There’s nothing quite like a visit to the Emerald Isle to cleanse your soul and reinvigorate your spirit. Home to some of the world’s greenest, most breathtaking landscape, Ireland brims with tourist attractions so appealing, you’ll want to visit them all.
From the captivating Cliffs of Moher that will leave you gob-smacked to the bright lights of Dublin’s Grafton Street to the hallowed halls of Trinity College, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Ireland. The hard part will be choosing which fascinating attractions should top your must-see list.
Whether you’re hoping to spend time pursuing Ireland’s endless number of outdoor activities (we’re talking horseback riding, waterfall hiking, golf, and sailing) or hope to study the works of some of the country’s most famed artists in state museums and galleries, you won’t be at a loss for intriguing ways to spend your time.
Discover all the things to do in this stunningly attractive country with our list of the top tourist attractions in Ireland.
The Cliffs of Moher
So many superlatives have been used to describe the magnificent Cliffs of Moher that it’s hard to find the right words. Vertigo-inducing and awe-inspiring spring to mind, and they are indeed both of these things, as well as being utterly wild and ruggedly beautiful. For those who’ve read up on the Emerald Isle prior to visiting, the cliffs will be familiar, starring as they do in countless postcards and guidebooks. Yet no image can ever do them justice. This is one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland for good reason.
About one and a half hours by car from Galway, in neighbouring County Clare, the cliffs are visited by close to a million people from across the globe each year. It’s one of the popular day trips from Dublin. They stretch for eight kilometers along the Atlantic and rise some 214 meters at their highest point. Take a walk along the trail to experience the raw power of nature at its most majestic.
Official site: www.cliffsofmoher.ie
Grafton Street, Dublin
So much more than just a great place to shop in Dublin, Grafton Street is alive with buskers, flower-sellers, and performance artists. You will also find countless places to stop off and simply watch the world meander by. Café culture has taken off in the capital, and on a sunny day, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Barcelona or Lisbon.
True, this is Dublin’s shopping heartland, but there’s no need to spend a fortune if visiting. You’ll find friendly, chatty service no matter where you go and be entertained from the bottom of the street to St. Stephen’s Green at the top. Grab a coffee or, in the mornings, a legendary Irish breakfast at Bewley’s Grafton Street Café. Take time as well to duck down the numerous alleyways and streets to see what you can discover.
Killarney National Park and Muckross House & Gardens
If visiting the Kerry region, the 19th-century Muckross House, Gardens, and Traditional Farms, set in spectacular Killarney National Park, should be top of your must-see list. There are many reasons this is deemed one of the best tourist attractions in Ireland; you’ll need to visit to discover them all.
Standing close to the shores of Muckross Lake, one of three Killarney lakes famed worldwide for their splendor and beauty, this former mansion oozes the grandeur and gentility of bygone days. When exploring, bear in mind that Queen Victoria once visited here. In those days, a royal visit was no small affair; extensive renovations and re-landscaping took place in preparation, and no detail was left to chance.
The house and gardens are a real treat, and there are Jaunting Cars (Killarney’s famous horse & traps) to take you around the grounds in style. The attraction’s old farmsteads are also well worth taking in for a taste of how ordinary folk once lived.
The Killarney National Park & Lakes region is filled with beautiful scenery, and any route through it will reveal view after view of its lakes and mountains. A highlight in the western part of Killarney National Park is the 11-kilometer drive over the scenic Gap of Dunloe, a narrow and rocky mountain pass carved by glaciers at the close of the Ice Age. The gap separates Purple Mount and its foothills from Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.
Another highlight in this national heritage site is Ross Castle. Winding lanes and cycling paths are among the best ways to see the park.
Address: Killarney National Park, Muckross, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Official site: www.killarneynationalpark.ie
The Book of Kells and Trinity College, Dublin
Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College in Dublin is one of the country’s ancient treasures. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity is a world within a world.
Once you enter the gates and cross the cobblestones, it’s as if the modern, thriving city outside simply melts away. A stroll in and around the grounds is a journey through the ages and into the hushed world of scholarly pursuit. Many shop and office workers take their lunchtime sandwiches here during summer months simply to escape the hustle and bustle outside.
The college is also famed for its priceless treasures. These include the awe-inspiring Book of Kells (on permanent exhibition), and the mind-boggling Long Room (the inspiration for the library in the first Harry Potter movie).
Address: Trinity College, College Green, Dublin 2
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Featured in many a rebel song and occupying a notoriously dark place in Irish history, Kilmainham Gaol should be high on the list of Dublin’s best places to visit for those with any interest in Ireland’s troubled past. It was here that the leaders of the 1916 Uprising were brought and, after being convicted of High Treason, executed in the prison yard. The only one spared was future Irish President Eamon De Valera who, by virtue of his American citizenship, didn’t suffer the same grisly fate.
Dating from 1796, the prison was a dank vile institution that housed those guilty of such misdemeanours as being unable to pay their train fares and, during the famine, the destitute and hungry. In Irish eyes, Kilmainham became an irrevocable symbol of oppression and persecution.
A visit here will open your eyes and will remain with you indelibly. The yard mentioned earlier is particularly spine chilling. In short, this is one of Ireland’s absolute must-sees.
Address: Inchicore Road, Dublin 8
The Ring of Kerry
If in Kerry, take the time to explore what is arguably Ireland’s most scenic route, the Ring of Kerry (Iveragh Peninsula). While you can start anywhere along this spectacular 111-mile-long tourist route, most people tend to set out from either Kenmare or Killarney ending, naturally enough, back in the same spot.
The entire journey non-stop could take under three hours, but that’s unlikely to happen. En-route there’s a feast of jaw-dropping Atlantic Ocean views, stunning islands to visit, wild sweeping mountains, and many picturesque villages.
This area of astounding natural beauty boasts a range of outdoor pursuits including golf, water sports on pristine beaches, cycling, walking, horse-riding, and terrific freshwater fishing and deep-sea angling. For history enthusiasts, there are Ogham Stones, Iron Age forts, and ancient monasteries, all set against a canvas of striking landscapes.
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Magical and mysterious, Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. The settlement was established by St. Kevin during the 6th century and eventually evolved into what’s known as the Monastic City. Visitors have flocked to the valley of the two lakes for thousands of years to absorb its rich history, magnificent scenery, plentiful wildlife, and fascinating archaeological finds.
The monastic site with its incredibly preserved round tower is a joy to explore, and the surrounding woodlands and lakes are perfect for rambling through at your leisure or stopping off for a picnic. There are marked nature trails to follow and a Visitor Centre for all the information you’ll need for a day out like no other.
Address: Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wicklow