Ireland gets a great influx of tourism from all over the world, particularly visitors from the UK and the US. UK visitors choose Ireland for its proximity, stunning nature as well as, of course, great culture and atmosphere. In the USA, with so many people citing Irish heritage thank to the mass influx of Irish immigrants to the States in the 19th century, Ireland tends to be at the top of the bucket list for many Americans.
However for other European visitors and visitors from farther afield, Ireland sometimes rarely makes the list when it comes to European destinations. And of course, there is a lot to contend with. Just look at Paris and London, literally global capitals of fashion and food. Then, of course, you have the competing centres of Berlin, Prague, Munich, Brussels and Amsterdam; picturesque and cultural areas that are known around the world. After that, you must compete with Italy and Greece, truly unique destinations that are stunning and offer a wealth of fodder for Instagram. So why take the time to visit the tiny island of Ireland?
Ireland is a unique cultural boiling pot nestled on the very edge of Europe. There is a mass of pre-conceived notions about this country from our globally recognised stereotypes (ginger hair and leprechauns anybody?) to a reputation for being a highly conservative and religious country.
Ireland and especially the younger generations of Irish people are working tirelessly to shrug off these stereotypes and see the country emerge as the progressive, inclusive and exciting landscape that it is evolving to be. Yes, like every country we still have our problems, but this atmosphere of the social and cultural revolution is changing everything.
In 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by public referendum. We made headlines all over the world in 2017 when we elected one of our youngest government leaders who also happened to be “the gay son of an Indian immigrant”. In 2018 we repealed the 8th amendment from our constitution providing Irish women with the right to have safe and legal abortions at home in Ireland.
Amidst all this powerful atmosphere and appetite for change, Ireland remains the cultural hub and aesthetically stunning landscape it has always been. From the endlessly modern cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway to the tiny towns of Kerry and Mayo, our culture is preserved and progresses in such a unique way that you can revel in the millennial modernity of Dublin but still find a truly ‘local’ pub that has remained unchanged for 50 years just down the road.
Ireland is evolving. There is a new climate and atmosphere that you need to see to embrace. That is why 2021 is the time to visit these three stunning areas of Ireland as soon as possible.
Dublin, our cultural capital
There are simply endless things to do and enjoy in Ireland’s capital which will also likely be the starting point of any trip to Ireland.
For the cultural boffins, a visit to the historic Trinity College is essential and the impressive buildings here rank amongst some of the most stunning city centre architecture. The Book of Kells and Long Hub Library can be visited within the walls of this famed university. Dublin Castle and Christ Church provide a further history of the city all within a ten-minute walking distance of each other. There are several museums from the National History Museum to the National Library (there is also a leprechaun museum if you prefer something a bit more fantastical).
Once you have the cultural activities out of the way, it is about time you indulge in another cultural past-time: drinking! The iconic Guinness Storehouse is a great place to start with a fascinating tour topped with several gorgeous bars and pubs all within one aesthetically pleasing building. Finish at the panoramic rooftop bar for great views of the city.
After that, you don’t need to look far to find another watering hole. In Dublin, there are over 700 pubs to be enjoyed. Temple Bar is the official tourist destination with some great traditional style pubs and lives Irish music every single night. However, prepare to pay tourist prices for a pint and know that you will likely not find many locals here. Head to trendier areas in the city such as Camden Street, Aungier Street and Georges Street for a real glimpse into Dublin’s social scene. Here is where all the locals will go to enjoy a well-earned drink after work or to let their hair down on a Saturday night.
Dublin has also emerged as a great food capital with endless places to eat and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of this young city. You can get everything from Korean and Tapas to Indian and locally sourced food. Ireland does not have a strong sense of cuisine but modern Irish restaurants are emerging that do a sophisticated take on Irish food. Think steak and Guinness pies, great rustic thick-cut french fries and locally caught smoked salmon served with our homemade brown sourdough bread and real Irish butter. Seek out these locally run food haunts to support local businesses and producers.
If you want a taste of how people live in and around Dublin, it’s nice to head out to some of the beautiful towns and areas outside of the city centre. Howth is a popular little fishing town frequented by locals who enjoy the harbour, long walks and delicious ice cream on sunny days. The well-known Cliff Walk is an enjoyable stroll along the coastline around Howth though it gets very busy during peak travel season (this is usually during the months of June to September).
Rathmines and Ranelagh are upmarket residential areas about ten minutes outside of the inner city. These charming little inlets of residential Dublin are a great place to find cute coffee shops, great restaurants and independent boutiques. Rathmines even has one of Dublin’s new hotspots, the Stella Theatre. This glamorous old-school cinema boasts large, comfortable seats and you can enjoy drinks and food during the movie.
Check out Dublin Events to keep an eye on the endless cultural events, festivals, concerts and shows on offer in the city. There is always something to do especially during the summer months.
The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s money shot. When you think of the landscape of Ireland you are probably thinking of images you have seen of Ireland’s West coast. And this stunning coastal trail stretches right from Ireland’s Northern Tip down to its Southern peninsula (we’re talking around 2500km of beauty).
Amazing landscapes, gorgeous beaches, ancient ruins and wild and rugged cliffs are what can be expected in this part of the world, offset with small rural towns that will welcome and charm you in equal measure. You can rent a car and do the entire trail or if you are limited on time you pick out some highlights to tour yourself.
Starting up North, one can take in the sumptuous coastline of Donegal, significantly less busy than its counterparts in Galway and Mayo. Donegal is a popular destination for surfing though still less frequented in other hotspots along the coast. Bundoran is the obvious choice for surfers but the up and coming Dunfanaghy area is another chance to take some great waves in a super quiet location.
The Slieve League Peninsula is perhaps one of the more impressive stretches of this coastline stock full of everything you would expect from impressive, rugged cliffs and long stretches of those Irish beaches you will come to know and love. The Inishowen Peninsula is equally impressive but its true draw is the chance to see the Northern Lights.
From here, you will head into the more visited parts of the Wild Atlantic Way; Sligo, Galway, Mayo and then down into Cork and Kerry. Connemara is one of the true gems of this area, a stunning landscape dotted with bays, endless nature walks and charming seaside villages. It is famed for being one of the few places in Ireland truly committed to preserving Irish culture specifically the Irish language of Gaeilge.
From here it is on to Mayo, where visitors can enjoy a trip to the majestic Cliffs of Moher as well as a coastal drive to take your breath away. Including many little inlets and coastal towns, adventure seekers can enjoy many activities from surfing to cycling here.
Heading further South to Kerry’s rustic coast, Dingle remains a centre for local and foreign visitors alike. It is difficult to get to but this traditional little town is located right out on Kerry’s Southern peninsula. Once you get there, take in the spectacular views and then warm up in one of the many local pubs. Enjoy an aquarium, music venues and Funghi the dolphin, a permanent resident in the harbour.
This is a great town that really captures the rural Irish experience. Other great towns in this part of the world include the colourful Kenmare, Kinsale and Killarney which line the Ring of Kerry, another stunning landscape to behold. Full of pretty cafes, buzzing pubs and restaurants, you will find yourself wanting to eat your way around this part of the world.
Killarney has garnered a reputation for having developed into a true tourist town but it is not without its charms. Travelling here off-peak times is a good way to make the most of your time here. The impressive Killarney National Park has some great walking and bike trails and you can also take boat trips to enjoy the scenery from the lakes and rivers. Muckross House offers insight into the local history and is a great stop to enjoy coffee and a treat in the cafe.
Further along the trail, you can find Dinis Cottage nestled into the nature of the park. You can also continue from the National Park to the Ring of Kerry but be warned that this is a difficult cycle with the full route standing at 216 km. Every year in June, the route closes to cars and hundreds of avid cyclists take on the route for charity. This is a great day out in Killarney.
Ireland’s Ancient East
Not to be outdone by the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East provides endless opportunity for history and culture. Once you have embraced the vibrance of Dublin you can head to Wicklow for stunning nature walks, parks and endless hiking trails. Nestled within are also various little towns and areas to explore.
For a taste of a smaller city, Kilkenny is the perfect balance between ancient charm and vibrant modernity. The city is nicknamed the ‘Marble City’ thanks to being built from limestone dotted with shining seashells.
The so-called ‘Medieval Mile’ is the stretch of the main street that boasts stunning authentic architecture from its famed Cathedral to Castle. The area has become a true hub of the arts scene in Ireland so expect endless craft shops, art galleries and bespoke boutiques. Here you also can find the National Craft Gallery as well as many fine cafes and restaurants to tickle your fancy.
On the way to Kilkenny from Dublin be sure to stop into Newgrange, one of Ireland’s most impressive ancient sites. Newgrange is a prehistoric monument that was built in the Neolithic period (around 3200 BC). From here, head to Tipperary where you can enjoy more history with the Rock of Cashel, an impressive prehistoric stone fort. The area also includes the ruins of a round tower, church and many other impressive buildings.
The perfect place to finish is in Wexford, a fine small city on Ireland’s South Eastern tip. Head to Hook Head Lighthouse to tour the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. This is a great place to enjoy a day out with plenty of green space to walk, an informational tour, a great coffee shop for snacks or lunch and a fascinating cultural centre. On the way back from Hook Head, feel free to drop into Loftus Halls, Ireland’s most haunted mansion. Tours here run daily and the visit is worth it for the fascinating legends and folklore that encompass this stunning old house.
For an authentic fishing village experience, why not drop into Kilmore Quay? This beautiful old harbour and picturesque village capture the beauty and magic of an old fishing town. Enjoy fish and chips from the Saltee Chipper and take a walk on the majestic Burren Beach. There is a memorial garden to enjoy a few peaceful moments and you can also walk out along Forlorn Point, a stretch of beach and rocks that jut out into the sea. Enjoy sunset looking out over the Saltee Islands.
There is truly something for everyone in Ireland. Whether you are most interested in the history of our prehistoric ancestors or just want to breathe in the salty air of our rugged Atlantic coastline, we have you covered. If you want to witness modern urban life or listen to a traditional band play in a local pub, we can sort you out. Ireland is emerging as not only a bonafide tourist treasure but also a unique cultural hub that is teeming with energy and positivity. If you want to visit Ireland, now really is the time to go.