The Irish landscape, normally so gentle and well-behaved, reaches for a dramatic flourish as it meets the Atlantic coast. The seaboard offers no greater sight than County Clare’s mighty Cliffs of Moher, which tower above the raging ocean below along a 5-mile (8-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.
Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. 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.
On his way back to Scotland, Benandonner tears up the path behind him, leaving just what exists today on the Northern Irish coast and the Scottish island of Staffa, which has similar rock formations.
While the legend makes for an interesting story, geologists have a different explanation for the creation of the Giant's Causeway: volcanic activity. Now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thousands of tourists visit Giant's Causeway each year to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.
Ireland's top attraction is the Guinness Storehouse. People from all corners of the world come to visit the birthplace of the black frothy brew and get a taste straight from the barrel.
In November 2000, the Guinness Storehouse opened its doors as a multi-media visitor experience. Thousands of visitors each year enter the pint glass-shaped tower and make their way up through seven stories of interactive exhibits demonstrating the brewing process as well as the history behind this legendary stout. A treat for the senses, the self-guided tour allows guests to look at old ads, touch the barley, smell the hops, hear the waterfall and finally, to taste the finished product.
On the top floor, visitors line up to claim their complimentary pint of Guinness, complete with shamrock flourish, to enjoy in the Gravity Bar. The completely glass-enclosed level provides 360 degree views over the brewery and city.
One of Ireland’s most unique and photogenic landscapes, stretching over 160 square km, the Burren, derived from the Gaelic word Boireann meaning ‘rocky place’, is one of the most visited attractions in the Shannon region. Aptly named, the karst topography is characterized by its unusual limestone formations, naturally sculpted through acidic erosion over thousands of years. The natural landscape is an otherworldly terrain - a giant jigsaw of rocks, made up of grikes (fissures) and clints (isolated rocks jutting from the surface), with pockets of lush greenery poking between the expanses of bare rock.
Located at 300 meters above sea level, the Burren lies close to the Atlantic Coastline and the towering Cliffs of Moher, offering incredible views both underfoot and out to sea. It’s not only the rocks that draw thousands of hikers and naturalists to the area, either – the contrasting green spaces are inhabited by around 700 different species of plants and ferns.
Visitors to Blarney Castle most often are actually visitors to the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. As its name implies, the legend states that if you kiss the stone, you will never be at a loss for words. People come year after year to 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 here to partake in this ritual and capture the power of the stone and travelers from near and far continue to do the same.
Besides the draw of the Stone, the Blarney Castle also boasts handsome gardens and several interesting rock formations. Known collectively as Rock Close, the formations have been given such whimsical names as Wishing Steps and Witch's Cave, adding a certain sense of enchantment to this 600 year old fortress. So by all means, take your turn to kiss the Stone.
While many of Ireland’s Medieval castles have been reduced to crumbling ruins, Bunratty Castle is a rare exception—having been masterfully restored in 1954 to its original, powerful beauty. The castle was built in 1425, with the area’s first settlers being Viking traders in the mid-late 10th century. Today, Bunratty Castle is considered as Ireland’s most complete and authentic castle, where the tapestries, furniture, and regal surroundings create a mood that can instantly transport visitors back to the 16th century. At night, the Bunratty Castle Medieval banquet offers an historic reenactment of what it would be like to dine in the towering stone castle—and feel like a member of Irish nobility enjoying an evening meal. At the neighboring Bunratty Folk Village, skip ahead to the 18th century and experience what life must have been like in the rural Shannon countryside.
The Wicklow Mountains, called the "Garden of Ireland", are a range of mountains running southeast from Dublin through County Wicklow. The mountains are a popular weekend and holiday retreat for Dubliners looking to get out of the city for fresh air and various recreational activities.While the Wicklow Mountains themselves are not all that tall (the highest peak is 925 m/3,035 ft), the landscape is stunningly wild and markedly different from the typical green grassy plains of the Emerald Isle.
Home to one of the country’s most popular historic sites, a 6th-century monastic complex, Glendalough, or ‘the valley of the lakes’, is set in an idyllic location between two lakes. An hour south of Dublin, Glendalough makes a popular day trip, as well as a common stop-off for hikers attempting the famous Wicklow Way, which runs through the valley.
The monastery was founded by the hermit monk St Kevin around 618AD and by the 9th century was among the leading monastic cities of Ireland, up until its destruction by the English in 1398. The ruins remain impressive today, with a collection of ancient churches, burial sites and monastic buildings sprawled around the Upper and Lower lakes.
A huge part of Glendalough’s appeal lies in its spectacular surroundings, with the two lakes encircled with woodlands, verdant pastures and the hilltops of the nearby Wicklow Mountains National Park.
The bronze statue of Molly Malone commemorates the young woman featured in the local ballad, 'Cockles and Mussels'. As the song goes, this beautiful woman plied her trade as a fishmonger through the streets where her statue now rests, until she suddenly died of a fever. As a nod to the folk song, a statue was erected on the corner of Grafton and Suffolk streets and unveiled at the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations.
This tune has been adopted as Dublin's unofficial anthem, boosting this heroine to eternal fame. Though there is debate as to whether or not a Molly Malone like the one in the song ever existed, she is real to the people of Dublin and is remembered both in song as well as on June 13, National Molly Malone Day. The statue also acts as a popular rendezvous spot for groups as the beautiful bosomy woman with her cart cannot be missed.
The Old Jameson Distillery, tucked away in a quaint cobbled alley that opens into a small courtyard, has managed to maintain the charm of its heyday in the early 1800s. Though most of the operation has since moved to Cork, Ireland, the old distillery is one of Dublin's top attractions and a must-see for whiskey fans as well as those curious about this Irish landmark.
Tours run daily and cover the history of John Jameson and the family business he created in addition to the whiskey making process. After learning about malting, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling and maturing, visitors are invited to take part in the final step--tasting!
For those who feel that the tour sample has not quenched their thirst, they have the option to pull up a stool at the Jameson Bar or take their next drink with a meal at The 3rd Still restaurant. On the way out, a stop at the gift shop is a must to pick up souvenir bottles, glasses and everything else.
Dublin Castle has served many functions since it was built by King John of England in 1230. At that time, the castle was meant to act as a defense center against the current invaders, the Normans, and serve as the seat of the English government. Since then, Dublin Castle has also been the site of the royal mint, the police headquarters and the residence of various British leaders. Today, the castle grounds are used for some governmental purposes but are mostly only used for ceremonial purposes, such as the Irish President's inauguration, and to host conferences, like those of the European Council.
When no such event is occurring, Dublin Castle is open to the public. Guided tours take visitors through the grounds, sharing the history and ever-changing purpose of each building.
Known as one of Ireland's national treasures, the Book of Kells is a sacred and important historical text dating from around 800 A.D., making it one of the oldest books in the world. The book gets its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its original home until the continuous plundering of the Vikings proved to be too great of a threat. Since the 15th century it has been at Trinity College for safekeeping.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks that depicts the 4 gospels of the New Testament as well as other texts. Written in Latin, the book has been translated and found to have a few mistakes. But these are overlooked as the manuscript was made to serve a more decorative and ceremonial purpose than one of utility. In fact, it is its illuminations (illustrations) that make the Book of Kells so remarkable.
The Ring of Kerry is a route passing through some of the most beautiful scenery is southern Ireland. The route is circular and around 180km in distance. It passes through Killarney with its lovely National Park alongside Lough Leane, around Iveragh Peninsula, passing through Kenmare, Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen and Killorglin. Along the way there are beautiful views of castles, forts, historic houses and a sheer rocky island.
Temple Bar is known as the cultural quarter of Dublin. Originally a slum that was to be developed into a bus terminus, it became home to a number of artists' galleries and small businessmen's shops who took advantage of the cheap rent in the 1980s. Presently, the Irish Film Institute and the Temple Bar Music Centre are amongst the several cultural institutions tucked away in this district's narrow cobbled streets.
Since the success of the movement to preserve Temple Bar, several drinking establishments have also popped up in the neighborhood. Though family-friendly during the day, what happens here after dark wouldn't be considered "culturally rich experiences" by most. As far as nightlife goes, Temple Bar is a popular place to get a drink or two (or three!) with friends, enjoy some traditional Irish music and observe the rowdy antics from a distance.
A busy fishing port and one of Ireland’s largest Gaelic-speaking towns, Dingle (An Daingean in Gaelic), effortlessly bridges the gap between old and new. Historic pubs and a lively folk music scene nod to the traditional, while the town’s cosmopolitan youth award it a reputation for creativity, cemented by a packed schedule of annual arts festivals. Dingle’s charming activities are simple, but nonetheless enchanting – walking along the rugged coastal cliffs, tucking into fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant or joining the locals for an afternoon pint of Guinness.
Hidden away on Ireland’s southwestern coast, Dingle is at the heart of the Dingle Peninsula, and a popular starting point for both the Dingle Way long-distance hiking trail and the Slea Head driving route, which loops around the scenic headland, passing by Europe’s westernmost point at Slea Head.
Off the west coast of Ireland and beside Galway City, Galway Bay is a beautiful bay that has inspired many Irish legends and songs. You may have heard it sung in Arthur Colahan's Galway Bay or John Lennon’s Luck of the Irish. Yet the Atlantic coast of Ireland is a scenic, natural beauty that deserves to be seen with your own eyes. It’s also a magnet of authentic Irish and Celtic culture and has been called “the most Irish place in Ireland.”
Galway Bay is known for a few things in particular, including its morning dew and unique sailing culture, including a boat type called the Galway Hooker. As Galway was the center of maritime activity in western Ireland at the time, the Hooker boats were prominent in the mid-19th century. Many beaches dot the coastline that are accessible for swimming. Deep sea fishing, boating, and visiting the nearby Aran Islands are other popular activities on the bay.
Celebrated as one of the most picturesque of Ireland’s many castles, the majestic Dunguaire Castle is perched atop a grassy promontory off the coast off Kinvarra in Western Ireland. A four-story medieval fortress, built by the O’Hynes clan back in 1520, the castle’s spectacular setting – jutting out from the bay and encircled with water – has made it one of Ireland’s most photographed castles, despite having little history to boast of. In fact, the castle never saw battle and had a somewhat meager legacy until it was bought by 20th century writer, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and became an important meeting spot for Irish literati like W. B. Yates, George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey. A popular day trip from Galway or Ballyvaughan (around a 30 minute drive away each), Dunguaire Castle is most famous for its atmospheric medieval banquets, organized by the same team behind those held at the equally popular Bunratty Castle.
Renowned for their stark beauty and enduring Irish traditions, the enigmatic Aran Islands have long drawn fascination from their mainland neighbors, inspiring generations of Irish artists and writers with their idealistic way of life. A visit to the Aran Islands - three small, sparsely populated isles, overlooked by the immense Cliffs of Moher - is like stepping back in time. Here, Gaelic-speaking communities populate traditional farmhouses, local ladies make a living knitting traditional Aran sweaters, sold throughout Ireland, and cars are overlooked in favor of rickety pony traps and trusty bicycles.
Reachable by ferry or plane from Rosaveel, Galway or Doolin, and easily navigated on foot or bike, the islands harbor a number of attractions, including the remains of one of the world’s smallest churches and a 16th-century castle once used by Oliver Cromwell’s troops.
Despite being one of Ireland’s most important historical sites, it’s Tara’s otherworldly views and fascinating archaeological finds that make it such a popular day trip from Dublin. The Hill of Tara, known as Temair in Gaelic, is located in County Meath and was once the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland – a series of grassy landscaped mounds presiding over the surrounding land. Ancient Irish mythology tells that 142 kings reigned from this mount in prehistoric times and Temair was renowned as the ‘sacred place of dwelling for the gods’. Legend dictates that Saint Patrick, patron Saint of Ireland, also visited the Hill, and a statue of him still reigns proud at the top.
Entry to the site is free but the rough terrain means you’ll need to scramble over ditches and up slippery grass mounds, so don’t forget your hiking boots!
Everyone wants the gift of eloquence, and some say the Irish have it, well, the gift of the gab anyway. So, how are they so blessed? It's all down to the Blarney Stone. For over two centuries people have been coming to Blarney Castle in the south of Ireland to kiss this stone set into the battlements in the hope of gaining a silver tongue. It used to be that you were hung over the battlements from above by your ankles, these days there's less risk involved in leaning backwards from the parapet walkway while holding securely to a metal railing.
The origins of this magic stone are still debated. Was it Jacob's pillow, St Columba's deathbed pillow, or the stone that gushed water for Moses? Was it brought to Ireland after the Crusades or given to the Irish by Scot Robert the Bruce in gratitude for helping him defeat the English in 1314? We'll probably never know. But after you kiss it, tour the ruined castle, visit elegant 19th century Blarney House, wander around the lake.