What do you think of when you think of Ireland? Sheep and Guinness, I’m sure, but take a look at these awe-inspiring landscapes which we think represent 14 of the most beautiful places in Ireland. Cliff top walks, surfing havens and cosy pubs with toe tapping music, there’s something for the thrill-seekers, romantics, nature lovers and culture vultures. And don’t worry, visit Ireland with us, and we can keep your trip well within budget.
Of course, some of you will be thinking “but what about…” and we would love you to add to this list. So please, share your other favourite places and must-see sights in Ireland in the comments section below…
1. Galway City
An ideal sidetrip from the capital, Dubliners flock to the city of Galway – a bustling college town – for weekends. It’s delightfully tourist-free and pub-heavy, each brightly painted and brimming with atmosphere and frenzied fiddlers. The pretty cobblestone streets make for perfect idle wandering – although you might need a brolly; the city is renowned for its rainfall but this doesn’t seem to dampen spirits. Perhaps the most exciting time to visit is in July for the Galway Arts Festival. It might be small in scale but it more than makes up for this with bundles of personality and a well-curated selection of exhibitions, gigs and theatre. It’s also an excellent base for exploring the Aran Islands.
2. Cliffs of Moher
Move over New Zealand (land of Lord of the Rings), eat your heart out Australia (home to the Great Ocean Road), because Ireland brings, for your viewing pleasure, the Cliffs of Moher. These gargantual formations rising to a height of 203m are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland. So you’ll have to share them with busloads of others. But at least come rain, shine, snow or fog, these cliffs are an awesome spectacle, in fact a dark and stormy sky just adds to the drama. Try to make it beyond the visitor centre and, after a 10 minute walk on a trail south, you will be rewarded with a great view at Hag’s Head with various species of bird nestling in the craggy cliff ledges. If you fancy glimpsing the cliffs from a different perspective, head to Doolin and hop on a cruise to the Cliffs of Moher.
3. Sligo & Around
It may only be a few hours’ drive from Dublin but county Sligo is blessed with a wild and rugged beauty. The town itself certainly has a more cosmopolitan edge with plenty of gallery, restaurant and bar options. But the stretches of isolated and wide open beaches are what have attracted international surfers looking for thrills, especially around Strandhill (if you are interested in tackling the rolling North Atlantic waves, try the Strandhill Surf School) and also Easkey. This is some of the best surfing in Ireland with the legendary Easkey Left and Easkey Right breaking into perfect paddling channels. But whether you are here to surf, fish for salmon in the nearby streams or embrace the mountains and pastoral scenes that inspired the likes of William Butler Keats, McGowan’s in Easkey is the pub where everything is going on. There’s a pottery next door, a pool table and live music sessions.
And so to the capital, a must for any first-time visitor to Ireland. While it’s architectural delights are rather limited to Trinity College and a few contemporary design attempts, it’s the personality that makes this such a fun and sociable city. Yes there are plenty of museums, galleries and shops (particularly bookshops) to take in, but Dubliners have the gift of the garb so no doubt your most heart-warming moments will be over a pint of the good stuff and toe-tapping to some good ol’ trad. Try O’Donoghue’s (Merrion Row) and for more inspiration, check out our post on 10 Things to do in Dublin for Under €10 – aren’t we good to you! Book cheap Dublin hotels.
5. Malin Head
Walkers and nature lovers should prepare themselves for a bracing number of hikes in the Malin Head area. The rocky outcrops have taken quite a battering from the relentless waves crashing along the shoreline and the weather is tempestuous to say the least. You’ll come across the ugly concrete look-outs from WWII days gone by as well as an abandoned hermit’s cave – the Wee House of Malin. At the tip of the head observe puffins, snow bunting, gannets and other endangered birds but if you are lucky, there is a chance to spot migrating whales in the right season. There are also some gorgeous sandy stretches at the Five Fingers Strand and on those glorious days when the sun breaks through, have your kite to hand! For Ireland’s most northerly pub, head to Farran’s where you can take refuge from inclement weather.
For culture and culinary delights, it has to be Cork. ‘Ireland’s Venice’ might be pushing it – the River Lee flows around the centre island which is a maze of alleyways both old and undergoing contemporary renewal – but it is certainly more pleasing to the eye than the capital. For culture, the Lewis Cluckman Gallery is an RIBA award-winning building nestled in the grounds of the University College Cork grounds. The country has been brewing, distilling and butter making its own for a couple of centuries now, and with emphasis placed on local and top quality produce it’s no wonder the city has become something of a destination for food lovers. Find some cool things to do in our article What’s So Kooky About Cork and book hostels in Cork here.
7. Antrim Coastal Walk
This magnificent and mostly clifftop walk is perhaps one of the most beautiful in the UK. The route officially starts and finishes in Portstewart and Ballycastle racking up a total of 33 miles, but it is easy to access different parts of the trail by car or bike. The whole experience will feel like a souped up geological field trip. The Giant’s Causeway is the most popular tourist hotspot, with hexagonal stone columns jutting out of the landscape caused by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago – you will hardly believe they were not man-made! It’s no wonder a number of ships from the Spanish Armada were wrecked here. Twin your teetering walk across the dizzying Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge – which connects the mainland with a large rock jutting out of Rathlin Sound – with a cuppa tea and cake in the National Trust tearoom perched precariously close to the edge of the cliff near Ballintoy. If you opt for a circuit, rather than the linear 33-miler, Bushmills Distillery is just up the road so the Fullerton Arms pub makes an ideal stop-off above Ballintoy harbour too.
8. Inisheer, Aran Island
There are three limestone outcrops which make up the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland’s County Clare. And with Irish still embraced as the main language, you’ll feel mollycoddled with tradition on these relatively untouched islands. As the smallest of the three, tourist numbers are kept down on the weather beaten Aran Island of Inisheer (Inis Oírr) largely due to the fact that electricity was only introduced in the 1970s. It comes alive in warmer months with its annual bodhrán summer school, which attracts drummers from all corners of the globe and there is a thriving arts community centre with year-round events. Follow the Inis Oírr Way, a 10.5km path leading to a dramtic spectacle of a wrecked freight on the beach or take a pony trap tour of the island.
9. Carlingford Lough
The mountainous slopes of Slieve Foy (588m) are perfect for looking out across Carlingford Lough, the UK’s only international border. You can also spot Slieve Gullion in South Armagh and it’s worth doing a bit of research into Irish legends about the Táin, the witch of Beara and heroes such as Cúchullainn –these stories really come to life as you breathe in the view. The village of Carlingford is made up of but a few picturesque streets and rather a lot of pubs – filled with locals who will happily spin you a yarn of the area’s history and folklore over a pint.
10. Brú Na Bóinne
The most impressive ancient ruins in Ireland can be found at Brú na Bóinne (the Boyne Palace). The site is made up of a number of megalithic mounds and standing stones. Newgrange is the most well-known, an ancient passage tomb from the Stone Age over 5,000 years ago – That’s one thousand years older than Stonehenge. During the winter solstice, the chamber is flood with sunlight. Today the tombs, originally the final resting place of the well-to-do-of-the-time, have been plundered throughout the eras from Viking to Victorian and are overgrown with grass and trees. In the surrounding area you will also find Knowth and Dowth, but Newgrange is the most popular.
11. The Rock of Cashel or Cahir
No, we’ve already given you the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway, so we will take it easy on Ireland’s ‘rock’ attractions. The Rock of Cashel is in fact a wonderful castle perched on a summit and surrounded by religious buildings of historic interest including a 13th century Gothic cathedral. But if you like your castle with a moat and you only have time for one, try nearby Cahir instead. It certainly looks more castley, complete with battlements and towers. The town of Cahir is situated on the very walkable banks of the River Suir with nice pubs and cafes on the town square.
The centre of Irish music? Many people certainly think so. Doolin is famous for its lively ‘trad’ scene – that’s traditional Irish music to you and I. So when you are not hopping on a ferry to the Aran Island (Inisheer makes the best Aran Island day trip), stop off at the 150 year old Gus O’Connor’s for a medley of accordions, flutes and fiddles and soak up the atmosphere with mussels in garlic homemade bread. If O’Connor’s isn’t playing to your tune, there is also McGann’s and McDermott’s to hop to. The town is in just four miles from the Cliffs of Moher so an ideal excursion if you decide to stay in Doolin.
13. The Dingle Peninsula
In the far reaches of south-west Ireland it may be, but that doesn’t stop this beautiful from being on the tourist track – it’s worth the journey! Cyclists up for a challenge should opt for the Condor Pass running south between the town of Dingle and the north coast of the peninsula. Hikers can attempt the dramatic Mount Brandon (3119ft) while swimmers will love the beautiful beach at Ventry or Ballyferriter. To stress the beautiful surroundings, the Dingle Peninsula was the setting for Ryan’s Daughter and Far and Away with Tom Cruise. Dingle town is the best place to explore the area although it is rather geared up to tourists. Why not take a boat trip and see if you can spot Fungie the dolphin who has lived in the bay for the past 25 years.
14. Powerscourt Gardens
Considered to be one of the greatest gardens in the world, the 45 acres tackle cute Japanese and Italian themes with a sweeping lawn leading up to Powerscourt House. Seek out the Rapunzel-style tower, the peculiar pet’s cemetery and do sit back for a fine vista over the walls to admire the setting – an idyllic backdrop set among the beautiful landscape of Ireland. Just 12 miles from the capital, the gardens make an ideal Dublin day trip whatever the season. Visit Powerscourt Garden website for opening times.
Thanks to lee ciaran, ggjsmith, yvescosentino, Alberto Perdomo, IrishFireside, Scarto, mahon leo, bea y fredi, infomatique, Irish Typepad, Duloup, tales from the fifteenth floor for the images off Flickr. Please note, all images were suitable for use at time of publication according to the Creative Commons license.
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