A small island that packs a beautiful punch. People travel from far and wide to play a round of golf on an Irish ‘green’, visit the world’s largest Titanic experience, and search for the ‘luck of the Irish’. Yet there is so much more to this vibrant, verdant land, home to breathtaking landscapes, fascinating history, rich culture, and wonderfully welcoming people.
Located in northwestern Europe, Ireland is the second largest island in Europe. The country comprises many cosmopolitan and vivacious cities, as well as numerous small and remote villages. This contrast in lifestyle is something to fall in love with; in Ireland you can experience the best of both worlds. Experience the hustle and bustle of Dublin’s city streets before strolling down a country lane, passing fields and farms in County Carlow.
Ireland’s frequent rainfall lends itself to some of the most beautiful and verdant landscapes in the world, however this unpredictable weather can dissuade some travellers from venturing there.
So, join me on a journey around the Emerald Isle to discover the 10 best things to do in Ireland and fall in love with the country’s people, history, culture, and mesmerising 40 shades of green. Wherever you go, you will be sure to enjoy the ‘craic’, the Irish expression for having fun – and remember, a little rain is all part of the authentic Irish experience!
Explore the west coast
Experience Ireland’s beautiful and rugged Wild West by foot or bike, following a range of wonderful trails, including green roads, which are the tracks of former horse and cart roads. Meander along rivers, tranquil lakes, the untamed Atlantic Ocean, through dense woods, and among soaring mountains, all the while being amazed by the antiquities, historical remains, the incredible vistas, and you might even meet some friendly locals eager to chat. In order to get the most out of this experience, we recommend booking a guided tour to benefit from the knowledge and passion of experts on flora and fauna, as well as history, geology, music, and folklore. En route, explore charming villages and soak up Irish culture in an authentic way with the locals. Enjoy a pub lunch in the Galway Bay, and then spend the afternoon cycling across rocky limestone and the diverse ecosystem of the Burren. Stop off in Roundstone, the capital of Connemara, a 19th-century town with a picturesque fishing harbor nestled in a sheltered bay. Here, tour the Roundstone Musical Instrument Center and learn about the tradition of Irish music and the instruments still used today.
Taste Irish delicacies
Continue following along the Wild Atlantic Way to Galway, the halfway point. Although it is the fourth largest city in Ireland it has maintained much of its small-town character and is home to many artists, writers, and artisans. As well as being a popular seaside destination with long sandy beaches, it also has a thriving and cosmopolitan city center with a vibrant creative scene. A stay at the Glenlo Abbey Hotel is one of Galway’s finest experiences. Step back in time and dine aboard the Pullman Restaurant, two beautifully restored original carriages of the Orient Express set in the tranquil grounds of the hotel. Enjoy the luxury of a private booth and take in the spectacular views overlooking Glenlo Abbey Estate and Lough Corrib. The award-winning Pullman Restaurant is a dining experience like no other, with two AA Rosettes to its name.
Seafood lovers will be blown away by the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, the world’s longest running Oyster Festival and one of the most internationally recognized Irish events. Held on the last weekend of September in the center of Galway City, it’s a unique opportunity to take part in seafood trails and tantalizing oyster tastings, and savor food from some of Galway’s finest restaurants.
Take to the skies
Soar above Ireland’s spectacular coastline and outer islands in a private helicopter and you take in the country’s wild beauty from a perspective like no other. Fly over the breathtakingly impressive Cliffs Of Moher, a sheer precipice reaching eight kilometers long and rising to a height of 203 meters, this is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the West of Ireland. Touch down on the undiscovered Aran Islands, where Irish (Gaelic) is the everyday language of the islander, and take a private guided tour to discover local island pubs, crafts, and local culture before being welcomed into the home of a local family to savor a freshly caught lobster.
Uncover Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland
Explore the beauty of the Irish east coast, best known as the Garden of Ireland. Ireland’s mild temperate climate (with no lack of rainfall!) offers a diverse landscape of botany to be enjoyed all year round. If you are looking to be wowed by endless magnificent blooms, the best time to visit is from spring to early summer. Just south of Dublin, County Wicklow is a wild garden of coastline, woodland, and mountains – voted the third best garden in the world by National Geographic.
Powerscourt Gardens, stretching over 47 acres, encompasses Ireland’s largest waterfall and offers a magnificent combination of the aristocratic themes of French and Italian formal garden designs dating back to 1732. On beautiful walking trails, lose yourself in a stunning blend of sweeping terraces, mythical statues, and ornamental lakes. Round off your garden tour with a stay at the indulgent Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa, set just 30 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. Borrow a complimentary bicycle and explore the hotel’s vast gardens or take a dip in the indoor 20-meter swimming pool, lit up by Swarovski crystals.
Drink Guinness in Dublin
A small capital with a huge reputation, Dublin has a mix of heritage and hedonism that will not disappoint. Experience the tradition, heart, and soul of Ireland’s most iconic beer at the Guinness Storehouse. Guided by a Guinness expert, make your way through the building, which was once the fermentation plant of the brewery, and explore the ingredients, history, and culture that tell the story of this Irish stout. End your tour at the Gravity Bar, taking in the breathtaking panoramic views of Dublin city whilst sipping on the smoothest and most velvety pint of Guinness you’ve ever tasted.
Explore Ireland’s historical sites
Journey through some of Ireland’s most iconic cultural heritage as you walk through the cobblestone alleys of Trinity College Dublin. Wander the same halls that some of the world’s greatest writers once did, such as Oscar Wilde and Oliver Goldsmith, and feel inspired by the historical richness that surrounds you. Visit the magnificent Old Library, constructed in 1952, where you will find the Book of Kells, a precious 9th century manuscript, featuring an exquisite combination of ornate Latin text and intricate illuminations. Discover how the world’s most famous medieval manuscript was made and learn about its rich symbolism. Everyday, the Old Library displays a different page from The Book of Kells, each telling a different story and demonstrating the incredible craftsmanship and detail used to create it.
Travel to the medieval heart of Ireland
Explore Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland, and immerse yourself in Irish folklore. Built from dark-grey limestone flecked with fossil seashells, Kilkenny is also known as ‘the marble city’. Walk the picturesque ‘Medieval Mile’, a trail running through the center comprising narrow lanes and historic buildings, and discover the city’s fascinating Norman heritage. Today, Kilkenny is one of Ireland’s most cosmopolitan cities – an atmospheric center for arts and crafts, and home to an eclectic mix of fine restaurants, cafes, pubs, and shops.
Learn about the world-famous whiskey
The southernmost and second largest county of Ireland is County Cork, known for its vibrant city streets and referred to by locals as the real capital of Ireland. Discover the history of Jameson whiskey on a private tour of the Jameson Distillery with a brand and whiskey expert. Uncover the secrets of the original distillery, tour their microdistillery and walk through the atmospheric maturation warehouse to take in the aroma of whiskey maturing amid a thousand casks. Learn about the people who worked in the distillery and hear stories of its fascinating 150-year history. Visit the distiller’s cottage, which was home to Midleton’s former master distiller, Barry Crockett, who created the delicious world-renowned whiskey, Midleton Very Rare. Sip a glass of one of their premium whiskeys in the atmospheric and quaint surrounds of the cottage’s sitting room. Finish your immersive experience in the Jameson Bar with the memento of a personalized Jameson hip flask engraved with your name.
Iconic scenery in County Kerry
Discover true beauty on the Ring of Kerry, considered one of the most breathtaking destinations to explore in Ireland. This 179km circuit of the Iveragh (pronounced eev-raa) Peninsula winds past pristine beaches, medieval ruins, mountains, and loughs, with ever-changing views of the island-dotted Atlantic, particularly between Waterville and Caherdaniel in the peninsula’s southwest.
Set on a 300 acre estate in County Kerry in the south west, the Relais & Chateaux Sheen Falls Lodge is perfectly placed for your Ireland Wild West adventure. Overlooking the picturesque Sheen Falls, this five-star hotel is renowned for its two AA Rosette restaurants and luxurious rooms, suites and villas. Aside from the picturesque views of purple-heather covered mountains, it is also known for its piano jazz ambience, its collection of old Irish whiskeys and exquisite salmon caught in the nearby river.
Encounter Northern Ireland’s only Unesco World Heritage Site
One of the top places to visit in Northern Ireland is the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, a set of spectacular, 60-million-year-old rock formations jutting out into the thundering Atlantic. Legend has it that they were created by Irish giant Finn MacCool during a battle, whilst science tells us the astonishing basalt columns were formed through the rapid cooling of lava from an underwater volcano. Whether you believe the science or the myth, or a bit of both, to stroll on the Giants Causeway or hop from rock to rock, is to voyage back in time.
Anna Mascaro is Founder of Terracotta Travel. Terracotta Travel is a boutique travel agency that caters for luxury travellers who want to go beyond the guidebook and behind the scenes in every corner of the world.
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