Things to do in Ireland: the ultimate destination for adventure

From rugged mountains to wild coastlines, discover why travellers are flocking to Ireland for holidays filled with action, natural beauty, and the warmth of ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ – a hundred thousand welcomes. These are some of the best things to do in Ireland. 

When one thinks of Ireland, the mind can’t help but conjure images of rolling green hills, medieval castles, charming pubs, and traditional music. While these are all quintessential things to do in Ireland, there’s another facet to the island. From soaring cliffs that kiss the edge of the Atlantic Ocean to rugged mountain ranges that beckon, Ireland is a playground for adventure seekers. Every step is guaranteed to be accompanied by a spirit of hospitality and warmth from the people you encounter along the way.  From friendly chats in cosy pubs, where the locals regularly perform traditional music, to the warm hellos received on the winding walking trails around the island, friendliness is woven into the fabric of Irish culture. You’re never just a traveller passing through, but a cherished guest.  Whatever floats your boat, Ireland has a welcome and an adventure that will leave you craving more.

© Tourism Ireland

Dublin

Enjoy a tasting at the Irish Whiskey Museum

There are currently 24 distilleries on the Emerald Isle and another 28 on the way. The Irish Whiskey Museum will guide you through the best local products with unbiased opinions, and is one of the essential things to do in Ireland. Take a guided tour of the museum to learn about Irish history and that of its whiskey makers. The museum has four different rooms, each representing a different era in time. The tours end with a tasting of up to four whiskies, or optional add-ons include blending experiences and a whiskey brunch.

Take a step back in time at Kilmainham Gaol

A tour this 19th century prison will offer visitors insight into the people who were imprisoned at Kilmainham Gaol and the living conditions they survived. This penal colony even sent prisoners to Australia. The guided tours are well worth joining and at the end is an educational exhibition. Located just outside the city centre, it’s near the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Kilmainham Gaol.
Kilmainham Gaol. © Unsplash/ Yoav Aziz

Look back at history at Dublin Castle 

Built upon the site of a past viking settlement early in the 13th century, Dublin Castle is a key tourist attraction that showcases magnificent state apartments and medieval architecture.  The building has hosted military forces, a prison, a treasury, courts and even served as the seat of English and British rule in Ireland. It’s one of the best things to do in Ireland for those interested in learning about Ireland’s history.

Dublin Castle.
Dublin Castle © Unsplash/ Lisa Fecker

Explore the world of Guinness

Guinness is an Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James’s Gate in Dublin in the 18th century. Since then, it’s gone on to become one of Ireland’s iconic beverages. Sample the best of it where it all began at the Guinness Storehouse Experience. One of the essential things to do in Ireland, visitors can take a tour of the brewery, have their image printed upon the froth of a Guinness, learn the six-step ritual for pouring the perfect pint, grab a bite and a drink at the best rooftop view in Dublin.

A pint of Guinness
© Pexel/ Engin Akyurt

Be inspired by great minds at Trinity College

Greats such as Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker studied at Dublin’s Trinity College. While this beautiful building still operates as an educational campus today, visitors can take a tour through its hallowed halls. Here, you can lay your eyes upon the Book of Kells, a medieval manuscript and Celtic Gospel, and the Old Library, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. However, the Old Library is currently undergoing a redevelopment project and will be empty of books until 2025.

See natural beauty at Phoenix Park

When you think of Dublin, you most likely think of Temple Bar and the Guinness Brewery, and both are essential things to do in Ireland, but Phoenix Park is simply astounding. The park is one of the largest in Europe and 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.

Pheonix Park Dublin Ireland
Bike riding in Pheonix Park Dublin. Photo: James Bowden

Marvel at art, relics and animals at the National Museum of Ireland 

With four branches covering decorative arts and history, country life, natural history and archeology, the National Museum of Ireland examines Ireland’s history and its place in the world today. It’s one of the free things to do in Ireland, and at the archeology branch, visitors can have a gander at ancient artefacts from the days of Vikings, mummies, the Stone Age and Medieval times.

Visit EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum

Delve into the history of Ireland and learn about what it truly means to be Irish at EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum. Here, the country’s history is told through stories of Irish emigrants who became influential members of their communities. The high-tech interactive exhibitions and galleries will keep every member of the family engaged, while the Irish Family History Centre connects visitors with expert genealogists to find family connections and identify ties to the land.

© Tourism Ireland

Embark upon a spiritual journey at St Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most visited sites in Ireland and a fine example of medieval structures and Gothic architecture. The structure was built sometime in the middle of the 13th century and is famous for its choir, which is thought to have been established in 1432, making it the oldest in Ireland. Aside from the serene atmosphere within its halls, this cathedral offers visitors spectacular views, soaring spires and stained glass windows. 

St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral. © Tourism Ireland

County Down

Join the Game of Thrones Studio Tour  

 Located at the original film location of Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, the Game of Thrones Studio Tour is the only official and permanent exhibition of its kind. Visitors can walk through iconic sets, view props and weapons from the HBO series, see costumes and learn about the special effects, prosthetics and art required to bring this global phenomenon to our screens. There are a range of photo ops throughout the tour (like the Iron Throne!), plus interactive installations to keep younger children engaged.

Scale the heights of Mourne Mountains

In Northern Ireland, the Mourne Mountains provide a wonderful playground for hikers. Slieve Donard, the highest peak in Northern Ireland, beckons adventurers to conquer its 850-metre summit. Hikers can explore the ancient trees, moss-covered stones, and rugged terrain of Tollymore Forest Park, which served as a backdrop for the global phenomenon, Game of Thrones.

Mourne Mountains
Mourne Mountains. © Tourism Ireland

County Clare

Kayak the Cliffs of Moher

If you’re looking for watersports or outdoorsy things to do in Ireland, head to County Clare and explore the towering Cliffs of Moher from an entirely different angle – by kayak. Grab a paddle and set off along the base of the cliffs for a physical and spiritual adventure as you become one with the natural wonders of Ireland’s west coast. Keep an eye out for puffins and seals that call the coastline home. 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.

Ireland
The Cliffs of Moher. Photo: Chris Hill

Alternatively, walk the well-trodden coastal path to O’Brien’s Tower. The staggering 214-metre height of the rock face will stop you in your tracks as you walk, and legend has it the lost underwater city of Kilstiffen is somewhere in the deep water below. Locals tell 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. If you look to the sky, you may just see an elusive peregrine falcon.

County Galway

Discover the colours of Connemara

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.

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.

Connemara Ireland
Connemara Ireland. Photo: Chris Hill

Swim in the Worm Hole of the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands of Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr are the last lands to the west before America. Each one has maintained the culture and heritage of traditional Irish life. On all three there are 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 that 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.

Aran Islands Ireland
The Worm Hole Aran Islands. Credit: Lukasz Warzecha

Experience the luxury of Kylemore Abbey

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. Now, Kylemore Abbey is filled with uniquely feminine features, such as the female characters featured on the beautiful stained glass windows.

Home to a Benedictine order of Nuns for the past 100 years, Kylemore Abbey is a magnificent 1,000-acre estate. It has beautifully restored period rooms, a Victorian Walled Garden with formal plantings, woodland and lakeshore walks and a beautiful Neo-Gothic church nearby. Children will enjoy making a wish at the Giant’s Ironing stone, the wild play area and meeting the pigs and Connemara ponies. Adults will appreciate the refined dining options, boutiques and the intriguing history of the property. 

Kylemore Abbey Ireland
Kylemore Abbey. Photo: Gareth McCormack

County Antrim

Cruise through Titanic Belfast

Undoubtedly, this museum is one of the best things to in Ireland. The infamous ship that sunk on her maiden voyage was built in Belfast, and those with imaginations captivated by the sad tale can learn more about it at Titanic Belfast. Opened in 2012, the museum has won awards for being one of the world’s top tourist attractions and has self-guided tours that educate visitors on the ship, the people who built it and those who were on board. Afterwards, pop next door to the Titanic Hotel where you can grab a drink and a meal in the room where the ship was designed.

Walk the grounds of Belfast Castle

Presiding over the grounds of Cave Hill Country Park is Belfast Castle, a 19th-century Scottish Baronial structure with splendid views of the city. The landmark is open to the public so visitors can view the original interior and furnishings. Onsite is a restaurant, tavern and visitor centre.

Belfast castle.
Belfast castle. © Unsplash/ Rory McKeever

Walk the Giant’s Causeway

Thousands of hexagonal-shaped basalt columns tumble down into the Atlantic ocean at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Embark on the Giant’s Causeway Walking Tour to explore a marvel of interlocking basalt columns. 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. Science, however, has determined the rocks were the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption almost 60 million years ago.

Giant's causeway Ireland
The Giant’s Causeway. Photo: Chris Hill

Cross Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

Along the Causeway Coastal Route tackle the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Suspended above the water, the rope bridge was first erected by salmon fishermen 350 years ago and crossing it is one of the most thrilling things to do in Ireland. Swaying more than 30 metres 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.

Carrick-a-rede Ropebridge
Carrick-a-rede Ropebridge. © Tourism Ireland

Brave the Dark Hedges

At night, it’s easy to imagine a headless horseman riding through the trees 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. It’s one of the best things to do in Ireland for photographers, history buffs and Game of Thrones fans.

However, it’s become known as the Dark Hedges and visitors 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.

Traverse the rugged Gobbins

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 of 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. It’s undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Ireland.

The Gobbins Ireland
The Gobbins Cliff Path. Photo: Arthur Ward

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.

County Sligo

Climb Benbulben

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 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 north face takes 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.

BenBulben Ireland
Benbulben. Photo: Gareth McCormack

Surf the Wild Atlantic Way at Mullaghmore Head

Jutting dramatically out into the North Atlantic Ocean, Mullaghmore is a surfing mecca. Begin your adventures along the dramatic Wild Atlantic Way, an almost 2,600-kilometre coastal route that stretches from Donegal on the northwest coast to County Cork in the south. Mullaghmore Head, in County Sligo, is renowned as one of Europe’s premier big-wave surf destinations. It’s one of the essential things to do in Ireland for brave souls ready to ride monster waves that can reach heights of up to 15 metres during winter storms. Even if you don’t surf, this 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.

Ireland
Mullaghmore. Photo: Alison Crummy

County Kerry

Learn about the history of Dunquin Harbour

This Irish-speaking town is the western-most village in Ireland. It’s famous for its incredible views 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, visitors can catch a ferry over to the Blasket Islands. The ferry used to carry goods, people and sheep until the last islanders left during 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. It’s one of the best things to do in Ireland for people who love small-town history and exploring little villages.

Dunquin Habour
Dunquin Harbour. Photo: Tom Archer

Bike the ring of Kerry

One of the best things to do in Ireland for cyclists, the Ring of Kerry offers some of Ireland’s most picturesque landscapes. Take an e-bike tour of the 179-kilometre loop through lush valleys, past serene lakes, and along the coastal cliffs of the Iveragh Peninsula. Take a break at the Gap of Dunloe, a narrow mountain pass where the Gap Road meanders through steep cliffs, where you’ll find breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

The Gap of Dunloe.
The Gap of Dunloe. © Tourism Ireland

Awaken the force at Skellig Michael

Between the sixth and eighth centuries, devout Christian monks seeking extreme isolation and enlightenment retreated 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”. With such a history, it’s unsurprising that Disney chose the islands as the scene for Luke’s isolation retreat in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Experience the thrill of flight in Dingle

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, galleries – and paragliding. One of the more thrilling things to do in Ireland, visitors can soar above the rugged coastline and savour the thrill of flight on a paragliding adventure on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. After a day of heart-pounding fun, unwind in the charming town of Dingle with a refreshing pint of Guinness at one of the many friendly pubs.

Dingle
Dingle main street.

County Dublin

Hike in Howth

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. Watching the sunsets here is one of the most beautiful things to do in Ireland.

Howth Ireland
Howth Harbour. Photo: Siobhan Pepper

County Wicklow

Visit Wicklow Mountains National Park in Glendalough

In the sixth 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.

Glendalough Ireland
Glendalough. Photo: Chris Hill

County Meath

Experience the mythic Brú na Bóinne

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 and most spectacular are Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. 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 structure through a perfectly placed window box at the passage entrance, creating a golden path to the central burial chamber.

Newgrange Ireland
Newgrange. Photo: Brian Morrison

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. Visiting these sites is one of the most interesting things to do in Ireland.

County Mayo

Live a fairytale life at Ashford Castle

If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a castle and live out a fairytale life, simply add Ashford Castle to your ‘things to do in Ireland’ list. Here, guests can ride horses on the beach while enjoying the beautiful surrounds of Ashford Castle, 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.

Asford Castle Ireland
Ashford Castle. Photo: Cahir Davitt

County Cork

Sample the finest local fare at Cork English Market

Trading since 1788, Cork’s English Market is one of the oldest and one of the best covered markets in Europe. This renowned food market has survived famine, flood, wars and recessions and remained a key feature in Ireland’s foodie scene. Aside from the fresh local produce sold by independent producers and retailers, the building itself is a heritage landmark, the architecture a remarkable example of Byzantine-Revival style.

© Tourism Ireland

Derry~Londonderry

Gaze at murals

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. To see the modern history of this destination you simply need to look around. 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, it’s one of the best things to do in Ireland during spooky season.

Derry Girls Northern Ireland
The Derry Girls mural in Bogside

County Fermanagh

Examine the ruins of Lough Erne

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 is 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. 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.

Ireland walks
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail

This article was created with content supplied by Tourism Ireland.

Read more: 

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way & Causeway Coastal Route
16 fascinating places in Ireland’s Ancient East
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