Malahide Castle is one of Ireland's oldest, built on land given to Richard Talbot, a knight who accompanied King Henry II of England to Ireland in 1174. The Talbot family resided in the castle for nearly 800 years, until 1975, when one of the last heiresses gave it to the state. On a day trip from Dublin, combine a tour of the castle with an exploration of Dublin Bay. Trace the Talbot’s history through portraits, artifacts and stories. The most interesting rooms of the castle include the Oak Room, filled with decorative carvings, and the Great Hall, lined with paintings of the family. Keep your eyes and ears open as you wander– rumor has it the castle has not one ghost, but five.
Blarney Castle dates from 1446 and is the home of the Blarney Stone – the main reason people make the trip to the castle. Legend states that if you kiss the stone, you will be granted with the “gift of gab” and never be at a loss for words. Year after year, people kiss this mystical stone, which can only be done by hanging upside down over a sheer drop from the castle's tower. Leaders and entertainers from all over the world have journeyed to partake in this ritual. Besides the draw of the stone, the Blarney Castle boasts handsome gardens and several interesting rock formations.
The Irish landscape, usually so gentle and well-behaved, reaches a dramatic flourish when it meets the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s west coast. The seaboard offers no greater sight than County Clare’s mighty Cliffs of Moher, which tower above the raging ocean along a five-mile (eight-kilometer) stretch. The viewing platform on top of crenellated O’Brien’s Tower provides the best vistas, stretching west to the Aran Islands and north to Galway Bay. To find out more about the natural and historical significance of the cliffs, explore the visitors center, which is discreetly embedded in a hillside. The approximately 3.5-hour drive from Dublin may seem long, but it’s well-worth it – you’ll realize just how much as soon as you get out of the car and perch yourself at the cliffs’ edge, feeling like you’ve come to the end of the world.
A visit to Aran Islands, off Ireland’s west coast, takes you into the past, revealing a very different side to modern-day Ireland. The three islands lie at the mouth of Galway Bay. Inishmore is the largest island, a windswept limestone landscape of wave-lashed cliffs, Iron Age forts and meandering ancient stone walls. The main town and ferry port is Kilronan, but the island’s highlight is prehistoric Dun Aengus Fort, overlooking the sea from its cliff-top vantage point. The poignant remains of early monasteries and churches also dot the countryside. The other Aran Islands are smaller and even more remote. Inishmaan boasts just one thatch-roofed pub along with the remains of churches and forts. Inisheer, the smallest island, is known for its wildflower meadows and 15th-century tower house. A magnet for hikers and wildlife lovers, the islands offer wild rocky seascapes, traditional B&B hospitality, lively pub sing-alongs and a chance to experience some of that back-to-nature serenity that’s missing from modern-day life.
The celebrated charms of Galway’s Atlantic coastline – including Galway Bay – are easily accessible from Dublin, once you’ve journeyed through the Emerald Isle’s heartland by road or rail. See the highlights of Galway and Connemara on a day trip, or stay a few days to really get the best out of West Ireland. From modern cities to wild primeval landscapes and stirring historical sites, you’ll be amazed at what the region can pack in. Mother Nature was in a good mood the day she blessed Connemara with a plethora of gorgeous flora and remarkable coastal views. It’s a hiker's dream. Immerse yourself in the landscape by kayaking, gorge-walking, rock-climbing or even scuba-diving. Then head to Kylemore Abbey, man's turreted, granite contribution to the area's pure beauty. Situated on a placid lake, the monastery’s garden is a gem, with acres of manicured terrain that includes banana trees, vines, herbs and flowers.
Giant's Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Northern Ireland coast. These rock formations get their name from an old legend stating that Irish warrior Finn McCool built the path across the sea to face his Scottish rival, Benandonner. There are several variations of the story from this point, but each one ends with Finn dressing as a baby and scaring off Benandonner, who thinks the disguised Finn is actually the child of a giant and is too afraid to face him.