Narrowing down an itinerary in Ireland is a challenging task. Epic road trip or city adventure? Hiking in national parks or kayaking along the coast? One county or several? But no matter what kind of trip to the Emerald Isle you have in mind, there are some places that rise to must-visit status.
The following seven spots all open the door to the best of Ireland: its dramatic landscapes, its warm hospitality, its countryside charm, its escape-from-it-all potential. Check out the following must-see destinations during your next trip to Ireland.
This tourism trail isn’t one place, but rather a 1,553-mile (2,500-kilometer) driving route along the coast that stretches from County Donegal in the north to County Cork in the south. And travelers who would rather set out and explore than plan extensively beforehand will find much to love about the Wild Atlantic Way, which has gathered some of Ireland’s most dramatic drives or biking routes into one easy-to-navigate trail. Case in point: the many excellent signposts which lead the way to a variety of coastal pleasures from lighthouses to oyster farms to clifftop lookouts.
Some travelers want to explore beyond Dublin, but don’t have the time to cover big distances. The village of Howth, a short train ride away from the Dublin city center, offers a glimpse into the charm of coastal Irish life. Visit this village to explore its 15th-century castle, go for a hike along a clifftop trail with sweeping sea views, and feast on local seafood at a table overlooking the pretty harbor. Adventurous activities such as sea kayaking and cliff cruises are also available from Howth.
Many first-time visitors to Ireland venture to County Clare to stand on top of the Cliffs of Moher. These sea cliffs, stretching more than 700-feet (213-meters) straight up from the Atlantic Ocean, are absolutely worth a visit, but they aren’t the only sea cliffs in Ireland. Travelers seeking to go off the beaten path should check out Slieve League in County Donegal, which are some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe at over 1,900 feet (580 meters). Pack a picnic and go for a hike to see the cliffs from several angles, or join a cruise to see the cliffs from below.
Whiskey lovers will find several distilleries within Dublin to visit and tour, but for those who want to combine a road trip into the countryside with learning about whiskey, the town of Midleton in south-eastern County Cork should be top of the list. This small town is the home of the Midleton Distillery where several well-known brands such as Jameson, Redbreast, Green Spot, Powers, and more are produced. Then, complete the County Cork experience by exploring scenic coastal villages such as Cobh.
County Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland, is home to some of the island’s most dramatic scenery. If biking on winding mountain roads, climbing aboard boating excursions on pretty lakes, and hiking to see natural landmarks like waterfalls is what you have in mind for a trip to Ireland, look no further than Killarney National Park. There are many things to do including visiting historic sites such as the Muckross Estate, kayaking on the Killarney lakes, and hiking through the Gap of Dunloe.
Cross the border from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland to see one of the island’s most striking natural landmarks: Giant’s Causeway. This geological marvel, a UNESCO-listed site, is a coastal formation of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. Located near the village of Bushmills, Giant’s Causeway draws visitors to the County Antrim coastline that’s also home to the Bushmills Distillery, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and filming locations from Game of Thrones.
Heading south to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough is another option for travelers seeking to explore beyond Dublin without venturing too far afield. Experience the beauty of the Irish countryside while hiking or biking through Glendalough, a 6th-century monastic settlement on a pretty lake. A scenic drive through the Wicklow Mountains—where you can escape the city bustle and check out views of lakes, forests, and more—will also reveal filming locations from movies such as Braveheart and P.S. I Love You.