From its ancient castles and medieval architecture, to its lush rolling green landscapes and rugged coastlines, Ireland is a country steeped in history and beauty. The Irish are welcoming and the pubs are lively, with famous beer and a burgeoning gastronomy scene attracting visitors from all corners of the world.
Whether you want to kiss the Blarney Stone or be swept away by the wild and romantic Cliffs of Moher, Ireland offers a range of fascinating attractions and experiences.
Thanks to Insight Vacations’ incredible tours and air offers with Etihad Airways, you can experience the best of the Emerald Isle. Visit Ashford Castle on the Irish Elegance tour, experience the wild, enchanting coastal routes of Country Roads of Ireland, or even venture further afield and witness the regional variations of Ireland and Scotland for yourself on the Best of Ireland and Scotland tour.
The options are endless, so here’s some inspiration to get you going with the top ten must-visit places in Ireland.
1. Killarney and The Ring of Kerry
Visit the picturesque countryside town of Killarney with a hike over wooded paths and lakeshore trails. Having previously won “Best Kept Town” in Ireland, you could imagine how scenic this Irish town is!
A 120-mile trek that starts in the Killarney National Park – one of Ireland’s oldest protected wildernesses – the Ring of Kerry showcases some of the country’s lush countryside. Along the way lies Derrynane House, the ancestral home of the “liberator” of Ireland, Daniel O’Connell. There’s Waterville too, one of the best spots for sea trout fishing (and a favourite of Charlie Chaplin’s), but one of the most eccentric delights has to be Puck Fair in Killorglin. During this summer festival, a goat is caught in the mountains and crowned King Puck in a huge party that’s celebrated in an explosive mix of music, drink and games.
2. Trinity College
Founded by Elizabeth I to prevent the Irish from being “infected with popery” at continental Catholic universities, Trinity College was originally intended to host several colleges in the style of Oxford or Cambridge. However, as no more were built in or near its tranquil 47-acre grounds, the college name became synonymous with the University of Dublin. Counting famous names like Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke and Samuel Beckett among its alumni, Trinity is perhaps most famous for its old library, which houses not only internationally important texts such as the Book of Kells, but also the “Brian Boru” harp, one of only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps.
3. Ashford Castle
Feel like royalty with a visit to Ashford Castle and stay at the onsite hotel for the ultimate grand Irish hospitality. Dated back to 1228, the castle recently underwent a $75m restoration and provides guests with a majestic experience, commencing with a welcome from a traditional piper who will greet you upon arrival! Set on 350 acres of lush parkland, this beautiful castle and hotel overlooks Lough Corrib lake, and features luxurious, medieval rooms, a grand restaurant serving upmarket Irish fare, a bistro and pub, indoor pool, full-service spa, cinema, gold course, a falconry school and Victorian drawing room where afternoon tea is served.
4. The Cliffs of Moher
Standing at 702 feet in places and stretching for five miles along the Atlantic coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher attract almost one million visitors per year and have featured in several movies, from The Princess Bride to Harry Potter. If all the cliffs give you is vertigo, however, there are also ferry trips that allow visitors to get a view from sea level. And while you’re in the area, Doolin – one of Ireland’s musical sanctuaries – is only a few miles away and certainly worth visiting, too.
5. Blarney Castle
Pass by the spectacular Derrynasaggart Mountains, spanning over 40 miles in length, and dip down to Blarney Castle. Built in the 15th century, its crenelated walls contain the famous Blarney Stone – the rock that gives whoever kisses it the “gift of the gab”. People around here have always had a reputation for smooth talking but their reputation for being golden-mouthed entered historical records when Elizabeth I coined the term “to talk Blarney” when referring to the lord of Blarney castle’s circumlocutions.
No trip to Dublin would be complete without passing through O’Connell Street. 150 feet wide, it’s Dublin’s equivalent of Oxford or Parliament Street. Once known as Sackville Street and topped with statue of Nelson, it was renamed after the Irish Free State established itself and now has a monument to Daniel O’Connell at one end and “the spire” – the world’s tallest piece of sculpture – at the other. While you’re there, visit the neoclassical grandeur of The Custom House or an older seat of government, Dublin Castle, the garden of which lies on the historical Black Pool (Dubh Linn) the site Ireland’s capital is named after. For the ultimate beer experience, visit the famous Guinness Storehouse for an exclusive after-hours tasting
7. The Giant’s Causeway
The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, the Giant Causeway’s colossal columns of basalt are the result either of volcanic eruptions occurring millions of years ago or the consequence of a bored Irish giant who went by the name of Finn McCool and lived in the area, leaving random bits of clothing and furniture around the place in the form of gigantic stones. Take a stroll around the place and see which explanation captures your imagination.
8. Aran Islands
Three limestone islands off the west coast of Ireland, the Aran islands (Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer) are home to just over 1,000 residents, who all tend to prefer Gaelic to English and are proud to sustain their traditional Irish ways of life. Littered with Celtic monuments, churches, dry stone walls and over 250 species of birds, the little archipelago offers a heavenly retreat to any who feel burdened by the pace of mainland life.
Limerick is famous in Ireland for having borne the brunt of so many of its wars. But this role has also bestowed upon the city an incredible history often wrought in stone. King John’s castle, topping King’s Island and overlooking the River Shannon, gives visitors outstanding views of the city. Make sure to see St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick’s oldest building (founded in the 12th century), and the Treaty Stone, upon which William of Orange signed for peace, which now sits on a grand pedestal to stop visitors from chipping parts away to sell or treasure for themselves.
Belfast has a tough reputation, but it’s really a cultural beacon. Home to Titanic Studios (where Game of Thrones is shot), St George’s Market, Belfast University, and the baroque revival glory of City Hall, perhaps the most famous of the city’s spectacles is nonetheless its street art. Adorning many a wall, these murals number in their thousands (though there are roughly 300 top quality ones) and range from republican tricolours to loyalist depictions of William III – “King Billy”.