There's a lot to EXPLORE
on the Emerald Isle
Doonagore Castle near Doolin, County Clare
Ireland has more for the traveler to do, and more variety, than probably any other country in the world. There is something for everyone. The challenge is to understand all that is available and where to find the best examples of the ones you're interested in Below are some of the most popular things to see and do on the island including some of the best examples of each. Hopefully, this gets your mind thinking about the ones that appeal most to you.
Medieval CASTLES dot the countryside or hang precariously from the cliff's edge. Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland lost its kitchens into the sea below one stormy night in 1639. Some castles, like the well-restored Kilkenny Castle, trace back to the 12th century. Explore Ireland's well-preserved castles and climb the circular stone steps. Gaze over the walls to the surrounding countryside imagining a foreign army is ready to attack. See the rooms where the castle's residents would sleep and the banquet halls, many with period furniture, where celebrations took place. There are many that provide overnight accommodations. You can even enjoy a medieval castle feast in some.
Explore Ireland's ANCIENT SITES - some of the them are older than the pyramids and well-preserved. The most popular is the Newgrange Stone Passage Tomb - over 5,000 years old. It's a part of the Brú na Bóinne complex about an hour's drive northwest of Dublin - a great day trip. Other ancient sites include the Céide Fields in County Mayo - field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs that are over 6,000 years old.
Explore the road that SAINT PATRICK traveled in the 5th century. Learn the story of his initial arrival on the island at the age of 16 after being taken captive by pagan raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. Visit the Rock of Cashel where he converted the pagan King Aenghus? Discover how the rock got to Cashel. Hint: it involves St Patrick & the devil. Visit St Patrick's final resting place in Northern Ireland and the nearby location of his first church on the Emerald Isle.
Get out and explore Ireland's OUTDOORS and its many landscapes - over 100 beaches, 21 forest parks, 6 national parks, 3 global geoparks, many areas are covered with bog and one area is predominantly composed of kharst limestone. There's mountains and rivers and lakes (called loughs locally). These landscapes are an outdoor enthusiast's paradise -
Hiking (called hillwalking locally) - day hikes and multi-day hikes, coastal cliff walks, family and leisurely walks, "your quads will ache" walks, Ireland's got it all. There's even companies that will transfer your bags to your next B&B while you hike there with just a daypack.
Cycling - on-road or off-road, there's many options available. The Greenways, 40 kms and longer, are traffic-free. They're a great place for families to enjoy extended rides. And there are bike hire companies that will transport you or pick you up if you don't want to ride out and back or the entire distance. Many of the back roads are very scenic and don't have a lot of traffic.
Mountain biking - one of the fastest growing adventure activities on the island. It involves riding purpose-built mountain bikes on a variety of off-road terrain. This is a great activity to get outdoors and enjoy Ireland's stunning landscapes.
Rock climbing - per U.K. Climbing, Donegal, in Ireland's northwest has more climbable rock than the rest of Ireland combined. Other great climbing locations include Northern Ireland and the Wicklow Mountains.
Coasteering - a combination of adventure swimming, climbing, scrambling and cliff jumping along Ireland's rugged coastline. It's one of the country's hottest adventure sports. Adventure companies will provide everything you'll need.
Kayaking and canoeing - in Dublin's city centre, on its lakes, rivers and areas called blueways, on the sea's coastline, you can literally find kayaking and canoeing locations just about everywhere.
Surfing - for experienced riders or novices, Ireland has some great surfing beaches especially along the west coast; you'll find surf lessons at many of the beaches.
Horse riding and equestrian - trek across the woodlands, over the mountains or along the beaches; or learn how to jump in an equestrian arena.
Golfing - Ireland has some of the world's best golf courses. At the top of the list is Northern Ireland's Royal County Down Golf Club - one of the world's top 5 courses. We can easily create a golf-focused itinerary.
Fishing (called angling locally) - with all of the lakes (loughs) and rivers, there's plenty of fish to go around; salmon and trout fishing are especially popular.
Explore Ireland's SCENIC DRIVES - They're literally everywhere - along the coast, through the mountain passes and down into the valleys. Venture onto the back roads - they begin with the letter "R". Just when you think you had the best photo op ever, you'll see a better one around the next curve. I love scenic driving late in the day when the sun is low and the lighting is magical.
Why not even explore your FAMILY HISTORY if your roots are here
that Ireland has to offer
Kissing the Blarney Stone is one of Ireland's best experiences - it gives a person "the gift of the gab"
Experience Ireland's ICONIC ATTRATIONS - the things you just have to do when you're visiting Ireland. You have to KISS THE BLARNEY STONE at Blarney Castle. If the legend is true, you'll have the "gift of the gab" after kissing it. You don't want to go home and tell friends and family that you didn't do this. Visit the HOUSE OF WATERFORD CRYSTAL - which has been an icon, off and on, for hundreds of years. The tour is fantastic and the retail showroom just might be its biggest hit.
Experience Ireland's QUEST FOR FREEDOM from foreign invaders who ravaged the island for a thousand years. This is a heartfelt struggle to gain independence, to freely worship, for home ownership and to live without fear of reprisal. Attractions like Waterford's King of the Vikings, a virtual reality experience which tells the story of the Vikings invasion, or Dublin's GPO Witness History, an interactive story detailing the events of the Easter Rising in 1916 when Irish Republicans attempted to establish a free Ireland help tell the stories of the Irish fight for freedom.
Experience Ireland's EMIGRATION from the 1600s to the 1900s. Why did so many Irish leave for other lands? What impact did they have after arriving in their new worlds. What was life like on the boats that traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to America? Why were they called "coffin ships"? Why were Irish sent to Australia? Interactive museums like Dublin's EPIC - the Irish Emigration Museum and the Cobh Heritage Centre are fascinating, informative and great for people of all ages to learn about Irish emigration.
Experience the impact of the FAMINE in the mid-1800s. Learn what caused the famine and how devastating it was to families who were hardest hit by it. Visit the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park and peruse the artifacts and papers which tell the story of this period and learn about the National Famine Way which tells the ill-fated story of assisted emigration in Ireland during the Famine in 1847 when 1,490 poor and hungry were forced to walk the 165km from the Strokestown Park Estate, County Roscommon to Custom House Quay in Dublin. They traveled onward to Liverpool and almost a third of them perished crossing the Atlantic in "coffin ships" bound for Canada. Learn more about these coffin ships at the Dunbrody Famine Ship. Walk through the ship replicas and hear the stories of the hardships onboard.
Experience Ireland's CHRISTIANITY which began in the 5th century with the arrival of St Patrick. Monastic cities were constructed over the next four centuries to house the monks who dedicated themselves to a life of solitude. Visit the great monastic cities of Glendalough, Skellig Michael and Clonmacnoise and view the well preserved architecture that remains - churches, round towers, high crosses. See the Book of Kells (Ireland's most important cultural treasure) in Dublin's Trinity College.
Experience things that are UNIQUELY IRISH such as seaweed baths (forage for seaweed learning about the different types and even learn to cook with it); hawk walks (discover the ancient form of falconry and learn how to "fly hawks"; after introducing you to your hawks, you and your instructor set off on a walk into the woodlands where the hawks follow you from tree to tree before swooping down to land on your gloved fist); learn how farmers herd their sheep by whistling commands to their sheepdog, experience one of Ireland's hottest new activities - coasteering (adventure swimming, jumping off cliffs into the water, climbing over rocks all rolled into one).
Experience Ireland's CUISINE. There's traditional Irish dishes like the Irish breakfast, the boxty (a potato pancake that's really good when it's filled with something creamy and delicious like chicken or salmon) and the mashed potato ("mash") dishes like champ and colcannon. The food is fresh, the quality is good, and it's farm/sea to table. Restaurants know their producers. With more experienced chefs than ever before, there's been a food revolution here for the last ten years - especially in Northern Ireland. Cork County is the culinary capital of the island. Check out the many food festivals, the food tours that introduce you to much of Ireland's cuisine and special stops like an oyster farm in the Connemara region.
Experience GAME OF THRONES TERRITORY in Northern Ireland. Find out why the show's producers chose this region as the backbone of their series. Even if you were not into the show, I'm sure you'll be into the scenery. It's incredible - one of my favorite locations on the island. If you were a GOT fan, then you'll enjoy it even more - visit the filming locales and picture the scenes that took place there, do archery like the Starks of Winterfell, meet the Dire wolves, enjoy a banquet as if you were back in Westeros, learn about Doors of Thrones and Glass of Thrones. Opening in 2022 is the incredible Game of Thrones Studio Tour which provides access to the show's sets, scenes, costumes and much more.
Experience Ireland with your FAMILY. There's so much to do here with your children - attractions where you can relive ancient Ireland, interactive museums about Irish emigration and the Titanic that kids will find fascinating, farms where children can learn how foods are grown, animals are raised and farmers use sheepdogs to herd their sheep, and some really fun places like We Are Vertigo and W5 in Belfast. Don't even think about leaving the kids home with the grandparents. Experience Ireland as a family - you'll be glad you did.
and most of all
....... ENJOY Ireland
The Temple Bar - one of Dublin's most popular & friendly neighborhoods
Enjoy Ireland's STUNNING SCENERY. I think people find it one of the most beautiful things about the Emerald Isle. It's literally everywhere you go. It changes across the island due to different landscapes (the kharst limestone of the Burren is strikingly different than remote Murder Hole Beach), due to the weather (you'll see the same scene differently when the sun is out vs when it's raining), due to the time of day (the magic light late in the day before sunset or early morning enhances the beauty of any scene). When getting around, it's important to have your camera ready at all times - there's an awesome scene around every bend in the road.
Enjoy Ireland's PUBS & IRISH MUSIC. It's fun, especially at the end of a long "touristy" day, to sit down, in a local pub, with your favorite beverage and stomp your feet, slap your knees and just get into it. There's over 7,000 pubs across the country. So.....you should be able to find one or two wherever you are. Not all of them will have Irish music, but many of them do. Many will have traditional (called "trad") Irish music seisiún (session) going on. If you're looking to include this in your itinerary, a couple of my favorite destinations to go are Doolin (near the Cliffs of Moher), Dublin (of course) and Galway (whether it be in a pub or on the pedestrianized streets of the Latin Quarter).
Enjoy Ireland's BREWERIES and DISTILLERIES. Go on a tour, sample their products, blend your own whiskey and take it home, or learn about cocktail making with Irish whiskeys. This makes for a great rainy day activity. There's even some gin distilleries and cider makers to visit if you're interested in something a little different.
Enjoy the beauty and architecture of Ireland's HOUSES & GARDENS. Most are Georgian or Victorian and were built in the 18th to 20th century. They're stately mansions on large estates with exquisite, multiple gardens. One even has a family pet cemetery on-site. Some of my favorites include: Powerscourt, Muckross House and Bantry House.
Enjoy the FUN THINGS to do in Ireland like Dublin's escape rooms (work as a team and answer clues within a set time limit and find the key to unlock the door and escape) and Belfast attractions like We Are Vertigo (indoor skydiving, a huge inflatable park, ninja master course and more) and W5 (with over 250 interactive exhibits including a discovery zone for under 8 year olds, a multi-story climbing structure that's a cross between a maze and a jungle gym, a VR experience, and discover the fascinating world of pharmaceutical and biomedical science).
Enjoy Ireland's ENTERTAINMENT in its many theatres and arenas. Hit shows like Riverdance can be enjoyed during much of the summer season in Dublin. The Celtic Steps show plays to large, mainly touristy audiences in the towns of Killarney and Tralee for several months. Most cities and the large towns have multiple arenas with a full schedule of shows, plays and music events throughout the year. This is a great way to finish the day.
Enjoy Ireland's SPAS. Many beachside hotels/resorts and luxury properties like Ashford Castle, have great spa experiences and health & wellness programs. One area to visit with a substantial spa network is the town of Killarney.
SUGGESTION: Trying to figure out what to do within your limited trip time, where to find the best of these activities and how to make the best use of your time can seem a little overwhelming. That's why we're here. We know and understand Ireland really well. Let us help you figure this all out.