Picture your next sojourn in Europe: wandering through 6th Century monasteries, bicycling past Georgian towns or spontaneously finding yourself inside a late-night pub brimming with live music and smiles.
While this might sound like an adventure that crosses continents, all of this and more can be found on the emerald shores of Ireland. With rich cultural traditions, ancient relics and jaw-dropping scenery, it’s no wonder Hollywood keeps travelling to Ireland. The otherworldly home of Jon Snow and Luke Skywalker is now also home to some world-class culinary offerings. And because there is so much to see and do, we’ve rounded up a list of popular landmarks worth visiting, plus some destinations off the beaten track. Bon voyage!
#1 Sleep in a castle
Nothing says old world opulence quite like an overnight stay in a castle. There are roughly 30,000 castles and castle ruins scattered across Ireland, with the oldest buildings dating back to the 11th Century. Besides being a ghost enthusiasts’ dream (or nightmare), today many of the castles have been restored to showcase lavish dining halls and beautifully kept grounds.
Our pick is the Ballygally Castle located on the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland. This stunning 17th Century castle is rumoured to be haunted and features a Game of Thrones-inspired door depicting the battle between House Stark and House Bolton. But if castles aren’t your thing, you can always stay in a lighthouse.
#2 Try a pint of Guinness in the city where it was invented
Fact: Guinness tastes better in Ireland… and what better way to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of Dublin than by visiting some of their authentic pubs? For an immersive experience, the Guinness Storehouse acts like a seven-storey Guinness museum. Each floor tells the story of Guinness, from the process behind the perfect brew through to the drink’s iconic ad campaigns. The grand finale is situated at the top in the Gravity Bar, where you can have a free pint of the ‘the black stuff’ and 360-degree views over Dublin.
Mulligans is an old-school Dublin pub established back in 1854. This one’s a local favourite and has played host to the likes of John F. Kennedy and Judy Garland – and hey, what’s good enough for them is certainly good enough for us.
The award-winning Stags Head is a short stroll from the buzz of Grafton Street and is an ideal spot to experience the lively Dublin nightlife and enjoy a taste of the black stuff!
#3 Discover ‘trad’ (traditional Irish music)
Few musical genres will prompt pub-goers to spontaneously clap, jig and look genuinely merry like traditional Irish music, AKA trad. That is the infectious spirit of trad, which is due in part to its upbeat tempo, but also largely due to the traditions of seisiúns (sessions).
Seisiúns are usually held in pubs and feature a gathering of musicians playing traditional Irish music. And some Irish locals have declared County Clare along the Wild Atlantic Way as the hometown of traditional Irish music. The coastal village of Doolin hosts trad music on a nightly basis throughout various pubs. And it’s here you’ll find the meaning of ‘craic’ (or good fun) by mixing with the friendly locals and getting amongst the world-famous atmosphere of an Irish pub.
#4 Visit a World Heritage site that’s older than the pyramids of Egypt
Perhaps the best example of ancient civilisations in Ireland, Brú Na Bóinne in Ireland’s Ancient East is a prehistoric site that boasts tombs older than the monuments at Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids. Besides being astonishingly old, here’s something to ponder while Google mapping your way around Ireland; the passage and interior chamber of the Newgrange tomb – a large circular mound engraved with megalithic art symbols – perfectly align with the rising sun during the winter solstice.
#5 View the most Instagrammed cliffs of Ireland
It’s not hard to see why the Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited – and Instagrammed – natural wonders. These awe-inspiring cliffs cut such a rugged and expansive figure against the ocean we are certain one visit to these cliffs and you’ll feel like you’ve found the edge of our globe. It’s because of this surreal quality and sheer beauty that many films have been shot here including the cult classic The Princess Bride and Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.
#6 Cycle your way around the Ring Of Kerry to one of Ireland’s most popular towns, Killarney
Because eating your way around Ireland is definitely a thing, at some point, you’ll want to ditch the automobile and pedal through Ireland’s most stunning landscapes.
The Ring Of Kerry, situated on the edge of Europe meanders past jaw-dropping coastal vistas, postcard-like rolling hills and quaint Irish towns.
Stop off at Killarney for a quintessential Irish town brimming with natural and man-made attractions. From a 6th Century monastery to music festivals and world-class spas, its close proximity to lakes and woodlands makes Killarney worth some extra time.
#7 Go behind the scenes of Game Of Thrones and Star Wars
Sweeping landscapes and epic views are now synonymous with the Game Of Thrones series, which uses Northern Ireland as its medieval-seeming locale. Take a tour and practice archery at Winterfell Castle, pay a visit to Murlough Bay, or dress up like a Stark family member to glamp overnight in the woods of Westeros. Even those who aren’t fans of the show will be swept up in the atmosphere and will be hailing ‘King Of The North’ in no time.
Star Wars fans should check out the World Heritage site of Skellig Michael, where Luke Skywalker appeared in Episode VII, and which features in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This rugged and stunning location is popular but well worth it. Make sure to also stop by the dramatic coastal scenery of Loop Head in County Clare, which stars in the upcoming film.
#8 Walk in the footsteps of giants: The Giant’s Causeway
This natural wonder on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route is made up of almost perfect hexagonal columns – according to legend, the columns are the remnants from a giant-made causeway. Or, for those more scientifically inclined, there’s a theory that the basalt columns formed around 60 million years after a volcanic eruption. Whatever its origins may be, the wonder’s rugged landscape and mind-boggling symmetry make it well worth a visit.
#9 Indulge in Ireland’s buzzing contemporary food scene
Ireland’s culinary scene is fast taking centre stage with a mix of Michelin-starred restaurants and contemporary eateries popping up all over the island.
Make sure to try some of Ireland’s incredible produce at St George’s Market in Belfast. A must see, this award-winning artisanal market is home to a staggering array of local produce, specialty foods and bespoke goods.
For some of the freshest fish money can buy harbourside Kinsale in Cork is also known as ‘the Gourmet Capital of Ireland”. For seafood lovers, this one’s a dream with more seafood restaurants than you can poke a fishing rod at. Or for a cosy spot that caters for vegetarians, The Poet’s Corner is known for its friendly staff and delicious homemade treats.
#10 Soak up the atmosphere in one of Ireland’s charming cities, Galway
One of Ireland’s bohemian enclaves, Galway is buzzing thanks to a large uni student population, who ensure the nightlife is always thriving. Catch emerging bands at local fave Róisín Dub, then head up to the rooftop terrace for views over the city; or make your way to one of the many classic pubs to enjoy a pint.
The city has plenty to offer by day, too. Start with a wander through Salthill Promenade, a delightful seaside walk with plenty of bars, restaurants and shops along the way for an instant introduction to everything the city has to offer.
(Lead image: Lakes of Killarney/Supplied)
This is just the beginning… if you’re ready to immerse yourself in all the unique experiences Ireland has to offer, check out Ireland.com