottery only and you can apply in September.
Visit Kilkenny Castle, this towering fortress sits on the banks of the River Nore in Kilkenny. Admire the amazing art in the Butler Gallery, see detailed portraits whose eyes follow you around the room, and take in three floors of history on one of the daily guided tours. Spend some time in its gorgeous grounds and find the perfect selfie spot in the rose garden.
Fungie the bottlenose dolphin first showed up off the coast of Kerry in 1983 and now, he’s one of Ireland’s biggest celebrities. Take one of the daily boat tours that operate from the delightful town of Dingle and meet everyone’s favourite dolphin.
Experience Ireland’s one and only cable car on a journey to Dursey Island from the Beara Peninsula in Cork. Drink in the mesmerising blue waters of the Atlantic and if you’re lucky, spot a dolphin dip its head above the sea - what bucket list dreams are made of.
Visit Connemara in glorious Galway and put your cúpla focail into practice in this stronghold of Irish heritage. Take the Sky Road Drive and soak up some of the best scenery in the country with lofty mountain peaks, stone walls and serene lakes. Don’t miss an opportunity to hike Diamond Hill, the jewel in the crown of Connemara National Park.
Brothers John and Francis Brennan shot to fame on RTE’s At Your Service but they’re also the men behind the splendid Park Hotel in charming Kenmare. Mark a special occasion with a luxury stay in this award-winning Kerry hotel and pamper yourself in its luxury Sámas Spa.
Kayaking under the stars would be special enough but the bioluminescent plankton in Lough Hyne explode into light at you glide through the water. The result is a magical light show that’s one of West Cork’s best kept secrets. You’ll need the right conditions but it’s a thing of beauty when it happens.
You’ve heard of the Book of Kells, but have you ever been to see the 1,000-year-old manuscript? The magnificent book in Trinity College, Dublin is famous for its intricate illustrations of the four gospels of the New Testament and is widely recognised as one of Ireland’s most famous cultural treasures. When you’re there, wander around the Long Room, a spectacular library that looks like something from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
With the sky as your roof and the earth as your mattress, there’s something exhilarating about going wild camping. Where better to get back to nature than in one of Ireland’s stunning national parks?
Pitch your tent at Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park in Mayo and experience the magic of this Dark Sky Reserve or watch the sun go down over the majestic mountains in Wicklow Mountains National Park, make sure to follow the wild camping rules.
The great outdoors
The strenuous hike to the 1,038m peak of Carrauntoohil in Kerry is worth the effort for the fantastic views from the summit. Hikers with less experience can choose from local walking trails, soaking up the stunning scenery along the way.
Seasoned cyclists relish the challenge of The Ring of Kerry, a mammoth 175km route but there are plenty of easier – but just as impressive – sections. With the wind in your hair and amazing vistas unfolding before you, it’s a truly memorable way to explore the Kingdom.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there’s a perfect wave for you so tick surfing the Atlantic off your list.
Forget the Camino, Ireland has its own epic long-distance walking route with the Wicklow Way right on your doorstep. The full 132km route takes between five and seven days, but you can pick your favourite part if that sounds too much of a trek.
The Forty Foot is an iconic Dublin swimming spot and no dip in these shimmering waters is complete without grabbing a 99 at Teddy’s afterwards.
Explore the scenic trails of the Great Western Greenway in magical Mayo. The old railway route between Westport and Achill Island has been reinvented as a scenic 42km cycle path that showcases the breathtaking beauty of Clew Bay. Celebrate finishing the greenway with an overnight stay on Achill Island and admire its soaring cliffs and jaw dropping scenery.
Culture and craic
Protected by the same legislation that champagne is, the Waterford blaa is a much-loved Irish delicacy. The soft doughy bread is best served as a breakfast treat, try it once and you’ll soon be coming back for more delicious carbs.
Open since 900AD, Sean’s Bar in Athlone, Westmeath is Ireland’s oldest pub. Listed as one of the 25 most incredible bars in the world by Lonely Planet, sit by the open fire and enjoy a creamy pint. With ancient artefacts on the walls and sawdust on the floor, Sean’s is the definition of an authentic Irish pub.
Dublin is well-known for its lively trad sessions so why not get in on the action? Whether you can sing a song or play an instrument, you’re sure to receive a warm welcome at a rousing music session in the colourful capital of Ireland.
Make time for a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, and learn how to pour a perfect pint of the black stuff. Now you’ve picked up this quintessential Irish skill, enjoy a creamy pint in the Gravity Bar and check out the panoramic views over Dublin’s fair city.
30. Watch a trad session in John B Keane’s bar
John B Keane’s pub in Listowel, Kerry, is where the famous playwright worked on many of his literary masterpieces but it’s also renowned for its trad sessions. This is a place where the sessions are the stuff of legends and the craic is always mighty.
Memorable overnight trips
31. Live like royalty in a fairytale castle
Get the ferry to Waterford Castle and stay overnight on a private island, an experience you’ll be talking about for months or journey to Monaghan and soak up the old-world charm of Castle Leslie, a luxury 5-star hotel on 1,000 acres of spectacular woodland and lakes. Book a break to Offaly’s Kinnity Castle and check out the ornate décor with high ceilings and roomy roll top baths, you’ll never want to leave.
Escape to Europe’s most westerly islands, the Blaskets, on the edge of the rugged Dingle Peninsula. Take the ferry from Dunquin (Dún Chaoin) across the choppy waters to see seals basking on the sandy beach at Trá Bhán and after, take a guided tour of this fascinating island. Stay at one of the Great Blasket’s five restored cottages and live like Peig Sayers, the great Irish author and seanchaí, for a night.
Book an overnight trip to one of Ireland’s lofty lighthouses and fall asleep to the sound of waves spilling against the walls outside. Stay in the lighthouse tower itself at Wicklow Head Tower and see what life was like as a lightkeeper once upon a time or travel to Fanad Head in Donegal, where the lighthouse juts right into the roaring Atlantic Ocean, and check out the restored lightkeeper’s cottages.
Where will you discover next?
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