Ireland is by far one of the most interesting travel destinations to visit in all of Europe. It’s a country that’s packed with a majestic history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty.
And no matter what you decide to do on your Ireland adventure, every destination you head to will captivate, surprise, and inspire the curious traveler. A trip to this wonderful Celtic island will prove to be worthwhile because there’s so much to see and do.
On one hand, there are bustling cities to explore, each representing everything that is urban and loud. Shoppers, foodies, and arts and culture lovers will find much delight in cosmopolitan destinations like Dublin, Cork, and Galway.
And on the other hand, for those who are looking to take a trip away from the hustle and bustle of city-living, steering off the beaten path will lead to stretches of desolate grasslands dotted with glacial lakes, breathtaking sea cliffs plummeting into the Atlantic, and ancient castles overlooking great sceneries.
With all that Ireland has to offer, it may be a bit daunting when trying to plan for a vacation. So, if you don’t have a clue of where to start, here are the best things to do in Ireland.
1. Take a Cruise on the River Shannon
First on this list is a boat cruise through River Shannon that no explorer should miss out on. River Shannon is the longest river in the island, and it snakes its way from the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain all the way down to Limerick City where the river meets the sea.
The most navigable parts are from Limerick to the Lower Lough Erne in Northern Ireland.
There’s nothing more relaxing than taking a boating cruise on the Shannon.
Lovely scenes along the 500km of waterway will be the highlight of your entire trip.
The most popular routes are from Portumna to Carrick, where you can also rent boats of all sizes. For those who want to prolong their river adventure, many more hidden gems can be found further north.
2. Explore Ancient Irish Castles
What better way to go back in time and learn about ancient Ireland than visiting the many castles that are scattered across the country? Each fortress has a story to tell and a song to sing.
To start your castle adventure, stop by Dublin Castle in the capital for guided tours that will take you to the State Apartments where presidential inaugurations have taken place. You can also visit the Chapel Royal, which is simply exotic with its fine décor.
For tourists who want to experience what it is like to stay in a real castle, why not book a suite at the Ashford Castle in County Cong too? Although this fortress dates back to 1228, the castle doesn’t disappoint with its luxurious 5-star service.
Apart from staying in castles, there’s also something for those in search of medieval fortresses that are shrouded in legend and folklore. For instance, legend has it that Blarney Castle, which is home to the infamous Blarney Stone, will give the “gift of gab” to anyone who bends over backward to kiss this ancient Scottish piece of rock.
Alternatively, you can visit the Rock of Cashel, which is the medieval castle on the hill that’s said to have been spitted out by the devil.
3. Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
No sightseeing expedition in Ireland is complete without a visit to the Moher Cliffs.
The 8km stretch to the top will take you to an altitude of 200 feet and at some hiking points, you’ll get to enjoy the thrill of standing a few inches from edges that will plunge you abruptly into the ocean if you’re not careful enough to tread cautiously!
The highest point of Moher Cliffs is O’Brien’s Tower, situated just a short distance from the Doolin village.
On a clear day, visitors can spot Loop Heads to the south as well as Aran Islands, Maumturks, and the Twelve Pins mountain ranges of County Galway in the distance.
4. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Although it may seem like a morbid idea to visit a prison while on a vacation, it would be a thrilling lesson in history to add the Kilmainham Gaol to your list when touring Ireland.
This former prison is now a museum. It also houses an art gallery on the top floor that exhibits paintings and sculptures of incarcerated prisoners.
Thousands of visitors arrive every year to admire the wonderful interior of the structure and learn about the stories of men who led the Easter Rising of 1916.
And if you’re so inclined, you can also step inside the same cells where civil war prisoners spent their last moments before execution. This is no doubt a creepy but unique way to learn about Ireland’s turbulent past.
5. Slieve League, Donegal
The best part about Slieve League Cliffs is that crowds of travelers seldom flock to this natural beauty.
As a result, you can take in the sights and smells without hordes of tourists jostling you around while blocking your view.
Admittedly, Slieve League Cliffs isn’t as popular as the Cliffs of Moher.
However, Slieve League Cliffs are up to three times higher than Moher’s cliffs and there’s nothing more thrilling than gazing down Europe’s sixth highest sea cliff for a truly “top of the world” experience.
The sight of crushing waves pounding onto the massive rocks 2000 feet below will leave even the most seasoned traveler awestruck.
6. Bend of the Boyne, County Meath
Bend of the Boyne is one of the most historically significant locations not just in Ireland, but also Europe.
This complex megalithic site predates even the Egyptian pyramids and its origins can be traced back to the Neolithic period during the 32nd century BC. Because of the rich history behind it, Bend of the Boyne has been designated as a World Heritage Site.
The most striking aspect about this attraction has to do with how it was built. It features an assortment of chamber tombs, standing stones, henges, and grave passes constructed from a bewildering knowledge of astronomy and science that people in the past just could not have possibly possessed without divine help (or assistance from aliens and computers.
This is how unbelievably sophisticated the construction of the Bend of the Boyne is and you’ll need to pay the place a visit to see it for yourself.
During the winter solstice every year, a beam of light travels the entire length of the Newgrange passage grave, which is a sight you don’t want to miss.
It’s estimated that up to 200,000 people flock to see this unique sighting every year, with each tour taking only a maximum of 15 people into the tomb at any one time.
7. Killarney National Park
One of the best places to commune with nature while exploring Ireland is Killarney National Park.
This is the only place where you’ll get to see red deer gazing peacefully in the wild. The 100,000ha Park is also home to 141 bird species and if you love to fish, you’ll be pleased to know that the glacial Lower Lake (or Lough Leane. thrives with trout, salmon, and perch.
As you trek through the park, you’ll be rewarded with sights of mountain ranges in the distance, lush moorlands, parks, gardens, and rumbling waterways.
For the best scenery in Ireland, be sure to visit the Ring of Kerry. Some of the highlights along this route include Torc Waterfall, Roos Castle, Ogham Stones, Gap of Dunloe, and the Stone Pillars. The area around Iveragn Peninsula in particular has some stunning scenery spanning a distance of 170km.
8. Shopping in Ireland
For shopaholics who enjoy collecting travel souvenirs or traversing through local markets, modern malls, and gift shops, you’ll be glad to discover that Ireland offers so much more than just natural beauty.
Dublin’s Francis Street is the perfect place for antique lovers. In the month of April, Dublin hosts the annual Antiques and Collectables Fair, allowing you to buy unique Irish-made goods to bring back home.
If you have a penchant for exotic clothing, there are also plenty of boutique stores in Cork City, Galway, Kilkenny, and Limerick.
9. Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
For the ultimate beer tasting experience, make sure to head down to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.
The remodeled fermentation plant will no doubt capture your imagination at first glance. It has up to seven floors surrounding a glass atrium that takes the form of a large pint of Guinness.
However, the Guinness Storehouse has a lot more to offer than just its unique architectural allure.
During your visit, you’ll be enlightened on the delicate craft of malting, fermenting, and just about every topic that has to do with brewing beer.
Knowledgeable tour guides will even shed some light on barrel making, which is an ancient craft passed down from one generation to the next.
The tour ends at the lovely Gravity Bar on the top floor where you can relish a panoramic view of Dublin while sipping a chilled glass of 100% original Guinness.
10. Inishbofin, County Galway
Inishbofin is an island located 5 miles off the coast of Connemara.
Travelers with all kinds of interest come from far and wide to enjoy the many adventures that this emerald island has to offer.
If you have a thing for traditional Irish music, you can find plenty of that here.
In addition, fishing, swimming, wind surfing, angling, and bird watching are other popular pastimes enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
Feel free to saunter along the rugged coastline while taking photos of seals and other rare birds that call this island home.
11. Catch a Gaelic Football or Hurling Game
The Irish love their games and while there are many sports in Ireland, Hurling and Gaelic Football are perhaps the country’s most unique sports.
Hurling is the fastest field game on grass in the world. It can be likened to field hockey but with a little twist.
On the other hand, Gaelic Football can simply be loosely described as a hybrid between soccer and rugby.
You can catch live matches of these unique Irish outdoor team sports during summer.
The first Sunday of September is when the All-Hurling Final takes place while the All-Ireland Football Final is on the third Sunday of the same month.
12. Visit the Mourne Mountains, County Down
It would be a pity to miss the Mourne Mountains when taking nature excursions across Ireland.
The granite mountain range is located in Northern Ireland, specifically to the south of County Down.
It’s an area of resplendent natural beauty and one of the most wonderful places to go hiking.
If you want to cover more ground without having to walk for miles, you can rent a bike and get a different perspective of the mountain countryside on two wheels.
You’ll also find numerous granite cliffs in the form of outcrops and tors scattered across the range. These cliffs are perfect for rock-climbing.
13. Dublin Zoo, Dublin
If you happen to be visiting Ireland with kids, Dublin zoo will make a great stop.
Your little ones will have the time of their lives getting up close and personal with various animals while learning all kinds of fun facts about wildlife.
The Dublin zoo boasts a wide range of animals from all over the world, including birds, reptiles and mammals.
Apart from the typical exotic breeds that you can find in most zoos, visitors can specifically catch glimpses of animals that are native to Ireland.
This includes the Galway sheep that have no horns!
Wildlife conservation efforts by Dublin zoo have played a big role in protecting various endangered species over the years.
And by visiting the zoo, one can see firsthand how much the Irish treasure their animals.
14. The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way runs along the west coast of Ireland, bordered by villages unspoiled by pollution.
If you choose to drive along this trail, you’ll be treated to a panorama of stunning coastlines along one of the most captivating, wildest, and culturally rich coastal routes in the world.
Once you start your adventure, you’ll fall in love with the rugged beauty of the west.
There are up to 156 strategically placed viewpoints along the route where you can take pit stops to soak in the sights. The 2,400km route starts from Malin Head in County Donegal and continues all the way to Kinsale in County Cork.
15. Holy Cross Abbey, Tipperary
Holly Cross Abbey is a prime wedding destination.
The establishment is a Cistercian monastery and it’s one of the most frequented pilgrimage destinations in all of Ireland.
If you’ve decided to tie the knot in the country, Holy Cross Abbey makes the ideal place to exchange vows and ask for God’s blessings.
If you’re not looking to get married and simply want to visit ancient historical sites, then The Abbey is still well-worth a visit.
Set against abundant greenery, this ancient structure dates back to the 12th century – yet much of it remains intact.
You can tour the monastery to learn about its rich spiritual heritage while enjoying the mural paintings and fine carvings that adorn the interior.
16. Lough Tay Lake (Guinness Lake, County Wicklow)
Sandwiched between Luggala and Djouce mountains, Lough Tay Lake is a scenic water body that’s definitely worth a visit.
It’s just a short drive south of Dublin and is best admired from above. You can get a panoramic view of the lake after scaling any of the nearby mountains that are adjacent to it.
The turquoise blue lake stands out in stark contrast against the brown and green vegetation covering much of mountainous landscape.
The Northern Coastline in the area surrounding Lough Tay is part of the estate that belongs to the Guinness family.
It’s edged by a strap of white sand imported by landowners in the area.
When taking an aerial view of this section, the white sand and dark peaty water create a striking resemblance to a pint of Guinness.
17. National Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, County Mayo
If you’re looking for a spiritual experience while touring Ireland, then you’ll need to visit the national Shrine of Our Lady of Knock.
This is the same place where 15 people were said to have witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Joseph at the south gable of Knock Parish Church on August 21, 1879.
Ever since the unexplained sightings, this shrine has been considered a holy pilgrim destination.
Up to half a million devotees of the faith visit this sanctuary every year because of its spiritual significance. It’s a place where you can find peace in prayer while attending mass.
Many prominent religious leaders have also visited the shrine in the past, including Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Mother Teresa in 1993.
18. The Burren, County Clare
The Burren is a unique landscape located in north county Clare and it covers a part of south Galway.
This destination has long been a Mecca for hikers. Its name is derived from the Gaelic word “Boireann”, which simply means “rocky place.”
The distinctive Karst terrain in the area makes The Burren a must-visit destination when taking scenic tours of Ireland.
There are up to 45km of walking trails to trek on the 250 square kilometer expanse, where unique limestone rock formations and rare species of flora and fauna abound.
The best time to visit is between April and October since it’s only during these months that you’ll get to see the bizarre sight of colorful plants and flowers growing out of lifeless rocks.
19. The Dingle Peninsula
Located at the foot of Slievanea Mountain and sitting strategically on a natural harbor, the Dingle Peninsular is one of the most stunning natural gems of Ireland.
It’s also the most Western point on the island and in all of Europe.
The nearby town is filled with shops, pubs and restaurants, all exuding a uniquely Irish vibe.
Dolphin tours from Dingle Peninsula are quite common at The Dingle Peninsula and you can also set sail and visit the nearby Blasket Islands from this location.
There are many more attractions to explore in Dingle, with some of the most prominent ones being Rahinnane Castle, Oceanworld, the Eask Tower, and Conors Pass.
20. Galway Cathedral, Galway
Galway Cathedral is one of the most impressive buildings in the city due to its striking architectural design drawn from many influences.
The building stands out as a prominent landmark in Galway’s skyline with its large octagonal copper dome and pillars reflecting its Renaissance style.
Its interiors are just as impressive, featuring fine examples of Irish workmanship such as cut stone woodcarvings and wall murals.
Rose windows and mosaics also adorn the Cathedral from the inside, and they all epitomize traditional Christian art.
If you’re a Catholic, the Galway Cathedral is simply a beautiful place to share Holy Communion with other faithful devotees.
21. Glendalough, County Wicklow
Glendalough is a 1 hour and 40 minutes’ drive from Dublin, and it’s a nature lover’s paradise.
It’s also a great place to head to if you wish to escape the hustle and bustle of Dublin and enjoy some peace and quiet.
The tranquil setting of this glacial valley is one of the reasons why St. Kevin, a Hermit priest, chose it as the perfect place to establish a medieval monastic settlement.
At Glendalough, you can reconnect with your inner self as you traverse this blissful countryside.
You’ll also get the chance to discover splendid ruins along with beautiful lakes and lovely scenery when touring the woodlands of Glendalough.
22. Muckross Head, County Donegal
If you’re a rock-climbing enthusiast, then grab your ropes and head over to Muckross Head.
Once there, you’ll find some of the best rock-climbing opportunities in all of Ireland.
But while the brave and daring can challenge themselves with climbs going up to 20m in height, don’t be fooled by this short distance in vertical height since climbs can get quite strenuous due to the overhanging nature of crags on the Muckross Head.
The multi-layered terrain of mudstone and sand also provides many overhangs to cling to when scaling steep cliffs.
For people not looking to scale cliffs, there are beaches waiting nearby for you to take a dip in.
Windy and tidal conditions of the beaches make them ideal for surfing as well.
23. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly
Clonmacnoise is a picturesque monastery located in County Offlay.
Its precise location is on the crossroads of Esker Way and River Shannon just south of Athlone.
While this attraction is off the beaten track, it will surely be worth your time and money since it’s the most prominent monastic establishment on Irish soil founded by the Celtic Church.
When you visit this historical site, you’ll be able to discover ancient ruins dating back to the 6th century.
Notable remnants of the structure include a cathedral, castle, and several churches.
The highlight of your trip when visiting the monastery of Clonmacnoise will probably be the priceless sculpted stoneworks that decorate the property.
24. Indulge in Authentic Irish Cuisine
Ireland’s culinary diversity will simply leave you spoiled for choice since there are countless of restaurants to choose from where you can enjoy exotic dishes.
And what would be the point of traveling to Ireland without sampling some authentic Irish cuisine?
Irish food can be best described as hearty. Almost all dishes involve potatoes, cabbage, and meat (especially lamb and pork., but with a strong emphasis on using fresh local ingredients.
When visiting one of the local eateries, don’t just stick to eating Fish and Chips – make it a point to try some of the local dishes too!
A few of the best Irish dishes to order include colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage., boxty (potato pancakes., seafood pie (chunky fish pieces topped with melted cheese and mashed potatoes., and Irish stew (a watery broth full of flavor containing lamb stew, potatoes, celery, carrots, and onions..
Once you’ve had your fill, be sure to wash down your delicious meal with a ice-cold glass of Guinness or your favorite beer in true Irish style.
25. Attend an Irish Festival
Ireland has a busy calendar of festivals all year round. So, no matter the time of the year, there will surely be a local cultural event of interest for you to attend. The Irish know how to throw a good festival and you’re expected to come prepared for some fun.
Some of the best annual festivals you should try attending include:
- The Dublin Theater Festival held every September and October.
- The Galway Arts festival, which takes places every July and attracts more than 400 artists from all corners of the globe.
- Watching the Kilkenny Cat Laughs, which is a comedy festival held during the June Bank Holiday Weekend.
Listing the top 25 things to do in Ireland is a tough call because there’s really a lot more that you can experience in a land that’s so heavily steeped in culture, beauty, and history.
However, the travel attractions and activities listed above have been carefully chosen to ensure that there will be something for anyone who chooses to explore the mythical Celtic wonderland that is Ireland.