Visiting Ireland is a fantastic experience you’ll never forget! The Emerald isle is full of amazing sights, sounds and history. But there are so many uniquely beautiful places to visit in this green land, that it’s hard to know where the best spots are.
Hopefully this list of the best things to see in Ireland will help you out some. Legendary historic castles. Hollywood blockbuster views along craggy cliffs. A few drinks in an bustling urban pub or quiet country brewery. Wherever you choose, these Irish destinations offer the best of this beautiful country.
Whatever you do though, don’t accidentally call anything here British. Or expect a playful ribbing from the locals! If you do want to visit the British Isles, where they have some equally beautiful places, check out our guide to The Best Regions to Visit in the UK.
Anyway – back to Ireland and, as the locals say, lets get on with the craic!
Table of Contents
- 1 – The Magic of the Blarney Stone
- 2 – Tour a Ruined Monastery on Skellig Michael
- 3 – The Hill of Uisneach and Athlone
- 4 – Dublin
- 5 – Kinsale
- 6 – The Giant’s Causeway
- 7 – Kerry Cliffs
- 8 – Kilkenny and Kilkenny Castle
- 9 – Cliffs of Moher
- 10 – Galway
- 11 – Gap of Dunloe
- 12 – Glendalough
- 13 – Walk the Waterford Greenway
1 – The Magic of the Blarney Stone
Ireland has many famous sights, that could be considered tourists traps. But unlike in some countries, here a lot of them are absolutely worth visiting anyway. The historic Blarney Castle is the foremost of those for sure. Despite being busy with tourists basically all year round, it’s one of the best medieval castles in this part of the world.
Built on command of the legendary Cormac of Clan MacCarthy in 1446, this castle isn’t just a pretty face. No, it has an iconic mythical stone too! The Blarney Stone, planted at the top of the castle tower, is believed to bestow the gift of the gab (aka charming powers of speech) upon people who kiss it.
Climbing up to the tower top isn’t exactly easy, and from there you have to dangle over the edge (with a supportive rail) to kiss the stone. And queue up with a few dozen other people, most likely. But it’s well worth it!
You can day trip to Blarney Castle from the nearby city of Cork. There you’ll find excellent transport links and loads of accommodation choices.
2 – Tour a Ruined Monastery on Skellig Michael
This one is a bit further out, but it’s a day trip you won’t forget in a hurry. Just look at that picture! And yes, you can walk up it. There’s even the hidden ruins of a monastery nestled in the peaks. Which you get to up a dramatic winding rock staircase no less.
The Skelligs, for there are two of them, are a very special place. Hollywood directors seem to agree, as the film was used in the most recent Star Wars movies as a base for exiled Jedi Luke Skywalker.
You might feel like an exile getting here as well. The conditions that made Skellig Michael so incredible also make it treacherous to visit. Boats only leave during the summer months (May to September) and can be cancelled due to the weather at any time. Only a few hundred people are allowed to visit each day too – so be prepared to book in advance.
Ferries leave from the travel award-winning tourist village of Portmagee on the mainland. You can do a full tour of the island up to the monastery which takes about 6 hours. Or, opt for a quicker trip and stay on a boat as it goes around the craggy peaks.
3 – The Hill of Uisneach and Athlone
So we’ve looked at two of Ireland’s headline attractions – now it’s time for a hidden gem. Right in the very centre of Ireland! This country is a mystical and inspiring land at the best of times. So, it’s no wonder the geographical centre has held a lot of spiritual significance throughout history.
The Hill of Uisneach is the embodiment of this. A sprawling two-kilometre hilltop complex of ancient standing stones, burial mounds and wells, it was the meeting place of ancient Irish kings for thousands of years.
And according to Irish mythology the goddess of Ireland herself, Eriu, was buried here. Under the Catstone, an oddly shaped rock that still sits atop the hill to this day. If you visit here, you’ll join American chieftains, famous folk singers and actors who have made the trip to centre of Ireland.
After your visit to the Hill of Uisneach, or before, be sure to check out the town of Athlone on the River Shannon. As well as popular transport links and accommodation options, it’s also a great place for a relaxing river boat ride.
4 – Dublin
Historic castles. Mythical libraries. Live music and raucous pubs with friendly locals. Ireland’s capital city of Dublin is one of the best places to have a little shindig in the whole of Europe, but there’s also so much history and art in the city too.
Try local brews from the famous Guinness stout beer, fresh from the tap in every pub in the city. Or, visit the Guinness Storehouse for a tasting tour. If beer isn’t your tipple, try some shots of fine Jameson whiskey from the legendary local distiller also located in Dublin.
Soak up any drinks you might have had with some great food too, such as hearty Irish stew and toasted local soda bread. Or try an Irish breakfast with black pudding and bubble and squeak, for the morning after.
Dublin is a great place to start an Irish holiday, with the country’s main international airport right nearby. For a full and detailed guide to this charming city, try our Ultimate 48 Hours in Dublin Itinerary.
5 – Kinsale
The charming town of Kinsale is well known around Ireland for its colourful houses. Here you’ll find a curiosity museum in a 15th century courthouse and loads of unique, tiny shops. And even a book exchange, called Poet’s Corner!
Kinsale is also a great base town for a number of lovely walks in the County Cork area. Kinsale Head, pictured, is one beautiful 6km walk. You can wow yourself for a whole afternoon strolling along the dramatic cliffs of this narrow headland.
Or take the circular Scilly Walk from town, all the way up to the huge but abandoned Charles Fort, built in the 17th century. And then back along the bay, to one of the town’s many brightly painted pubs for some food and drink.
Kinsale is a coastal bay town, about half an hour’s drive from the city of Cork. There you’ll find excellent transport links to other Irish destinations.
6 – The Giant’s Causeway
If you’re thinking of going into Northern Ireland, the UK’s part of the island of Ireland, there’s one attraction there to visit above all the rest. The Giant’s Causeway! This World Heritage site in Country Antrim might be one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. But that’s for a good reason.
The incredible coastal trail of lava-formed rock columns is not only an otherworldly sight, but a mythical one too. Legend has it that brilliantly named giant Finn MacCool built the causeway in competion with a giant across the sea in Scotland.
Visitors can walk over them, for free. The National Trust operates a car park, café and a visitor’s centre at the causeway. They will encourage you to book a tour. But if you park just a mile or two’s walk away, you can take a lovely coastal walk to the Causeway without spending anything.
For one of the UK’s other most visited attractions made from mysterious stones, but a man made one, try our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.
7 – Kerry Cliffs
Another bit of a hidden gem, the Kerry Cliffs will be way quieter than the Giant’s Causeway at any of time year. But, for our money, the views are just as impressive!
If you’re on a multiple stop tour, you could combine these with a boat tour of The Skellig islands (see above) which aren’t too far away. Just make sure you visit in the summer months, when the boats are running. And the views are at their spectacular best!
Extend your tour after the cliffs with any of the beautiful stops along the Ring of Kerry tourist trail in this spectacular county. (Such as the Gap of Dunloe below).
8 – Kilkenny and Kilkenny Castle
As well as having a name reminiscent of South Park, Kilkenny is a beautiful tourist town in the southeast province of Leinster. The remarkably preserved Kilkenny Castle was first built in 1195 – and has been continuously lived in ever since!
It’s far from the only attraction in this riverside town either. There are several impressive historic monasteries, abbeys, churches and even a cathedral in Kilkenny. Plus, a yearly Gaelic art and music festival, local breweries and many museums.
Kilkenny is a great starting point to explore rural Ireland. But be aware that, as a tourist town, it can get quite busy here over peak season.
9 – Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited tourist spots out of all Ireland’s gorgeous coastline options. So that tells you something! These sweeping rockfaces go up to 200 metres high at the peak, and offer spectacular views of Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The nearby O’Brien’s Tower might look Medieval, but unlike a lot of Irish castles it’s much more modern. Built in 1835 as a rest spot for tourists walking along the 14km section of coastline, it does exactly that do this day. For a couple of euros of course!
You can walk the whole designated Cliffs of Moher trail in one day, although that might be a long one for some. Even so, every part of the clifftop walk is still beautiful no matter how much you can do.
The nearest reasonably sized city to the cliffs is Galway. There are also accommodation options in the nearby villages of Doolin and Liscannor. The first is famous for its pretty pubs and traditional music scene, so that would be our recommendation.
10 – Galway
The sixth most populous city in Ireland, Galway is a city surrounded by amazing ruined (and not so ruined) castles. Plus, a thriving university nightlife scene and loads of award-winning restaurants. Try bar and food spot Áras na nGael in which you’ll get the opportunity to learn the Gaelic language as you enjoy your meal.
The highlight among the castles is the picturesquely overgrown ruins of the 16th century Menlo Castle, which almost melds into its forested surroundings. You’ll find it on the outskirts of Galway city proper, in a quiet neighbourhood called Menlo Village.
For a real-exciting Irish castle experience, adventurous types could take the 50-mile or so drive to the secluded and rural Fiddaun Castle.
If you can find it, you’ll have to meet the landowner to get a key! But if you do all that, you’ll probably be the only people touring a stunning walled and fortified Medieval keep tower. Lovely!
11 – Gap of Dunloe
This spectacular mountain pass in County Kerry is a true sight to behold. It’s crisscrossed by crystal mountain rivers and lakes, as well as old stone bridges along the winding 7km road through the pass. The most famous bridge is Wishing Bridge, which is is supposed to – you guessed it – grant wishes to people who cross it.
Formed some 25,000 years ago by glacial erosion, the Gap’s rugged vistas have brought walkers to the area for hundreds of years. Make sure to stop off at the incredible Ladies View, made famous by Queen Victoria and her party who stopped here in the 19th century.
You can actually drive the whole route through the gap, as it’s a fully legal and open road. But, outside of peak off season or very early mornings, drivers won’t be given priority over all the walkers, bike riders and horse riders also on the road.
The nearest sizeable settlement to the Gap of Dunloe is Killarney, on the shores of Lough Leane lake.
12 – Glendalough
Picture perfect valleys sculpted by mountain glaciers, dotted with shimmering waters and ruined 7th century monasteries. Founded by a certified Saint no less! Welcome to Glendalough, Valley of the Two Lakes.
This rural, out-of-the-way valley isn’t actually too far from Dublin at just 50 miles. Or around an hour’s drive. It really has a special atmosphere here, whether you like religious history or not.
Literary lovers can enjoy a drink or a meal at the Writers’ Room in the nearby village of Laragh. This cosy wooden eatery and Irish whiskey bar proudly displays a enviable collection of Irish literature 1st editions on the walls. They include performance programs by Oscar Wilde and first prints of Joyce’s Ulysses and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From 1897!
13 – Walk the Waterford Greenway
Fancy walking (or cycling) through picture-perfect gorgeous rolling green hills, across viaducts on an old railway line? Well if you visit Waterford and it’s Greenway walking route, you can!
If a 46km two-day hike sounds a bit intense, the city of Waterford (where the Greenway starts) is a great base camp for loads of walks in the area.
For one such route, try heading out to the popular surfing town of Tramore. From Tramore’s expansive beach, walk along to the coast to the remnants of the abandoned 19th century Tankardstown Copper Mine. It was once the workplace of some 1200 locals, until it closed in the 1880s.
If you do want to take the whole Greenway route, and it is so worth it, start in Waterford and head south east towards the harbour town of Dungarvan. You can also cycle the route, as its completely paved and marked the whole way!
So there we are. 13 of the best places to visit in Ireland! Mystical stone monuments and craggy coastlines. Historic castles and bustling cities full of music and literature. Or, just the peace and calm of serene green hills and lakes.
Whichever place to visit in Ireland you’ll choose, you’ll find unique experiences to remember and take home with you. Enjoy!