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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Malahide Castle is one of Ireland's oldest castles, 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, up until 1975 when one of the last heiresses turned it over to the Irish State.
Now visitors may take guided tours of the castle and grounds, tracing the Talbot family's history back through portraits, artifacts, and stories. The most interesting rooms of the castle include the Oak Room, filled with decorative carvings, and the Great Hall, which is lined with paintings of the family. Keep your eyes and ears open as you wander through the rooms - you may just spot one of the castle's five ghosts!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
One may not truly understand the awesome power of Mother Nature’s beauty until you have visited Connemara. With a countryside that will knock your socks off with the sheer beauty of the peninsula, a plethora of gorgeous flora, and remarkable landscape and coastal view, Connemara is a hiker's dream.
Immerse yourself in the land by taking up on of the area's offered activities, including kayaking, gorge walking or even rock climbing. Getting outdoors is the perfect way to explore this paradise.
While there, make sure to visit Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian Walled Garden, man's answer and contribution to this the area's sheer beauty. Situated waterside and along a hill, the Abbey's garden is the gem, with more than 6 acres of manicured terrain that includes banana trees, vines, and various herbs and flowers, all displayed with a thoughtful and wonderful symmetry.
Just across from the main entrance to Dublin's Trinity College, the Irish Whiskey Museum offers fully-guided tours where you'll learn the history of the drink from its beginnings as an antidote to the woes of a poor and troubled nation through to the current revival in craft whiskies. Once you've had the full, interactive experience through the brand new museum, opened in 2014, it's tasting time.
With an expert to guide you through the differences in the top-rated whiskeys' flavors, you'll learn how to appreciate the subtle nuances of the drink. You get three whiskey tastings with a regular ticket, or if you upgrade to the VIP admission you'll get an extra tasting — of a matured whiskey no less — as well as a souvenir to take home with you. If whiskey's not for you, the Irish Whiskey Museum also has a cafe bar.
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.
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.
Spanning 1752 acres just north of the River Liffey, Dublin’s Phoenix Park is one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. Established as a royal deer park for King Charles II in 1662, a herd of wild fallow deer have lived in the park grounds ever since. Look out for them in the meadow area known as Fifteen Acres.
Phoenix Park is full of tree-lined avenues, woods, and open spaces dotted with wildflowers. The park’s Victorian People's Flower Gardens are a popular visit, and next to The Walled Garden and Ashtown Castle there’s a cafe that serves fresh, organic food. There’s also a Victorian tea room on Phoenix Park’s Chesterfield Avenue. In summer, the park hosts open-air concerts and the Phoenix Park Motor Races every August. A popular spot for a picnic, the park is home to Dublin Zoo which receives over a million visitors a year, and there are bikes available for hire.
Packed with Celtic crosses and one gigantic round tower, Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery was founded in 1832 as a resting place for people of all faiths—remarkable at a time when Catholics were banned from burial in Protestant graveyards.
Over 1.5 million people have been buried here, including Daniel O’Connell, the political leader who founded the cemetery, and Michael Collins—an Irish revolutionary who still gets flowers on his grave nearly 100 years after his death.
Next to the National Botanic Gardens and affectionately known as Croak Park to Dubliners, there are regular 90-minute tours of the graveyard, which is home to an award-winning museum that gives an insight into Ireland’s social and political history through the stories of the people who have been buried here. Explore the museum’s Milestone Gallery, an interactive, digital timeline that gives an account of some of Glasnevin Cemetery’s most famous residents.
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.
St Michan's Church is a church in Dublin, Ireland that was originally founded in 1095. The church was established to serve a colony of Danish Vikings who had been forced outside of the city walls after the majority of the Vikings had been killed or kicked out. The church was rebuilt in the late 1600s, and a large pipe organ was installed in 1724. It is believed that George F. Handel used this organ when composing The Messiah.
The big draw for St Michan's Church is in the basement. Below the church is a crypt with coffins, many of which are open. The bodies laid to rest here have mummified over the centuries with various theories as to why the bodies here have remained in a semi-preserved state. Some credit the limestone that makes the basement so dry, and others point to the methane gas from the former swamp land the church was built on. While the bodies have been preserved, the coffins have been disintegrating, often causing them to fall apart and reveal the mummies.