Not called the Emerald Isle for nothing and Ireland’s physical appeal endures clearly and true as a jewel. From the Burren’s grey limestone pavement to Connemara’s gold- and purple-tinged mountains, Ireland's natural sites are some of the most beautiful on earth. Here are the best things to do in Ireland.
1. Go for a walk in Connemara
Comprising all of Galway to the west of the city, Connemara is a ravishingly diverse tract of land. Connemara comprises a varied landscape of mountains, lakes and beaches that’s great for walking and camping, and with some pretty villages to base yourself in. You'll find here a maze of little islands, winding roads, bogs and hills, and plenty of white sand beaches for swimming.
2. Try horseriding on the coast
Horseriding, whether over the hills or along the beaches, is also a popular pastime, for both novices and experienced riders, who also have the option of multi-day trails rides. Whether it is in Connemara, Killarney, Kinsale, or the Wicklow Mountains, horseriding is one of the best things to do in Ireland.
3. See the ancient Brú na Bóinne
One of Europe’s finest prehistoric sites, an extraordinary ritual landscape. Brú na Bóinne (the “palace of the Boyne”) encompasses the spectacular 5000-year-old passage graves of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, high round tumuli raised over stone passages and burial chambers.
4. Enjoy the culinary delights of Kinsale
Kinsale, south of Cork, enjoys a glorious setting at the head of a sheltered harbour around the mouth of the Bandon River. Two imposing forts and a fine tower-house remain as evidence of its former importance as a trading port, and Kinsale has built on its cosmopolitan links to become the culinary capital of the southwest.
5. Pilgrimage to the top of Skellig Michael
The island of Skellig Michael, one of the most remarkable hermitages in the world and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains the ultimate place to get away from it all. Located on top of an inhospitable, shark’s-tooth island, the monastery was somehow constructed in the late seventh or early eighth century.
This site is dedicated to St Michael, the patron saint of high places. The exposed, often choppy boat ride out, followed by seabirds from Puffin Island, a nature reserve at the edge of St Finan’s Bay, only adds to the sense of wild isolation.
6. See the ancient manuscripts of Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin preserves a dazzling collection of books, manuscripts, prints and objets d’art from around the world. This library is known for having one of the finest Islamic collections in existence, containing some of the earliest manuscripts from the ninth and tenth centuries.
The library holds important biblical papyri, including the earliest surviving examples in any language of Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels, St Paul’s Letters and the Book of Revelation. Elegantly displayed in high-tech galleries, the artefacts are used to tell the story of religious and artistic traditions across the world with great ingenuity. This is one of the best free things to do in Dublin.
- For a unique stay: Clontarf Castle Hotel. This castle has unique decor and built-in bar and restaurant.
- Or browse hundreds of accommodations in Dublin at any budget.
Dublin is a fantastic city with countless great places to stay. If you're planning your trip, don't miss our guide of where to stay in Dublin.
7. Summit Croagh Patrick
It’s a stiff climb, but the fine views from Croagh Patrick makes it worth it. It was the pagan home of the mother goddess, now converted into the holiest mountain in Christian Ireland, and on a fine day offers an awesome panorama.
During his long missionary tour of the island, St Patrick is supposed to have passed the forty days of Lent in 441 alone on the mountain, finding time to hurl all of Ireland’s snakes to their deaths over the precipice of Lugnanarrib just to the south of the summit.
8. Listen to live traditional Irish music
Ireland’s traditional music that in many ways continues to hold centre stage. The country’s musical traditions remain essentially based on the age-old practice of passing down tunes and songs by oral transmission, from generation to generation and from friend to friend. Its core has become the pub session, where the richness of the musical tradition can be experienced first-hand.
9. See the rich interiors of Bantry House
On the southern approach to town, Bantry House is one of Ireland’s most compelling country houses. It's known for its lavish artworks and for its magnificent setting, among formal gardens overlooking the bay.
This house, which overlooks the Bantry Bay, was built in the early eighteenth century and extended a hundred years later. The highlight is the dining room, which resembles an extravagant stage set: rich Chartres-blue walls, a marble colonnade and vast seventeenth-century sideboards carved with cherubs and classical scenes.
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10. View the cliffs of Horn Head
Possibly the most breathtaking of County Donegal’s numerous rugged peninsulas, with plenty of exhilarating cliff-top walks. Horn Head is magnificent, an almost 200m rock face scored by ledges on which perch countless guillemots and gulls, and small numbers of puffins. The best view of the cliffs, sea stacks and caves is from the water, but the cliff road is vertiginous enough in places to give you a good look down the sheer sides.
11. Eating oysters in Galway Bay - one of the best things to do in Ireland for foodies
Sample the shellfish at numerous locations along Ireland’s coast or try your hand at an oyster-opening competition. Oysters can be enjoyed throughout Ireland, but Galway lays claim to the very best the country has to offer. These large, silky European flat oysters are some of the best in the world, having matured for about three years in anticipation of a season that runs from September until April.
Learn more about the Oysters of Galway Bay.
12. Spend a day at the horse races
Take a trip to one of Ireland’s many racing festivals, savour the banter, pick up some tips and have a flutter. Going to the races is a hugely popular and enjoyable day out in Ireland. The Irish Grand National, the largest event of horseracing season takes place at Fairyhouse, Co. Meath, on Easter Monday.
13. See the landscape of the Burren
A barren expanse of cracked limestone terraces, stretching towards the Atlantic and peppered with a multitude of fascinating megalithic remains. The Burren’s name derives from the Irish word boireann, meaning “stony place” – an apt description for this desolate plateau that occupies the county’s northwest. The starkness of the landscape, crisp white in sunlight, deep grey-brown in rainfall, has a primeval allure and remains utterly fascinating.
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14. Witness the tranquil beauty of Glendalough
A deep glaciated valley in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough (“valley of the two lakes”) provides a delightfully atmospheric location for some of the best-preserved monastic sites in Ireland. The monastery at Glendalough was established in the sixth century by St Kevin (Caoimhín), who retreated to the valley to pray in solitude.
Where to stay in Glendalough:
- For families: The Glendalough Hotel. Bright, family-run Victorian hotel right by the visitor centre offering great views from many of the colourful, en-suite bedrooms.
- For Budget Conscious: The Glendalough International Hostel. Large, comfortable, recently refurbished, all-en-suite hostel, offering breakfast and packed lunches.
- Or find more accommodations in Glendalough.
15. Learn Irish history at Kilmainham Gaol
One of the best things to do in Ireland is to visit Kilmainham Goal — which holds an iconic position in the history of Ireland’s struggle for independence and came to symbolize both Irish political martyrdom and British oppression.
Opened in 1796, it became the place of incarceration for captured revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, who were also executed here. Even after the War of Independence, Republicans continued to be imprisoned here, though it closed in July 1924 after the release of its last inmate, Éamon de Valera – later to become Ireland’s Taoiseach and president.
16. See the treasures of Ór in the National Museum, Dublin
Lavish gold ornaments, preserved by the peat bogs since prehistoric times. The National Museum – Archaeology is a must-see for visitors to Dublin. Undoubtedly the stars of the show here are a stunning hoard of prehistoric gold and a thousand years’ worth of ornate ecclesiastical treasures, but the whole collection builds up a fascinating and accessible story of Irish archaeology and history.
The shop in the beautiful entrance rotunda sells a range of high-quality crafts inspired by works in the museum, and there’s a small café.
17. Visiting the mountains and lakes of Killarney National Park - the best thing to do in Ireland for hiking
The grandeur of the lakes and mountains has been drawing visitors to Killarney for over three centuries.
The lakeshores are covered with virgin forest that features oak, yew and such Mediterranean plants as the arbutus, or strawberry tree – so termed because of its red, but inedible, fruit. Among the park’s notable mammals are Ireland’s only wild herd of red deer, otter, pine marten, red squirrels and Irish hare. A visit to Killarney is one of the best things to do in Ireland.
Where to stay at Killarney National Park:
18. Find the Rock of Cashel
Rising high above the Golden Vale, the Rock features an entrancing group of early ecclesiastical remains. According to legend, the Rock of Cashel first rose to political prominence in the fourth or fifth century AD, when a major fortress was established by the descendants of Eógan Mór who went on to found a dynasty of kings-cum-bishops reigning over this part of Munster.
19. The Giant’s Causeway
Marvel at the eerie but entirely natural basalt formation of the Causeway. Ever since 1693, when the Royal Society first publicized it as one of the great wonders of the natural world, the Giant’s Causeway has been a major tourist attraction. A visit is one of the best things to do in Ireland.
20. Walk through the ancient city of Dun Aengus
Dun Aengus, or Dún Aonghasa, is a spectacular cliff-edge fort, and the Iron Age capital of the Aran Islands. The fort contains three concentric enclosures, hard up against the edge of sheer, 90m-high cliffs. From here, on a clear day, you can see Kerry Head, northwest of Tralee. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Ireland.
21. Stroll along Derry’s City Walls
A visit to Derry is incomplete without a stroll around the ramparts of the only completely walled city in Ireland.
The medieval walls are one of the best-preserved defences in Europe. Spanning 1.6km in length and as high as a two-storey house in places, they are reinforced by bulwarks and bastions and a parapeted earth rampart as wide as any thoroughfare. Within their circuit, the original medieval street pattern has remained, with four gateways surviving from the original construction, albeit in a slightly revised form.
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Despite the fact that it has often had to play second fiddle to its southern neighbour, there are also loads of interesting things to do in Northern Ireland.
This list could truly go on. There are countless fantastic things to do in Ireland. Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the Rough Guide to Ireland. Read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and the best things to do in Ireland.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Ireland without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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