Although it’s a relatively small island in Western Europe, Ireland has a huge diversity of scenery and terrain as well as a rich cultural heritage. Dramatic coastlines have been carved out by the Atlantic Ocean, leaving endless unspoiled beaches and rocky peninsulas; inland you’ll find rolling green pastures, peat bogs, and quiet lakes. Throughout the country, forts, megalithic tombs, castles, and stone villages offer evidence of history, culture, and tradition. Pubs and traditional music add to the experience, and many visitors say it’s the friendliness of the Irish people that leaves a lasting impression and brings them back.

Ireland, Coast, Dingle

Photo by Michelle Heimerman


When’s the best time to go to Ireland?

One of the favorite topics of conversation in Ireland is the weather, which largely determines the best time of year to visit. Be prepared for any weather at any time—and for a detailed conversation with a local about it.

The best time to visit is between May and July, when temperatures are at their warmest and days are longest. July and August make up the high season, when prices are steepest and accommodations and attractions busiest.

Spring, particularly from March onward, and autumn (particularly September) are pleasant; attractions will be less busy and prices good.

The weather can be unpredictable even in summer, so always be prepared for a chilly breeze or shower of rain. Other busy times of year include St Patrick’s Day (March 17), Easter, school holidays, and bank holiday weekends.

In winter, many attractions, hotels, and restaurants close from December to February, when weather is harsh and days are short. But if you do travel then, you can get good deals, and tourist attractions (when open) will be quieter.

How to get around Ireland

Direct flights from Britain, Europe, and the USA arrive at the main hub, Dublin Airport. There are also airports in Shannon, Cork, Knock, and Belfast—and smaller regional airports such as Donegal and Sligo. The main airlines operating flights between Britain and the Republic of Ireland are Aer Lingus and Ryanair. It is also possible to ferry from Britain or France, sailing into Dublin, Rosslare, or Cork. The main operators are Irish Ferries, Stena Line, P&O, Brittany Ferries, and Norfolk Line Ferries.

Distances are not huge, and highways link the main cities. Car rental is readily available and is recommended for sightseeing for at least some of your trip, as it allows you to go to the more interesting places and stop off when you want. Note that car rental and fuel can be expensive (book ahead in high season). Other options include trains, which link the larger cities and are usually reliable, and intercity buses, which serve the main towns and cities. Many private bus companies operate on these routes, too. There are flights between Dublin and all of the regional airports. Drivers drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, and some rural and coastal roads can be narrow.

Food and drink to try in Ireland

The quality of the meat and seafood stands out in Ireland. You can eat very well here, as Ireland has plentiful gourmet restaurants, innovative chefs, and ethnic cuisines, particularly in larger urban centers, and most towns have a farmers’ market for fresh produce. Tuck into seafood, Irish cheeses, Irish stews, and breads. The traditional breakfast—a fry-up with bacon, sausages, eggs, tomatoes, black-and-white pudding, and brown bread—can be found in most hotels. Lunch often centers around soup and sandwiches or sliced, cooked meats. Watch for “early bird” dinner specials in restaurants—typically, these are two to three courses at a special price, served before 7 p.m. Most pubs serve food, and prices are good.

Culture in Ireland

Some of the oldest cultural highlights in Ireland include the Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange (which, dating to 3200 B.C., is older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge) and the Book of Kells, which dates to 800 A.D. Everywhere you go in Ireland you’ll encounter music, dance, the performing arts, and literary festivals. Ireland has produced nine Nobel laureates including Seamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and W.B. Yeats. It’s also the home of U2 and Riverdance. You’ll find traditional music sessions in pubs in nearly every town. The Irish-speaking areas in the country—known as Gaeltacht areas—are mostly in the west and northwest and there are Irish language TV and radio channels. For sports, the traditional pastimes of Gaelic football and hurling (played with a stick) are played in hundreds of Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) clubs all around the country.

The biggest annual festivals include St Patrick’s Day (March 17), when most towns have a parade and festival, the Galway Arts Festival (July), Cork Jazz Festival (October), Dublin Theatre Festival (September/October), Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (February), Galway Oyster Festival (September), and West Cork Food Festival (September). And most Irish towns have their own annual festival, usually during summer. Fair Day, on August 15, has been an annual festivity for at least two hundred years. Kenmare is one of the few remaining Irish towns that continue to honor the tradition. It’s the one day when farmers and animal owners can bring their cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, ducks, and donkeys to the town square to sell or trade in the streets. Over time the fair has grown to include stalls where all manner of other goods and services are sold—from antiques and bric-a-brac to fortune-telling.

Local travel tips for Ireland

- The currency in Ireland is the euro.
- Tipping is discretionary and is usually around 10 percent in restaurants and for table service in pubs.
- Travel in Ireland is usually safe, although beware of pickpockets and thefts from cars, especially in urban centers. The police are called the Gardaí, and the telephone number for emergency services is 999.
- As stated above, always be prepared for a sudden change in weather—a raincoat and sweater will come in handy, even during the summer season.

Guide Editor

Yvonne Gordon is an award-winning travel and features writer whose work has been published in The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The National and more. She writes Ireland travel guides for publishers including DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, Explorer Publishing, and Shermans Travel and she co-wrote the book Back Roads Ireland (DK Eyewitness, 2010). She is also an accomplished musician and sailor; tales of her sailing trips can be found at Holidays on the Water. Find out more at
Read Before You Go
From Yeats poems to a once-banned novel, these books by Irish writers are must-reads if you’re planning an Ireland adventure.
Resources to help plan your trip
Tour Cork and Kerry for colorful fishing villages, lush valleys, Irish-speaking communities and food trails. There’s an abundance of wildlife and even a friendly dolphin in Dingle, while islands like the Blaskets and the Skelligs have fascinating histories. In Cork and Kerry, long, rocky headlands jut out into the Atlantic, sheltering pockets of lush farmland warmed by the Gulf Stream. You don’t want to miss Cork and Kerry’s delicious local food produce at Cork’s English Market.
Its pubs are the stuff of legends—with traditional music, frothy pints of Guinness, stained glass, and taxidermy—but there’s plenty to do in Dublin before that first pint. Fascinating museums, big and small, lush parks, and historical sites add to Dublin’s deep charms.
If you’re in Dublin for the weekend, bike through the Phoenix Park, enjoy tea and scones at Queen of Tarts or take in some culture at the National Museum or National Library. A weekend in Dublin isn’t complete without a stroll across the Ha’penny Bridge, a traditional music session at O’Donoghue’s pub or—what else—a perfect pint of stout in any of Dublin’s lively pubs.
With a vibrant arts scene in the Cathedral Quarter, the regenerated Titanic Quarter, and lots of innovative restaurants, this is the best time to visit Belfast in Northern Ireland. We’ve put together a list of ten things we love about Belfast, including the Queen’s Quarter, the lively indoor stalls at St George’s Market, the Black Cab tours of the city and of course the iconic Titanic Center Belfast, set in the old shipyards.
If you can only spend one week in Ireland, here’s what you must see. From the half penny pass, to the colors of Galway, your week in Ireland will be filled with beautiful sites and lush green fields. During the week, stop by the Cliffs of Moher, the Kylemore Abbey, and the Glaencar Waterfall for some classic Irish sites.
Being able to live it up in an Irish castle or stately home is one of the draws for visitors – and Irish hotels come in all styles. Check into a hotel like Adare Manor in Co Limerick, or Ireland’s Dromoland Castle in Co Clare for turrets, elegant rooms and manicured grounds. Foodies will love Ballymaloe House in East Cork, while the trendy roof bar at the Marker Hotel in Dublin is the best place for Irish summer evening cocktails.
With idyllic landscapes and quality highways, one the best ways to experience Ireland is by driving it. The uncrowded roads of Counties Cork and Kerry offer beautiful views of the rugged Irish countryside and coast. After passing through Cork’s small towns and kissing (or not kissing) the Blarney Stone, end the trip with a drive around the famous Ring of Kerry.
The scenery in the northwest of Ireland is wild, rugged and unlike anything in the rest of the country. Explore the dramatic headlands of Donegal, which stretch into the turbulent Atlantic Ocean, hike through Glenveagh National Park to spot eagles or red deer, or spend time in County Sligo, with its iconic mountain backdrops, lakes and waterfalls. This part of Ireland’s northwest inspired the poet William Butler Yeats, who spent much of his childhood in the area.
While tourist destinations are plentiful in Ireland, make sure to also get off the beaten track. Ireland is full of wonderful sights to see, from ruins of Desmond Castle, to deserted beaches, and of course the Irish whiskey trail, there’s plenty to do off-the-beaten-path in Ireland. If you wander far enough, you will soon have the place to yourself—or maybe just have to share with some wandering Irish sheep.
Northern Ireland is famous for the volcanic formations of Giant’s Causeway, but visitors to the North can also explore stately homes such as Florence Court, ancient castles such as Dunluce Castle, the Marble Arch underground caves or the 400-year-old whiskey distillery at Bushmills. Northern Ireland is also full of adventure, with rope bridges, folk parks and the best glens to ramble in.
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