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.
We 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
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
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.
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
Ireland sits to the west of Britain and its history was long
overshadowed by that of the British Empire. The distance
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
collection of maps showing the best places to visit in Ireland includes:
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.
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
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
Jameson) for more
information and details on visiting.
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
and decide for yourself. We also cover the tour as part of our
description of things to see and do in Dublin
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.
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. For information on Northern Ireland, see the Department of
State page on the
United Kingdom. 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
Destination Guide Index
or Googling ThereArePlaces.