Top Attractions in Ireland
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are rich with unspoiled coastlines, exciting cultural experiences, and warm, friendly people. It’s the place to be if you’re looking for a grand adventure and a bit of craic on your travels.
15 St Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland
If big museums aren’t your thing, but you’d like to get a flavor of the story of Dublin, drop into the Little Museum on St. Stephen’s Green, which is full of quirky memorabilia from times past in the city, all donated by the public. There are guided tours on the hour, and each tour reveals some of the city’s secrets, with letters from famous literary characters like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, signed U2 albums, and all sorts of things on display—from badges and newspapers to old signs and even bullets—all of which have a story to tell. Set in a Georgian townhouse, with views out over the green and the excellent Hatch & Sons Irish Kitchen in the basement for post-tour grub, this little space offers a lot to love.
Newgrange, Donore, Co. Meath, Ireland
Older than both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt, the monument at Newgrange was built around 3,200 B.C.E. Its use is a mystery, although it was most likely a place of worship, and there are legends that it was used as a burial chamber. The main circular mound has a passage with small chambers off it, and each year on the winter solstice, the sun travels along the passage and lights up the main chamber. Many of the curbstones at the front and stone slabs lining the passage have decorative examples of megalithic art, with zigzags, spirals, and other geometric designs. Access to Newgrange is by guided tour, and it’s part of the Brú na Bóinne complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also has the passage graves at Knowth (on view by guided tour) and Dowth (not open to visitors).
On the north coast of Donegal, take a drive on part of the Wild Atlantic Way around the Fanad Peninsula and Rosguill Peninsula for some spectacular coastal scenery. There’s a mix of golden beaches, rolling farmland, and dramatic rocky headlands before you reach Fanad Head itself, where the Atlantic waves often bash the rocks of the photogenic Fanad Lighthouse, built in 1817. On the adjoining Rosguill Peninsula, an exhilarating seven-mile route called the Atlantic Drive has more spectacular views of cliffs, headlands, and white sandy bays around every hairpin bend. Stop along the way to take in the views over Tranarossan Bay, one of the drive’s highlights.
Ireland’s holiest mountain is associated with St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, as well as having been a place of worship dating back to 3,000 B.C.E. The half-mile-high summit is visible for miles and has incredible views over County Mayo and Clew Bay below it, which is dotted with tiny islands. It’s also where St. Patrick was said to have fasted for 40 days and nights and from where he banished all snakes from Ireland. The tradition of climbing the mountain on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, is said to date back thousands of years to pagan times and later became an important religious pilgrimage, with many pilgrims choosing to climb barefoot or on their knees. You can of course climb it any time of year for rewarding views, but the path is rocky and steep in parts, so make sure to wear proper footwear.
Letterfrack, Co. Galway, Ireland
The bleak, windswept landscape of Connemara in the West of Ireland is characterized by bogs, lakes, mountains, and miles of stone walls. Connemara National Park is one of the best places to appreciate this unique landscape, with more than 7,000 acres of national park encompassing mountains, including some that are part of the Twelve Bens range, plus Western blanket bog and treeless plains that are home to red deer, sheep, and Connemara ponies. Explore for yourself, and find traces of history dating back thousands of years, including 4,000-year-old megalithic tombs and abandoned farms.
Great Skellig, Skellig Rock Great, Ireland
Christian monks chose the Skelligs, two rocky islets lying seven miles off the coast of County Kerry, as a place to live in peaceful isolation in the 6th century, where they built cylindrical stone beehive huts. Lucasfilm chose Skellig Michael, or Greater Skellig, as Luke Skywalker’s hideaway, featured heavily in 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The rocks are also host to an important seabird colony, with thousands of puffins and other species breeding here (no porgs, though). From May to October, visitors take the ferry that runs from the village of Portmagee to Skellig Michael. The crossing takes an hour and can be rough, and the monastery, which includes six beehive huts and two oratories, is at the summit of around 600 exposed and uneven steep stone steps. However, be prepared—visitor numbers are limited, and the crossing is weather dependent. If you don’t make it out to the rocks, visit the Skellig Experience on nearby (and easily accessible) Valentia Island to learn more about the islands’ history and nature.
Glendalough, or Gleann Dá Loch in Irish (which means “valley of two lakes”), is a quiet, picturesque valley near the Wicklow Mountains. Its 6th-century monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin is one of the most important in Ireland, and it’s surrounded by dewy grass and heather, lush hills, mossy rocks, and an impressive variety of wildlife. Monastic City itself includes the remains of ancient stone churches, a priests’ house, a stone fort, and a 100-foot round bell tower. The cemetery is fascinating with its lichen-covered headstones tilted every which way amid unkempt vegetation. Generations of Irish family histories are contained in this small plot of land, which is an integral part of this site. Glendalough is about 90 minutes’ south of Dublin and makes for a worthwhile day tour that includes sightseeing and hiking followed by a visit to a cozy local pub.
Slieve League, Shanbally, Co. Donegal, Ireland
You will need a head for heights to visit Slieve League; at 600 meters (2,000 feet), these are the fifth-tallest sea cliffs in Europe. What makes them so special is that they are also some of the most accessible ones. Nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, they offer gasp-worthy views of the swirling waters of the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day you can see as far as County Sligo or the coast of County Mayo. Only experienced walkers should tackle One Man’s Pass, a narrow trail that reaches the highest point, but there is a network of easier trails for visitors of any ability to enjoy.
2 Church St, Knockaunroe, Corofin, Co. Clare, V95 T9V6, Ireland
South of Galway in neighboring County Clare is one of Ireland’s, if not Western Europe’s, unique landscapes: the extraordinary, lunarlike limestone scenery of the Burren. (Its name derives from the Gaelic word boíreann, which means “rocky place.”) The Burren has an eerie topography that supports a diverse array of flora and fauna, some more commonly found in alpine or Mediterranean climes. It is also home to Aillwee Cave, an otherworldly series of underground caverns, towers, and waterfalls.
Newfield, Co. Mayo, Ireland
Hop on a bike and cycle the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo, a 26-mile walking and cycling track that takes in some of the West of Ireland’s best views. The greenway follows the old Great Western railway line from Westport to Achill Island, which first opened in 1895 and closed in 1937. The trail meanders along through woodlands and bogs, with views of Clew Bay and the Atlantic on one side and the Nephin Mountain on the other, and it’s traffic-free. Stop off in the village of Newport for tea and scones in Kelly’s Kitchen, or drop into McLoughlin’s in the seaside village of Mulranny for a drop of something a bit stronger and to take in the amazing views across Clew Bay to Croagh Patrick. Clew Bay Bike Hire has four bases along the trail, so you can drop your bike off along the way and the company will either bring your bags to your end point or collect you and return you to where you started. The greenway ends at Achill Island, where you can enjoy five Blue Flag beaches, go horseback riding, or try surfing or kitesurfing.
Instead of the Ring of Kerry, take the scenic driving route around the less busy Beara Peninsula, following the road from Glengarriff to Dursey Sound in County Cork,and then back to Kenmare in County Kerry. Don’t miss the ancient stone circles and standing stones, including the 17-foot-high Ballycrovane Ogham Stone, as well as cairns and burial grounds. There are plenty of beaches, harbors, and coves, plus forests and mountain trails to stop off and visit; you can also take a ferry over to Bere Island (from Castletownbere) or take the quirky cable car to the treeless Dursey Island, for walking trails and amazing Atlantic views.
Trim, Co. Meath, Ireland
Even though Ireland is full of castles, it’s hard to beat the wonder of seeing the impressive Trim Castle, the largest Norman castle in the country. With its ditch, curtain wall, and moat, the castle covers 300,000 square feet on the south bank of the River Boyne. It was built by Hugh de Lacy around 1176, and it took 30 years to complete. Wander around the castle grounds or take a 45-minute tour inside the castle keep, learning everything from its turbulent history in medieval times to the spots where the movie Braveheart was filmed.
Church Hill, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Glenveagh National Park is one of the highlights of the northwest of Ireland. A number of walking trails traverse the 62 square miles of rugged mountains, lakes, remote bogs, and woodlands, where wildlife such as red deer and golden eagles roam. The centrepiece is Glenveagh Castle (you can take a guided tour or just drop into the tea rooms) and its formal Italianate and rose gardens. There’s a shuttle bus from the car park to the castle but the walk is worth doing if the weather is suitable, to really experience the magnificent surroundings.
As a child, William Butler Yeats spent his summer holidays in County Sligo, and the lakes and hills inspired many of his most famous poems, such as The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Take a leisurely day and follow the Yeats Trail around the locations in the area that he loved, taking in Glencar Lough, the Isle of Innisfree, Rosses Point, Benbulben, Lissadell House, and finally the churchyard at Drumcliffe Parish Church, where Yeats is buried.
Inishowen, Owenboy, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Tour the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, and you’ll have the most dramatic views on your way to Malin Head at the tip—be sure to stop at the Gap of Mamore, 820 feet above sea level, for panoramic vistas of Lough Swilly and the Fanad Peninsula. Along the way you’ll also see lots of long, golden beaches and coves, sheep-filled fields, traditional cottages, and villages to stop by for lunch or refreshments. Inishowen is also home to some of Ireland’s most fascinating Christian and Gaelic sites, such as Grianan of Aileach (Grianán Ailigh in Irish), a ring fort dating back to the 6th century C.E.
Dingle and the southwest of Ireland has many amazing beaches, but Inch Beach is a standout, and despite its name, it’s actually three miles long. The beach is a sand spit that stretches out into the bay rather than running along the shoreline, and behind the sand is a row of dunes. Popular for swimming, surfing, kayaking, fishing, and kitesurfing, Inch has lifeguards in the summer months. In winter, enjoy a long, bracing walk, when you might have the beach all to yourself to enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounds of County Kerry.
The Granary, Michael St, Limerick, Ireland
Ireland’s third largest city was founded by Vikings who settled at the mouth of the River Shannon in 922 C.E. Walk the pleasant streets or along the banks of the Shannon, and enjoy the historic buildings, cozy pubs, modern restaurants, and cosmopolitan vibe that make the city so vibrant. Spend a couple of hours at the Hunt Museum for its collection of art and antiquities, including works from Picasso, Bronze Age shields, and 18th-century ceramics. Visit King John’s Castle, which was built for King John in 1200 and whose curtain walls and five drum towers are an impressive sight from across the river, and Limerick’s oldest building, St. Mary’s Cathedral on nearby Bridge Street, which dates back to 1168. If you’re in the city on a weekend, head to the Milk Market, in operation since 1852, for artisan foods, fresh produce, crafts, and other market finds.
Mourne Mountains, Newry BT34 5XL, UK
The Mourne Mountains are the highest range in Northern Ireland and one of its best-kept secrets. Walk the large sweeping downs and follow hiking trails across the high peaks, which are also favorites of mountain bikers and rock climbers, and you’ll understand why the landscape is said to have been C.S. Lewis’s inspiration for Narnia. Slieve Donard is the tallest peak at 2,780 feet, and climbers will be rewarded with views of Murlough Bay and Newcastle beach—and even across the Irish Sea to Scotland. A gentle hike up Ben Crom leads to a lookout over the Silent Valley and Ben Crom Reservoir. The impressive 22-mile Mourne Wall, which was built out of stone by the city of Belfast to keep sheep and cattle out of the local reservoir’s watershed, took 18 years to complete and crosses 15 mountain summits.
44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills BT57 8SU, UK
A geological wonder, Giant’s Causeway is about an hour’s drive northeast of Derry on the coast in County Antrim. It is made up of around 40,000 black basalt columns in polygonal shapes, a unique landscape that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the time the causeway was “discovered” in 1693, there was debate over whether it was man-made or the work of a giant known as Finn McCool, who was building a bridge to Scotland. (Geologists now believe the causeway was created by volcanic activity some 50 to 60 million years ago.) There are paths around the site, though you should take care: The footing is uneven, and good walking shoes are essential.
Custom House Quay, North Dock, Dublin 1, D01 V9X5, Ireland
When in Dublin city center, it’s hard to miss the Jeanie Johnston tall ship tied to a quay on the River Liffey. The ship you see is actually a replica of a ship that transported emigrants to Canada during the Great Famine, taking a total of 2,500 people over the Atlantic between the years 1848 to 1855, a period when a million people left Ireland and another million died of starvation. A guided tour above and below decks on the ship tells stories of the ship and some of those who traveled on her, enduring harsh conditions during voyages which could take up to six weeks.
Loftus Hall, Loftushall, Fethard, Co. Wexford, Ireland
Loftus Hall bills itself as Ireland‘s most haunted house and even looking at the house from the safety of the roadway—the sight of the eerie, grey building with its broken and boarded-up windows is enough to send complete shivers down the spine. Once inside, the house doesn’t get any less scary—with peeling wallpaper, dim lights, creaky floorboards, stories from the tour guides of strange noises and lights, plus legends of dark strangers with cloven hooves instead of feet visiting the house in the past. As you can imagine, all this keeps tour groups stuck closely together. There are regular day tours of the house but the really brave can sign up for a paranormal lockdown until 3:30 a.m., which also allows you to access parts of the house not normally open to the public.
Churchtown, Hook Head, Co. Wexford, Ireland
This 800-year-old structure is one of the oldest intact operational lighthouses in the world and during a tour here, you will hear not only how lighthouses have worked through the centuries, but also stories of the lighthouse keepers who lived in it and kept the beacon alight—from monks in its early days to those of more recent times, and lighthouse-adjacent stories like the one of the famous knight William Marshall and other characters from the region. You can also, course, enjoy magnificent sea views from top. There’s a café, gift shop, and an excellent program of events for all the family.
CHQ, Custom House Quay, North Dock, Dublin, D01 T6K4, Ireland
The island of Ireland has a history of emigration—a million people emigrated during famine times, and today on the U.S. census, 40 million people claim Irish roots; worldwide, the figure is around 70 million. EPIC is the world’s first digital museum where, through a series of interactive exhibits, you learn the stories of the Irish around the world, and learn about their input and influence on everything from art, culture and music to sports, science, and even politics (22 U.S. presidents have claimed Irish roots). The museum is self-guided so you can spend as much time as you like in each section. A separate genealogy service at the end helps those tracing their Irish roots. The museum’s setting in the vaults of Dublin’s old dockside warehouse at CHQ adds to the experience.
UCD Newman House, 86 St Stephen's Green, Saint Kevin's, Dublin, 2, Ireland
Wander through the historic rooms of Newman House on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green to explore the art of Irish literature through a series of thoughtful exhibitions in the Museum of Literature Ireland, or MoLI. The first gallery covers the founding of University College Dublin in 1854, and then leads on to an exhibit with quotes from the Irish writers. Much of the MoLI is dedicated to James Joyce, with a model of Joyce’s Dublin and the first-ever copy of Ulysses on display in a glass case. Different galleries display old fashioned desks and typewriters as well as interactive digital and audio displays, reading areas, and a film. A writers’ room is furnished with tables, paper, and pen, as well as advice from Irish writers, so you can start your own piece. Make sure to browse the bookshop on the way out for all types of literary-themed gifts including notebooks and jewelry, and grab a coffee on the terrace of the Commons cafe.