Ireland is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, and it’s easy to see why. Each year, tourists visit the Emerald Isle to reconnect with family roots or explore the country’s charming small towns and lush green hills.
Most of the best places to visit in Ireland are near the coast, either along a circuit known as Ireland’s Ancient East or the Wild Atlantic Way. Depending on your time in Ireland, you can explore a section of the country or take a road trip around the island.
Best Time to Visit Ireland
The best time to visit Ireland depends on what you’re looking to get out of your trip. Here are some factors to consider:
- Late Spring to Early Autumn (May to September): These months offer the best weather, with longer, sunnier days and milder temperatures. This is generally considered the peak season for visiting Ireland.
- Peak Season (June to August): Expect larger crowds and higher prices for accommodation and attractions. Book well in advance if you plan to travel during these months.
- Shoulder Season (April, May, September, October): These months offer a balance between decent weather and fewer crowds. You may also find cheaper flights and accommodations during this period.
- Outdoor Activities: If you’re looking to enjoy Ireland’s natural beauty, the summer months are best for outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, and visiting the Cliffs of Moher or the Ring of Kerry.
- Cultural Festivals: St. Patrick’s Day in March is a significant cultural event, but festivals occur throughout the year, including the Galway Arts Festival in July and the Cork Jazz Festival in October.
Here are some of the best places to visit in Ireland. The ideal trip to Ireland will include a stop in an Irish city, like Dublin or Cork, and some time in the countryside to explore the natural areas and admire the small towns.
The capital city of Dublin is worth visiting when you’re in Ireland, but be sure it’s not the only place you see on your trip. You can explore the infamous Temple Bar, known for its pubs and live music. Enjoy a pint of Guinness from a historic pub, or even visit the Guinness Storehouse to learn about the history of this iconic Irish stout.
If time permits, make a point of visiting the historic Book of Kells at Trinity College Library. While there, you can marvel at the building’s architecture and learn a little about Ireland’s long history of scholarship and literary prowess.
Finally, visit Bar 1661, a craft cocktail bar near Temple Bar. There, you can try poitín, an Irish spirit that was banned for many years. Bar 1661’s signature drink is the Belfast coffee, a play on the Irish coffee made with poitín, cold brew, and a cold nutmeg cream.
Galway is the largest city in the west of Ireland, known for its live music and bustling city center. It’s one of the most popular stops in Ireland and the perfect place to start or end your adventure along the Wild Atlantic Way.
You can catch live music on Galway’s streets or in a Latin Quarter pub. The Dáil Bar and Taaffes in Galway are both known for having live music most nights of the week.
Galway was a medieval city, and today, you can visit relics from its storied past, like a stretch of the old city walls from the 13th century. Be sure to visit the Spanish Arch while you’re in Galway, a structure with a history that dates back to the 12th century.
You can stay in a charming Bed and Breakfast in Galway while you explore the city and enjoy its incredible nightlife.
Cliffs of Moher
These seaside cliffs offer breathtaking sea views along the Atlantic Ocean on the Wild Atlantic Way. Many species of wild seabirds live along the cliffs, including puffins during some parts of the year. Bird watchers will want to bring a pair of binoculars.
You can see the Cliffs of Moher by parking at the Visitor’s Center, or you can hike along the tops of the cliffs. Stay near the Cliffs of Moher in the small town of Doolin, which boasts a few adorable B&Bs and cozy pubs.
Near the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare is The Burren. This area is known for its wild beauty and intriguing rock formations that you can admire from your drive or by going for a hike. You can find a walking trail through the Burren or walk on the stones for a while in any direction – the local farmers usually don’t mind, so long as you don’t disturb the livestock.
The Burren Perfumery is one of the most unique gift shops in Ireland. This boutique perfume shop sells scents that were inspired by the rugged beauty and natural characteristics of the Burren. With fragrances like Spring, Winter, or Aran, you can wear a scent that captures the magic and whimsy of this wild park in Ireland.
The Dingle Peninsula is one of the most special places in Ireland. You can spend a full day driving along the peninsula from Inch Beach to Dingle Town and Coumeenoole Beach to Dunquin Pier. In the springtime, there are local farms with lambs that you can pet and feed for a few euros.
Dingle Town is a particularly quaint and charming Irish town that is well worth a visit in Ireland. Near the harbor, you can find an outlet store that sells high-quality Irish wool sweaters at discounted prices. There are several boutique gift stores, adorable cafes, and great restaurants.
If you have time, take the Dingle Sea Safari tour to see the Great Blasket Islands. The tour offers the chance to see various animals in their natural habitats, like seabirds, whale sharks, seals, and dolphins. Bring seasickness medicine if you take the Sea Safari because the water can sometimes be choppy.
Ring of Kerry
Visitors to Ireland often make the mistake of trying to complete the Ring of Kerry in a few hours. To see and experience Kerry, spend a full day driving along the scenic roads on this iconic portion of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Try to spend an hour or two walking or hiking in Killarney National Park. With well-marked trails, waterfalls, and beautiful green spaces, it’s a beginner-friendly way to see Ireland’s natural beauty. The Torc Waterfall is the most popular spot in the park, and it’s only a short walk from the car park.
As the name suggests, West Cork is the western portion of County Cork. This area is renowned as a holiday destination in Ireland because of its beautiful peninsulas, sandy beaches, and laid-back pace of life.
Baltimore, a small village in West Cork, was once the seat of an ancient dynasty. Today, you can go whale watching, see the Baltimore Beacon, and stroll around Cape Clear.
Nearby is the impressive Mizen Head, a peninsula known for its signal station, and walk across the bridge that connects Cloghane Island to the mainland. You could also stop at Three Castle Head on the Mizen Peninsula, a spooky set of castle ruins that are said to be haunted.
Kinsale’s cute and quirky fishing village is one of Ireland’s best places to visit. Located just a short drive from Cork City, this colorful little town has an active harbor, adorable shops, and many great restaurants.
You can take the Scilly Walk from the center of Kinsale to Charles Fort, a star-shaped fort that is one of Ireland’s largest military installations. You can take some incredible views of Kinsale and the Irish countryside from Charles Fort.
Kinsale has its own beach, or you can drive to nearby Garretstown Beach. At Garretstown, you can try sauna bathing at a mobile sauna, an activity that is becoming very popular in Ireland. Alternate between sweating in the hot sauna and dashing into the cold sea for 30 to 60 minutes, it’s a rejuvenating experience.
Cork is Ireland’s second city, known for its rebellious spirit and fabulous culinary scene. You can take a walking tour of Cork to learn about the city’s history and cultural significance in Ireland. Then, try to see as many of the city’s most important sites, like the English Market, Fitzgerald Park, Saint Anne’s Church, and Elizabeth Fort, as possible.
In the evenings, duck into a local pub like the Shelbourne Bar or the Friary for a pint of stout or a pour of Irish whiskey. Sin é is the best spot for live traditional or “trad” music, though it’s best to get there early if you want a seat.
Take a day trip from Cork and visit the historic Blarney Castle. The castle grounds date back to 1200 AD and are home to Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. It is said that the Blarney Stone bestows the “gift of the gab” upon those brave enough to kiss it.
The stone is very near the top of the castle, and you’ll have to lay back and dangle over the edge to kiss it – it’s not for the faint of heart! There is a camera at the top, and afterward, you can buy a photo of yourself kissing the stone as a souvenir.
Be sure to spend a few hours exploring the magnificent castle gardens.
Cobh is best known for being the final stop the Titanic made before its fated journey across the Atlantic. It’s also home to St. Colman’s Cathedral, a stunning cathedral that overlooks the harbor. You can also visit “The Deck of Cards,” a collection of colorful houses stacked against each other. As the name suggests, it is reminiscent of a deck of cards.
There are also several adorable restaurants, pubs, and cafes in town. The Seasalt Cafe is one of the most popular spots in town, and you can stop by for breakfast or lunch while you’re in Cobh.
After you’ve explored Cobh, you can take a short ferry ride to Spike Island. It is a former prison complex that housed many Irish revolutionaries and other prisoners over the course of its storied history. A tour takes you around the grounds, offering a glimpse into the experiences of Irish prisoners over the decades.
County Waterford is not always on a list of places to visit in Ireland, but it’s well worth a detour if you’re traveling along Ireland’s Ancient East. This Irish county has rolling green hills, impressive hikes, and picturesque seaside villages.
One of the best places to visit in Waterford is the seaside town of Tramore. There is a swimmable beach and a small pier with rides, games, and treats for children and families. You’ll also find a Japanese Garden dedicated to the late Irish writer Lafacadio Hearn and the Seagull Bakery.
County Wicklow is known as the Garden of Ireland, home to the Wicklow Mountains and a stretch of coastline along the Irish Sea. The county has charming pubs, beautiful green spaces, and wild mountain ranges. Nestled into the Wicklow Mountains is Glendalough, a glacial lake with an adjacent set of monastic ruins.
Visiting Glendalough is one of the top things to do in Wicklow, and you can enjoy a picnic near the lake or hike in the area. A hiking trail takes you up and around the lake at Glendalough, offering spectacular views of the mountain range.
Another fabulous spot to visit is Trooperstown, a small local mountain near Glendalough. If you go when the heather is in bloom, the rolling hillsides will be covered in a lush green with a soft purple hue. There are several easy hikes around Trooperstown, but it’s easy to get turned around, so be sure to drop a pin so that you can keep track of where you parked.
Places to Visit in Ireland on Vacation
When most travelers think of Ireland, they picture the streets of Dublin or rolling green hills. While it certainly has those things, there’s much more to see on the Emerald Isle.
Ireland is a European destination with rugged wild areas, stunning cliffsides, and welcoming locals. Whether you have a few days to explore Ireland or a few weeks, visit a mix of urban, historical, and rural destinations.
There are charming pubs throughout the country, and most of them are full of friendly locals and the occasional tourists. You can buy a pint of Guinness and chat with the barkeep or enjoy the company of your travel companions.
This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex. Featured Photo Credit: [@EcoPic/DepositPhotos]
Amber Haggerty runs Amber Everywhere, a site encouraging others to travel. She is originally from Colorado but now lives in Ireland and writes about her experiences traveling and living abroad.