Outdoors lovers will find lots to be excited about in Ireland, with acres of wild and windswept countryside, cute-as-a-button villages and hair-raising coastal cliffs making up the country’s surprisingly varied scenery. From mesmerizing UNESCO World Heritage sites to unique vistas that beg to be photographed, these are 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland.
Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is an epic trail from the most south-westerly part of Ireland right up to the northern tip of the country. Many of the most exciting activities and unique natural wonders can be found along this route. Brave the sea, hike the hilltops and discover some of the best gems Ireland has to offer.
Cliffs of Moher
Stretching over 8km of coastal landscape, the Cliffs of Moher is a breath-taking part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Towering over 214km at their highest point, these cliffs were formed over 320 million years ago when ice-age landscapes met western warmth. With numerous view points and hikes along the way see everything from the ‘seated woman’ natural sculpture at Hag’s Head from the main platform to the colonies of puffins living in the southern platforms and the bottlenose dolphins in the mouth of the Shannon River.
Find out more: http://www.wildatlanticway.com/directory/signature/cliffs-of-moher/343/
Ring of Kerry
If you’ve more than a day, pack up your car and discover Ireland’s most scenic tourist trail, the Ring of Kerry, which runs 120 miles through some of south-western Ireland’s most jaw-dropping landscapes. A patchwork of lush meadows, glacial lakes and heather-topped mountains, the Ring of Kerry includes highlights like the rugged Beara Peninsula and the Kerry Way – Ireland’s longest and oldest walking route. Stop off on route at the Killarney National park, a UNESCO World Heritage biosphere reserve, home to the 15th century Ross Castle and a herd of wild red deer. Sitting on the most westerly tip of Ireland and Europe, Kerry has some of the finest and unspoilt beaches you will find in the World – rain or shine! Whether you want to bus, bike, walk or drive, this is a trip that everyone can find something to do. Check out the Ring of Kerry website to plan your trip today.
Immerse yourself in jaw-dropping Irish monastic history along your Ring of Kerry adventure. Storm the sea to these exposed rocky mounds 12 km off the Kerry coastline and experience the hair-raisingly steep 600-step climb to one of the oldest monastic settlement in the country and see the unique beehive shaped huts which still remain today. Even when you see it is hard to believe these monks built such a site on a 230 metre high cliff nearly 1500 years along. Even today this would be an enormous challenge!
While you may have already seen Puffins perched on Puffin Island only minutes from the Kerry coastline, these two mounds – Skellig Michael and Little Skellig – are home to an impressive array of birdlife. Look out for Gannets, Black Guillemots, Cormorants, Razorbills and Herring Gulls as you climb your way to the top of St. Fionan’s monastery.
Galway & The Aran Islands
Lands right in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way, and similar to Dublin, it is known for being one of the friendliest cities in the world. Galway is a hub for Irish culture and craic, with vibrant festivals and horse racing taking place throughout the Summer months. http://www.aranislands.ie/) – Inishmore, Inisheer and Inishmaan – lie right on the city’s doorstep, with ferries leaving from Rossaveal port or Doolin (if you’re coming from the Cliffs of Moher).
Famous for their traditional knitted ‘Aran sweaters’ (sold all over the UK) and car-free roads, the Aran Islands are one of few places left where you can experience a traditional Irish village, unmarred by the modern developments of the mainland. Here, many locals still speak Irish (Gaelic) as their first language, live in small farming communities and drive pony traps. The countryside is equally enchanting – historic forts teetering on cliff tops, endless sandy beaches and miles of rugged coastline.
Inishmore – literally translating to ‘big island’ – is particularly famous for its semi-circular stone fort Dun Aonghasa, balancing on a 300 foot cliff since the Bronze Age. Visitors will find Kilmurvey Craft Village at the foot of the site and the Worm Hole only a 15 minute walk away (used as the location for the Red Bull Cliff diving series, this has become a popular attraction in recent years).
The Burren is along the same part of the Wild Atlantic Way as the Cliffs of Moher, so if you’re planning on visiting one, we suggest seeing both.
Walking across the Burren has been likened to walking on the moon due to its mind-boggling lime landscape of ruts, fissures and rocky mounds. Sculpted through thousands of years of acid erosion, the karst landscape appears like a giant jigsaw of grikes (fissures) and clints (isolated rocks jutting from the surface), teetering 300-meters above the ocean on the coast of County Clare.
Part of the Burren’s uniqueness lies in its wild array of rare ‘flora and fauna’. The Burren houses mammals such as the feral goat, hares and the pine marten (cat) to name but a few, not to mention 700 different rare species of insects, including 30 different butterfly species alone. Even more amazing still, over 70 percent of Ireland’s flora can be found in this landscape that covers less than 1 percent of the country. Visit the Burren and learn about the nature behind this incredible diversity.
The Ailwee caves are the most famous in the Burren, and the visitor centre gives you the opportunity to see inside this cave network. Formed as a result of rainwater streaming down from the acid surface and shaping cave systems as they go, some caves in the Burren run for as long as 7 miles, while others remain unmapped altogether.
Connemara National Park
Only an hour and a half outside Galway city lies another of Ireland’s magical parks –Connemara National Park. Connemara is famous for its herd of native Connemara Ponies and its wild countryside, sprawling around the famous Twelve Bens mountain range. Three of the Twelve Bens – Benbaun, Bencullagh and Benbrack – lie within the National Park boundaries, traversed by a vast network of hiking and climbing trails. A particularly well known route is the Diamond Hill Loop Walk, but there are plenty to choose from. Before stopping off at the Letterfrank Visitor Centre to find your hiking route, check out Avoca Letterfrank. Known locally as ‘The Possibly Shop’ after a particular admiring international travel writer called it “possibly the most interesting shop in the West”, it remains a must-see for the Connemara visitor.
Another highlight is the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, which its on Pollacapall Lough. Kylemore Abbey is a former monastery, turned school until it closed in 2010, in one of Ireland’s most beautiful castles. The Estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens and is open for public tours and nature walks. The Benedictine community has restored the Abbey’s gardens and Cathedral with donations and local artisans in order to be a self-sustaining estate. Whatever you decide to do, this remote, calm part of the country will leave you in complete bliss.
Not known to a lot of tourists, County Galway has some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches in the world (http://www.connemara.net/beaches/). We suggest looking up Gurteen and Dogs Bay, which are back-to-back white sand beaches and only a drive away from Galway city, and even closer to Connemara National Park.
Close to Dublin
There’s simply no excuse not to see some of Ireland’s natural beauty during your stay – especially if you’ve travelled from as far as Australia or Canada. One of the reasons we believe Dublin is such a great place to live is because of the wonderful and great outdoors we have right at our doorstep. So regardless of your stay, take a look at some of our day trip suggestions which you should squeeze into your stay if you’re a little tight for time.
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Newgrange-Boyne Valley, located in Co Meath (bordering Dublin), is an ancient Neolithic burial chamber. Built in 3200BC, it predates both Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids and is equally as impressive. Its surrounding area is another of Ireland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
There are a number of features which make this ancient tomb particularly special and unusual including: the 97 kerbstones which surround the circular tomb and are decorated with spiritual swirls and spirals, its 19 metre passage and its cruciform chamber which are aligned with the rising sun at the Winter Solstice.
Don’t have much time in Ireland? Glendalough is a popular day trip from Dublin for tourists and locals alike. It is one of Ireland’s most prominent monastic sites, nestled in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The 6th century Christian settlement was founded by St. Kevin and boasts a series of impressive remains set against a backdrop of picturesque Irish countryside.
Stop off at Avoca Handweavers for lunch on your way back to the city – located in either Kilmacanogue or http://www.avoca.com/explore/stores/. If you’ve a car, Powerscourt Waterfall is only a few minutes down the road. Walk along the woodland pathways and see the largest waterfall in Ireland. This is a perfect Summer stroll, particularly if you’re not looking for anything too strenuous. If you’re taking the full day Wicklow Mountains tour – available to book on our website, you’ll be brought to the original Avoca Handweavers in Avoca village. And although further away from Dublin than the former, at this stop you’ll get to see the Avoca Mills. In a picturesque setting, experience the workings of the oldest running mill in Ireland.
Whichever Avoca you visit, take the chance to roam the beautiful gardens and treat yourself to some of Ireland’s favourite household goodies.
Discover the North
If you’re taking your trip up North, we have a few special suggestions you should definitely consider when mapping out your agenda.
Glenveagh National Park
If you’re only venturing up to Northern Ireland on your trip, Glenveagh National Park has all the beautiful selling points of Connemara, in an even more remote location. It’s Ireland’s second-largest National Park at 14,000 acres, and is County Donegal’s number 1 attraction – drawing hikers and fishermen from all over the country. If you’re looking for some ‘you time’ to think, this is the place for you! While you’re taking in the mountaintop views, enjoying afternoon tea in the 19th century Glenveagh Castle or fishing for salmon and trout in the glittering lakes, keep a lookout for the park’s rare wildlife. The formerly extinct Golden Eagle was reintroduced to the park in 2000 and shares their habitat with Ireland’s largest herd of red deer.
At north-eastern tip of Ireland, the remote Cooley Peninsula juts out into the Irish Sea just below the border of Northern Ireland and while the region remains largely free of tourists, there’s still plenty of stunning scenery to take in. Enjoy the views from the forested Mourne Mountains, stop off at the charming medieval village of Carlingford and walk the windswept coastline in one of the country’s most rewarding off-the-beaten-track destinations.
The Giants Causeway
The Giants Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, and has earned this place due to its 60 million year old story of science. This dramatic natural landscape has inspired creative masterpieces in TV such as Game of Thrones and Narnia, as well as the Irish myth: Finn McCool the giant. If you’re visiting from abroad, this is one Irish legend out of a long tradition of story-telling you must hear before you leave.
The natural wonder is comprised of around 40,000 polygonal basalt rock columns, formed by the ancient volcanic landscape and stretching along the coastline like a series of gigantic stepping stones. A Giants Causeway Day Trip from Belfast is one of the country’s most popular excursions, with visitors taking the unique opportunity to walk one of nature’s most peculiar pathways.
Tourist info – stating advised by Huffington Post 2014