Ireland is one of those destinations that gets under your skin and into your soul.
Expect castle hotels set on magnificent country estates, exhilarating landscapes and intimate moments where you can experience the island’s exceptional history.
But perhaps one of the best things about Ireland is that it consistently exceeds travellers’ expectations.
The island of Ireland is filled with the most jaw-dropping, pinch me moment sights. And the friendly locals always go over and above to provide that famous warm welcome.
If you’ve ever dreamed of lingering in Ireland, these are the places we highly recommend you visit.
The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
This 8km stretch of sheer striated stone cliffs along the Wild Atlantic Way has featured in films such as Harry Potter, Leap Year and the Princess Bride.
The staggering height of the rock face (214m) will stop you in your tracks as you walk the well-trodden coast path to O’Brien’s Tower.
Legend has it that the lost underwater city of Kilstiffen is somewhere in the deepwater below and locals will tell you the story of the fisherman who fell in love with a mermaid, only for her to leave him to return to the sea.
In spring, wildflowers spring up throughout the green fields. Along the craggy rock edge, you can often spot puffins and if you look to the sky you may just see an elusive peregrine falcon.
Connemara, County Galway
Connemara’s castles, rust-coloured bogs, brilliant blue lakes, coral beaches and colourful villages have inspired artists and photographers, poets and playwrights for generations.
Oscar Wild described the region as having a “savage beauty” while writer and cartographer Tim Robinson spoke of the landscape’s “huge, luminous spaces”.
It’s little wonder then, that this west coast gem has been the scene for several popular films and TV series including Marley and Me, Tristan and Isolde, Man of Aran, The Field, Into the West, The Matchmaker and The Guard.
“Connemara is unique. The dramatic contrasts of sea, sky, mountains and bogland lend themselves effortlessly to artistic expression. It is not hard to see why this wild place with its ephemeral light and moods is so inspiring for photographers and cinematographers.” – photographer Aoife Herriot
But apart from the unbelievable views, this west-coast gem is a place that values tradition. Connemara is a Gaeltacht region, which means it’s Irish-speaking. It’s also a great place to really savour fresh traditional Irish food. Smoked fish is a local favourite along with Killary Fjord mussels.
Drop into a pub and you’ll find musicians gathered in a cosy corner for a “trad session”. Molly’s in Letterfrack, Lowry’s in Clifden and The Shamrock Bar in Roundstone are some of the best places to let Irish music soak into your soul.
“Musicians who don’t know each other at all often play together,” Dr Sandra Joyce, Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. said
“It’s all about getting together socially and playing tunes, purely for the enjoyment of it.”
The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
Thousands of hexagonal-shaped basalt columns tumble down into the Atlantic ocean at this UNESCO World Heritage Site
According to legend Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill picked a fight with a Scottish big man named Benandonner. After a day of trading insults, Fionn built a path of stepping-stones to reach Scotland. The result was the Giant’s Causeway. Sadly, Finn died a gruesome death – ripped apart by Benandonner.
Science, however, has determined the rocks were the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption almost 60 million years ago.
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, County Antrim
Swaying more than 30m above the ocean, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge has connected Carrick Island and the County Antrim mainland for more than 250 years.
Expect a subtle shake and the creak of wood as you walk the 20-metre journey above the swirling waves.
Fishermen once used the Carrick-a-Rede as the best spot for catching salmon and you can still see their humble whitewashed huts tucked into the folds of the island’s hills. Back then, the bridge was much less sturdy, comprising of just one handrail and the well-trodden wooden planks.
The incredible bridge is on the Causeway Coastal Route, which winds it way from Belfast to Derry~Londonderry.
The Dark Hedges, County Antrim
At night, it’s easy to imagine a headless horseman riding through the threes on Bregagh Road, Stranocum, Ballymoney.
The Stuart family planted the avenue of beech trees in the eighteenth century to impress visitors as they approached the entrance to their Georgian mansion, Gracehill House.
But it’s become known as the Dark Hedges. You may recognise it from the television series Game of Thrones®, where it became the Kingsroad, and the place where Arya disguised herself as a boy to avoid capture.
It’s particularly beautiful when a dense mist rolls in.
Benbulben, County Sligo
This jaw-dropping flat-topped rock was the subject of Yeat’s poem of the same name. The rock was shaped in the ice age when Ireland was under glaciers. The region around the rock was originally it was a large plateau and glaciers moving from the northeast to southwest shaped it into its present formation.
If you want to climb Benbulben, you’re best to approach it from the Southern face as the northern side north face bears the brunt of the high winds and storms that roll in from the Atlantic Ocean.
In winter the top can get a dusting of snow and in Spring wildflowers fill the surrounding fields.
Dunquin Harbour, County Kerry
This Irish-speaking town is the western-most village in Ireland. It’s famous for its incredible view over the harbour and the ocean. But if you take the winding path down to the pier, you’re in for a real treat. From here you can still catch a ferry over to the Blasket Islands.
The ferry used to carry goods and people and sheep until the last islanders left at Christmas in 1953. Author Peig Sayers known as “one of the greatest women storytellers of all times” wrote a book on the history of Blasket Island’s inhabitants that makes for fascinating reading.
Aran Islands, County Galway
The Aran Islands, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr, are the last lands to the west before you reach America. Each one has maintained the culture and heritage of traditional Irish life.
On all three you will find wild landscapes crisscrossed with stone walls, distinctive knitted jumpers and pretty cottages.
The largest of the three islands, Inis Mor is home to a unique attraction known as The Worm Hole. The finely cut stone edges were naturally formed. The pool has several underground channels which connect to the ocean. At high tide, the water rushes into the Worm Hole through an underground cave, forcing the water over the edges and filling the hole from above.
Brú na Bóinne, County Meath
Brú na Bóinne in Ireland’s Ancient East is the island’s most mythically rich valley. It’s home to more than 90 Neolithic monuments. The best known, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, are the most spectacular.
Newgrange is an extraordinary 80-metre mound of green earth adorned with spiral-engraved stones and topped with white quartz. On the winter solstice, a single shaft of light pierces the building through a perfectly placed window box at the passage entrance, creating a golden path to the central burial chamber.
Packed with artifacts, Knowth pays tribute to the moon. The mound’s eastern passage holds lunar maps, carvings of the seas and a calendar stone used to calculate the lengths of the months and a year.
Dowth is also known as the “Fairy Mound of Darkness”. According to Irish legend, a terrible darkness fell the tomb when the sorceress sister of a legendary king tried to stop the sun in its tracks. Like Newgrange, Dowth also transforms on the winter solstice each year.
Skellig Michael, County Kerry
Between the 6th and 8th centuries, devout Christian monks seeking extreme isolation and enlightenment would retreat to Skellig Michael (Sceilig Mhichíl) and its smaller sister, Little Skellig.
Famous Irish author George Bernard Shaw once commented that Skellig Michael was an “incredible, impossible, mad place”. It was, he wrote, “part of our dream world”.
So it’s little wonder with that history that Disney chose the islands as the scene for Luke’s isolation retreat in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Kylemore Abbey, County Galway
Kylemore Abbey is a magnificent building on Connemara Lake. But the story behind its construction is even more incredible than the architecture.
In 1852, financier, Mitchell Henry and his new bride, Margaret Vaughan sat enjoying a long honeymoon lunch in the town of Kylemore. Margaret fell in love with the spot, so Mitchell decided to build her a grand stately home overlooking the Connemara lake. The couple lived there happily with their nine children from 1865.
But ten years later, on a visit to Egypt, Margaret contracted a fever and died. Mitchell, by all accounts, could not bear to wander around his stately castle without his beloved wife. To ease his grief he constructed an abbey in her honour, even more grand than the luxury home the two had loved.
Kylemore Abbey is filled with uniquely feminine features, such as the female characters featured on the beautiful stained glass windows.
It is said that every seven years a white horse can be seen rising from the waters of the lake at Kylemore Abbey before racing off into the mist.
Glendalough, County Wicklow
In the 6th Century St Kevin chose Glendalough as the place to build a monastic settlement. It would quickly become one of the great centres of learning in early Christian Ireland.
Although the monks sought peace and enlightenment the world had other ideas. Glendalough was attacked and plundered by Vikings and ravaged by fire. It suffered from harsh weather and the settlement fell to the Normans in 1398.
In Irish Glendalough translates to “valley of the two lakes”. The region is also home to the Wicklow Mountains National Park which is filled with bubbling streams, waterfalls and towering forests.
Dingle, County Kerry
Dingle Town is the definition of quaint.
The pretty fishing port is packed with colourful buildings which gradually space out and give way to green hilly lowlands beneath the Brandon mountain range.
Dingle is known for quality food and restaurants, interesting shops and galleries.
Ashford Castle, County Mayo
Ever wanted to stay in a castle? Of course, you can do that in Ireland. And ride horses on the beach while you’re at it.
Ashford Castle is an 800-year-old property set on 350 acres of woodland on the shores of Lough Corrib. Voted one of the best hotels in the world, it features Donegal crystal chandeliers, panelled oak walls and hand-carved fireplaces.
The hotel is home to Ireland’s first School of Falconry and it has an excellent golf course.
Guests can try fine dining in the dungeon or taste one of 60 Irish whiskies in the Prince of Wales Bar.
The Gobbins, County Antrim
This wild cliff path with bridges suspended over the rumbling sea is perhaps the most dramatic walk in all of Europe. This section of the coast was sculpted by tectonic and climatic forces, wind, rain and constant battering waves.
It’s filled with giant basalt columns, eerie passages, tumbling waterfalls and sandy cays.
Engineer Berkeley Deane Wise designed the first path through The Gobbins in 1902. The path embodies his genius as an engineer and his ambition to help ordinary people enjoy extraordinary experiences. Wise organised for steel girder bridges, built in Belfast, to be brought to Whitehead on barges and manoeuvred up the coast on rafts. Workers then winched them into place on lines dropped from the clifftop.
The entrance to Gobbins is through a hole cut into the solid basalt outcrop named “Wise’s Eye”. Cut more than 100 years ago it gives access to the most spectacular section of the original path… “over crashing waves to sunken caves and sheer cliff faces.”
At ‘The Aquarium’, Gobbins walk bends like an elbow out into the Irish Sea, creating a “natural aquarium” giving travellers a view over rockpools encrusted with molluscs, sponges and red seaweed. The Tubular Bridge, an exposed tubular walkway hanging some 10 metres above the chilly Irish Sea, quickly became a symbol of Gobbins cliff path. It features in more 20th century postcards and 21st-century social media posts than any other point on the path.
Howth, County Dublin
With names like “The Bog of Frogs trail”, you really can’t resist one of Howth’s spectacular country walks.
The pretty little village is one of Dublin’s oldest working harbours and you can sit and watch trawlers and smaller shellfish boats coming in and out of the harbour day in and day out. Sunsets here are some of the best in Ireland.
Phoenix Park, Dublin
When you think of Dublin, you most likely think of Temple Bar and the Guinness Brewery. Both are Ireland must-dos. But Phoenix Park is simply astounding.
The park is one of the largest in Europe. And it contains a herd of around 400 wild fallow deer.
The Dublin Zoo opened here in 1830 and by the 1900’s much of the grounds were handed over to the people for recreation. The park has large areas of grassland and tree-lined avenues. One of the best ways to see all of it is to hire a bicycle.
Blarney Castle, County Cork
It’s best known for the Blarney Stone, but Blarney Castle also has secret passages, poison gardens and stunning views.
If you do turn yourself upside down to kiss the Blaney Stone, legend has it you will be given “the gift of the gab”, an ability to speak eloquently and confidently forever.
Make sure you take the time to explore the rock gardens and the fairy glade.
Mullaghmore, County Silgo
Jutting dramatically out into the North Atlantic Ocean, Mullaghmore is a surfing mecca. It’s known for “Ireland’s scariest slab”, a heavy reef break coming out of deep water and breaking in very shallow water.
Even if you don’t surf, this town part of Ireland is jaw-droppingly beautiful. For something really different head down to Strandhill to try the traditional Irish therapy/detox treatment at Voya Seaweed Baths.
The area’s most famous landmark, Classiebawn Castle is privately owned. But you can take as many photos as you want.
Derry~Londonderry is the only completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest in Europe. It was nicknamed the maiden city as its stony ramparts were never breached. Stand on the 400-year-old walls and you feel the history.
But to see the modern history of this destination you simply need to look around you. The tradition of painting murals in Northern Ireland dates back as far as 1908. In Bogside, artists have painted dozens of art murals around the district, effectively turning parts of the neighbourhood into an art gallery. Many also celebrate modern culture. Make sure you find the huge tribute to the popular television show Derry Girls.
If you’re lucky enough to visit in October, you’re in for a treat. Derry~Londonderry is one of the best places in the world to celebrate Halloween. The popular pagan festival actually descends from the ancient Irish festival Samhain. Every year Derry~Londonderry hosts a wild Carnival Parade, featuring music, theatrics and breathtaking performances.
Lough Erne, County Fermanagh
More than 100 islands are dotted across the Upper and Lower Lough Erne. Many hold ruins of castles and churches and the best way to see them it to set sail.
The monastery an 12th century round tower on Devenish Island will catch your eye from afar. The small island was raided by Vikings in 837AD, and burned in 1157AD. But it finally flourished in the Middle Ages as a parish church site.
On White Island, you can wander through the haunting ruins of an ancient church where the walls are lined with 1000-year-old stone figures. But Boa Island is perhaps the most fascinating of all. It contains mysterious two-faced stone statues thought to represent an unknown Celtic deity.
While in the region, you should also check out the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark which has an underground system of rivers, waterfalls, and cavernous chambers. And go for a hike along the Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail, known as the Stairway to Heaven because of the wooden boardwalk that takes you right to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain.
It’s easy to fall in love with Ireland. And to feel a desire to return once you’ve uncovered some of the gifts this rich green destination is blessed with.
Irish actor and Acadamy Award nominee Michael Fassbender couldn’t have said it better when asked about his love for his homeland
“It’s a very magical place. This is the place that formed my personality.”
More info: Ireland.com/eu-au
Getting there: Australians can now fly to Ireland from Sydney and Melbourne
Staying there: Tourism Ireland accommodation listings