Ireland is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination. Full of iconic sites, history, and beauty, the country has something for everyone to enjoy.
For those lucky enough to visit the Emerald Isle, we’ve compiled a list of the sites and activities that should be on everyone’s itinerary:
Visit the Cliffs of Moher
One of the most visited natural attractions in all of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher rise up from the Atlantic Ocean and give way to some of the most powerful views in the country. The cliffs are located on the southwestern edge of the Burren region and run for about 14 kilometers or 9 miles. The Cliffs of Moher rise 120 meters or 390 feet above the ocean and on top they are covered with the island’s trademark meadows of verdant green grass.
The Cliff’s towering height combined with the meadows and the sounds of the powerful Atlantic waves crashing, make for an amazing viewpoint and a highly sought-after sight to see in Ireland. In fact, the cliffs rank among the most visited tourist sites in Ireland, with around 1.5 million visitors annually. You can visit the new visitors center to learn the geological history of the area that form the stratas of sandstone and shale.
At a whopping 120 meters in height, the dramatic views of the coastline even include the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. In good weather conditions, atop the tower, visitors can see the Twelve Pins mountain ranges, elevating the already breathtaking view. Additionally, an all-new visitors’ center makes it easy for travelers to uncover the hundreds of millions of years of geological history.
Although the cliffs may look isolated, there are nearby towns where you can stop for a meal before or after catching the amazing coastal views. The closest towns include the villages of Liscannor to the south and Doolin 7 to the north.
Tour the Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel, which is also referred to as the Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock, is a historic site located at Cashel, Ireland. The site was the fortress of the Munster kings in the Early Middle Ages, and still hosts buildings like the Round Tower and Cormac’s Chapel from that period. Many of these buildings held off English invaders later on and that strength is still apparent today to visitors who tour the historic site.
The combination of the gothic mystery and eerie charm of the Rock of Cashel makes it a must-see for anyone visiting Ireland. There are also beautifully haunting graveyards of Celtic stones to see, not to mention sweeping views of the beautiful Munster backcountry. The extensive graveyard includes a number of high crosses. Scully’s Cross, one of the largest and most famous high crosses on the grounds, was originally constructed in 1867 to commemorate the Scully family. In 1976, the cross was destroyed when lightning struck a metal rod that ran the length of the cross. The remains of the top of the cross now lie at the base of the cross adjacent to the rock wall.
The site includes an audio-visual show and exhibitions that guide you through a detailed tour of each individual building’s history. The castle is typically busiest during the summer which can lead to delays and wait times so plan accordingly. If you would like to stop for a meal before or after, Rock of Cashel is located just 500 metres from the centre of Cashel Town, which has plenty of pubs and dining options.
Hike at Killarney National Park
Since it was made the first national park in all of Ireland in 1932, Killarney National Park has expanded to encompass over 102.89 km2 (25,425 acres) of diverse ecology, including the Lakes of Killarney, which sit like a mirror under the Purple Mountains and the oak and yew woodlands.
For those interested in wildlife, Killarney National Park is home to the only red deer herd on mainland Ireland most likely due to the fact it is where the most extensive covering of native forests remains. The park offers endless hiking trails and due to the oceanic climate of Southwest Ireland with its high humidity and mild winters, hiking at Killarney is always a good idea. You will find yourself immersed in some of the finest examples of natural floral and faunal communities in Western Europe. The trails vary in difficulty and the parks website is a helpful guide in figuring out which trail would be best for you.
If hiking is not for you, you can still immerse yourself in Killarney’s greenery by visiting the Muckross Houses and Gardens. As part of the national park, the Muckross estate was developed in the 17th Century when the first member of the Herbert family, who were originally from Wales, came to settle in Killarney. The present day Muckross House was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his family in 1843.The house and gardens are situated on the eastern shore of Muckross Lake, taking full advantage of the magnificent views which can be enjoyed from this location. Most of the house has been preserved as a late 19th century mansion, with furniture and artefacts from that period.
There is something for everyone at the Killarney National Park: you can experience what it is like to hike amongst the red deer or learn about the area’s cultural history in the Muckross House, both of which are worth the stop.
Take a Viking Tour Through Dublin
As the capital and most well-known city in Ireland, Dublin is likely going to be a stop for most visiting the country. One of the best ways to see Dublin is through a Viking-themed boat tour. The Vikings first stormed Ireland in AD 795 and influenced much of Ireland’s past. The Vikings are credited with creating the first trade routes between Ireland, Scandinavia and England. Using Dublin as their main base in Ireland, they traded with the rest of Europe at a level that Ireland had never seen. This brought in many influences from Europe which remain in Ireland to this day. Therefore, the Viking Splash tour, which includes Viking guides and Viking hats for everyone aboard, allows you to playfully engage with Dublin’s historical past.
On the 75 minute tour you can discover and experience so much of what Dublin has to offer. The tour includes cathedrals, tales about Ireland’s Viking heritage, Dublin’s iconic skyline feature, the Spire, and U2’s recording studio. In fact, world-traveler Jeremy Wien said: “The Viking Splash tour was a blast–exploring Dublin from the water allowed us to see the city from a different perspective than during our other activities. Also, the guide was fantastic–a great combination of history and humor to keep us entertained while we were getting information–highly recommended!”
Experience a Guided Tour at Kilmainham Gaol Museum
Kilmainham Gaol is a must-see for any history buff. Kilmainham Gaol is one of the largest unoccupied jails in Europe. It opened in 1796 as the new county gaol for Dublin and shut its doors as such in 1924. During that period, KIlmainham witnessed some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s emergence as a modern nation. The gaol offers guided tours (that must be booked in advance and online) that explain powerful historic events and how they impacted Ireland and its people. Today, Kilmainham Gaol symbolizes the tradition of militant and constitutional nationalism from the rebellion of 1798 all the way to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Leaders of the many rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848,1867 and 1916 were detained and in some cases executed at this site. Many members of the Irish Republican movement during the Anglo-Irish War (1919-21) were also detained in Kilmainham Gaol, guarded by British troops. However, part of the powerful experience of Kilmainham is remembering that, as a county gaol, Kilmainham held thousands of ordinary men, women and children, many of whom only committed petty crimes. Citizens from all over were held here for long periods waiting to be transported to Australia. This historic site is a necessary reminder for everyone to see and it gives visitors a unique insight into the history and culture of Ireland.