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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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Galway Bay
15 Tours and Activities

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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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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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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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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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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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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Blasket Islands
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Dingle Peninsula lie a group of abandoned sandstone islands rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. The Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodaí in Irish) have all been occupied at one point or another, but it was the tiny community on the largest island, The Great Blasket, that gained fame for its tradition of folklore and storytelling.

At its peak, the island boasted 175 residents; by the time the Irish government decided the islands were too dangerous for habitation and ordered a mandatory evacuation, there were only 22 people remaining.

Visitors to The Great Blasket find the ruined remains left behind by the island’s former inhabitants. An 8-mile (13-kilometer) walking path takes visitors past some of the island’s most spectacular scenery — sea cliffs and white sand beaches — with the opportunity to spot shorebirds and a colony of seals who now call the islands home.

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More Things to Do in Ireland

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 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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Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum

Waterford Treasures Medieval Museum

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Glasnevin Cemetery Museum

Glasnevin Cemetery Museum

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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.

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GAA Museum

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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Dublin Grafton Street

Dublin Grafton Street

19 Tours and Activities

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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House of Waterford Crystal

House of Waterford Crystal

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Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall

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Famine Memorial

Famine Memorial

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At Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, the Famine Sculpture was commissioned by the City of Dublin in 1997 as a way of remembering the victims of the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1849, when over a million Irish men, women, and children died as a result of the problems exacerbated by the potato blight.

The bronze sculptures were designed by Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie. Portraying a group of starving figures trying to reach Dublin port and a chance of escape to the New World, a visit to the docklands is a time for reflection and remembrance for those who died just 150 years ago. Some of the text accompanying the Famine Sculpture reads, “A procession fraught with most striking and most melancholy interest, wending its painful and mournful way along the whole line of the river to where the beautiful pile of the Custom house is distinguishable in the far distance...”

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The Spanish Arch

The Spanish Arch

10 Tours and Activities
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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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