Ireland is a beautiful country rich with culture, history and Guiness. In my first trip to Ireland I was blown away with the diversity of the landscapes and how magical the country can be. Quaint pubs, ancient castles, and national parks dot the country and offer something for every type of traveler. Below is a list of the 13 best things to do in Ireland.
1. Road Trip Ireland
The best way to fully enjoy the beautiful country of Ireland is to hop in a car and go for an old fashioned road trip. Bouncing from small town to small town while grabbing pints (not if you’re driving!) at pubs along the way is the best way to see the country. It is filled with stunning scenery and seemingly endless random castles that you wouldn’t get to see by staying in Dublin your whole trip. You also have the luxury of exploring at your own pace, giving you time to enjoy the wonders of Ireland without a strict bus schedule.
Setting out for a road trip is dependent on how much time you have to explore, and I have several itinerary options you can checkout here, but I highly recommend it as it creates a very authentic experience.
2. Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s top natural tourist attraction - and for good reason. They offer stunning views and extend to over 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean at the highest point. Worth the hype. Stick on the paths and don’t get too close to the edge, as it’s usually super windy and yes, people have died taking selfies there. You can get great photos, like this one below, without getting too close to the edge.
There’s a ton of tours that will bus you from Dublin, although I prefer to rent a car and drive through the countryside to visit at your own pace. Stop by the quaint town of Doolin for lunch and a pint afterwards, or make a trip of it and spend the night in the vibrant city of Galway.
If you are looking for the quintessential “Irish” spot to visit, this is it. From rolling green hills that meet the ocean to fun pubs with live music, the Dingle peninsula has it all. It’s less touristy than the Ring of Kerry but offers similar views and is about a 4 hour drive from Dublin. Take a stroll through the tiny downtown of Dingle filled with shops, art stores, and great places to eat (try some of the seafood!).
This is also the top place in Ireland to pay for an overpriced boat tour to search for their famous dolphin, Fungie! Tour buses take excursions to Dingle but once again I suggest renting a car and taking a joy ride on the Slea Head Drive. Get out of the car and go pet some sheep. If history is your thing, there are also ruins to explore including beehive huts, ring forts and famine cottages.
4. The Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is the most famous drive in Ireland and should be at the top of any Ireland bucket list. There are endless vista points to pull over and admire the grand views of Ireland’s epic nature. The drive roughly takes 3.5 hours if you don’t stop, but you’re gonna wanna stop, so I’d plan a full day exploring the Ring of Kerry. I even suggest staying a night or two in the area, as the towns of Killarney and Kenmare offer a great Irish atmosphere and a good base to explore.
In Killarney National Park, take the short hike up to Torc Waterfall. Stop over at Ladies View, Moll’s Gap, and the plethora of other viewpoints along the way. In the southwest corner, take the Skellig Ring Road drive and checkout the Cliffs of Portmagee. If you have the time and money I would take a boat trip to the Skellig Michael Islands. A bus tour isn’t a bad option here if you don’t have a car as they will make sure to stop at the hot spots and you can take in the views during the drive. Driving gives the flexibility of spending time at your own pace and going off for hikes like the Gap of Dunloe, weather permitting of course. The town of Killarney is about a 3.5 hour drive from Dublin.
Chances are if you’re going to Ireland, you’re going to spend some time in Dublin. Despite my tendencies to choose nature over cities while traveling, Dublin is a city everyone needs to visit at least once (or twice). It’s a great walking city and offers tons of history, great dining, and an unforgettable nightlife scene. Pubs galore. And man are the people nice, for seemingly no reason. It’s great. I was lucky enough to visit during a Gaelic football (yes it’s a real sport) championship match that Dublin was playing in against Kerry. What a time to be alive.
Temple Bar, Grafton Street, and St. Stephen’s Green are great places to walk and people watch. I’m a sucker for a cool cemetery, and Dublin offers a good one in the Glasnevin cemetery. Other historic highlights include The Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Dublin Castle, and the Kilmainham Jail.
6. Giant's Causeway
The Cliff of Moher and The Ring of Kerry get a lot of the natural beauty hype in Ireland, but some of the most impressive scenery I saw was in Northern Ireland. In an area that includes the Dunluce Castle and Game of Thrones filming locations Ballintoy Harbour and the Dark Hedges, it’s hard to pick one area as my favorite. So I will go with the most unique, the Giant’s Causeway.
The basalt columns formed from an ancient volcanic eruption are truly bizarre, and create great photo opportunities for the gram. Expect to see a lot of tourists, but you can dodge the entrance fee by parking nearby and not entering the visitor center. Continue to walk on the trail past the causeway to explore more of the beautiful scenery. It’s as picturesque as anywhere in Ireland. Click here for my in depth look at some of the beauties of Northern Ireland.
If you’re looking for another Irish city to explore besides Dublin, Galway is the one. It’s a vibrant city lined with pubs, great eating spots and live traditional music. Attracting less tourists than Dublin, the city has much to offer and is about a 2.5 hour drive from the capital. Although I did not spend much time there, Galway will be at the top of my list to visit again the next time I make a trip to Ireland.
If you’re into exploring nature, it’s a great base for exploring some of the top spots in the country including Connemara National Park, The Burren National Park, and the Cliffs of Moher.
8. Connemara National Park
One of the most beautiful areas in all of Ireland lies near the west coast in Connemara National Park. Located a little more than an hour’s drive from Galway, the drive into the park offers stunning views. Make a stop at the Kylemore Abbey, a majestic monastery nestled in between lush greenery and a lake.
For the adventurers, hiking Diamond Hill is a must. Weather permitting - as all things are in Ireland - this moderate hike leads to some of the most incredible views of Ireland. At the peak you can look back out at the Atlantic while being surrounded by the rolling hills of County Galway. This was the best hike I did in Ireland and you can read more about it right here.
9. Rock of Cashel
Castles are everywhere in Ireland. If you’re road tripping around you’re bound to come across a few. Some of the best I saw on my road trip included the Dunluce Castle and the Bunratty Castle. But my favorite was by far The Rock of Cashel. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Dublin and is conveniently located between Dublin and the Ring of Kerry, making it an easy visit.
Take the tour. They go into the amazing history of the castle and they have a very fascinating cemetery. Remember I’m a cemetery guy. The image of the castle perched up on top of a hill is a great Irish castle memory.
10. Slieve League
A much lesser known natural wonder of Ireland is the Slieve League cliffs. Located on the Atlantic Coast in County Donegal, these cliffs are immense and offer spectacular views along a great hiking path. They receive a fraction of the visitors that the Cliffs of Moher command, but are arguably as beautiful. They are in fact 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher but lack the sheer drop off that makes the Moher cliffs so picturesque. But as you can tell from the photo below, it’s absolutely worth visiting and due to its proximity, can be included as part of a Northern Ireland trip outlined here.
11. Skellig Michael Islands
One of the most exhilarating activities you can do in Ireland is take a trip out to the Skellig Michael islands. At the southwestern tip of the Ring of Kerry lies these two craggy islands of Star Wars fame. Leaving from the town of Portmagee, you have 2 options: taking a boat around the islands or doing a landing tour where you get to disembark on the island and walk around for a bit. This involves a lot of pre-planning as it’s a very popular activity but also can be canceled on any given day if the weather is not cooperating. You can read more about my trip here where I opted to take a boat around the islands and loved (almost) every minute of it.
12. Wicklow Mountains National Park
The Wicklow Mountains provide a nice escape into the wilderness. Unlike most of the other places on this list, this is within a short drive from Dublin, only about 1 hour, making it an ideal day trip or weekend getaway. The Glendalough valley has a visitor center, some interesting monastic ruins, and plenty of hiking trails. In particular, the white trail from the visitor center leads up to sweeping views across the valley. You can’t go wrong with any of Ireland’s National Parks.
13. The Burren National Park
Another one of Ireland’s National Parks, The Burren is identified by it’s bizarre moon-like terrain. Drive through the park and admire the different landscapes, or hike up to the top of Pancake Mountain. Make sure to check out the Megalithic sites such as the Poulnabrone portal tomb. It’s within easy driving distance of both Galway and The Cliffs of Moher, but you could easily spend a day exploring the unique geological area.