While most people are familiar with Irish culture in the form of Guinness beer, Shamrocks, and luck, the country is much more than its famous exports. But for many travelers, the allure of the Emerald Isle with its rolling fields of green and exquisite historical sites has made it a strong contender in the world’s top travel destinations.
Ireland dazzles with entertainment and you can hop from the countryside to the city to explore all the highlights and hotspots.
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Fáilte Roimh Chách – Welcome to Ireland
Some of the country’s most famous delights include cities, sites, and landscapes. Dublin and Belfast are the two most popular cities with big reputations. History is alive at Brú na Bóinne and Glendalough, which are just some of the famous ruins throughout the country. Finally, the picture-perfect landscapes also make Ireland famous and some of their most mesmerizing locations include the Giant’s Causeway and Donegal.
Packed with personality, Dublin is Ireland’s capital city and the most famous within the country. With ancient roots, Dublin has remained on top since the 9th century and peaked by the 18th century with a myriad of medieval cathedrals and castles. But today, the future of Ireland is diverse and with an influx of immigration to its shores, Dubliners may come from all corners of the world. With friendly locals, the best way to experience the city is to get out and stroll the cobblestone streets or classic pubs.
Culture and History
With 12,500 years of human presence, Ireland has a long and storied history that has influenced and shaped the country into what it is today. The first recorded and confirmed humans in Ireland were the Mesolithic hunter gatherers, who appeared around the year 7900 BC. By 4000 BC, the people began to advance and develop their own agriculture on the land.
In 482 AD, one of Ireland’s icons, St. Patrick worked to convert the people to Christianity, which was Ireland’s first brush with religion. But it wasn’t until the Viking raids that began in 795 AD, the country blossomed. While the brutality of the Vikings originally oppressed the people, as the invaders power diminished, the founded towns and trade ports helped to grow Ireland’s economy.
After the Vikings, the numerous kingdoms throughout the nation that had once been united, again divided and faced a new enemy – the Normans. The Normans conquered Ireland for several hundred years and left their most famous marks upon the land by building new castles and towers. But Ireland longed for independence and began to rebel.
The Great Famine from 1845 to 1849 devastated the people and affected their potato crops. Recovery would take several years, but still the Irish people pushed on and demanded independence. In 1922, Ireland gained that independence and headed into the 21st century with a bright future.
But Ireland is still divided by the North and South. Northern Ireland actually has an entirely different political system and is governed by the United Kingdom. The rest of Ireland is completely independent. But for travelers, it can be difficult to find the dividing line because the border is completely open. Instead, the difference is in the culture and politics.
Irish culture is also divided, like the country and the main differences are between the Catholic and Protestant religions, as well as political views. But overall, the people of both Northern Ireland and Ireland are extremely friendly. In fact, Ireland is often boasted as being one of the most warm and welcoming nations, which is often the gestures that make travelers fall in love.
While the people may not agree or have the same views, they still share common culture. Some of the most famous cultural influence from Ireland is that of the shamrock, pubs, music, dancing, and literature.
The shamrock was made famous by St. Patrick, who is widely celebrated today on the 17th of March annually and many Americans will be famous because it has become a drinking holiday in the States. This is just one example of the global outreach of Irish culture. Pubs are another Irish staple and they are used as a meeting place between friends and family.
Music and dance are also deeply ingrained in their culture with some of the most famous being the Irish stepdance. Finally, literature is another way that Ireland’s culture has spread throughout the world with famous authors like Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, and Bram Stoker all coming from the country.
Continuing on with their culture, Ireland’s honors their history and has made Irish Gaelic their first official language. However, only 30% of today’s population is able to speak the native tongue and an even lower percentage use it regularly. Instead, the second official language, English is the most commonly spoken.
For travelers, this often makes Ireland easy to travel because there is not a language barrier. Though some people have strong Irish accents, the people are always happy to help point you in the right direction. However, due to Ireland’s close proximity to mainland Europe, you may stumble upon hearing other European languages on the streets too.
One part of traveling is checking to make sure that you have everything you need to enter a country legally. For Ireland, US citizens are not required to obtain a tourist visa. Instead, you will be granted entry for 90 days, as long as you meet the other requirements. The requirements will include your passport, sufficient funding, and a return ticket.
There is no minimum validity required for your US passport, but it must be valid for the duration of your trip in Ireland. However, you should be aware that many airlines are reluctant and may even refuse travelers boarding onto the airplane if their passport does not have at least 6 months validity remaining. Your passport must also have at least one blank page for your entry stamp.
While Ireland seems more relaxed than other countries, travelers should be aware that they may be denied entry if they cannot provide sufficient intent to travel. This means that their reasons for entering Ireland may not be entirely clear or that, if asked, the traveler cannot provide proof of funds for the duration of their time in the country. A return ticket may also be required for proof that you will not overstay your visa.
Travelers are also asked to comply with two currency restrictions for entry and exit from the country. You must declare any amount over $10,000 Euros or the US dollar equivalent upon both entry and exit from Ireland. Finally, there are no vaccinations required for entry, but it is highly recommended by the US government that travelers are up to date on boosters, prior to traveling.
Another important part of traveling is your spending budget. While some people want to just go with the flow, this method of traveling isn’t the best way to experience your vacation because you may be surprised by the cost of things upon your arrival to your destination. Ireland isn’t the best place for backpacker budgets because it is quite expensive. But that doesn’t mean that it should be skipped. Instead, travelers who plan their budget can make Ireland affordable and still enjoy their time in this country. Airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation are the most important parts of your budget.
Airfare is always important because it costs a lot to travel thousands of miles. The average cost of a flight from the United States to Ireland is currently $715 US dollars. If you really don’t or can’t fit that into your budget, you may decide to travel with flexible dates and wait for a time when you can find a special deal or price. Some deals can lower the price of an airline ticket to about $250-$300 US dollars.
The price of an airline ticket can also be affected by when you plan to travel to Ireland and the timing of booking your ticket. Ireland’s peak season runs from June to mid-September and these are the months when tickets will be slightly more expensive. But if you find a good price or deal, booking it immediately can help ensure that you won’t be stuck delaying a trip further or paying more for your seat on the plane.
But getting there is only the beginning and you can’t sleep on the streets in Ireland. Instead, you’ll need to take the time to find and factor in the cost of accommodation. Unlike some areas in the world, the cost of hostels is rather expensive, and you should expect to pay $23-$35 US dollars per night for a room. If you go to countryside destinations, hostels are likely going to be more affordable and start their prices at $15 US dollars per night.
However, not everyone wants to stick to a backpacker’s budget. If hostels aren’t your preference, hotels or bed and breakfasts are another popular type of accommodation that can be found throughout Ireland. A double room at a hotel or bed and breakfast will range in price from $90-$205 US dollars per night. But if that still doesn’t suit your taste and you are willing to raise your budget further, 4-star hotels often start their nightly rates at $230 US dollars.
All accommodation options will be more expensive in the big cities and one way to cut down on costs is to look at an alternative to hotels – Airbnb. This company allows you to book private residences and prices are often more affordable than hotels. Many Airbnb locations can be booked for $35-$50 US dollars per night.
Also included in the price of some accommodation locations is food. But if you aren’t booking a place with meals, it is important that you also budget the cost of dining. Irish cuisine reflects not only the country’s culture, but also its past struggles. Food is a way to connect to the local people and better understand how they have lived off of the land for centuries.
Irish cuisine has rich bases in their local crops, animals, and island geography. Potatoes have always been an important crop for the Irish, but carrots and cabbage are important vegetables too. Lamb, mutton, or beef are the go-to for carnivores, while sausage and bacon are the pork favorites.
Irish stew is one of the national dishes that once reflected the hardships of the people but has not been made into a homemade dish with a hint of gourmet. The stew was once a way to soften the toughest meat, but now it is just a favorite – especially if used as a hangover cure. Th full Irish breakfast may sound familiar, but unlike England’s take on this daily dish, Ireland incorporated both black and white pudding into theirs. A good side dish is colcannon, which is traditional mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale. Another dish that reflects its past is boxty pancakes. These are potato-based pancakes that were once eaten in poor communities, but they have now become a breakfast tradition.
Most travelers will want to dine out at some point to taste Ireland’s authentic cuisine, but there is a range in price, which is important to know for incorporating into your spending budget. Cafes or pubs will often offer the most affordable meals with prices ranging from $10-$18 US dollars. A nice restaurant or midrange option will cost $20-$35 US dollars for your main meal. But if you want the best of the best, you should expect to see prices starting at $80 US dollars per person for a meal and can even exceed that amount.
Drinking is also ingrained in Irish tradition and culture with Guinness being the world-famous Irish beer. While most people are looking to drink pints, there are plenty of alcoholic options. However, the cost of alcohol is high, and you should expect to pay $6-$10 US dollars per drink.
But if breaking down the budget isn’t sections is quite what you want, we can also provide you with the daily costs. Overall, a budget trip to Ireland would cost a person about $95 US dollars per day. A midrange budget could cost up to $175 US dollars per day, while a top end daily cost would have you spending $200 US dollars or more.
How to Get Around
One more part of your budget that we need to discuss is transportation. There are a lot of different places to visit and explore in Ireland, so staying in one city is highly unlikely. But this means that you need to be prepared to pay for your various transportation methods.
Domestic flights are not as popular in Ireland and the preferred methods are by bus and train. This is because there are more options of travel times with buses and trains. Plus, they are more affordable. Trains that go longer distances will cost $$45-$80 US dollars per ticket and will normally take only a couple hours of travel.
Buses are slower but they are also more affordable. Long journeys will be the most expensive and ticket prices will range from $23-$30 US dollars per ride. Buses, however, give you the best chance to find a deal and they can be booked online. Like airline tickets, it is better to reserve your seat in advance.
Public transportation is the best way to get around Ireland’s cities and most tickets will cost less than $5 US dollars for a ride. But taxis are another option and they will cost $12-$16 US dollars for a short ride. You can also rent a bicycle if you want to get around quickly but use your own power and exercise. Many bicycles are affordable and will cost $13 US dollars for a full day.
Finally, walking is free, and it allows you to get more in tune with the local lifestyle. Ireland is a safe country and you can confidently stroll the streets, but you should take caution if you choose to walk alone or at night.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Dublin and Belfast are the two most famous cities in Ireland, but there are three more that we think are worthwhile to visit too. To give you an idea of where to go, here are the top city destinations in Ireland.
Often the gateway and your introduction to Ireland, Dublin is the hopping capital of this magnificent country. With history paving the streets, this capital has risen in popularity due to its lively personality and popping nightlife. But visitors can also learn about Ireland’s history and visit important sites like St. Patrick’s Cathedral or the Dublin Castle. The National Museum of Ireland is also a hit as it allows you to explore Irish culture and understand its heritage.
Officially the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is most famously known for being the Titanic’s birthplace. The riverside location made it ideal for numerous docks and many shipbuilders began to setup in the city. Now, you can visit the Titanic Belfast museum to learn more about the famous ship and Belfast’s industrial history.
One of Ireland’s most famous sites, the Blarney Castle is located near Cork and for this reason it has become a hotspot on the map. This town has taken its historic opulence and turned it into a hipster vibe as numerous coffee shops, galleries, and markets have sprung up. Cork is also the gateway to southern Ireland and a great place to stop before you head off to other delight like Killarney.
Famous for their oysters, Galway’s importance goes beyond Irish cuisine. This city is also known as the cultural capital of Ireland and the best place to do your souvenir shopping. With multiple crafts available for purchase, you can stop here to take a little piece of Ireland home with you. The city is also located nearby the Cliffs of Moher, which are a major tourist attraction.
Kilkenny is Ireland’s smallest city, but it still packs a punch. This tiny concentration of people is most well-known for its Kilkenny Castle, which is completely open to the public. Here, you can experience the history of Ireland in a laid-back and quite location. But with endless restaurants and cafes, there is still plenty to explore.
Points of Interest
As we’ve mentioned, Ireland is filled with amazing places and breathtaking landscapes. When you don’t want to explore the urban streets, here are the top points of interest throughout the rest of the country that are waiting for you to come exploring.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s most famous natural landscape. Here, over 40,000 basalt columns have risen up along the seaside and played into the myths of ancient giants that once roamed the Irish landscape. Though the Giant’s Causeway has been made more famous in recent years as it was once a filming location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliff of Moher are one of the most famous landscapes that Ireland boasts because of their dramatic drops and fresh greenery. These are Ireland’s most visited natural site, which has also been solidified by the clicks of cameras and published postcard. But the beauty needs to be experience first-hand and no trip to Ireland is complete without witnessing the all-powerful enchantment of nature.
Ring of Kerry
Stretching along the Atlantic Coast, the Ring of Kerry is Ireland’s most scenic drive that will wow you with its beauty. The clear water and pristine beaches are just part of the highlight of the journey and there are plenty of outdoor activities that can be booked for your entertainment.
Glendalough is one of Ireland’s monastic sites and was originally settled all the way back in the 6th century. Now, people come to the area to step into Ireland’s past and to appreciate the ancient architecture. The lakeside location also makes it a great place for some relaxation on a busy trip.
The Aran Islands
If you want to see Ireland in its most ancient form, the Aran Islands are the place to go. Here, the Irish Gaelic language dominates, and the three small islands will take you back to a time when Ireland was completely wild. With a culture unique in its own right, this is the Ireland you would have experienced years ago.
The Rock of Cashel
Dating back to the 12th, 13th, and 15th centuries, the Rock of Cashel is Ireland’s top and most visited heritage site. The small cluster of buildings has been preserved and sits perched atop the limestone rock formation. With daily tours, you can learn more about its history as you carefully tread through the hallow grounds.
Get Out and Go
The never-ending beauty of Ireland stretches through the vast landscapes but also into the heart of its people. The country’s extensive history is one that shouldn’t be forgotten and with numerous historic sites that are now preserved, visitors can experience the past for themselves. With so much to do and see, Ireland is a place that will likely entice you into taking a return trip.
What To Do in Ireland
Ireland is on our top 10 list of greatest places to visit in the world. Divided between the Republic of Ireland, which occupies about 5/6ths of the country, and Northern Ireland, which is controlled by the UK, this island boasts some of the most historical and scenic landscapes you’ll ever see.
Few countries in Europe boast the raw natural landscapes that Ireland does. Ancient cliffside castles peer miles into the vast ocean expanse. Modern Irish shape the future in downtown Dublin. Divided geographically into two ruling parties, Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain and uses the pound. The Republic of Ireland, or Southern Ireland, is part of the EU and uses the Euro.
When it comes to things to do, you’ll quickly realize you can either get a taste of rural life on the western part of Ireland or enjoy some more tourist attractions more on the east. The island itself is rather flat with low lying mountains and several rivers that intersect throughout.
Because of the terrain, many monuments and castles were built centuries ago and have become historical landmarks (no record of how many castles were built, but many believe it’s in the 1,000’s. Below are some of our favorite things to do in Ireland. You can find travel destination, luxury hotels, and some of the best castles to tour. There are quite a few travel destination spots all throughout Ireland.
Ireland Stats and Facts
- CAPITAL: Dublin
- LANGUAGES: Irish; English
- CURRENCY: euro (€)
- POPULATION 4,804,000
- TOTAL AREA: 27,133 SQ MI
- URBAN-RURAL POPULATION: Urban: (2016) 62.7%; Rural: (2016) 37.3%
- LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH: Male: 78.5 years; Female: 83.2 years
Cities in Ireland