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Ireland Travel Guide

Best Places to Visit in  Ireland

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Introduction    History   Traveler's Ireland    Only in Ireland    Itineraries   Additional Resources

 



 

Leading Travel Destinations in Ireland

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 History  Traveler's Ireland  Maps   More About Ireland
 Dublin    Southwest    West    Southeast    North (including Northern Ireland)  


Ireland Travel and Tourism

 

The Cliffs of Moher are stunning.

"Tourist Ireland" is comprised of  these five regions: Dublin, the Southwest, the West, the Southeast and the North.

Use the menu on the right to explore the attractions that might be of interest to you. Dublin, the Southwest and West are the most popular of Ireland's tourism regions. See our itineraries at the page bottom for information on the scenic "Wild Atlantic Way."

   

Castles, fortress, megaliths,stone circles, Ireland has them all.

Although many travelers try to experience as much of Ireland as they can during their vacation, we think you might enjoy the country more by choosing a location or two and spending a week in each area.  We suggest you rent a cottage and explore your surroundings to find the real flavors of Ireland.

By the way, if you want to see "everything" in a whole-island drive, it will take approximately 10 days and cover about 1,200 miles (if you take a mostly coastal route around the country). We provide our suggestions for itineraries near the bottom of this page.

Introduction

Map of Ireland showing the counties of both the Repuiblic of Ireland and Northern IrelandWe hope you take the time to read our introduction to Ireland, but if you can't wait to get started planning your trip, click a region using the menu on the right to begin exploring the best places to visit in Ireland.

When we think of Ireland, we picture a fascinating country with beautiful seascapes, green countryside, quaint villages, friendly pubs, Guinness, Irish folk music, the landscapes in Irish literature and country characters.  Ireland is all that and more. 

The Emerald Isle, Eire, Hibernia and Erin are just some of the names that have been applied to Ireland. Some of the names reflect past history, while others hint that Ireland is many things to many people.  Today, the two most important names to consider are the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

It seems as if there is always a catch when describing the haven of the Irish.  Although it is a modestly sized island, it contains two, independent countries.  The Republic of Ireland occupies over eighty percent of the Emerald Isle landmass and has the most people (4.2 million).  Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, takes up the other sixth of the area and has a population of approximately 1.6 million.

Many people know Ireland through familiarity with county names like Cork, Kerry, Galway, Ulster and Down, as these and other county names reflect an Irish heritage.  Others have been beguiled by the Ireland we know from song, stage and the movies.   The map above shows the location and names of the storied counties of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

             

History

Ireland's history mixes many cultural and political influences, but it is mainly the story of one country split into two parts that seem to be slowly merging back together. 

Ireland sits to the west of Britain and its history was long overshadowed by that of the British Empire.  The distance separating the two islands across the Irish Sea is modest, especially in the north, and this resulted in Ireland being invaded by most groups that had occupied Britain.

The Celts arrived in Ireland between 600 B.C. and 150 B.C.  Various invading groups established regions of the island as their territory and established a tribal culture that lasted for several centuries.  It is somewhat curious that the Romans did not follow the Celts across what is now known as the Irish Sea.   Although the Romans conquered most of Britain, they showed no real appetite to invade the modest island to the west.  While there is evidence of Roman settlement in the Southeast of Ireland, it appears that this movement of people was not a strategic move sanctioned by Rome. 

The next great invasion occurred when the Norsemen took an interest in Ireland around the 8th century.  Eventually this tide was blunted when the Danes were defeated by the Irish Brian Boru (King of Munster) at the start of the 11th century.  By this time, however, the Vikings had settled throughout Ireland and were slowly becoming "Irish", just as the Celts before them.

The four historic regions of the Emerald Isle

During this era, Ireland was loosely divided into the four regions of Connaught, Munster, Ulster and Leinster, as shown on the right.   These areas represented kingdoms of a sort and it is thought that a fifth region, Meath, merged into Leinster. These areas declined and their boundaries dissolved after a new  invader conquered Ireland.

The Normans (English) began their attempt to control Ireland in the 12th century and this started more than 700 years of rebellion against the imposition of rule by England.

The tensions between the Irish and the English came to head during the early 20th century.  A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of guerrilla warfare that resulted in a 1921 treaty granting semi-independence from the UK for 26 southern counties; six northern (Ulster) counties remained part of the United Kingdom. The terms of the 1921 agreement establishing the Irish Free State sparked a civil war that lasted between 1921 and 1923. Eventually the Free State became Eire in 1937 and a true, independent republic in 1949.  

Today, Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and this at the discretion of the majority of its citizens.  Although the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland have been lessened due to the influence of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (and implementation in 2006), there are still some difficulties related to a faction, known as the Irish Republican Army dissidents, who opposes the IRA's decision to abstain from violence and work towards a peaceful resolution of the issues. Search our blog for current news on Northern Ireland or any of the destinations we cover around the world

As you travel through Ireland, you will hear many reminders of the Irish Potato Famine (also known as the Great Hunger or "An Gorta Mór") that occurred from 1845 to 1851.  Blights infected the island's potato crop resulting in a failed harvest that lasted through several planting seasons. Over one million Irish lost their lives to starvation or disease associated with the famine during the Potato Famine.  An even larger group was unable to cope with the economic hardship of the famine, which lead to the Irish Diaspora.  As a result of the famine and subsequent migration, the population of Ireland decreased by half.  If you are interested in more details, see this site for a comprehensive review of the famine.

Over the last several decades, the Emerald Isle has evolved into a capable economic power.  In 1973, The Republic of Ireland tied its future to the European Union (EU), resulting in significant economic growth, especially during the last twenty years.  Many of the Irish claim most of the benefits of the union have unfairly benefited Dublin, while the rest of the Republic has gained less from membership in the EU.  In part this is true, but for travelers, the condition of Ireland's road network is a significant improvement over its state in the past.  In addition, many of the improvements in the Ireland tourism scene have resulted from EU projects.

By 1966, the Republic's population distribution had evolved into a form that was predominately urban, a trend that continued until recently.  According to the 2006 Census, the rural population is once again beginning to increase, although this may only be a sign of the increase in suburban living around Dublin and other leading cities.  Regardless of the cause, it important to note that Dublin packs in about a quarter of the country's population, much of it comprised of migrants from the countryside and an increasing number of immigrants from other countries.

The Traveler's Ireland

From the travelers point of view there is little to differentiate the "two" Irelands.  The "Troubles" that had plagued Northern Ireland for so long were thought on the decline, but recent events have raised the suspicion that new unrest may strike Northern Ireland. However, some travelers now plan trips to Ireland, without differentiating between the two jurisdictions. We suspect that may be a little premature, but check with local authorities and make up your own mind.

We think you will find that the beauty of Ireland lies in its people and culture. Yes, there are interesting landscapes and well-known attractions, but these are not quite the "stuff" that makes Ireland so memorable.  For many travelers, the historical and physical attractions of the Emerald Isle are quite separated from the unique people who with their warm Irish culture have managed to make a relatively small island into an icon known and recognized around the world. 

The scenery in Ireland will keep you coming back.

Ireland's cities, towns, and villages bear names familiar to most travelers, even if they have never visited Ireland. Most populated places are small, spread along one major street and surrounded by miles of countryside.  Large or small, urban or rural, the Emerald Isle's towns and villages are good places to visit, great places to catch a meal, and fun places to visit a pub and interact with the locals.  More tourists visit Dublin, the Southwest and  West than other regions, but every part of Ireland has something unique to offer.

Many of Ireland's inhabitants are accomplished story tellers and the best tellers of tales can be found in pubs.  If you are in the mood for stories, there is nothing like a Guinness to start a conversation.  Others flock to pubs that offer music, as the Irish have developed country music and dancing to a fine art.  Even those Irish who are not especially musical will often burst into song at a moments notice - with or without the Guinness. 

Our recommended best places to visit in Ireland are shown on detailed maps from Google that are customized for each of the sections of our Ireland Travel Guide.  The maps can be viewed as road maps (for driving), satellite images (great if you want to see the landscape and buildings in larger cities) or shade terrain maps (good for understanding  topography).  Your can use the maps for routing, which is useful for determining distances between stops. 

Maps

Our collection of maps showing the best places to visit in Ireland includes:

Dublin
Near Dublin
The Southeast
The Southwest
The West
The North

We have added a Google search box at the bottom of our maps that allows you to search the maps for local businesses and services that you might find interesting, such as hotels, restaurants, pubs, etc.  If there is a location of interest to you on the map, use the scale bar to zoom as close to the area as possible, enter a word or phrase that describes your interest and you will get results that attempt to find the term you used in the local area.

As shown below, the search results will appear in a list, as well as be shown on the map.  In you click a link on the list or the lettered icon, the action  will open an information window on the map showing the location and contact information for the business.

              

 

If you want to know today's weather in Ireland, click the weather symbol that is shown on the right hand edge of all pages in our Ireland Travel Guide.  Clicking the link will take you to MET éireann, the Irish Meteorological Service Online.

 

            

Only In Ireland

Irish Literature

As you travel Ireland observing its beauty and culture, you will soon understand why Ireland claims four Nobel Laureates in Literature. William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett were born in Dublin, while Seamus Heaney was born in County Derry.   However, the list of beloved authors does not stop here, instead, you must add in James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Dylan Thomas, Bram Stoker, C.S. Lewis, Brendan Behan and numerous others.  You will find celebrations of Irish literature in Dublin, Sligo and other cities around the Emerald Isle.

Irish Whiskey

Although Irish Whiskey has had a difficult time of it over the last several decades, the demand for Irish Whiskey seems to be on the rise and distillers are experiencing a renaissance. There are three major distilleries in Ireland, although only Cooley is Irish-owned.  Jameson and other brands are produced by the Irish Distillers (part of Pernod Ricard) in Middleton, County Cork.  Bushmills, now part of Diageo, is distilled in the town of Bushmills in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  Cooley founded in 1997 is located in northeast County Dundalk on the Cooley Peninsula.  Cooley's recently started distilling in Kilbeggan (formerly the producer of John Locke's Irish Whiskey).  Tours are offered by Jameson in both Dublin and Middleton, although neither is a tour of a working distillery.  Bushmills' is the best tour, but is not available to some minors.  See the distiller's websites (Cooley , Bushmills, Jameson) for more information and details on visiting.

Guinness

Guinness is many ways is synonymous with Ireland.  It is doubtful that you will be very far from a Guinness in any town you may visit in Ireland.  However, if you want to tour the Guinness brewery, you will be disappointed.  Instead, you can visit the Guinness Storehouse, which will take you through the steps of brewing Guinness during a glitzy-marketing oriented tour that has become one of the biggest tourist draws in Ireland. Of course, there is a glass of Guinness for you at the end - so every dark cloud does have a silver lining.  See the company's website  and decide for yourself.  We also cover the tour as part of our description of things to see and do in Dublin

Finally, microbreweries seem to be gaining a toehold in Ireland, so, if brews are for you, look for local ales wherever you visit. They are still rare, but some are quite good.

Additional Resources

The official tourism website of Ireland is Discover Ireland.  It provides additional details on the best places to visit in Ireland that we recommend, as well as information on places that did not make our list.  Discover Northern Ireland is the official website of Northern Ireland. 

For country facts on Ireland, as well as travel information related to visas, driving rules, safety, medical conditions, visas and other travel-related information, see this page on Ireland Travel from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the U.S. State Department.  Regardless of your home country, we think you will find the information provided to be useful when planning a trip to Ireland.

If you need information about another travel destination, try our Destination Guide Index or Googling ThereArePlaces.

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Best Places to Visit in Ireland

Dublin and Vicinity

The Southwest
Cork, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Blarney Castle and more.

The West
Galway, Connemara, Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands and more.

The Southeast
Waterford, Rock of Cashel, Jerpoint Abbey and more.

The North and Northern Ireland
Donegal,  Sligo, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Belfast and more.

 

 

Ireland, waiting for the fairies on a magical night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Best Places to Visit in Ireland

Dublin and Vicinity

The Southwest
Cork, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Blarney Castle and more

The West
Galway, Connemara, Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands and more.

The Southeast
Waterford, Rock of Cashel, Jerpoint Abbey and more.

The North and Northern Ireland
Donegal,  Sligo, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Belfast and more.

 

 

 

 

 
3-Day Cork, Blarney Castle, Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula Rail Tour

From Viator Tours

 

 

 

 

Itineraries   Top of Page

If you are planning your first trip to Ireland, you have a choice of landing in Dublin, Cork or Shannon.  We suggest an arrival at Shannon and, if  you have a week to vacation, then: 

If you have two weeks

  • Take the route described above and, then
  • Drive overland to Galway
  • Stop to see the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (lodge at Galway). 
  • Take day or two in Connemara or a trip to the Aran Islands
  • Return to Shannon - picking up any attractions of interest to you along the way

An alternative to this second week, is to drive from Southwest to Southeast Ireland, up to Dublin, then  cross to Galway and head south to Shannon taking in the attractions you have time for in the West of Ireland.

If you are planning a second trip to Ireland, consider starting your tour in Dublin and then heading north to explore

Most travelers wind up visiting Ireland several times.  The combination of the scenic countryside and the warmth of the Irish people seem to "keep 'em" coming back.  There is always a story about some little village or abbey you missed the last time that lures you back for another look.  

If you are interested in the Atlantic Coast of Ireland, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with the "Wild Atlantic Way", the longest coastal route in the world.  Running from County Donegal in the north, the route, then, continues in a southerly direction to Mayo, Clare, Kerry and Cork.   The route is approximately 1550 miles in length and offers a breathtaking opportunity to see one of the world's most beautiful coastlines.  Click Tourism Ireland  for extensive detail on this route and what you will need to know to prepare for this journey.

 

 

The Best Places to Visit in Ireland

Dublin and Vicinity

The Southwest
Cork, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle, Blarney Castle and more.

The West
Galway, Connemara, Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands and more.

The Southeast
Waterford, Rock of Cashel, Jerpoint Abbey and more.

The North and Northern Ireland
Donegal,  Sligo, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Belfast and more.

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