Ireland has become an increasingly popular travel destination due to it’s rich culture, friendly people, and some of the world’s greatest landscapes. Known as the Emerald Isle, this country has 32 counties you can visit which host castles, cliffs, historic landmarks, and of course pubs. What really makes Ireland special is the heritage everywhere you go. With more Nobel Prize winners for literature than any other country, you can spend your entire vacation at their amazing libraries and museums.
As far as vacation spots, there are too many to list so we narrowed it down to our favorite 15. If you have the time to go to all of these you will not only enjoy a great trip, but really learn what it means to be Irish. However, if you are trying to have a little more of a laid back vacation, go enjoy the culture with some Gaelic games, Irish music, and a Guinness.
1. Skellig Michael
Skelling Michael is located in Western Ireland (near county Kerry). This is one of the best historical sites in the area do to it’s 16th century monastery located at the top. It’s open for tourists from May to October so plan your trip accordingly if you want to see this travel hot spot. Once you reach Skelling Michael (by boat) it’s a 670 step stairway that leads to the monastery. There is also a church, gardens, oratories, and a graveyard. However, there is no bathroom so make sure you you go beforehand.
Recently the new star wars was filmed here making it even a more popular destination. There are only a small amount of people that are allowed to visit at any given time so make sure yo get a reservation if possible.
More information about Skellig Michael tours
2. Dingle Peninsula
If you travel to the south west coast of Ireland, you’ll be able to enjoy Dingle Peninsula. This 30 mile stretch that goes directly into the Atlantic Ocean is made for the more athletic person. Here you will find great beaches to swim or surf, mountains to hike, trails to walk or bike, and great cliffs to snap photos. After you finish taking in all the sites, the peninsula also has a great Irish heritage with music, festivals, craft-smiths, and fine dining. They do take pride in still being Gaelic, but most signs are also in English.
As far as a travel destination in Ireland, this is a great place to go for an entire day to enjoy all the amenities. Outside of physical activities, you’ll also see many monuments left behind by the original settlers, monks, and landlords. In town when you are ready for a beer, talk to the locals and get an even better history of Dingle Peninsula.
3. Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey is the perfect vacation spot for the romantics. Located in Connemera, western Ireland, the two main attractions you will want to visit are the castle and Victorian walled garden. Built in 1867, the Abby is entrenched within the Connemera mountains and next to a picture perfect lake. It was built as a romantic gift and has continued that legacy to this day. The estate is open year round to visitors and you can enjoy the Abbey, church, pottery studio, restaurant, walled gardens, Woodland walk, and the lake.
When you are done visiting Kylemore Abbey, head on over next to the Victorian walled garden. This technology feat back in the day use to heat 21 glasshouses for exotic plants, but due to neglect you will only see their brick bases. Some glasshouses are being restored, but the historic significance will stay intact. There is a walking path with signs highlighting specific historic markings and at the end it takes to back to enjoy some tea.
4. The Cliffs of Moher
When you talk to people who have visited Ireland, they most likely have mentioned their trip to The Cliffs of Moher. This destination hot spot brings in roughly 1 million people a year to experience mother nature at it’s finest. From it’s majestic rock faces, to the best views you may ever see, The Cliffs of Moher is at the top of our list when it comes to the best vacation spot in Ireland.
Tour buses can bring you right to the entrance, but if you want the full experience we recommend trying the Doolin Cliff walk where it’s just you and nature. The cliffs stretch roughly 5 miles so it’s easy to get away from the crowds and even catch some unique views most people don’t get to see. If you aren’t a fan of hiking, you don’t have to go far from the visitors entrance to get to the scenic views of the waves crashing into the rocks. Either way The Cliffs of Moher are a must of you plan on going to Ireland. Did we mention this is also where a scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was filmed?
We’ve also had several people ask us where a good place to stay is. We recommend the Sea View House in Doolin. This 4 star bed and breakfast is a relaxing getaway featuring traditional Irish food and amenities. You are a stone throw away from the Cliffs of Moher or can make day trip to Aran Islands.
5. Grafton Street, Dublin
When it’s time to get away from all the site seeing, head down to Dublin and take a stroll down Grafton Street. Considered one of the best streets in Ireland, this area is the perfect place to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat, or hang out and listen to some live music. It still has a lot of it’s historical building and even though the shops are more modern, you can see the Victorian area all throughout (even on the walkway).
Grafton Street is one of the busier areas in Dublin due to all the commercial shopping and restaurants, but once the sun goes down it’s the perfect area to go grab a beer at an authentic Irish pub. It can become a good party scene so if you want to make a few new friends, this is the place to do it. When you are all done for the night, there are plenty of Hotels to stay at in the nearby area.
Click here for more information on tourist attractions in Dublin
6. Aran Islands
The Aran Islands is another good day trip if you are near Galway Bay on the west side of Ireland. All 3 islands feature unique monuments, ancient forts and churches to visit. Inis Oírr is the smallest of the Islands, but closest to the mainland. When visiting we recommend biking as you will be able to catch everything from the white sandy beaches to the scenic limestone. Inis Meáin is the second island and surprisingly the least visited. This is where country living is at it’s best with great views of cliffs, beaches, and rural country roads. If you want some peace and tranquility on your Ireland trip, this is a must stop. Inis Mór is the largest of the Aran Islands and again has some captivating views. There towns welcome in all visitors and you will find some of the best authentic Irish crafts here.
There are several tours that run to Aran Islands from Galway or Doolin. You can either take a ferry or even fly to one of the 3 islands.
7. The Ring of Kerry
When it comes to vacation sports in Ireland, The Ring of Kerry may be one of the most popular places to go. This coastal road goes through mountains, lakes, and historic landmarks making it a scenic thing to behold. Within the 120 mile trek you will want to stop and visit the ancient ring forts all throughout the hillside. From Killarney, the Ring of Kerry passes through Kenmare, Sneem, Caherdaniel, Waterville, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, Valentia Island, Cahersiveen, Glenbeigh and Killorglin and back to Killarney. This will most likely take the entire day as you will want to stop ever few miles to enjoy another scenic landscape.
For the more adventurous, people love coming to The Ring of Kerry for some hiking, biking, fishing, and more. If you have the time spend some time going to the local areas and towns and get a real taste of Irish living. Everyone is friendly and it beats sitting in a car all day. You can also head off into some of the rural areas and view rock formations like Staigue and Loher Ancient Stone forts. Whatever you decide, The Ring of Kerry is a great place to travel.
8. Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
For those seeking to learn more about the history of Ireland, Glendalough is the place to visit. Due to Christian monastic settlements in the 6th century, this place has some of the most historical landmarks in the country. Just a few recommendations on sites you need to see.
Round Tower – The most famous landmark in Glendalough. Standing 33 meters tall, it was built by monks 1,000 years ago and mainly served s a bell tower. Their have been some repairs, but the Round Tower is still intact and a site to behold.
The Cathedral – The largest churn in the area with a nave, chancel, and sacristy.
St. Kevin’s Kitchen – A vaulted oratory of hard mica schist.
St. Kevin’s Cross – This section of Glendalough is a cavity in a cliff that is also known as St. Kevin’s Bed
The Priest House – This 12th century building is known for it’s intricate carvings on the lintel of the doorway.
The Reefert Church
There is a lot to see and do in Glendalough. After taking in all the sites, head to the town and enjoy a good meal, friendly people, and ponder everything you just saw. Once again for those travel enthusiasts, there are some great hiking trails to catch some scenic views.
9. The Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is another highly sought after place to visit. With some of the largest medieval buildings in the country, this ancient royal site was home to the kings of Munster back in the 4th and 5th centuries. The round tower is the oldest building still standing, but there are many other sites to take in including the 15th century castle that leads you into the other enclosures. Be sure to visit the high cross, ruins chapel, gothic cathedral, and Hall of the Vicars.
For those making this a vacation spot, there are audio and visual shows to help educate you on the history of The Rock of Cashel. It always help so you can learn about the kings who have occupied this land and what has transgressed to the present day.
10. Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle and the stone is one of the most visited places in the world. People climb to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney stone to gain the gift of eloquence. Although this may sound weird, it doesn’t stop the thousands of people who do it each year. Outside of tradition, the Blarney Castle is a top destination as it brings historical significance about Ireland and it’s past wars. There is even a murder room you can visit in which the Irish use to drop hot oil on unsuspecting rivals. At the top is quite the scenic view and well worth the clime through the narrow stairs. If you do plan on kissing the stone, be ready to lean backwards and it’s the only way to get to it.
Outside of the castle is a pretty complex 60 acre garden that features a plethora of wildlife. Be aware of the poison garden as it’s name implies. You can also take pictures of the druid rock formations and rolling hills just like most other places in Ireland.
11. The English Market
The English Market in Cork is another Ireland vacation spot must. Built back in 1788, this market draws in crowds to enjoy food from all over the world (including authentic Irish cuisine). When you first enter you will just see how crazy of a place this can get. Every vendor is friendly and you can taste things such as fresh bread, cheeses, meats, fish, and a bunch more local favorites. Other than food you can also do some light shopping there as you will find clothes and an assortment of gifts to take home.
If you are near Cork city, stop by The English Market and get a local taste of Ireland.
12. Chester Beatty Library
When you are in Dublin, you need to go check out the Chester Beatty Library. It’s free to visit and has been voted the European Museum of the year due to its collection of manuscripts and books dating back hundreds of years.
As you browse Chester Beatty Library you will see treasures from Asia, North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. This includes drawings, paintings, manuscripts, prints, and rare books. They have three galleries, a conservation laboratory, restaurant, lecture hall, and an audio-visual theater. It will take you quite a while to browse everything in this Ireland museum so get their early and enjoy some of the greatest history from around the world.
13. Bend of the Boyne
Brú na Bóinne, or the Bend of the Boyne is one of the best prehistoric landscapes. Located north of Dublin, it hosts 3 passage tombs built over 5,000 years ago. Outside of the tombs there are 90 different monuments you can see in the area making t one of the greatest archaeological marvels in Ireland.
If you plan on visiting Bend of the Boyne, you do need to do the guided tours as there is no public access to the tombs. However if you just want to tour the country side, you can definitely see some of the great monuments throughout the area.
14. Guinness Storehouse
When you think about Ireland your first thought is most likely Guinness. This is a must see destination if you plan on visiting Dublin. Since they opened their doors back in 1759 with a 9,000 year lease, the Guinness Storehouse has been serving patrons every day of the year. The building itself is a masterpiece and has a seven story tour that goes through the history of how they make their beer.
The tour can take a few hours to go through as their is a ton of things to view. However, once you finish, head on up to the Gravity bar and grab a fresh Guinness pint. In fact they will even show you how to pour the perfect glass. While you are sitting back and relaxing you can also take in an incredible view of Dublin.
15. Galway Cathedral
In the last of our lineup, we recommend going to see the Galway Cathedral. Even if you aren’t religious, this impressive building is worth checking out. Locate in Galway, it was constructed in the mid 1900’s on top of an old jail. As you enter the Galway Cathedral you will first notice the stunning colors from the rose windows, green marble, and bright stained glass.
As you tour the church take in the pillars, sculptures, and works of art all throughout the area.
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