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Ireland, or Éire, is a large island nation known for its rolling green hills and rich, globally appreciated cultural heritage. It is divided politically into the Republic of Ireland, to which the name “Ireland” generally refers, and Northern Ireland, which is part of Great Britain. Just six of the Emerald Isle’s thirty-two counties are located there. Whether your tastes run to history, art, or sport, Ireland definitely has something with which to charm you. Museums wait to captivate you with a step into the country’s pastoral history, or, more recently, its stormy political past. Ireland has a literary and arts tradition storied by more than just centuries, and its modern day theaters and galleries keep the custom thriving!

Irish food is hearty and delicious, and just the thing to warm you up after a windy day outdoors checking out a festival or local market—every small corner gastropub will astound you with delicious fare. Accommodations here are especially diverse, running the gamut from cozy cottage-style bed & breakfasts to modern five-star hotels in the big cities ... which is to say nothing, of course, of the castles! If you have ever dreamt of truly playing royalty, this is certainly the place to do it. Those who visit invariably discover that the people of Ireland are the land’s greatest treasure. Irish folks are like none other on earth. Some of the tales are true—many love a good pint, swear like sailors, and have some of the liveliest, most contagious laughs around! They don’t talk about those smiling Irish eyes for nothing, after all. The Irish have perfected the art of “the craic,” which is a byword for fun, entertainment, and good conversation. Locals will often greet each other with a genial “what’s the craic?” You will already know the answer to this: the craic is to be found around every corner in Ireland!

Top Ireland Sights

Belfast

There’s a buzzing, headstrong beauty to Belfast, which has weathered decades of political strife to emerge as a compact, thriving gem nestled in Northern Ireland. A neat blend of the old and the new coexist here, where Victorian architecture and tiny, old pubs sit side-by-side with a vibrant, fresh boutique and dining scene. The shipyard where the R.M.S. Titanic was built is a major attraction. A lot of the ship’s treasures and preserved bits of the wreck are on display, making this a treasure trove for historians. Many flock to Belfast for the golf scene as well, taking advantage of world-class courses.

Dublin

A bustling metropolis, Ireland’s capital stands as a slick and distinctly twenty-first century contrast to the primal rawness of less-developed areas. Sightseeing tours of the city’s gorgeous Georgian architecture are readily available. Dublin claims to house more than six hundred pubs, each one offering its own special menu of tasty eats and the delicious lagers for which Ireland is famous. Visitors are encouraged to pick up one of the various “thirsty traveler” guides to get them started, or join in on any random pub crawl. The pubs stay open late, and patrons tend to travel home in raucous, happy packs on the city buses, which come alive in the wee hours with the sounds of loud singing! If you need a temporary respite from the city scene, the cliffs of Howth may beckon you. After a trip marked by eighteenth-century mileposts, you can walk the scenic peninsula or take a short boat ride to the monolithic ruins of Ireland’s Eye. Howth is said to be especially lovely in the summer when riotous heather blooms turn the cliffs red.

Cliffs of Moher

The soaring Cliffs of Moher are a major Irish tourist attraction, known for their majesty and unforgettable beauty. Located in County Clare and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the cliffs can be toured on foot from above, or by ferry from below. An interactive visitor center was built into the hillside, designed to be as inobtrusive on the cliffs’ natural beauty as possible. Here, visitors can explore the cliffs’ heights and underwater caverns with bird’s-eye simulators and learn more of their history. Do pictures of Moher look inexplicably familiar? Your eyes don’t deceive you—the cliffs have been filmed for countless movies, TV shows, and music videos. You can also take a day trip to the Aran Islands, which are called the distinctly “Irish” part of the Emerald Isle. The old language is spoken here, and the thatched roofs are reminiscent of a simpler time. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera along.

Cork

The landscapes of County Cork are breathtaking. Located on the southeast shore of Ireland, Cork’s proximity to the sea blesses it with mile after mile of craggy coasts and sparkling beaches. It’s said that the best seafood in Ireland comes from Cork County, which isn’t surprising. Food is generally a big selling point here, and the pubs and eateries take great pride in their collective reputation for excellence. It should go without saying that the fishing is also fantastic ‘round these parts, so feel free to grab a pole and catch your own dinner if that’s your fancy! No trip to Cork is complete without a detour to visit the Blarney Stone. Located in Blarney Castle, the famed chunk of rock is said to bestow “the gift of gab” upon those who give it a kiss. The historic and very popular Ring of Kerry is also a reasonable distance away, providing an unforgettable tour by bike or car.

Galway

You’ll soak in the laidback, bohemian vibe of Galway, which has been referred to as one of the most “chill” spots in Europe. Summer is an especially popular time to visit, as the city’s lively sense of community explodes in a seemingly never-ending array of festivals and fairs. Walking tours of picturesque Galway are popular—small wonder, since this is a city that appreciates the power of two legs! A well-known racing circuit has its home here, making this a runner’s paradise. Another distinct joy of visiting Galway can be had with hikes through quaint, pretty Connemara, named after an ancient tribe that made its home by the sea.

Historic Castle Tours

Who doesn’t dream of living like royalty? Your fantasies will come to life when you tour any one of Ireland’s lovely and historic castles. This is a perennially favorite experience of visitors, many of whom plot their Irish travel plans around the castles they want to visit. It’s not hard to understand why! Richly-decorated interiors, luxuriant trappings, and the unforgettable sensation of taking a small, scenic step into the past are all hallmarks of castle visits. The setting is old, but the romance and adventure are timeless. And no matter what you see in Ireland on your tour, you may just find that your own imagination is what surprises you most.

Quick Facts

Capital: Dublin
Primary Airports: Dublin Airport (DUB), Belfast International Airport (BFS), Cork Airport (ORK)
Government: Republic and Parliamentary Democracy
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Population: 4,172,000 (2006 est.)
Language: Irish, English
Electricity: 230V/50Hz (United Kingdom plug)
Time Zone: UTC +1
Ireland

Ireland Travel Reviews


Adventures in Ireland

Tammie S.

My mother always dreamed of going to Ireland, so we planned a trip that took us to many of the high points of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our adventures with CIE Tours began in Belfast, which is a fantastic city full of friendly people, great pubs and history. I think my favorite part of Belfast was all the political murals that decorate the "peace walls" that still stand between Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. My favorite geographic feature in Northern Ireland was the Giant's Causeway. I know it was created by volcanic activity, but when I was looking at the formations, it was easy to see Finn McCool dodging the incoming boulders of his Scottish rival.

The Republic of Ireland is beautiful and checkered with many hues of green. Our travels included the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle. The Cliffs of Moher were breathtaking, and pictures don't do the sight of the water crashing against the rocks justice. It was a clear day, so we had the chance to watch the Atlantic Puffins nesting in the limestone cliffs. Blarney Castle is famous for the stone that offers the gift of gab to anyone brave enough to kiss it. I must add that kissing it really is an act of bravery because one has to hang upside down to accomplish the deed. The castle has extensive grounds to explore so there's plenty to do even if you don't want to brave the climb to the Blarney Stone.

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Destinations Visited: Ireland

Ireland in the Fall and Winter

Anonymous

I visited four cities during my three months in Ireland: I was based in Cork, a small inter-coastal town in the southeast, but also journeyed west to Killarney, then to Galway on the rocky far coast, and finally ended my journey in Dublin on the east coast before returning to Cork. If you have the time, I recommend this method: Make your favorite city your home, then travel a healthy amount to get a well-rounded feel for the country. Cork was my home-base, and it is beautifully cool, wet, and green during the fall and winter. The native peoples and their culture are welcoming and friendly with most anyone willing to grab a pint at one of the many pubs or share a bottle at home. Throughout all of Ireland, pubs are revered as the social gathering places for people of all ages. In Cork, my favorite spots were An Brogue for live music and the Franciscan Well for the fall beer festival. Taking a walk through the streets of any Irish city is a treat--there is beautiful architecture and history to discover around every corner and each has its own, unique character. My advice is to not consult a map when walking and be inconspicuous with any photography--just make sure to know your way home. Traveling across Ireland's rolling countryside should be enjoyed as well: I recommend renting a car through Europcar--this allows one to make the spontaneous stops that make a journey across Ireland truly special.

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Destinations Visited: Ireland

Ireland on a Catholic Pilgrimage

Anonymous

My Mother and I went on a trip organized by a Catholic Church group to visit Ireland. Our trip began as we flew into Shannon. Our stay included three hotels in different cities with a touring bus taking us to many must see destinations along the way. The first stop was the Cliff’s of Moher, breathtaking at 214 m (702 feet) at the highest point and run 8 km (5 miles) along the Atlantic coast of County Clare in the West of Ireland. From that moment on, we knew that Ireland was going to be a most memorable event. The bus tour included 13th century Franciscan Friary, W.B. Yeat’s gravesite in Drumcliff, the prettiest villages such as Adare, the Waterford Crystal plant located in Kilbary, and the boat docks in Galway. We even drove into Northern Ireland for a visit to the Belleek Pottery Ltd. No trip to Ireland is complete without visiting the Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney stone. I never made it to the top of the castle to kiss the stone. I got caught up shopping in the Blarney Woolen Mills. Our final destination was Dublin, where we went to church at the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. There we visited Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, which was right across the street from the Original Durty Nelly’s Pub. The trip lasted nine days, which was not enough to see everything and only gave us more reason to want to go back.

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Destinations Visited: Ireland

A Student in Dublin

Quintia

On my way to study at Oxford I made a stop in Dublin, Ireland. I stayed at the Times hostel, where I met friendly people from all over the world. It was just a short walk from the Temple Bar, where I heard Irish music and had a few pints. From there I was able to catch the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, which takes you all over the city and features a varied cast of entertaining tour guides with unusual stories about the city. I recommend hopping off at Trinity College to see the ancient and beautiful Book of Kells, and at the Guinness factory. Tour the whole brewery and then enjoy a pint at the top of the building looking out on the city. The Jameson factory was fun as well. Be sure to volunteer at the beginning, and they will let you take part in the taste test at the end! I also recommend the Chester Beatty museum, which houses some exquisite manuscripts and a nice little cafe.

From Dublin I took a day trip with Railtours Ireland, http://www.railtoursireland.com/, traveling west towards Galway Bay. My favorite stops were at the Cliffs of Moher, where you can look out on miles of ocean, and at the Burren in County Clare, a rocky, almost lunar, landscape. It is windy on the coast, so take a jacket and hold on to your hat!

I finished my trip with a walk along the River Liffey. Dublin is now one of my favorite cities.

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Destinations Visited: Ireland

Traveling Through the Irish Countryside

Brittany M

I took a trip through Ireland with my grandfather's cousin. I had been studying abroad in Italy and wanted to meet my distant family and see the country. I flew into Dublin and spent 3 days there by myself in October. It was lovely fall weather, crisp and sunny all day. I checked out some local universities with old buildings, walked through the more commercial area and checked out some shops, and grabbed hot tea to drink in the parks. I did a couple free walking tours I found online. I found a very clean, safe hostel for $10/night (multiple checkpoints and staff always present). From there I bussed to the Galway area to meet my grandfather's cousin. She took me on a lovely tour through the countryside visiting outdoor sites, family members, and museums. It was one of those trips where the exact destination was less important than driving the country-side and taking in everything we saw.

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Destinations Visited: Ireland

Irish Dream

LMG

Landscape, hospitality and tours were wonderful. Our tour guide took us a little off the beaten path to see some historical churches and cemetery ruins. With his knowledge of the history of these ruins, one could envision the history that remains within the crumbling churches and cemeteries. Would love to go back again to experience more of this beautiful country.

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Destinations Visited: Ireland

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