Wondering where the best places to visit in Ireland are? If you’re looking for one of the friendliest countries on earth, then look no further than Ireland.
There must be something to the rolling green hills, castles, whiskey, rain, Guinness beer, and rugged coastline as it draws millions of visitors each year. The country’s small size and accessibility make it easy for travelers to see many Ireland landmarks on just one trip. If you’re wondering where to go in Ireland, look no further we have you covered with these Ireland points of interest!
The Best Places to Visit in Ireland
Connemara is arguably one of the most breathtaking regions of Ireland and draws a comparison to the Scottish highlands. It’s a coastline of small villages, rolling hills, lakes, and mountains.
The Twelve Bens are the monuments of the region. It has a wild expanse of bogs and lakes along with wildlife. That extends to a wild herd of Connemara ponies who live in the Connemara National Park.
With a few spare days in Galway, we spent some time exploring the region. The natural beauty took us by total surprise and on our drive in, and we found ourselves pulling off to the side of the road to take a walk or photo multiples times. We hadn’t had that feeling since we drove around the Scottish Coastline on the North Coast 500.
Clifden is the beating heart of the Galway region and the best place to visit in Ireland to explore Connemara National Park. It’s a Victorian-era town set along the famed Wild Atlantic Way. That means it’s a coastal town set along the mouth of the River Owenglin with access to the sea via a long narrow bay.
It’s well known for its music scene with several pubs offering live music almost every night of the week. We had just come off an 18-hour flight and drove three hours from Dublin, but still managed to poke our heads into Lowry’s tavern for a “welcome to Ireland pint.” As with almost every night in Clifden, we were greeted by live music and a spirited crowd.
There are also several lovely cafes and tasty restaurants in the town. We enjoyed Guy’s Bar, Twelve Darcy, and the Steam Cafe.
Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara in the Country Meath was once an ancient seat of power in Ireland. It’s here that 142 kings reigned in ancient times.
It’s now a huge walking site with ancient stones and interesting ground formations. It’s lovely to walk around at either sunrise or sunset. We came here not knowing what to expect and it ended up being one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
Cnoc Suain may be the best cultural experience you can have in the Galway region. And that’s in an area that is brimming with cultural experiences! Cnoc Suain is a collection of small cottages set on on top of a hill. It all plays well to the name since Cnoc Suain means “restful hill” in Irish, although we still can’t pronounce it!
Not many people have heard about this place, so we were happy visit this amazing place in Ireland.
Hosts Dearbhaill and Charlie could not be more welcoming and eager to teach more about the history of the property and Irish culture. The two teach you about Irish food, history, music, and the surrounding landscape.
Their passion for their culture is evident, and they reel you in getting excited when you drive a pole deep into the surrounding bog or taste a traditional dessert made from algae.
We can’t recommend visiting them enough. If you want to do so visit Cnoc Suain website and fill out the contact form. They also run a lovely Airbnb we wish we’d known about in advance, but hope to stay there next time. (Oh, Ed Sheeran may or may not have visited if there are any fans out there).
Killarney, in County Claire is a very popular place to see in Ireland. It’s a small little town with plenty of shops, pubs, and things to do. It’s also a jumping off point for a trip around the Ring of Kerry.
Some of the notable things to do in Killarney are St. Mary’s Cathedral, Muckruss Abbey, and the Lakes of Killarney.
This town is in the interior of Connemara and is one of the top places to see in Ireland. After spending some time at Cnoc Suain, we went to this little Irish town to spend the afternoon relaxing on the banks of Lough Corrib before the water starts its journey to the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s a great town outside of Galway to relax by the calm Irish water. We had some of the best mussels we’ve ever had at Powers Thatch Bar and Restaurant! Of course, a Guinness and Irish Coffee were enjoyed too, perfect end to a day.
The capital of Ireland needs no introduction. Dublin is known around the world for its vibrancy, nightlife and tourist attractions. The pubs in Dublin are well worth a visit and is exactly what you think of when you picture Ireland.
Over two thirds of the Republic of Ireland’s population resides in the Greater Dublin area meaning there are tons of things to do here.
It’s also the main entry point into Ireland so you likely are going to be passing through Dublin on your way in or out of the country. While I don’t recommend spending a ton of time here, it’s very much worth a few days of exploration. It’s one of the best places to visit in Ireland for first time visitors.
This Irish city is the fifth largest in the country and a major vacation destination for those visiting Ireland. It’s drawn us back three times, and we know we will be back again in the future.
While many visitors flock to Dublin, I much prefer the vibe of Galway. It’s known as “The City of the Tribes” and feels much more Irish to me than the capital. There are so many things to do in Galway City center, fun pubs to drink at, and even some epic day trips from the city. A visit to Galway should be on every Ireland itinerary.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher is on the western coast of the Republic of Ireland, about an hour and a half west of Limerick and only moments from the town of Doolin. If you are coming from Galway City, the Cliffs lie 90 minutes south.
The land stretches for five miles of rugged coastline, featuring steep drops and crashing waves, with beautiful unobstructed views of the skyline. The highest point of the cliffs – over 700 feet tall – proudly houses an observatory tower first constructed in 1835.
Due to the rugged and largely unspoiled natural beauty in the region, for which Ireland is famous, this is the country’s most visited attraction, seeing nearly one and a half million travelers every year. Because of this, capacity is sometimes an issue, and visitors are encouraged to avoid the peak visiting times – read all about the Cliffs of Moher here.
Ring of Kerry
This is one of the largest tourist attractions in Ireland and for good reason. The Ring of Kerry is a series of coastal roads that wind around lakes, mountains, and castles. It’s one of the most beautiful regions in Ireland and well worth a visit.
One of the best ways to see the Ring of Kerry is on a day trip!
Still wondering what to see in Ireland? Cori is a great option! Cork is a well known Irish city in Munster province. Locals even refer to it as The Real Capital of Ireland It’s got an Irish city feel with pubs and ancient sites, but without all the crowds. There’s also a. wonderful waterfront to stroll along, restaurants with live music, and St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.
The Aran Islands are an hour long ferry ride from Galway to these islands off the coast of Ireland. They’re a lovely slice of the Irish countryside that remains simple, with visitors traveling via bikes and hiking.
The rocky islands still have a strong Irish spirit and remain raw and wild. A true gem of Ireland for those looking to get off the beaten path.
Best Places to Visit in Ireland – Castles
Malahide Castle & Gardens
Malahide Castle dates back to the year 1885 and was owned by the Talbot family for nearly 800 years, save for the period where, after Ireland’s conquest, Oliver Cromwell gave it to Miles Corbet, an English politician. When he was hanged after Cromwell’s downfall, the castle once again fell under Talbot ownership. The castle interiors are home to an array of artifacts from the castle’s tumultuous past, ranging from beautifully-made furniture to Victorian children’s toys.
If you’re into ghost stories, this could be your new favorite place. Malahide Castle is rumored to be the most haunted castle in the country, and given its bloody history, this is really no surprise. Many visitors have reported seeing various apparitions throughout the castle, and you could be next; if you’re looking for a bit of extra excitement during your wander through history, this is a great choice.
Named for the Raite River which flows alongside the castle and into the nearby city of Shannon, the castle’s location has been occupied for over a millennium by Normans, Vikings, and later, Irish nobility. The first official structure was a defensive fortress built in 1250, and the lands were later granted to a lord who created the first stone structure. The current castle as it stands today was built by the MacNamara family in 1425.
The castle itself, along with Bunratty house, are both open to the public. It is also famous for its regular banquet meals, where you can book in for a traditional medieval four-course dinner, along with entertainment provided by the Bunratty Castle Singers – just so you can get the full experience of living in medieval luxury!
Located on the shores of Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle is as picturesque as they come (not to mention there are some seriously beautiful views from the castle towers of the lush green countryside below). The castle was constructed in 1520 and has been the site of many battles and sieges during that time. It was passed to a well-known local surgeon and author in 1924, who, being friends with poets & writers such as Yeats, is credited with a literary revival in the region.
The interior of the castle retains all the charm of medieval decor, with a banquet hall that hosts regular summer feasts for visitors. Its tower stands at 75 feet and looks out over the nearby town of Kinvarra.
No list of the best castles to visit in Ireland would be complete without a mention of Blarney Castle. Probably the most famous castle in the country, Blarney Castle was originally a medieval stronghold built in 1446. Since it passed hands many different times throughout its history, the castle as it stands today is in partial ruins, but its charming wear and tear does not take away from its mythical quality.
But what Blarney Castle is perhaps best known for is the Blarney Stone – also known as the Stone of Eloquence. Visitors can (with assistance!) be hung upside down to kiss the stone, which is said to give the powers of eloquence and persuasiveness. The origin of the stone is unclear, but local legend dictates that it was a stone on which many ancient Irish kings were crowned.
Rock of Cashel Castle
The Rock of Cashel is more than just a castle; it is a collection of structures sitting atop a hill in Cashel, County Tipperary. On the walled plateau is the Round Tower (the oldest structure in the complex, dating from 1100), Cormac’s Chapel, and the Cashel Cathedral. There is also a nearby graveyard with burials of bishops and other notable figures throughout the region’s history. The Rock is also supposedly the site where St. Patrick converted a Munster King to Christianity, earning the castle another nickname of St. Patrick’s Rock.
The views from the top alone are well worth a visit, but add to that a beautiful and grandiose castle, cathedral, and chapel, and you’re left with an awe-inspiring site steeped in Irish lore and legend.
If you’ve ever wanted to live in a castle, this is probably your best shot. Ross Castle, while open to the public for regular touring, is also a well-liked B&B in the area, with room decor attempting to mirror the styles & design of the time (but still with modern conveniences). You can even opt for a room in the tower, for the most authentic castle experience.
Situated on the edge of Lough Leane, legend states that the original owner of the castle still rests in a deep sleep beneath the lough, rising only once every seven years to circle the castle astride a white horse. If you see him, don’t be afraid; the legend also states that witnesses to this miracle will be blessed with good fortune for the rest of their lives.
Originally built as a defensive structure, several interesting structures throughout the castle are the machicolations Machicolation are the stone structures holes placed over points of entry, for the sole defensive purpose of pouring hot oil over attempted invaders. Another interesting feature is the spiral staircase of uneven height built in a clockwise formation to be a disadvantage to right-handed sword wielders who attempt to climb the stairs. Then its slit-like windows to prevent entry, and provide a space for firing arrows. This Irish castle was built for war.
One of the largest and best-preserved castles in Ireland, Cahir Castle stands atop an island on the Suir River in Cahir. Originally built as a top-tier defensive fortress, it was constructed on the site of a former stone fort called a Cathair, which gave the current castle its name.
The excellent audio-visual guided tours are the best way to tour the castle and really learn about the details of its history; guidebooks are available in several languages. Once you’ve had your fill of touring the castle, follow the path two kilometers along the river until you come to the Swiss Cottage. This was a nearby home owned by the Butlers (the same family that owned the castle grounds) and looks like something out of a woodland fairy tale.
As far as picturesque castles go, Doe Castle is way at the top of that list and is definitely one of the best castles to visit in Ireland. Built on the inlet of Sheephaven Bay, the castle was originally built as a stronghold and is, to this day, considered to have been one of the most secure and safest fortress castles of the time.
The castle is known for many of its tragic love story legends, such as the story of a young woman who fell in love with a Celtic chieftain. When her father learned of her love, he kidnapped and tortured the young man and killed him with his own sword at first light. The young woman, having seen this transpire from her window, jumped to her death in desperation. Locals affirm that you can sometimes spot a small rowboat carrying the two lovers together.
Kylemore Abbey is easily one of the best places on Ireland’s west coast. Among the most photogenic structures in Ireland, Kylemore Castle is an imposing structure set into the hills lining the Pollacappall Lough. In 1920, a Benedictine Monastery was built on the site by nuns who fled Belgium during the First World War. Today, the grounds and interiors are open to visitors year-round, and the estate is over 1000 acres of architecture and nature walks, including an enormous Victorian Walled Garden and a neo-Gothic church.
The Abbey is home to many myths and legends, but perhaps none so famous as the Battle of the Giants, which tells the tale of two Irish giants, Cú Chulainn and Fionn McCool, fighting by launching stones at each other – one of which is still present on the grounds of the Abbey; you can even make a wish on it.
If this iconic castle looks at all familiar to you, it might be because you saw it in a little film called Braveheart, so it’s pretty easy to see why it’s considered one of the best castles to visit in Ireland. Trim Castle in County Meath is the largest Norman castle in Ireland. It was built in c. 1100 as a defense structure (its situation atop a hill overlooking the River Boyne put it in an ideal place to spot invaders and react accordingly). Its towers are truly a sight to behold; though a little ruined, this only adds to their beauty, as when standing within, you can look up the open, moss-covered turret and see the sky above.
To get the most out of your visit, consider taking a guided tour, as the guides are animated, knowledgeable, and informative. It’s a little piece of medieval history brought to life for an hour.
If you’re looking for somewhere to spend an afternoon, it’s pretty easy to let the hours tick away at Kilkenny Castle. Sitting beside the River Nore, the castle is a symbol of medieval history from which the surrounding city grew. The grounds boast sprawlings gardens which contain a smaller rose garden, winding woodland pathways, and even an ornamental lake. They’re a charming place to wander around and imagine times long past.
Onsite is the Butler Art Gallery (formerly a servants’ quarters area) which hosts revolving displays of contemporary art. There is also a design center across the street, which features Irish crafts.
Best Places to Visit in Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway isn’t just one of the best places to visit in Northern Ireland, but all of Ireland. If you know any of the natural landmarks of Northern Ireland, it has to be Giant’s Causeway. Almost 60 million years ago the Giants Causeway was formed from, and this series of basalt rock columns is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO world heritage site. It is the one destination that you can not miss on a trip to Northern Ireland. It’s a world-famous destination, and after visiting, we could see why. Rarely do we find such naturally beautiful spots on this planet.
We had two days of sunshine in Ireland, and we were lucky to spend one of them at the Giant’s Causeway. If you are driving yourself, note that it is £8.50 to park and have access to the cafe. However, we were able to avoid this charge by parking down the street and walking about 10 minutes to the main tourist entrance.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
I loved this spot in Ireland, definitely one of the top places to visit in Ireland! The Causeway Coast is a stunning place for a walk. Nearby to Giant’s Causeway, you can take a walk along the coast to check out a famous rope bridge perched between the beach and a small island. It’s a small bridge, but given its height and precarious location it well worth checking out.
We were a bit disappointed that it now costs money to walk across the bridge. So, we didn’t feel like dropping £7 to walk across a 15-meter long bridge. Instead, we enjoyed the beautiful coastline and snapped photographs of people crossing the bridge from the mainland.
As a side note, the overflow carpark here is known as the Larrybane Quarry. The former quarry was another setting from the Game of Thrones. The scene takes places in the third episode of Season 2 as Catelyn Stark meets with Renly Baratheon. So, if you’re a fan of the show, it’s well worth seeing!
It is one of the best places to visit in Ireland. A real highlight.
Ballinttoy Harbor is amazingly beautiful little port town that used to be a port for shipping goods out of Northern Ireland. The historic harbor has made appearances in Game of Thrones, and it’s undoubtedly photogenic.
If you’re a fan of the fantasy series it’s location was used as Pyke Bay on the Iron Islands. The picturesque bay is the perfect place to park and have a midday picnic.
Surprise! Another Game of Thrones location that also happens to be one of the most photographed in Northern Ireland. The site is famous for a long row of beech trees that overhang a stretch of road. It produced the effect of a tunnel and was purposely built to impress visitors to the Georgian mansion the Gracehill House.
The tree-lined street has been standing for two centuries and has only grown with age. We arrived a bit too late in the day to snap many photos because we had spent too long admiring the beauty of Giant’s Causeway. It’s definitely one of the best places in Ireland to visit if you’re a photographer.
Just a short ferry ride off the coast lies Rathlin Island. The island is well known for a resident bird population. In the right season, you can find puffins, guillemots, and razorbills. The island also plays an essential part in Scottish and Irish history as the famous Robert the Bruce retreated to the island in exile after being defeated by the English.
However, in his darkest hour on the dramatic island, he found inspiration through a spider and decided that he’d continue to fight for Scottish independence. The story has lived on in Scottish and Irish history, and spiders a treasured because they inspired a king!
It’s a charming island that you can reach via ferry. Several pubs, guesthouses, and friendly locals will be waiting for visitors who do decide to make a worthwhile trip.
In the town of Bushmills, you can find the birthplace Ireland’s most well-known whiskey producer. The distillery is still in operation offering visitors a chance for a tour and to sample some of their whiskeys.
The whiskey actually dates back to 1784! I’m a big fan of whiskey and always jump at the chance to learn some more about the spirit. Tickets for a distillery tour are £8 per adult.
It’s not your standard tourist city, but those always seem to be our favorites. Not long ago the city was known for violence, The Troubles, that rocked it as Protestants and Catholics clashed.
However, since then the city has made a triumphant return and continues to pull in more tourists every year. I love all the things there are to do in Belfast – especially the Titanic Museum! Head to the city for pubs, museums, Victorian restored buildings, intriguing history, and culinary bites.
Also known as Derry, this is the second city in Northern Ireland. It was once an important inland port that used the River Foyle, but after the division of Ireland, it lost natural hinterland.
It has a long history with amazing 17th-century walls around the old town that remain mostly intact. We took an afternoon off from the sightseeing and just strolled around the city checking coffee shops and restaurants.
Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore is dense forest feels like taking a step into a fairytale. Its playful garden designs date back to the 18th century, and since then it has only grown with age. You can find grottos, “castles,” caves, bridges, and rocky outcrops in an old wood forest.
Many of the trees here were planted as part of an experiment, as you can find monkey puzzle, eucalyptus, redwoods, and Monterey pines. The forest feels magical, and it shouldn’t be any surprise it has made a few film appearances including (what else?) Game of Thrones.
Quick Ireland Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Gaelic: “Dia dhuit” and “Go raibh maith agat”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland are separate countries on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland known as ‘Ireland’ grants 90-day visas. Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom also grants 90 days.
- Weather: Expect lots of weather! Ireland is known for having rapid shifts in and lots of rain – it’s only the only reason a country like Ireland remains so green and fertile. See our full packing list here.
- When is the best time to visit Dublin? Ireland is a fantastic country to visit year round. Though you’ll find crowds during the summer. My favorite time to visit Ireland is in September when the weather is cool and the crowds are low. Plus it’s when the famous Galway Oyster Festival happens!
When is the Best Time to Travel Ireland for Good Weather?
If you’re still wondering when the best time to visit Ireland for good weather is – it’s summer. You stand your best chance of good weather in Ireland between July and early September. Temperatures range from 15°C-21°C.
You’ll find locals enjoying the sunny weather and festivals in the countryside and the city. It’s the perfect time to enjoy a pint of Guinness outside and watch life go by! Read more about the best time to visit Ireland.
What to Pack for Ireland
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Ireland, and good ones were fairly easy to find for a decent price. For those with less time a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. Start here!
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Ireland is perfectly safe to drink.
We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottles for travel in our post.
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Last Updated on April 5, 2020