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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Ireland

On the Emerald Isle, coastlines, castles, and hospitality abound. Pucker up at the Blarney Stone, sip a stout in a thatched-roof pub or after a tour of the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, or feel the icy blast of the Atlantic at the Cliffs of Moher. Indisputable highlights include the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway, with its mysterious rows of hexagonal columns; the culture-rich cities of Galway and Cork; and the natural wonders contained by the Ring of Kerry. Roughly 300 miles long, the island can easily be explored end to end, with live music, ancient ruins, and traditional watering holes never too far away from any stop.
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Guinness Storehouse
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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.
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Jameson Distillery Bow St.
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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.

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Galway Bay
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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.

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Killarney National Park
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Killarney National Park is 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) of mountain and lakeside beauty. It has woodlands, islands, waterfalls, historic houses and working farms. There are deer and cattle, eagles and world famous gardens. It's the perfect place for hiking, cycling, boating, pony trekking, fishing, landscape-gazing, or riding in a jaunting car - a light, two-wheeled horse drawn vehicle. One of the most popular panoramic viewing points is Ladies View.

Within the park, Muckross House is one of Ireland's foremost stately homes which is open to the public along with its famous gardens. Here you can pick up a guide to the park from the National Park Information Centre. There is also Knockreer which has an eduction center, and Killarney House and Gardens (the gate lodge here also has information booklets on the park) and Muckross Abbey and y can catch a boat across to Innisfallen Island on the Lower Lake.

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Molly Malone Statue
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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.

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Kilmainham Gaol
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Playing a large part in the establishment of Ireland as an independent nation, Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol was built in 1787 and many prominent Irish independent fighters were incarcerated – and some executed – in this jailhouse during the lengthy political Troubles between Ireland and the UK. Irish Republican Robert Emmet was hung here in 1803 and later that century Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned at Kilmainham in 1881, before his private life – scandalous by the standards of the time – led to his downfall in public life. The future Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera was also held at Kilmainham for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916, which failed in its attempt to establish an independent Ireland but saw increased public support for the radical republican group Sinn Féin. Founded in 1905, the party is still active in both parts of Ireland; today it has five Northern Irish MPs at Westminster under the leadership of Gerry Adams.

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Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín)
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The Gap of Dunloe is a narrow mountain pass formed by glacial ice a couple of million of years ago. The valley winds its way for 6 miles (10km) between Macgillycuddy's Reeks and the Purple Mountains. Along the way it passes five lakes, or loughs, Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. The River Loe connects the lakes. Over the river at one end is the Wishing Bridge where it's promised that wishes made while crossing the bridge will come true. At one end of the valley is Kate Kearney's Cottage, these days a bit of a tourist trap but useful for a snack and restroom. At the other end is Lord Brandon's Cottage from where you can get a boat back to Killarney.

The best way to explore the gap is by hiking through or riding a bicycle. No cars are allowed but you can go by pony-trap. These seat four people and roll slowly through the valley the old-fashioned way.

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GAA Museum
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The Gaelic Games are integral to Irish culture, and at Dublin's Croke Park stadium, a visit to the popular GAA Museum will lead you through the history of the games right through to the present day. The museum focuses on the Gaelic Athletic Association's most popular sports — hurling and football — and you'll also find sections dedicated to camogie (female hurling), handball, and the Tailteann Games among others.

Attracting over a million visitors a year, exhibits and audiovisual displays provide the opportunity to learn about the Games: you'll see a grave slab depicting a hurley stick that dates back to medieval times, and you'll learn how hurleys are made too. Fun facts are interspersed among the trophies and memorabilia — did you know there was a GAA game that couldn't be finished because of the lack of a spare football? The upper floor takes you to the popular interactive games zone where you can practice your curling and football skills.

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More Things to Do in Ireland

Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum

Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum

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Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship

Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship

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One of the most popular attractions in Dublin, the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and Famine Museum is dedicated to the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852, when over 1 million Irish people fled their devastated homeland in search of a new life in North America.

The Jeanie Johnston was one of the last “coffin ships” to sail the Irish across the Atlantic. Despite harsh storms and squalorous ship conditions, not one of the 2,500 passengers died aboard the boat in its 16 journeys to the New World, a rare run of good luck credited to the compassion of its captain and doctor.

On a one-hour guided tour of the replica ship, learn about the catastrophic potato blight and how the Great Famine affected Ireland and beyond. As you wander the dimly-lit cabins, get a sense of how hard ship life must have been at a time when four adults would have shared one six-foot square bare bunk. And on the lower deck, come up-close to the life-sized wax figures modeled on some of the passengers.

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Dublin Grafton Street

Dublin Grafton Street

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The pedestrian-friendly Grafton Street stems off of the western end of Trinity College and runs down to the main entrance of St. Stephen's Green. Acting as a direct link between these famous landmarks, Grafton Street is a main thoroughfare but is also a popular destination in itself. Both locals and visitors to Dublin come to Grafton Street to peek in the high-end shops and grab a bite at one of the eateries. At the end of the street, across from the entrance to the park, there's also St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, which adds to the wide selection of stores down at street level.

Those meandering the broad boulevard will find entertainment along their way as well. The fact that most of Grafton Street is closed to cars makes it a prime location for street performers to set up their acts.

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Dublin O’Connell Street

Dublin O’Connell Street

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Any visitor touring Dublin by foot will eventually walk down O’Connell Street. This bustling street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and while it’s only approximately a quarter mile in length, it’s believed to be the widest urban street found anywhere in all Europe. O’Connell Street is also famous for its statues, where the stone likeness of James Joyce watches over the swarm of crowds. It’s also home to the world’s tallest sculpture, and is the site of the O’Connell Monument that still has bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. The General Post Office involved in the uprising is also along the street, although the historical buildings and statues aside, it’s the shopping, restaurants, and pubs that draw most of O’Connell Street’s visitors today. After slowly strolling the length of the street—past the impromptu gatherings of street musicians and shadowy city eccentrics—cross the River Liffey on the O’Connell Bridge to head towards Trinity College.

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Cobh Heritage Centre (The Queenstown Story)

Cobh Heritage Centre (The Queenstown Story)

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The Cobh Heritage Centre tells the stories of Irish heritage and emigration to the United States. Between 1848 and 1950 more than 6 million people emigrated from Ireland, and more than 2.5 million of them left from Cobh, making Cobh the most important port of emigration in the country. At the museum, visitors can view the Queenstown Story, which is an exhibition that tells about the origins, history, and legacy of Cobh. You can retrace the steps of the people who left from Cobh in coffin ships, early steamers, and eventually great ocean liners. Exhibits allow visitors to see the conditions on board the early emigrant ships and to experience what life was like on board convict ships leaving for Australia in 1801.

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House of Waterford Crystal

House of Waterford Crystal

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Temple Bar

Temple Bar

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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.

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Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

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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.

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Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

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Supremely located in the heart of Dublin, Trinity College stands as the gem of Ireland. Ranked as the number one university in the nation and in the top forty globally, Trinity College has a stellar academic reputation in addition to being one of Dublin's finest landmarks. Established in 1592, the college has been at its current location since the 1700s and boasts some beautiful Georgian architecture from that time. The Campanile and Examination Hall are commonly the subjects of photographs. The Old Library is popular amongst visitors as well, but it is not the look of the building's exterior that draws them there. Held within the Old Library is the world famous Book of Kells, an ancient sacred text, which is on display in a special exhibit. While Trinity College is deeply rooted in its history, much has changed since the institution first opened its doors over 400 years ago. Founded by Queen Elizabeth I of England, the college was originally only open to Protestant men.
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Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

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One of the oldest buildings in Dublin, Christ Church Cathedral is located in the former medieval heart of the city. Founded in 1030 by Sitric, King of the Dublin Norsemen, the grand cathedral (also known as The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) has long been a place of pilgrimage for Ireland's devout. Incorporated into the Irish Church in 1152, today it's the seat of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin.

Renowned for its design, on a one-hour tour you'll get to explore the interior, keeping a look out for its famous stained glass windows, the smaller chapels behind the main altar, and the secret underground floor. You'll get an insight into the history of the cathedral, and hear the strange tale of the mummified cat and rat. You'll visit the crypt — one of the largest and oldest in Britain and Ireland, and also get to have a go at ringing the bells of Christ Church Cathedral in the belfry.

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Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall

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River Liffey

River Liffey

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Dividing Dublin into north and south, the River Liffey is the subject of stories and songs by everyone from James Joyce to Radiohead. Entwined in Dublin's cultural identity, let's just say that some of the stories surrounding the Liffey are more than a little mythical: so if any Dubliners tell you that the capital’s Guinness tastes so good because the water comes from the Liffey, let them know that Guinness water is actually piped from the Wicklow mountains.

A popular spot for a river cruise or for a spot of canoeing, in recent years, the Liffey has had its riverbanks' developed so that you can stroll the overhanging boardwalks and visit the riverside parks which run alongside many parts of the river. Most Dublin attractions are near the river, and there are plenty of bridges to help you get from side to side, including the famous Ha'penny Bridge, built in 1816, and the modern Samuel Beckett bridge which is shaped like a harp.

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Dublin Zoo

Dublin Zoo

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Opened in 1831, Dublin Zoo is one of the oldest in the world, and it sees over a million visitors a year. On a visit to the 70-acre park you'll see over 400 animals split into various sections. Visit the African Savanna to check out the giraffes, rhinos, and zebras. Check out the Gorilla Rainforest, and the herd of Asian elephants along the Kaziranga Forest Trail. To see Sumatran tigers and macaques, check out the Asian Forests, and also keep a lookout for hippos, orangutans, chimps and red pandas, reptiles and tropical birds. A registered charity, Dublin Zoo also manages the EEP for the golden lion tamarin and the Moluccan cockatoo.

Based in Phoenix Park, facilities at Dublin Zoo include two gift stores, a restaurant, cafes, and kiosks. On any day at the zoo, you can also see animals being fed by the zoo keepers.

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