Castles, Cliffs, and Lively Local Spots
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- Flexible itineraries from a two-week “Best of Ireland” adventure or a weekend in Dublin to 3-day tours of southern, northern, and coastal Ireland that can be combined into a longer trip
- Strategic ideas for history buffs, outdoor adventurers, foodies, honeymooners, families, and more
- Unique ideas and can’t-miss experiences: Visit the Old Library at Trinity College for a look at Ireland’s most famous illuminated manuscript or drive past picturesque castles along the Ring of Kerry. Marvel at the misty magnificence of the Cliffs of Moher, wander through a 6th-century monastery, and ferry to the enchanting Aran Islands. Soak up the bohemian spirit of Galway City, take an introspective minute at the Bogside Peace Murals, or spend a day biking the Burren in County Clare. Head to a pub to order up a pint and enjoy a traditional meal while you experience Ireland’s rollicking folk music scene
- Honest insight from Ireland expert Camille DeAngelis
- Full color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Thorough background on the country’s history, landscape, government, and culture
- Helpful tools such as common local expressions and a guide to Irish cuisine and beverages, plus tips for traveling with children, seniors, travelers with disabilities, LGBTQ+ travelers, and travelers of color
- Focused coverage of Dublin and its surroundings (including Meath, Louth, Wicklow, and Kildare), the Southeast, Cork, Kerry, Clare and Limerick, Galway, the Northwest, and Northern Ireland
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
The Best of Ireland
Follow the Craic!
IRELAND’S SACRED PLACES
Ireland is the sort of place you long to visit one day—and then, once you’ve been, you forever dream of returning. Boom times or bust, whether her children are emigrating or coming home again for good, this country is as proud of its rebels, saints, and bards as it ever was.
It isn’t only the remote abbey ruins, fairy-tale castles, and prehistoric stone monuments that give Ireland its haunting flavor. Evidence of ordinary lives is everywhere, too: the rural farmsteads rendered melancholy by the lashing rain, statues of the Madonna in roadside niches, and the Irish language stubbornly reasserting itself on every road sign. These timeless glimpses of Ireland can only add to the texture of your visit.
For all its smartphones, wind turbines, and modern enterprises, it’s safe to say this country’s most beloved attributes will never change: potatoes are still a major food group, stout is still a meal in a glass, a traditional music session is the perfect end to the day, and the Irish are as hospitable as ever. In its people, legends, and landscapes, Ireland ignites the imagination in a way few other earthly places can.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Going for an exhilarating hike overlooking some of Ireland’s loveliest coastlines: Howth and Bray are both easy day trips from Dublin.
2 Marveling at The Book of Kells, Ireland’s most famous illuminated manuscript, at Trinity College’s Old Library in Dublin.
3 Climbing a “stairway to heaven” to reach Ireland’s most spectacularly situated monastic ruins on the Skellig Islands.
4 Visiting the Rock of Cashel, perched dramatically over Tipperary’s rolling green farmlands. This cathedral-castle-fortress was once the seat of kings.
5 Experiencing the friendly, laid-back vibe and bohemian vitality of Galway City.
6 Taking a scenic drive through the Ring of Kerry or Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula.
7 Imagining life in the Iron Age at prehistoric hill forts as you walk the ramparts of Grianán of Aileach in County Donegal or Cahergall in County Kerry.
8 Heading to a pub to experience Ireland’s traditional music, by turns rollicking and otherworldly.
9 Making the circuit around the Derry City Walls, taking in views of both the old city and the Bogside peace murals.
10 Learning all there is to know about making whiskey and enjoying a tasting at Bushmills, Jameson Heritage Centre, or the new Teeling Distillery in Dublin.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Unless you’re flying into Shannon, the fast-paced, cosmopolitan capital of the Irish Republic will be your first stop. Many visitors tour the Guinness Brewery and go for afternoon pub crawls in the Temple Bar neighborhood—but there’s culture outside the pubs, too. Art, architecture, archaeology, and book lovers can occupy themselves for days at Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is on display, and at the National Gallery, the neo-Gothic Christ Church Cathedral, and the National Museum of Archaeology and History. It’s worth passing an hour or two on St. Stephen’s Green just watching all of Dublin go by.
The first Neolithic farmers settled in the fertile Boyne River valley. The best-known prehistoric site at Brú na Bóinne is Newgrange, but for a glimpse of unexcavated tombs, visit the more remote Loughcrew Cairns. “Wee” County Louth offers distinguished monastic sites at Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice. County Wicklow is called the “Garden of Ireland” for its green vales and Italianate terraces, most notably at Powerscourt House and Gardens. Drive less than 30 minutes south from Dublin for the gorse-dotted Wicklow Mountains National Park and the early Christian monastery at Glendalough.
County Wexford is the sunniest in the country; it also boasts Europe’s oldest lighthouse at Hook Head. Kilkenny City offers medieval atmosphere in its narrow, winding streets, Kilkenny Castle, and St. Canice’s Cathedral with its climbable round tower. The county features quiet, picturesque villages along the River Nore and Jerpoint Abbey, one of the country’s finest monastic ruins. The fields of Tipperary and Waterford are some of the island’s most fertile; here you’ll find the awe-inspiring Rock of Cashel, where Patrick baptized the king of Munster. The highlights of the sunny Waterford coast are the breathtaking ruins of St. Declan’s Monastery at the start of a bracing cliff walk and the pretty village of Dunmore East.
Cork is Ireland’s largest county, and its capital city has enjoyed a cultural renaissance in recent years. Climb the tower and play a tune on the bells of St. Anne’s Church. Admire the Harry Clarke windows and whimsical floor mosaics at the Honan Chapel. Kinsale is one of Cork’s most touristy towns for its reputation as “Ireland’s Gourmet Capital.” If serenity is what you’re after, head out to West Cork with its three lovely peninsulas—the Beara, Sheep’s Head, and Mizen Head. The enchanted forests at Gougane Barra and Glengarriff are lovely, too, and from Glengarriff you can board a ferry for the sumptuous Italianate garden on Garnish Island.
It may be Ireland’s most touristy county, but that’s because it’s also one of the most breathtaking places on earth. The rugged Dingle Peninsula is sprinkled with prehistoric and monastic ruins—among them the Gallarus Oratory—and Dingle Town offers plenty of gourmet restaurants and lively musical pubs. The Iveragh Peninsula, looped by the famous Ring of Kerry, has a few hidden places you’ll want to seek out, from the Skellig Ring to the quiet highlands. A visit to the 6th-century monastery perched atop jagged Skellig Michael is well worth the rough ferry ride. Kerry is a slice of heaven; you just have to plan ahead to escape the crowds.
Clare and Limerick
County Clare is best known for the Cliffs of Moher: breathtaking, and busy; try to visit in low season if you can. West of here stretches a deceptively barren-looking limestone plateau, the Burren, where you’ll find another famous sight, Poulnabrone, Ireland’s best-known Neolithic portal tomb, along with various other ring forts and castles. Just north of the cliffs is lively Doolin, renowned for its musical pubs. Limerick City is worth passing through for the Hunt Museum, the finest collection of antiquities outside Dublin. Shannon Airport is in Clare, and the medieval banquet at nearby Bunratty Castle falls into the touristy-but-fun category.
Sparkling Galway City is a destination for its laid-back atmosphere and excellent pubs and restaurants. Head west to the brooding heather-covered mountains and glittering black lakes of Connemara. Highlights include the early Victorian manor house Kylemore Abbey and Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord. The three Aran Islands in Galway Bay are just as enchanting. Southern Galway offers its own delights: Dunguaire Castle in the seaside village of Kinvara; the poet Yeats’s restored summer home, Thoor Ballylee; and the monastic site at Kilmacduagh with its leaning tower. Make a detour into the midlands to Clonmacnoise, Ireland’s most important monastic site.
In Mayo it feels like you have the county to yourself. Climb Croagh Patrick, one of Ireland’s most popular pilgrimages. County Sligo is touted as “Yeats country”; it’s also known for its megalithic burial sites, including Carrowmore, Knocknarea, and Creevykeel, not to mention some relaxing seaweed baths. Donegal’s rugged landscapes are well worth the longer travel time; make the five-hour trek across the Slieve League sea cliffs in the Gaeltacht parish of Glencolmcille. You’ll hear plenty more Irish spoken farther north in Gweedore, where crimson sunsets stain the so-called Bloody Foreland.
Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast is a feast of green cliffs and glittering sea vistas, from the Gobbins cliff path, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and Giant’s Causeway to precarious Dunluce Castle and the Mussenden Temple at Downhill. For an unvarnished history lesson, take a Black Taxi tour through the working-class neighborhoods of Belfast. In Derry, check out the Bogside peace murals after you’ve made the 9-furlong (1 mi) circuit around the intact city walls. In County Down, wander through spooky Grey Abbey or the formal gardens at Mount Stewart House. The lonely Mourne Mountains are perfect for walking or cycling.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
Ireland can be beautiful at any time of year. July and August are peak months, when the sheer volume of tourists in Kerry, Clare, and other popular destinations can be somewhat frustrating.
Planning to do any water sports or camping? Crowds or no, June through August is your window (though May and September may also suit, depending on the activity).
Do those tour buses really get on your nerves? Visit during the spring or autumn—the “shoulder seasons”—or in winter, better yet.
Want to get off the beaten track? Late spring or early autumn is best, but transportation can be limited to more remote locales (especially the various islands off the west coast) between November and April. Note that late autumn can be the rainiest time of year.
There is much to be said for a winter visit. New Year’s is a good choice, listening to a live traditional music session with a pint in hand. Irish winters are relatively mild, with temperatures running 0-11°C (32-52°F)—and the rare snowfall wreaks both magic and chaos (the former in the landscape; the latter in the national bus system). Aer Lingus and other airline carriers post their lowest fares in January and February, and many hotels, B&Bs, and hostels offer better off-season rates, though others close altogether.
Planning Your Time
If you take only one piece of advice, let it be this: relax! Don’t try to see seven counties in as many days: you’ll spend half of each day behind the wheel of a rental car. It’s worth noting that when the Irish go on vacation, they tend to pick one place and stay put. So choose two or three places you really want to see and see them properly. Factor in a couple more days for poor weather (particularly if you want to take a ferry to any offshore islands) or a case of love at first sight: “If we can’t buy a cottage here, can we at least spend one more night?” It’s not as easy to keep your itinerary flexible in high season when you’ve got to book accommodations, guided tours, and ferry tickets well in advance, but in the off or shoulder seasons, to a great extent, you can plan as you go.
Passports and Visas
Upon arrival, an immigration official will stamp your passport for a three-month tourist visa—easy as pie—although officials are much friendlier and more relaxed at Shannon. When you land in Dublin, come prepared with proof of departure within the 90-day window.
What to Pack
Bring lots of comfortable clothing to wear in layers, as well as a waterproof jacket. Pack a couple of sweaters, even in summertime—but don’t let the threat of rain keep you from applying sunblock. On lucky days when the temperature’s in the high 20s C (80s F), you’ll find the beaches (or “strands”) crowded with pasty-skinned locals of all ages reveling in the sun.
Dress is quite informal, even in the fancier pubs and restaurants. Though raingear is sensible, you will find that the Irish don’t wear galoshes unless farming is their business. Getting soaked, followed by drinking tea while warming by the fire, is an Irish ritual. Throw a few tissue travel-packs in with your skivvies.
If you plan to do a lot of hill-walking or other outdoor activities, you might want to bring a pair of Wellingtons along with your hiking boots. If you don’t mind the occasional case of damp feet, however, keep your load light. Umbrellas are nearly useless, as the wind makes the rain seem like it’s falling sideways. Be optimistic and pack your sunglasses.
Hillwalkers and cyclists should also bring the usual compass, flashlight, medical mini kit, and pocketknife (in your checked luggage).
Purchase a plug adapter for electronic devices before you leave. (The Irish plug has two horizontal prongs and one vertical.)
Transcontinental flights arrive at either Dublin Airport or Shannon Airport (on the border of counties Clare and Limerick); the most commonly used carriers from the United States and Canada are Aer Lingus and United Airlines and more recently Norwegian. If you are planning to travel in summertime, book as far in advance as possible for the best fares. Flights from Europe (London, Paris, Amsterdam, etc.) on budget airlines such as Ryanair can be quite economical (especially if you’re traveling light), and you can opt for a smaller airport, too, like Knock, Donegal, or Cork. It’s also possible to arrive by ferry from England or France to Dublin or Rosslare Europort in County Wexford.
If you’re planning to stick to classic destinations such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, Newgrange, and Glendalough, you’ll do just fine with public transportation (Bus Éireann and Irish Rail) and perhaps a coach tour or two out of Dublin or Galway. To explore less-traveled areas, or if you are covering a lot of territory in a week, rent a car. Gas is expensive compared to American prices, but competition keeps rental fees surprisingly affordable.
If you have the time and energy, a long-distance walking or cycling trip—be it a long weekend or a month or more—is the ideal way to experience Ireland’s landscape, history, and culture. The Wicklow Way, Kerry Way, and Táin Trail (for cyclists) are just three of many options, and you can do any portion of the route.
The Best of Ireland
It’s impossible to fit all of Ireland’s most magical sights and experiences into a two-week trip. Instead of running you ragged, this itinerary focuses on the southwest, taking in Ireland’s best-known destinations—the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park—as well as equally beautiful places you may not have heard of yet, such as Ardmore in County Waterford. While it’s possible to reach most of these places by bus, allow yourself quite a bit more time to complete the itinerary if you’re not driving.
Fly into Shannon, get some breakfast and pick up your rental car, and take the ferry from Killimer in south Clare to Tarbert in north Kerry, proceeding south through Tralee to the Dingle Peninsula. Kick back at one of Dingle Town’s many excellent pubs and cafés, viewing the Harry Clarke windows at Diseart if you’re up for it.
Drive Slea Head, visit Gallarus Oratory and the Riasc Monastic Settlement, and spend another night in Dingle after a gourmet meal and some live trad.
Drive from Dingle to gorgeous Killarney National Park and go for a walk or bicycle ride—this is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations, and you’ll see why as soon as you arrive. Spend the night in Killarney Town.
From Killarney, drive the Ring of Kerry counterclockwise; the earlier your start, the fewer tour buses you’ll get stuck behind. Have another lovely dinner in Kenmare.
- On Sale
- May 19, 2020
- Page Count
- 584 pages
- Moon Travel