There’s so much to see and do when visiting the Emerald Isle, it’s hard to know where to start. From popular tourist spots to some that are more off the beaten track, here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you might like to do to fill your days and nights while you discover this wonderful and ancient destination.
The divine Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry is the most Westerly point of Ireland and with its unique combination of breathtaking natural beauty and Irish character is undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions in Ireland. Perched on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Dingle is the only town on the peninsula, and offers the perfect balance of isolation, activity and tourist amenities. With its ancient archaeological wonders, rugged walks and bike rides, there’s plenty to do and see. Or just soak up the majesty of the landscape around you, while treating yourself to some local Irish hospitality in the many pubs, shops and restaurants.
Stretching 42km and connecting Westport with Achill Island, the Mayo Greenway passes through picturesque villages and mountains, with stunning views of the Irish western coast. This is a world class greenway which is free of traffic. It follows the route of the Westport to Achill railway that closed in 1937, and you can still the remains of old train stations, railway towers and other structures along the way. The trail is perfect for cyclists of all abilities and is suitable for beginners and families. If you want to extend your cycling adventure, you can tour Achill Island using the well-marked cycling trails and small coastal roads to discover some of the most spectacular regions and most magnificent ocean views in Ireland.
Close to Trinity College in Dublin, Merrion Square was once the regular haunt of well-known Irishmen like W.B Yeats and Oscar Wilde. Although he lived most of his adult life in England, and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Wilde never lost touch with his deep Irish roots and a sculpture was commissioned of the writer in 1997 in homage to him as one of Ireland’s most famous sons. Sculptor Danny Osbourne sought to capture the duality of Wilde – the comedy and tragedy, exuberance and solemnity – and Wilde’s likeness now reclines permanently just inside the park, flanked by bronze statues of his pregnant wife, Constance, and the Greek god of theatre, Dionysus.
Take the drive down to West Cork for one of the most extraordinary experiences you can undertake in Ireland. Night Kayaking takes place on Lough Hyne, a marine nature reserve which is home to a variety of plant and animal life unique to the lake. Slip silently through the moonlit darkness as your other senses take over, treating you to a vast array of sounds and smells. At particular times of the year, you can dip your paddle in the water and light up bioluminescent Plankton. This is a magical experience and is highly suitable for absolutely anyone – including first-timers.
World heritage listed Skellig Michael is located 11km off the west coast of Ireland and is home to one of the oldest Christian Monastic settlements in the world and abundant flora and fauna, including adorable puffins! Only 13 boat licenses are granted each year to access Skellig Michael, and these tour operators are only permitted to run a single daily trip to the island during summer. The trip to the island takes about an hour and most tours allow about three hours on the island to explore all that it has to offer
In a land full of interesting landscapes, The Burren is probably the most fascinating. Combining distinctive limestone rock formations with rare species of flora and fauna, it really is a must-see if you are visiting Ireland. The Burren got its name from the Gaelic word Boireann, which means ‘rocky place’, and it couldn’t be more literal. A Mecca for hikers and naturalists, alike, The Burren’s spectacular appearance is the result of thousands of years of erosion of the limestone, leaving hollows, curves and indentations in the rock. There is a much travelled 45km walking trail where you can take in the stunning beauty of the more than 700 different species of plants and ferns, which are particularly spectacular between April and October.
In a relatively recent phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, has started to become visible from the northern most reaches of Ireland. With its minimal pollution and clear, open skies, the north coast is ideal for glimpsing the legendary lights – if the conditions are right. Make sure you do your research before heading north – this site can help with weather and space environment predictions – and then fly to Derry or Belfast and drive to the Inishowen Peninsula, near the most northerly tip of Donegal and bunker down in Malin Head, Dunaff, Mamore Gap, or Dunree for your chance to catch a peek of this remarkable spectacle of nature.
For something a little ‘under the radar’, but quite fascinating, schedule a visit to Marino Casino in Dublin. Considered to be one of the finest 18th century neo-classical buildings in Europe, it is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in architecture and design. The casino – which translates to ‘small house’ – was designed by Sir William Chambers as a garden pavilion for James Caulfield, 1st Earl of Charlemont, who was known for his love of classical art and culture. Despite its diminutive appearance, the Casino contains 16 rooms spread over three levels.
Entry to the Casino is by pre-arranged guided tour only. In order to protect the ornate inlaid floors, visitors are asked to leave their shoes outside and are provided with disposable footwear for the duration of the tour.
Bibliophiles will be overwhelmed and delighted by the enormous collection housed in the Long Room, which is the main chamber at Trinity College’s Old Library. Holding the college’s 20,000 oldest books, the almost 65m long room was originally built between 1712 and 1732 and holds a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the 15th-century wooden harp which is the model for the emblem of Ireland. Marble busts of famous philosophers and writers of the western world line the central walkway and there are regular temporary exhibitions that showcase the rich contents of the room
Overall, Ireland is a fairly safe place to visit. You should take normal precautions like at home, such as exercising common sense and keeping an eye out for suspicious behaviour. The cost of travel insurance* can be nominal compared to unforeseen travel costs that can be incurred.
Travel insurance may be viewed as an investment as it can protect against loss, damage, theft, delays and other unforeseen expenses.