Sure, it’s a SWEEPING generalization, but the Irish are known to have an affinity for beer and falling down. (Don’t a lot of us.) But there’s MUCH more to Ireland than just hanging out in pubs, as entertaining as that can be. The Emerald Isle is a place of extraordinary beauty – it’s like God started painting with green and couldn’t shut the sprayer off.
Rolling hills, dramatic cliffs and natural wonders abound throughout Ireland. Then, add to that the country’s historical sites, insane abundance of old (1,000 years) and new (500 years) castles, and the cultural offerings of cities like Dublin and Belfast, and you have enough to keep you busy for two weeks or more.
Let’s start with the natural wonders – sights like Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an area on the north coast that features about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that look like they were stacked together by man (or giants) – but were actually the result of a volcanic fissure eruption. Bizarre and massive and totally unique. Try to avoid visiting here in summer – the loads of bused-in tourists can be overwhelming. If you have mobility issues, there’s a shuttle that runs between the parking lot and the Causeway (it’s about a 15-minute walk; with the return, uphill walk being the tough one), but in summer, the wait can be up to an hour.
[Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge]
And next to the Causeway is a slightly terrifying rope bridge that stretches across a chasm 10 stories high that joins the mainland to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. The bridge sways and bounces as you walk across. No one has (yet) died traversing it, but you’ll probably think you’re gonna be the first. It’s worth it, though; the views on the bridge and on either side of it are gorgeous.
Then there’s the Ring of Kerry, the road that runs around the Iveragh Peninsula. Probably one of the most magical places in Ireland, the road winds through deep forest and alongside the crashing waves of the wild Atlantic, revealing castles, forts, a panoramic viewpoint and a national park. Not to be missed.
Then, there are the Irish cities. Dublin is consistently voted one of the top cities in the U.K. by tourists. It’s fun, sophisticated and filled with museums (art, history, and even one for leprechauns), tons of shopping, and distilleries. The Hugh Lane Museum, for example, has a phenomenal collection of modern and contemporary art.
For shoppers, there are, of course, the usual suspects – everything from Gucci to H&M – but there are also incredible independent stores like the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Carroll’s Irish Gifts, and the Jam Art Factory, which features art and home décor items from hipster Irish artists. Definitely check it out.
And of course, there’s the booze. The Guinness Storehouse is a seven-story visitor experience in the legendary St. James Gate brewery; and for more highbrow tastes, there’s (among many) the Old Jameson whiskey distillery, whose rarest whiskeys can run hundreds of dollars.
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is fascinating for entirely different reasons. Although today, the city is peaceful, from the late 1960’s to 1990’s, the city endured what is known as “The Troubles” – when unrest between Protestants and Catholics (fueled by terrorist protest groups like the Irish Republican Army) made Belfast one of the world’s most dangerous cities. That violence spawned the somewhat ironically named “Peace Walls”, which separated Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and which are still standing (and filled with murals by artists). Black Taxi tours are the most popular way to see the walls, but see them now! The walls are set to begin being torn down soon, with all of them eliminated by 2023.
CASTLES AND RUINS
And finally, there are the castles and monasteries. Some are ruins, just shells of their former glory, but still fascinating to walk through – like the Monastic City in Glendalough, a 1,500 year old complex of churches and other ruins that earns rave reviews.
Others are completely restored and fabulous, like Dalkey Castle, just outside Dublin, which welcomes you with costumed actors who bring the castle’s history to life. Or Ashford Castle and Dromoland Castle, medieval stunners that have been turned into 5-star hotels, and are jewels in the crown of Ireland’s most iconic hotels (we’ll be staying there if you’re joining us on our Ireland tours). It’ll make you feel like showing everyone your sceptre.
[Sure beats a guy playing an accordion, huh?]
This is, obviously, just scraping the surface of what Ireland has to offer. But as you can see, it has something for everyone, whether you like to tour ancient ruins, see nature at its finest, find fine Irish gifts, or just pretend you’re a queen.