Ireland is beloved worldwide for its stunning natural beauty, enchanting history, and welcoming people. With its rolling green hills and breathtaking coastlines, it’s no wonder that Ireland was named among the world’s 20 most beautiful countries by Rough Guides readers last year. Aside from the majestic landscapes, Ireland is steeped in rich history and is home to a vibrant and warm culture filled with much music and “good craic.” Let your imagination run wild as you stroll through medieval castles, fill your lungs with deep breaths of fresh air as you walk down quaint country lanes, and tap your foot to lively Irish music at charming local pubs.
Whether you are seeking a relaxing retreat, adventurous hikes, pub tours, or to maybe even connect with your ancestral past, there is truly something for everyone on the Emerald Isle. Book yourself a cottage in a pretty little coastal town and just live like a local for a week, rent a car, and embark on a multi-day road trip driving the island’s magnificent coast or even just head to Dublin for a long weekend if you are strapped for time. From captivating UNESCO world heritage sites to peak wildflower season, here are 20 reasons why you should book a flight to Ireland and check it off your bucket list.
20 Drive The Most Scenic Route In The World
Praised by National Geographic as one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Causeway Coastal Route is an absolute marvel of the senses that is thoroughly worth experiencing.
The 120-mile route winds through some of Ireland’s most incredible landscapes as it hugs the coast stretching from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry.
Drink in the salt air, hear the waves crashing on the shore, and marvel at the brilliant shades of green and blue as far as the eyes can see. The route is speckled with sandy beaches, ragged cliffs, strolling paths, and charming fishing villages. Along your route, imagine the medieval past of the now-ruined Dunluce Castle and dare to reach Carrick-a-Rede Island across the famous rope bridge from cliff top to island, dangling almost 100 feet above the waves of the Atlantic. Be sure to stop at the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway, which is home to thousands of basalt columns stretching out into the sea. With dozens of places to stop at and explore, take a full week if you can. There are many welcoming cottages, B&Bs, and hotels scattered along the route so make yourself at home, enjoy some local fish and chips, and soak it all in.
19 Learn To Pour A Perfect Pint At The Guinness Storehouse
Sipping the rich and creamy dark stout sits atop many visitors “Irish experience” lists and where better to savor one than the home of Guinness itself. The Guinness Storehouse is one of Dublin’s most popular visitor attractions and is housed in an old fermentation plant in the center of St. James’ Gate Brewery. Starting on the ground floor and making your way up through seven floors of interactive experiences, visitors are treated to over 250 years of Guinness history. Along the journey upwards, the deep heritage of this world famous beer is brought to life. Visitors also learn about the ingredients and time-tested process that goes into making every Guinness. The experience ends on the top floor at Gravity Bar, Dublin’s highest bar. From this towering vantage point, you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views of Dublin as you learn the proper pour technique and enjoy your complementary pint. Good things really do come to those who wait.
18 Meander Among Wildflowers In Burren
On the coast of County Clare in western Ireland, a peculiar landscape awaits you. 155 square miles of exposed limestone, chock-full of ruts, fissures, and rocks jutting from the surface makes you think you are walking on the moon. Thousands of years of acid erosion has created this panorama in shades of grey. However, be sure to peer into the crevasses and fissures as you walk across the rocks. The Burren is home to a surprisingly rich and fascinating ecology of approximately 700 species.
The unique combination of weather and stone provides conditions suitable to Arctic, Mediterranean, alpine, and local species of flora.
For those lucky enough to visit in May, the moonscape transforms into a cornucopia of colors as the bright wildflowers poke up from between the rocks. The Burren in Bloom Festival occurs every May and you can learn more about the diverse vegetation and insects of the Burren through guided walking tours. This is a must-see for all nature lovers.
17 Hike In Connemara National Park
Located in the northwest corner of County Galway, Connemara is one of Ireland’s most beautiful best-kept secrets. Dominated by four mountain ranges, the Connemara horizon is a sight to behold in every direction you turn. The four ranges–Twelve Bens, Maum Turks, Partry, and Sheffrey–are comprised of over fifty mountains, with grasslands, streams, and forests filling the valleys below. Connemara National Park is located in the heart of it all. And with 2,957 hectares of grasslands, bogs, forests, and mountains, the hike is one of the finest in the country. With a wood and cut stone path that leads to the summit of Diamond Hill, the highest point in the park, you have a chance to enjoy the park without missing your footing or getting stuck in a bog. Diamond Hill is 500 meters high and offers dramatic vistas of island, mountain, and ocean in every direction. Kylemore Valley, the Twelve Bens, and the mighty Atlantic are just some highlights from this 360 view. Along the trail, you’ll also come across Connemara ponies, wild deer, donkeys, and sheep. At most, it will take you three hours to walk from the visitor center to the peak of Diamond Hill and back, but there are other lower trails showing the Connemara woodlands as well.
16 Overindulge In Irish Brown Bread
Fresh from the oven, thickly sliced, crunchy in certain parts, and slathered with salted Irish butter, the brown bread is a satisfying treat for visitors and locals alike. In Ireland, this baked good is at the heart of any meal.
Many believe that an Irish breakfast with brown bread and a pot of tea will cure any Guinness-induced headache.
A slice is often found tucked in next to a bowl of chowder or draped with smoked salmon. When bicarbonate of soda was first introduced as a rising agent, yeast-free bread took off in Ireland. With the bread being able to cook over an open flame instead of an oven, all Irish families were able to bake it. Brown bread soon became a staple in the Irish diet. For those who have left the Irish shores, brown bread is a real taste of home. So, go ahead and over indulge while you are there. It's tough to find as good a loaf anywhere else.
15 Step Into History At The Dublin Writers Museum
With four Nobel Prize winners and many other writers of international acclaim, the Irish literary tradition is one of the most distinguished in the world.
In fact, Dublin is one of only four UNESCO Cities of Literature on the planet. George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heany, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, and James Joyce (to name a few) all hail from Ireland. Located in a stately 18th-century mansion in the north city center, The Dublin Writers Museum houses a magnificent collection of the lives and works of some of Dublin's most well-regarded literary figures. Dive into over three hundred years of books, portraits, letters, and other artifacts. The museum does a nice job of catering to both Irish literature enthusiasts, as well as Irish literary novices. For more on James Joyce, be sure to also visit the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. Roving the three floors of this 17th century Georgian building, you'll learn a great deal about Mr. Joyce and the Dublin he grew up in that inspired so much of his work.
"I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad." - James Joyce in Dubliners
14 Marvel Over The Cliffs Of Moher
No trip to the Emerald Isle would be complete without a visit to the mighty Cliffs of Moher. Yes, it is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Ireland, and with that come the crowds. But, this once-in-a-lifetime view is simply a can't-miss. On the west coast of Ireland, carved out by a massive river delta around 320 million years ago, these iconic cliffs soar 720 feet above sea level. With the Atlantic waves lashing against the cliffs, sea spray filling the air, and settling on your skin, this is the unmanicured, wind-swept, and authentic Ireland you have been hoping for.
The cliffs offer incredible views, and on a clear day, you can see as far as the Aran Islands in Galway Bay and the valleys and hills of Connemara.
Adding to its beauty and natural wonder, in May and June, thousands of Atlantic puffins nest on the cliff faces. It’s safe to say that this may be the most picturesque stop of your trip.
13 Embark On A Whiskey Tasting Tour At The Jameson Distillery
In 1780, John Jameson opened the doors of the Jameson Distillery Bow St. and the doors have been opened for Irish whiskey lovers ever since. While known for its smoothness, Jameson's history had its fair share of rough patches. At Bow St's peak in the late 1800's, the distillery was known as a city within a city in Dublin's Smithfield area, employing over 300 workers and covering 5 acres. However, with the turn of the century, major events like World Wars, the Irish Civil War, and Prohibition crippled the Irish whiskey industry. Through perseverance and hard work, the distillery survived and is still world-renowned today. At the distillery, learn more about the history of this institution and enjoy an unforgettable experience through one of four fully-guided experiences—Bow St. Experience Distillery Tour, Whiskey Makers Class, Whiskey Cocktail Class, and Premium Whiskey Tasting.
12 Ride Horseback In The Ring Of Kerry
Have you ever dreamed of riding horseback down a country lane or on a stretch of golden sand? Well, if so, now is your chance. The Ring of Kerry offers a rare escape into some of the most stunning landscapes Ireland has to offer. Off the beaten track, you're treated to winding coastal trails, a patchwork of lush meadows, island-studded Atlantic views, mossy hillsides, and cozy local pubs.
While seeing the Ring of Kerry by car is a popular approach, enjoying your journey on horse provides you with an authentic experience of yesteryear and enables you to take your time.
In this beautiful land, you'll appreciate being in touch with nature and the animals that surround you. A few hours in the saddle transports you back in time to when horseback was the only option.
11 Roam The 1,000-Acre Estate At Kylemore Abbey
The Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden in County Galway is a perfect way to spend a day in western Ireland. Enjoy lakeshore and woodland walks throughout the 1,000-acre estate. Visit the restored rooms of the Abbey and learn about its storied history of love, tragedy, education, and spirituality. Originally built as a castle in 1867 as a romantic gift from Mitchell Henry to his wife, Margaret, the estate has been home to the Benedictine nuns since 1920. Perhaps the highlight of the entire visit is the magnificent six-acre Victorian Walled Garden that is a short walk from the Abbey. The garden is immaculate and filled with hundreds of plant varieties. Make sure to treat yourself to a berry scone from the Garden Tea House and sit outside on the veranda to enjoy the view.
10 Research Your Heritage In Cobh
Cobh is a magical waterfront town with brightly-colored houses along the water, gulls circling lazily above, and the majestic St. Colman’s Cathedral overlooking the town from atop a hill. If you are of Irish descent, there is a good chance one of your ancestors left from the port of Cobh in County Cork. Between 1848 and 1950, over 6 million people emigrated from Ireland to the United States—over 2.5 million from Cobh.
Cobh was also the last port of call for the Titanic.
With so many people interested in learning more about their roots, the Cobh Heritage Centre is a fantastic resource in helping visitors trace their family connections back to the source.
9 Play Road Bowling With Locals
Also known as "bullets," Irish road bowling is basically heaving a cannonball down a country road. The aim of the game is pretty straightforward—take the least amount of throws to propel a 28-ounce iron ball along a predetermined course of country roads of more than a mile in length. Contestants balance optimal speed with controlled delivery and strategic placement. Winding roads, moving vehicles, and herds of sheep add complexity and fun to the competition. The sport has been played for hundreds of years and is one of the country's most traditional and competitive sports today. Scores, or matches, can draw anywhere from a handful of spectators to many thousand. Spectators often bet on the outcome and are even allowed on the field of play to offer advice to their favored competitor.
8 Enjoy A Pint At Ireland's Oldest Pub
After extensive research conducted by the Guinness Book of World Records, Sean's Bar in County Westmeath holds the official title of "The Oldest Pub in Ireland."
Dating back to 900 A.D., it may also claim the title of "The Oldest Pub in the World."
Research is still ongoing, but as of now, nothing older has been found. During renovations in 1970, the walls were found to be made of "wattle and daub," providing archaeological evidence of its longevity. The pub is located on the banks of the beautiful River Shannon at an ancient crossing point for thousands of years. Sean's Bar is full of character, with an open turf fireplace, saw dust floors, walls covered with artifacts, and musicians performing traditional Irish music and song. Stop in for a pint, listen to some lively music, and become part of history.
7 Kiss The Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle, a medieval fortress in County Cork, draws hundreds of thousands of travelers. While there are 1,500 acres at this 14th century castle to explore, most come to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. According to Irish folklore, anyone who kisses the stone receives “the gift of gab,” or eloquence. There’s more beyond the iconic Blarney Stone here, though. What kind of Irish estate would it be without sprawling gardens? Natural delights here include a bog garden, arboretums, open fields, rock formations, and even a poison garden, which is easily the estate’s most intriguing section. With over 70 flora, including toxic shrubs such as Wormwood and Hemlock and its deadliest specimens encased in black iron cages, the poison garden certainly adds to the mystique of this medieval gem.
6 Tour The Seven Kingdoms
Explore the real Westeros.
With more “Seven Kingdoms” locations than anywhere else in the world, Northern Ireland is known by many as “Game of Thrones Territory.”
When visiting, it’s easy to see why HBO chose this place as its perfect location for filming. From fantasy landscapes to far-reaching views to an abundance of castles and authentic medieval buildings, Northern Ireland provided a more beautiful set than what could have been created. Visit sites from the show scattered around Northern Ireland on your own or through specialized tours. Be sure to visit Dark Hedges, a forbidding road of serpentine beech trees in County Antrim and the Haunted Forest where the White Walkers head into the realm of men, which is really Tollymore Forest Park in County Down. If you plan to go it alone, grab a map from Tourism Ireland, who has diligently mapped out the Seven Kingdoms to help you on your quest.
5 Experience Croke Park On Match Day
It is often said that the best way to understand a culture is to understand their sport. As passionate, loyal, competitive, yet friendly fans, this statement could not be truer for the Irish. Ireland’s national sports are Gaelic football and hurling. Both are uniquely Irish and may take you a bit to understand the rules of the game, but the atmosphere at these games is guaranteed to be electric. Croke Park, Europe’s third largest stadium, has been the heart of Irish sporting life for over 100 years. On your list of Irish experiences, it will be hard to top cheering along 81,999 fans.
4 Hang Ten?
Zip up that wetsuit. Believe it or not, Ireland actually has some world-class surf. The Ireland is perfectly situated for some serious swells, with the western and southern shores being the first point of contact for waves originating far out in the Atlantic and carried along by the Gulf Stream.
For those bold enough to brave the chilly water, there are a number of great surf spots in Ireland.
Whether you're an experienced surfer in search of sizable waves like the ones found off the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare or if you’re just starting out and looking for an opportunity to learn, there are plenty of options along Ireland’s 1,970 miles of coastline. For beginners, check out Stranhill Co. Sligo, Fanore Co. Clare, and Tullan Stran Co. Donegal.
3 Be Part Of An Irish Fairytale
Glendalough, also known as the city of seven churches, is revered as one of the most beautiful places in Ireland.
It is the fairytale Ireland of your dreams, with perfect rolling hills, stunning lakes, wild deer grazing near waterfalls, and romantic serenity.
Glendalough is also home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. In the 6th century, Saint Kevin founded this early Christian monastic settlement. Enduring attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough persevered and served as one of the country’s most influential ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until it was destroyed in 1214 A.D. by the Normans. Make sure you have your camera handy when you visit this site, this picturesque setting is ideal for working on your photography.
2 Go Prehistoric At Bru Na Boinne
Bru na Boinne is a Neolithic necropolis that is a thousand years older than the Stonehenge. This incredible World Heritage Site is a powerful demonstration of the incredible achievements of prehistoric mankind. The complex was constructed to house the remains of the top social tier and the tombs built were of mind-boggling size for that time period. In fact,
they were the largest artificial structures in Ireland until Anglo-Norman castles were constructed approximately 4,000 years later.
Declared as a World Heritage Site in 1993, the site was inscribed as representing a masterpiece of human creative genius.
1 Learn A Jig
Traditional Irish music is the core of Irish culture. Songs and instruments are passed down from generation to generation. From Dublin to small country towns, music floats out of warmly-lit homes and pubs on every street. Spend an evening in any pub and musicians slowly trickle in, the group growing steadily throughout the night. A fiddle here, a flute there, maybe a tin whistle. It is an amazing and humbling experience to be a part of. If you can’t play any of the Irish instruments, you are always encouraged to sing along or even try to learn a jig. With all of its breathtaking landscapes and impressive history, it is the warmth of the Irish people that will stick with you the longest when you return home.