Top Things to Do in Ireland
Ireland is an evocative land that is home to everything from jovial cities to verdant countryside.
From discovering this nation’s fascinating history in Dublin to earning some well-earned R&R in colourful Cork, Ireland’s cities have it all. In the countryside, world-renowned spots like the Giant’s Causeway and Medieval Mile make Ireland a must-visit destination.
To help you make the most of your time in this diverse country, our expert travel designers have handpicked the top things to do in Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland’s capital and largest city, Dublin, is larger than life but it also has a captivating cultural scene. Trinity College’s Old Library and the Book of Kells Exhibition is one of Dublin’s cultural wonders. Located in the heart of Dublin City, a walk through the cobbled stones of Trinity College Dublin will bring visitors back to the 18th century, when the magnificent Old Library building – which displays the Book of Kells – was constructed. Trinity College’s Old Library is a sight in itself, as the charming walls are filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases reminiscent of a bygone era.
For a spot of relaxation after your cultural tour of Ireland’s biggest city, head to the Guinness Storehouse. A visit to the home of the ‘black stuff’ is arguably the highlight of any tour to Dublin. Arthur Guinness founded the family business in 1759 at St James’ Gate and the Storehouse was then impressively built in 1904 as a fermentation plant. Now an interactive museum across several floors, the Storehouse details how four simple ingredients are blended to create the perfect stout. A must for any Guinness enthusiast, the 7th floor Gravity Bar offers exceptional 360-degree views over the city.
When you’re suitably relaxed and ready to delve into Ireland’s history, visit the GPO Witness History Museum. Inextricably linked to the 1916 uprising and desire for an independent Irish state, Dublin’s General Post Office is an image that evokes a sense of heroism and nationhood. A brand new immersive exhibition in the heart of Dublin City Centre, the GPO Witness History Museum tells the tale of the pursuit of Irish independence. Using special effects, soundscapes and heartfelt testimonials, this exhibition is sure to captivate both young international visitors and well-informed history buffs.
For some light relief, a musical tour of the city is a great way to discover a hidden side to Dublin’s bustling streets. A musical pub crawl takes participants to two city centre pubs, where musician guides introduce travellers to traditional Irish instruments and tell the story of Irish music. Enjoying some Irish ‘craic,’ or fun, alongside a traditional song and pint is a delightful way to spend time in the nation’s capital.
Ireland’s second city is often referred to as ‘Ireland’s real capital’ by the cheerful locals. In Cork, a wealth of historic attractions sit alongside revitalised stretches of waterfront and artisan coffee bars. Cosy pubs with live music, delectable local restaurants and a genuinely proud welcome from the locals make modern Cork feel as though it’s still very much part of the fabric of traditional Ireland.
There are few things more traditional than Irish whiskey, and Cork’s Jameson Distillery is one of the best places in the country to taste this spirit. In 1975, the whole Jameson operation relocated from Dublin to Midleton, in county Cork, and the whisky has been produced here ever since. Here, travellers can see the new micro-distillery in action or take part in a guided tour of the live maturation warehouse. With so many things to see and do here, this is one of the best places in the world for whiskey enthusiasts.
Cork is a quaint and quirky county, with much to offer beyond whiskey. For travellers who enjoy getting to know the heart and soul of a place, a visit to the harbourside town of Cobh is unrivalled. Located on a glittering estuary, Cobh’s pastel coloured hotels are overlooked by a stunning cathedral – it’s the perfect place for a spot of R&R. What you might not know is that after Australia’s Sydney Harbour, Cobh is the second largest natural harbour in the world. It was the final port of call for the Titanic, so history buffs should pay a visit to the nearby museum that commemorates the fatal voyage.
Once the historical and political centre of the turbulent 20th century in Northern Ireland, Belfast today is a vibrant and exciting city. Belfast has been shaking off its troubled past, but the city’s historical quarters also give travellers a fascinating historical insight. In the Titanic Quarter, visitors can marvel over the very slipways where this infamous ship was built. Located in the heart of the city, the Titanic Belfast attraction is spread over nine multi-dimensional galleries.
Drawing together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and interactive features, this fascinating museum tells the story of the Titanic like never before. The voyage here goes beyond the aftermath of the sinking, shedding light on the discovery of the wreck. Little explorers are also catered for here – the exhibit continues to present day with a live undersea exploration centre.
Located in the Cave Hill area of north Belfast, Belfast Castle is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Built in the 1860s, this hilltop castle offers sweeping views; on a clear day, Scotland can even be spotted on the horizon. The surrounding Cave Hill landscape is known for the five caves dotted along its hillside, and the area contains a wealth of natural, archeological and historical wonders. The most famous geological feature – known as Napoleon’s Nose – is said to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels. This part of Belfast is a haven for nature lovers, with eco trails, landscaped gardens and mature mixed woodland offering plenty of diversity.
For travellers who want to experience the Ireland of times gone by, a bread making class in an 18th-century thatched cottage is the perfect activity. On the shores of Belfast’s County Down, traditional griddle breads – such as soda bread, potato bread and wheaten breads – are freshly baked in a farmhouse kitchen. During a bread making workshop, a local baker will show visitors how to make breads using traditional methods.
Once you’ve finished creating delicious delicacies, participants can sit down to a lovely lunch around the farmhouse family table. Local produce, freshly baked bread and sweet tray bakes all combine to create a true culinary delight. Afterwards, enjoy a tasting of local gins and take home a collection of local bread recipes, so you can get a taste of Northern Ireland whenever you desire.
A medieval town in southeast Ireland, Kilkenny is home to charming streets and incredible landscapes. As Ireland’s best preserved medieval city, Kilkenny is a richly historic place that combines beautiful ancient buildings with more modern artistic corners. Nestled in the heart of Ireland’s Medieval Mile, Rothe House and Garden is one of Kilkenny’s hidden gems. Built between 1594 and 1610, this charming property was the home of renowned merchant, landowner and mayor of Kilkenny city John Rothe Fitz Piers, his wife Rose Archer, and their eleven children. A beautifully landscaped landmark, Rothe House and Garden is the perfect starting point on a discovery of the Ireland’s Ancient East.
One of the more recognisable buildings in Ireland, Kilkenny is also home to Kilkenny Castle. This historic landmark has been an important site since Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, constructed the first castle here in the 12th century. The property has since been given to the Nation and is now looked after by the Office of Public Works. If you’re a rail enthusiast, the world-class 45 kilometre Waterford Greenway is a don’t miss sight. Running from Waterford to Dungarvan along the route of an old railway line, you’ll travel over two stone viaducts and through small villages. The famous Mount Congreve Gardens are also along the route, and stunning sea views are the reward if you choose to cycle the last leg of the journey into Dungarvan.
Cliffs of Moher, Adare
At the southwestern edge of Ireland’s Burren region, the Cliffs of Moher are a dramatic 14 kilometre (9 mile) stretch of dramatic coastline. Running from their southern end at Hag’s Head, these imposing cliffs reach a height of 214 metres (702 feet) close to O’Brien’s Tower. Built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien as an observation tower for Victorian tourists, this site remains one of the most popular lookouts in Ireland. From the tower, you can see out to the verdant Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the stunning Maumturks and Twelve Pins mountain ranges to the north, and Loop Head lighthouse to the south. With pristine blue waves lapping at pebbled shores, the Cliffs of Moher are a picture perfect sight.
Located in the northeast of Ireland and encompassing counties Louth and Meath, the Boyne Valley holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status. One of the largest and most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe, the Boyne Valley is Ireland’s answer to Stonehenge. 16 of Ireland’s 32 counties can be seen from the summit of the Hill of Tara, located in the centre of the site. Exploring the landscape of the Tara part of the valley, which was built during Celtic times, transports you back 6000 years.
The Newgrange part of the complex was built during the Neolithic era, or New Stone Age, by a farming community that prospered on the rich lands of the Boyne Valley. Built as a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance, Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun on the shortest day of the year, December 21.
Marble Arch Caves Geopark
The Marble Arch Caves Geopark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting a host of magnificent natural and man-made attractions. Located at the foothills of Cuilcagh Mountain, the Marble Arch Caves are a fascinating natural underworld of rivers, waterfalls, lofty chambers and stunning cave formations. On a guided tour through these impressive caves, your tour guide will give a fun, interesting and educational commentary on the history and science behind this stunning landscape.
Donegal’s Lough Eske region is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in Ireland. In the wildest part of Donegal, Glenveagh National Park is made up of moorland, mountains, lakes and woods in its 40,000 acres of wilderness. As you wander through this autumnal wonderland, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of soaring golden eagles or elusive red deer.
For history buffs, Glenveagh Castle is a castellated mansion that is worth exploring. This 19th century stately home was built between 1867 and 1873 by John Townsend Trench. Mirroring the style of earlier Irish tower houses, this impressive property has an air of antiquity about it. Few of the great houses of Ireland are preserved in such pristine condition complete with their original furnishings, so Glenveagh Castle is a landmark in a league of its own.
Near the city of Derry, the Giant’s Causeway is a perennial on Ireland itineraries, and it’s easy to see why. For centuries, countless visitors have marvelled at the majesty and mystery of this ethereal shore. The unique rock formations here have battled successfully against fierce Atlantic storms for millions of years. The rugged symmetry of the rocks here never fails to amaze the visitors that walk amongst them, and strolling along the Giant’s Causeway feels like taking a voyage back in time.