Looking for the best things to do on the island of Ireland? You’re going to need a hand. It spoils visitors with an inordinate number of first-rate attractions. You’ll find otherworldly beauty on the dramatic Skellig Islands; ancient legends at the Giant’s Causeway; and some of the world’s great minds at Trinity College Dublin. And there’s so much more. To help, here are the must-visit attractions in Ireland and some top places to stay.
Burren National Park, County Clare
The smallest of the six national parks in Ireland, Burren National Park comprises a small section of the glacio-karst landscape that covers much of north County Clare. Formed around 350m years ago, this spectacular area – known as the Burren, taken from the Irish boireann, meaning “great rock” – has an incredible geological significance and unusual biodiversity. The Aran Islands off Galway are also worth visiting and considered an extension of the Burren. The area is home to the Poulnabrone dolmen (tomb) and the Aillwee cave system, which was accidentally discovered by a local farmer in the 1940s.
Newgrange, County Meath
The most famous prehistoric monument in Ireland, the Newgrange passage grave dates to the Neolithic or New Stone Age – around 3,200BCE – and is older than the Egyptian pyramids. The most notable feature is the roof box above the entrance, which aligns with the rising sun on the winter solstice, filling the chamber with sunlight.
Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
A geological wonder consisting of tens of thousands of interconnected stone columns formed by cooling volcanic basalt, the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim is both a Unesco World Heritage site and a national nature reserve. Local legend says the mythical Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill built the causeway to cross the North Channel to Scotland.
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, Dublin
Visit the archaeological section of the National Museum of Ireland to discover exemplary Irish artefacts. In particular, you should admire the Celtic art on display. That includes the Liathmore shrine fragment, which is marked with an inscription that can only have been intended for Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, before the 1014 Battle of Clontarf.
Blarney Castle and Gardens, County Cork
The partly ruined medieval fortress at Blarney is one of the most visited castles in Ireland, with the original structure built in the 10th century. There’s lots to explore here, including a garden filled with dangerous and toxic plants. However, the best-known attraction is, undoubtedly, the Blarney Stone – a limestone block said to bestow “the gift of the gab” onto anyone who kisses it.
Dingle Bay, County Kerry
One of the most westerly points in mainland Ireland, Dingle Bay separates the two incredibly picturesque headlands of the Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas in Kerry. Discover the best of the area by touring the driving routes around the headlands – the Ring of Kerry and Slea Head Drive.
Skellig Michael, County Kerry
The summit of Skellig Michael, an island off the Portmagee coast, towers more than 200m (656ft) above sea level. It’s Unesco listed and the site of a former monastery, which was in use until the 12th century and has remained well preserved despite the harsh Atlantic weather. Given its otherworldly atmosphere, it’s unsurprising that it was chosen as a filming location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).
Trinity College, Dublin
Founded in 1592, Trinity College Dublin is the university that educated Theobald Wolfe Tone, the so-called father of Irish republicans. Other alumni include writers such as Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett along with many other great Irish minds. The Old Library is home to the Book of Kells – a ninth-century illuminated manuscript often referred to as Ireland’s national treasure.
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
The soaring Cliffs of Moher, standing 120m-214m (390-702ft) over the Atlantic in County Clare, are among the top 10 most-visited attractions in Ireland thanks to their unparalleled natural beauty. The cliffs farther north at the Slieve League mountain in Donegal are even higher and more dramatic, reaching 601m (1,972ft) in places.
Ben Bulben, County Sligo
Formed during the Ice Age, Ben Bulben is the jewel in the crown of the Dartry Mountains. As well as offering panoramic views of Sligo Bay beneath, this peak is strongly tied to Irish mythology and literature, particularly through the work of the poet WB Yeats, who is buried in the graveyard below it.
West Cork Islands, County Cork
The islands off West Cork are a worthy focal point on the western side of the Wild Atlantic Way route. Each offers something distinctive, from Dursey with its ocean-crossing cable car to the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) island of Cape Clear, via Garnish and its historic gardens.
Viking Triangle, County Waterford
The highlight of the Waterford Viking Triangle – an award-winning cultural and heritage area in the oldest city in Ireland – is Reginald’s Tower, the oldest urban civic building in Ireland, now a museum. Another Waterford highlight to visit is Dunmore East, a beautiful fishing village founded before the time of the Vikings, during the Iron Age.
Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
The Rock of Cashel was built as a seat for Munster kings and, legend has it, that St Patrick himself visited on a quest to convert King Aengus to Christianity. Now, it’s one of the top historical attractions in Ireland, home to ruins including a chapel, cathedral and graveyards. It’s also home to some of the most significant examples of Celtic art and medieval architecture in Europe.
Glendalough Monastic Site, County Wicklow
Nestled within the confines of Wicklow Mountains National Park – itself a major attraction – Glendalough Valley is home to a monastic city established during the sixth century. Built close to the valley’s two lakes, the site has many surviving early Christian monuments, including a round tower, a cathedral and several churches.
Dublin Bay Biosphere, Dublin
The Unesco-designated Dublin Bay Biosphere covers more than 300sqkm (116sqmi) and includes coastal areas such as Howth Head and North Bull Island, the latter of which is home to several endangered habitats. Bird and plant lovers will appreciate the chance to see many rare species here, but Dublin Bay is also significant as the only biosphere reserve in the world that’s home to a national capital city.
Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
The Guinness Storehouse, the most-visited fee-charging tourist attraction in Ireland, is a museum and tourist experience dedicated to Ireland’s best-known beverage. It’s housed inside a former fermentation plant at the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, and you can book stout-tasting experiences, learn how to pull a pint, or sample an experimental brew while enjoying panoramic views of the city at the Gravity Bar.
Titanic Belfast, Belfast
As a world-leading visitor experience, the Titanic Belfast shines a light on the 1912 maritime disaster, at a building on the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the passenger liner was built. Inside the eye-catching structure are nine interactive galleries, providing an insight into everything from early designs of the ship to a fish-eye view of how the wreck looks now.
Killarney National Park, County Kerry
One of the most scenic regions in Ireland, Killarney National Park is another Unesco Biosphere Reserve, renowned for the beauty of its lakes and mountains. It’s also the protector of rare Irish flora and fauna – a safe home to the largest surviving area of indigenous forest in the country and the only herd of native red deer. It was established in 1932 when the 4,452ha (11,000-acre) estate belonging to Muckross House was donated to the Irish Free State.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, County Galway
Kylemore Abbey became a haven for a group of Benedictine nuns who fled to Ireland from Ypres, Belgium, during World War I. The estate on which it sits, in County Galway’s Connemara region, is now self-sustaining with a beautiful Victorian walled garden. Tours and nature trails are available.