Whether your passion is golf, fishing or even splashing about on a surfboard, Ireland has the perfect locations, not to mention the best natural backdrops in the world.
The magical extra ingredient that Irish cycling holidays can offer is a network of countless little leafy lanes and quiet rural roads, almost completely free of traffic, which thread through the unspoiled countryside. Many of these small roads have an ancient lineage; their lines were traced hundreds of years ago.
Around Northern Ireland, you’ll find The National Cycle Network – over 770 miles of four high quality, signed cycle routes from Belfastto Ballyshannon, Ballycastle to Ballyshannon, the Kingfisher Trail and the Loughshore Trail. Wherever you cycle, you are guaranteed to find scenic beauty, a varied landscape, wayside history, friendly villages, the Irish tradition of generous hospitality and the warmest welcome in the world.
Fringed by the sea, with a landscape that is spectacularly varied, a golf break in Ireland is one you’ll never forget. Courses sweep across mountains and skirt seas, each one different from the next. So if you’re teeing off under shade of a mountain or with the sound of surf as your soundtrack, golfing in Ireland is an experience that will stay with you.
Whether waterskiing or hang gliding, the lush green Irish countryside and wild ocean waves offer the ideal backdrop for some pulse-racing adventure sports.
Ireland’s a country that’s packed with unexpected adventures. Not least of which is the very special Irish adventure that involves trying to find your way home after a night in an Irish country pub. So if you’re after something that gets your pulse racing faster than a thoroughbred racehorse, then the Emerald Isle is your number one destination.
With surprises around every corner, a backdrop of exhilarating and beautiful countryside and a whole host of thrilling activities, Ireland has it covered, so why not escape the ordinary with some abseiling, rock climbing, hang gliding, caving, archery or jet-skiing.
Ever wondered what it would be like to discover a land filled with awe-inspiring vistas, crashing coastlines and breathtaking mountain trails – all astride a saddle? Just imagine feeling the cool ocean spray as you gallop across deserted sandy beaches; or taking in the sight of stunning rural landscapes while your trusty steed guides you off the beaten track. Even in today’s fast-moving world, there is still a place where all this is possible, as the land of the horse awaits you.
On this little island on the northwest tip of Europe, folklore and literature are peppered with references to Ireland’s equestrian friend, the horse. There, you’ll discover the legend of the great warrior Oisín, who disappears beneath the waves astride a beautiful white horse to be with his one true love, Niamh, in Tír na nÓg (the Land of Eternal Youth); and the story of the great Cúchulain and his mighty chariot horses Grey Macha and Black Seanglan.
Completely entwined in the island of Ireland’s long and dynamic history, the horse has played many enchanting roles through the years. But whether you prefer to look on as a spectator or straddle the saddle yourself now is the time to see what an equestrian trip to the island of Ireland has to offer.
The island of Ireland stretches just 310 miles in length and 186 miles in width, but with a ratio of 1:35 (water to land), it seems everywhere you turn, there’s an ideal location to be fished.
Even the climate is kind to the angler, with temperate summers, mild winters and moderate rainfall throughout the year. And the warming influence of the North Atlantic Drift, which washes the south west coast, gives a milder climate than the geographical situation would indicate.
The result is a fabulous mix of cold and warm water fish, capable of exciting both the specialist angler and casual fisherman on a family holiday.
The island of Ireland joins together to compete against the world in rugby competitions, creating a force to be reckoned with – no matter what part of the globe you hail from.
The entire nation goes wild at the prospect of singing its all-Ireland anthem, Ireland’s Call, whenever the boys don green for the Six Nations Championship or Rugby World Cup.
Springtime is the perfect time to join the Six Nations party as the Grand Slam beckons the Irish team to score against England, France, Italy, Scotland and Wales. While the southern hemisphere teams are treated to a real battle of wills when visiting teams pit their strength against the boys in green.
Fast, furious and exciting, hurling is the kind of sport that makes you wonder how anyone is left standing at the end of it all. Attending a match is likely to be one of your most unforgettable experiences in Ireland, with the passion of the supporters both captivating and infectious. It might take you a while to master the rules, but basically hurling is all about trying to get a hockey-style ball (called a sliothar) into a net using a curved wooden stick (called a hurley or camán) with a paddle at the end of it. Hurling has featured in Irish folklore to illustrate heroic deeds of legendary figures and has been chronicled as a pastime in Ireland for the past 2,000 years. The best place to see hurling is at Croke Park – home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association, the governing body for Irish indigenous sports), and the scene of some cracking sporting action. Alternatively, you can always check out the local venues near you, which will be the scene of many regional on-pitch battles.
Ireland’s version of football has a speedy tempo and a very loyal fan base. Described as a mixture of soccer and rugby, it has developed as a distinct game similar to the progression of Australian Rules.
The ball used in Gaelic Football is round, a bit smaller than a football, and it can be carried in the hand for a distance of four steps, giving the game quite a different feel to soccer.
Croke Park, the fourth largest stadium in Europe, is once again the home of Gaelic Football, and the stadium really comes alight on fast-paced match-days.
It’s not just men who enjoy the rigors and trophies of Ireland’s indigenous sports. As well as Ladies’ Gaelic football (a hugely popular sport in Ireland), Camogie is the ladies’ version of hurling – although be warned that the rules differ slightly. The game officially dates back to 1904, and the resulting competition is action-packed and passionate, with leagues of supporters providing a vibrant backdrop.
There's a good reason why Ireland is fast becoming known as a walker's paradise. This luscious green country on the western edge of Europe not only has the kind of temperate climate that walkers love, but the variety of landscape there is exceptional for such a small country.
The island of Ireland was designed by nature to offer the best walking routes, so whether you want to go on a walking holiday, join the fun of a walking festival or simply branch out on your own self-guided tour, there’s something for everyone on this idyllic island.
Ireland is a land filled with powerful and dramatic landscapes just waiting to be discovered – from rugged rural landscapes to Europe’s highest sea cliffs. Tackling Ireland’s mountains and soaring hills is a challenging and inspirational way to get close to the country’s nature and wildlife, while a trek along an ancient pilgrim’s route brings Ireland’s unique history to life. Whatever your choice of walk, Ireland's got something to offer with nature, history, archaeology, scenery and the ever famous craic (good fun).
Water Based Activities
With unparalleled spots like Brandon Bay, Clew Bay, Portrush, and Portstewart, and over 3,480 miles of pristine coastline, temperate conditions, masses of lakes, rivers and waterways, Ireland is ripe for a water world discovery.
Local and international surfers take to the waves around the island along a coastline that's big on thrills with exhilarating swells and pristine beaches. Meanwhile, windsurfers adore the steady winds and countless safe, clean beaches that make Ireland a number one destination.
There are thousands of kilometers of coastline waiting to be discovered by the intrepid scuba diver with sheltered harbors for the beginner, and steep rocky cliff faces for the more experienced diver. Water-skiers and wake boarders can also enjoy great facilities around the country.
Canoeists will thrive on the passion the Irish have for canoeing, and you’ll be spoiled for choice with whitewater, downhill, slalom, surfing and sprint canoeing.
The ultimate destination for a relaxing holiday, Ireland offers you a chance to escape into a parallel world where life flows at a different pace – and you don’t even need a license or experience on boats, for that matter, to enjoy it at its very best. Ireland’s cities, towns and villages are easy places to fall in love with, boasting a unique charm, grace and beauty that set them apart from all the rest. Bewitching and beguiling, the mighty River Shannon, Loughs Erne and Neagh, the Grand and Royal Canal, the Lower Bann, and the River Barrow bestow all who cruise on them with a magical combination of wonderful restaurants and traditional pubs; high culture; pretty villages; exceptional historical sites stretching back over 5,000 years; buzzing cities and grand country houses.
Spa and Wellness
Where better than to relax, rejuvenate and refresh yourself than in the gloriously beautiful island of Ireland.
Breathe in pure air; feel the soft rain on your face; immerse yourself in the country’s history and heritage and be inspired by what you see and feel on the island of Ireland.
Now a leading international spa destination, Ireland enjoys a multitude of wonderful spas in some spectacularly remote locations. Boasting state-of-the-art facilities, bliss-inducing therapies and treatment rooms set amidst stunning scenery, a spa trip to Ireland is an experience that everyone will enjoy.
Add in the legendary Irish welcome, the peace and serenity of the countryside, wholesome, locally sourced food and a real commitment to quality and service, and you have the perfect package: a natural, health-giving experience that will leave you rested, nourished and enriched.
From impromptu sessions in your local bar to the thrilling beat of U2, Ireland has always been home to the best sounds of music.
Whether you want to mosh with the best of them in an outdoor field, or stroke your chin to a spot of jazz in a salubrious club, music is at the heart of social life in Ireland.
Buskers line the streets, festivals set small towns and villages ablaze and traditional music sessions entertain revelers in pubs across the country.
Further afield, Ireland’s massive musical successes include some bands and artists you may have heard of…U2, The Corrs, Enya, Westlife, Snow Patrol, Ash, David Holmes, Van Morrison and The Thrills, to name just a few.
Unique and distinctive, the harp holds a special place in Irish musical life and has come to symbolize the harmony of people and music in Ireland. It’s the earliest musical instrument mentioned in Irish literature and has been used as an official emblem for Ireland since medieval times. Today, it’s on Irish passports and stamps.
Fleadhs, or festivals, are a major part of Irish cultural life and impromptu trad sessions have become the stuff of legend at West Belfast’s Feile an Phobail, the Galway Racing Festival or Kerry’s Puck Fair.
Rock and dance music festivals are also big news with the Oxegen Festival, Tennents Vital Belfast and the Electric Picnic held in summer.
The Irish culture has taken thousands of years to develop, so cherish every moment of your cultural discovery.
The Irish love traditions. So much so, in fact, that the country is full of them – from eating colcannon (a mixture of cabbage and mashed potatoes) on Halloween to wearing something green on St. Patrick’s Day. Two of the most enduring and internationally famed, however, are traditional music and Irish dancing. Northern Ireland also has its own unique Ulster-Scots culture, which is prevalent throughout the counties and is often expressed through music and dance. The Lambeg Drum, fiddle, fife and flute are just some of the melodic accompaniments to sessions of Highland Dancing, Scottish Country Dancing, Ulster-Scots Square and Country Dancing. And with Ulster-Scots cultural events springing up all over the place, you can watch from the sidelines or give it a whirl yourself.
The pub lies at the heart of cultural, social and musical life in Ireland. Not just places to have a drink, in an Irish pub you can philosophize on the meaning of life, ruminate on global politics, listen to a poetry reading, tap your feet to a traditional session, feast on delicious food or just enjoy the quiet settling of a pint of Guinness in front of a crackling fire. Sit at the bar if you fancy chatting to the locals, or hole yourself up in one of the old snugs – private little spaces, which were historically designed just for the ladies.
The Irish love a good excuse for a party. The country is legendary for its “craic”, and “fleadhs“, festivals and fairs are a massive part of cultural life whether it’s the gastronomic delights of the Kinsale Gourmet Festival or the high-brow Dublin Theatre Festival. If you’re looking for something unique, then head to the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. It’s Europe’s biggest singles event. Puck Fair in Kerry, where a goat is crowned king, is well worth a trip, while the Ould Lammas Fair in North Antrim draws crowds from across the globe.
The Irish like to think that Celtic blood flows through the veins of all the great and the good. Among those they are proud to call their own are John F. Kennedy, Davy Crockett, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly and Ned Kelly, too. On St. Patrick’s Day, though, everyone’s Irish. So don your green and enjoy one of the many St. Patrick’s Day festivals around the world. The Irish accent is famed the world over for its romantic and lyrical lilt, but it’s not until you actually get to Ireland that you realize how different the language around the country can be. To start with, in the Republic of Ireland (except for counties Monaghan and Donegal) Hiberno-English is spoken, while in Ulster the form of English is called mid-Ulster English. But the real key is the speed in which the words come out – so listen carefully!
As a race, they’re proud of the Irish language. So proud that the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Minister passed regulations that decree only the Gaelic versions of place names and street signs are to be used in the Gaeltacht – any region where the Irish language is officially the major language. Just be sure to bring a map with you when traveling. And to make things a little more interesting, in the North of Ireland, Ullans is spoken. This beautiful language is a unique form of Scots/Irish and is peculiar to the Ulster region.
Always looking for a good excuse to have a festival, the Irish now celebrate everything from literary pursuits to a love of oysters.
Here are a few of the highlights throughout the year:
Londonderry boasts the biggest Halloween Festival in the world with around 30,000 celebrating the ancient Celtic New Year every October. Grab a dodgy mask and join the party!
The Belfast Festival at Queen’s is Ireland’s biggest International Festival and boasts an eclectic mix of music, talks, comedy, exhibitions and film.
The Galway Races, the Rose of Tralee Festival, Puck Fair in Killorglin, and the Oul’ Lammas Fair in Ballycastle are world famous and offer a great chance to enjoy life and laughs with the locals.
Food festivals are now a big draw in Ireland with local produce scoring high among international foodies. Head to the famous oyster festivals in Clarenbridge in Galway, or Hillsborough, County Down.
Tune in to a spot of music with the Open House Festival in Belfast, the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera, or the Feile an Phobail in west Belfast. Or grab a pint and tap your feet to some cool tunes at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival.
If you prefer your festivals small and intimate, try the harp festivals in Roscommon or the rough and ready horse and pony fairs from Cavanto Cork. Even today, the horses are priced in guineas, and bought and sold with a spit in the hand.
At the other end of the scale lies the Wexford Opera Festival with full-scale opera productions, concerts, recitals, talks, cabaret, fireworks, and, of course, parties.
For something a little different, try the Magnus Barelegs Festival in Downpatrick offering a slice of Viking life, or the Eagle Wing Festival in Groomsport, County Down, which celebrates Ireland’s cultural links with America.
Thesps should head to Dublin for both the Dublin Theatre Festival and the excellent Dublin Fringe Festival, with wildly exciting performances taking place in fabulous venues.
Around March 17, the country turns a shade of green for a host of St Patrick’s Festivals. All over the country, from the Saint’s hallowed burial place in Downpatrick to the more carnival atmosphere of parades and exceptional fireworks in Dublin and Belfast.
Literary lovers should head to Dublin in June for the intriguing Bloomsday Festival, where fans of Joyce’s Gargantuan Ulysses dress up in traditional gear and scoff old Dublin food like “nutty gizzards” and “urine-soaked kidneys”. Alternatively, seek out the delights of the Aspects Literature Festival in Bangor in September, an annual celebration of Irish literature with lectures, discussion and music.
Experience the endless joys of a trip to the island of Ireland with all the family.
Why Ireland for Families
Whether it’s to discover a landscape drenched in myth and folklore or to visit some fantastic festivals, museums and galleries, a trip with the kids to the island of Ireland means you’ll never be short of something to do – and all without spending a fortune! Miles of golden sands stretch around the country’s coastline offering opportunities for endless hours of fun. The island of Ireland’s national parks allow you to soak up their stunning scenery – the Connemara National Park alone has 2,000 hectares of beautiful countryside, rich in wildlife on the slopes of the Twelve Bens. The National Museum of Ireland’s four branches are all free to visit and present a wealth of ancient treasures and fascinating stories. In the city, you can lose yourself in Belfast’s Lagan Valley Regional Park, a mixture of public parks, picnic areas and wildlife sanctuaries, as well as a pre-historic monument. And throughout the year the island of Ireland plays host to a number of festivals that celebrate the very best in the country’s culture and heritage.
The island of Ireland has a well-deserved reputation for being home to some of the most spectacular coastline in the world. The Atlantic coast, especially, is perfect for enjoying all the adventure of the outdoor life at little or no cost at all. Families with older children can trek across the dizzying heights of the island’s highest sea cliffs at Croaghaun on Achill Island, and Slieve League in County Donegal. Both sets of cliffs are more than 600 meters high! Or follow in the footsteps of St Patrick and climb Croagh Patrick, which rises 764 meters above the village of Murrisk in County Mayo. It’s a long, slow ascent but the views from the summit are exquisite. Following some or all of the epic Ulster Way you’ll encounter the Mourne Mountains and the Sperrins. Not forgetting the spectacular Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland – the children will be enthralled with its tale of giants trekking across the sea to neighboring Scotland.
Rainy days in Ireland
Sometimes the ‘softness’ of Ireland’s climate means that spending a day in the breathtaking countryside is not an option, but you’ll still find plenty of inexpensive ways to keep the family entertained. The Ulster Museum in Belfast reveals the history of the area, both political and natural, and is a fascinating introduction to Northern Ireland. A trip around the murals of Belfast and Londonderry also offer a unique and colorful insight into the lives of the communities in Northern Ireland. The National Museum of Ireland’s branches in Dublin and Mayo exhibit everything from dinosaur skeletons to Irish traditional dress!
Ireland’s Great for Kids of All Ages
While the kids are entertaining themselves, don’t forget that there are plenty of ways for parents to have fun without breaking the bank. Local authorities throughout the country provide public golf courses that are open to all, with very reasonable fees. If you fancy a little pampering, the island’s spas and wellness centers offer a complete range of beauty and therapy treatments to soothe away any holiday stresses and strains. Irish traditional music is played in bars and pubs so you can enjoy all the thrill of a live concert for the price of a drink – and children are welcome to join in the fun in many pubs until 9pm. And most pubs serve up delicious family menus for its patrons, too.
Festivals for All the Family
Ireland is host to a staggering number of children’s street and family festivals, which are guaranteed to entertain you for hours on end. St Patrick’s Festival Dublin takes place over five days around 17th March, the centerpiece of which is the Parade featuring thousands of performers and an audience of more than 500,000 people! The Spraoi Festival held in Waterford on the first weekend in August celebrates all that is best in street performance and each year hosts a number of Irish premieres. The Pickie Family Fun Park in Bangor, which year-round offers traditional seaside fun and games, means the kids can enjoy all the fun of the adventure park, while parents can enjoy a leisurely drink on the patio bar.
If you have a yearning to explore Ireland’s mystical and turbulent past, you’ll find stunning heritage sites within easy distance of your base. The ancient court of the Kings of Ireland is little more than an hour’s drive from Dublin at the Hill of Tara, a settlement whose mystical power is still evident. Two miles west of the city of Armagh, Navan Fort, otherwise known as Emain Macha, was the stronghold of the Kings of Ulster from 700BC and is said to be where the Irish hero Cuchulainn spent his youth. For more dramatic history, you could take a trip toLeap Castle in County Offaly, which is said to be haunted by a number of specters, the most terrifying being a small hunched creature whose apparition is accompanied by a rotting stench of a decomposing corpse and the smell of sulfur. Risk a visit if you dare…and make this a family holiday to remember
Awaken your senses with Ireland’s rich and wonderful food culture, and enjoy a pint in the warmest places on earth – real Irish pubs.
Ireland’s Gourmet Revolution
Choose between good value traditional food in Ireland's numerous pubs, light, modern cuisine in cafés or the best in international gourmet food in restaurants.
Imagine yourself strolling through an array of colorful food markets on a lazy weekend morning, tasting as you go! Ireland’s unpretentious approach to food expresses itself in the vibrant and colorful farmers’ markets, which are now a feature in towns around the country. You will find the best in local produce, from organic fruit and vegetables to handcrafted cheese and freshly caught seafood to tempting cakes and breads.
But if you want to take your love for food that one step further you can enroll in one of the highly rated cookery schools around the country. Relax in beautiful idyllic surroundings while learning to cook both traditional and international dishes under the watchful eye of the country’s most notable chefs.
To sample the best food in a pure party atmosphere make sure you catch an Irish food festival – it’s an experience you won’t forget!
Belfast Taste & Music Fest, August
Belfast Taste & Music Fest, Northern Ireland's premiere food and entertainment event, returns to the lush and lovely setting of the Great Lawn, Belfast Botanic Gardens.
Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, September A celebration of the start of the oyster season with the world famous Clarenbridge oysters. Now in its 54th year.
Hillsborough Oyster Festival, September
Set in the pretty village in Co Down, the festival attracts 12,000 visitors from around the globe, and is host to the World Oyster Eating Championships, among other equally as fun events.
Kinsale Food Festival, County Cork, October
A fabulous festival which celebrates everything that Ireland’s gourmet capital has to offer. Takes place in Acton’s and Trident Hotels and Good Food Circle restaurants around the town.
Midleton Food and Drink Festival, County Cork, September
A mouth-watering line up of food exhibitions and tastings. Food culture combined with a truly remarkable array of entertainment.
The Galway International Oyster Festival, September A world class festival featuring the Guinness world oyster opening championship and celebrating the famous Galway Bay oysters. Great food, fun and music.
From gorgeous gourmet pubs to world-class restaurants, eating out in Ireland has never been more enjoyable.
Farmers’ Markets and Local Produce
Discover why Ireland is so famous for its excellent local produce with wonderful farmhouse cheeses and the finest smoked salmon.
Ireland is rightly famed for Guinness and a visit to the Storehouse in James’s Gate, Dublin is a great way of finding out about over 250 years of brewing history.
But don’t forget Ireland’s other great stouts and beers like Murphy’s Irish Stout, Beamish, and Kilkenny beer. You can also visit The Hilden Brewery in Lisburn, which houses The Tap Room Bar, the only bar in Ireland to serve draft real ale exclusively.
Whiskey drinkers will find Ireland is a joy as Irish whiskey (with an ‘e’!) is distilled three times, unlike Scotch, which is only distilled twice. You can learn all about Irish Whiskey at the numerous whiskey distilleries around the country, the most famous being, the Old Middleton Distillery in Cork, the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin, and the Bushmills Distillery in Antrim.
Sometimes it seems as if every field in Ireland has its own castle ruins - some restored to their former glory, some festooned with ivy, totally merging with the landscape. Wherever you go, these constant reminders of a checkered past will cast their spell on you.
Countless castles pepper Ireland’s landscape, some so crumbled and barren it’s clear they’ve stood for hundreds of winters, and some so thick with hanging tapestries and the wafting smell of mead, you’d expect to see a King’s carriage in the car park.
This historic castle is most famous for its stone, which has the traditional power of conferring eloquence on all who kiss it. The word blarney was introduced into the English language by Queen Elizabeth I and is described as pleasant talk, intended to deceive without offending. The stone is set in the wall below the battlements and to kiss it, one has to lean backwards, (grasping an iron railing) from the parapet walk. Blarney Castle has long been famous because of the Blarney Stone but the less-known Rock Close and castle grounds are well worth a visit in their own right. The Rock Close is a mystical place where majestic yew and oak trees grow around an ancient druidic settlement. Follow the trail through giant gunnera leaves and bamboo and you will find such features as a dolmen, wishing steps and a witch’s kitchen. A water garden with waterfalls is presently being constructed which will add the soothing sound of water to the visitor’s experience. Below the castle are mysterious caves and an arboretum filled with rare tree. There are pleasant walks along the riverbanks where you can sit and contemplate the reflections of the castle. In spring the castle grounds are filled with thousands of bulbs while the autumn leaves glow in glorious shades of red, amber and gold.
Older than the pyramids, the megalithic passage tomb at Newgrange in County Meath is a UNESCO World Heritage site and draws over 200,000 visitors a year. Built around 3200BC, this dramatic mound covers around an acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, some of which are decorated with megalithic art.
The passage and chamber are designed to light up for the summer and winter solstice, but you’ll have to get in line to nab a place. In 2007, almost 28,106 people applied onsite with only 50 places available.
Beaghmore Stones, County Tyrone, were discovered during peat cutting in the 1940s and date back to approximately 1500BC. The site at Beaghmore consists of seven stone circles and several theories for their use have been put forward, including burials, ceremonial rituals and astronomical observations of lunar, solar or stellar events.
The Great Mound at Knowth in County Meath is similar to the nearby Newgrange, but was built around 5000 years ago. Access is by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre located close to the village of Donore. Tours of Knowth are from April to October.
Kells, a stunning round tower that was built for protection against the Vikings, still remains, as does part of the original monastery where the Book of Kells was created over a thousand years ago. The book is now housed in Trinity College Dublin.
Navan Fort, County Armagh, was the royal seat of the Kings of Ulster and the province's ancient capital. It is a large circular earthwork that encloses two monuments on the hilltop, a ring barrow (Iron Age burial site) and a large mound. The Navan Centre interprets this important ancient monument and offers visitors an understanding of the diverse history of the area.
Ireland’s cities are ancient monuments in themselves. The archaic, narrow streets of Waterford follow a map begun by Norsemen over a thousand years ago, while Dublin is an older Viking settlement than either Stockholm or Oslo.
The arrival of the Normans in the 12th century transformed the Irish landscape. You can’t go far without seeing a castle in Ireland – from the operatic grandeur of the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary to romantic ruins such as the keep of Kildownet Castle, once the Achill Island redoubt of the pirate queen Grace O'Malley; or Narrow Water Castle in County Down, which guards over the inlet of Carlingford Lough.
With such a rich and varied history, it's no wonder the museums and galleries are captivating places to visit.
You’ll be spoiled for choice with a flurry of provocative and beautiful modern art at The Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which is housed within the stunning Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
The National Gallery houses an impressive collection of Irish Art and European masters, while the exquisite Chester Beatty Library carries a renowned collection of sacred texts, illuminated manuscripts, and miniature paintings from the world’s great religions and belief systems.
The National Museum of Natural History dates back to 1857 and with over two million specimens from Ireland and all over the world, it’s a great place to bring the kids.
The National Museum of Ireland Archeology and History again houses over two million artifacts ranging in date from 7000BC to the late medieval period. Among the exhibitions is the finest collection of prehistoric gold artifacts in Western Europe.
The more recently opened National Museum of Decorative Arts and History at Collins Barricks includes a wide range of objects including weaponry, furniture, silver, ceramics, glass wear and costumes.
Literary types should head to the Dublin Writers Museum and the James Joyce Museum in the South County Dublin suburb of Sandycove.
Try City Hall, which opened in 1906 and is celebrating its centenary in 2006. Its crowning features are the main dome with a whispering gallery and the grand staircase designed in three types of Italian marble.
The Ulster Museum is located beside Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, and offers a visual feast of fine and decorative arts, from paintings and sculptures, to stunning displays of glass and ceramics.
Once a linen warehouse, The Linen Hall Library is a unique institution. Founded in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast. Containing 250,000 items in the NI Political Collection, the definitive archive of the recent troubles, it is also home to a collection of books by and about CS Lewis.
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra Museum illustrates Ulster life past and present. The Folk Museum invites visitors to a typical Ulster town of the early 1900s, letting them stroll through its farms, cottages, crops and livestock.
Belfast Exposed was established in 1983, and is Northern Ireland's only dedicated photography gallery. Housing a 20x7m gallery for contemporary photography and the production of socially and politically engaged work, dialogue is the driving force behind all aspects of Belfast Exposed.
Around the Country
Step outside the capital cities and you won’t be short of something cultural to fill your time with.
Limerick is an excellent place to head for with the Hunt Museum, which contains one of Ireland’s greatest collections of private art including pieces from Renoir, Picasso and Yeats. The Limerick City Gallery of Art, meanwhile, houses a good collection of Irish Art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Make sure to stop off at Castlebar, County Mayo and pay a trip to the National Museum of Ireland County Life. It’s the only branch of the Republic of Ireland’s national museums to be located outside of Dublin and portrays the life of ordinary people who lived in Ireland from 1850-1950.
Most of Ireland’s counties have their own museums and all are worth the trip to find out about the history and heritage of the places you’re visiting. The Kerry County Museum and the Cavan County are great examples of these fascinating local museums.
Northern Ireland has a great selection of museums with a really broad appeal including the Ulster American Folk Park on the outskirts of Omagh, the Sperrin Heritage Centre, Plumbridge and the Armagh County Museum.
Learn all about the history of one of Ireland’s most important crafts at the Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn, while the St Patrick’s Trian Visitor Complex, Armagh City is a great way of finding out all you need to know about Ireland’s Patron Saint.
And finally, if you’re in Londonderry, make sure to pop into the award-winning Tower Museum and enjoy the new exhibition displaying artifacts from a sunken Spanish Armada ship.
Ireland has some of the most spectacular sights in the world with awesome natural scenery that has a seriously magnetic effect.
Whether you choose to feel the rush of the wild while standing on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean, or wander through isolated undulating hills of green, there’s something to suit your own very individual taste.
Take in the intriguing lunar landscape of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. But it has to be seen to be believed. This stretch of rock is a geological phenomenon, renowned for its columns of layered basalt. It mystified the ancients who believed it to be the work of giant Finn McCool.
Check out the truly awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, which boast one of the most amazing views in Ireland. Standing 230 meters above the raging Atlantic Ocean, these majestic cliffs stretch out for a distance of about 8 kms and offer some brilliant cliff walks.
The Cork/Kerry area is famed for its stunning, white sandy stretches of beach, many of which have ‘Blue Flag’ status. Try the vast strands of Inch and Banna in Kerry or Youghal Front Strand and Inchydoney in Cork. Meanwhile, you mustn’t forget the magnificence of the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara, which constitute some of the most stunning scenery in County Kerry.
Tranquil and picturesque, the Slieve Blooms in County Laois lie at the very heart of Ireland and offer a really beautiful escape from it all. Shady forest trails, crystal clear trickling streams and gushing waterfalls and long green glens make it the perfect place to take things at a slower pace.
The Ring of Gullion in County Armagh is a unique geological landform. A ring dyke not found anywhere else in Ireland, the heather clad Slieve Gullion is surrounded by a circle of low hills 40 km in diameter. Slieve Gullion's reputation as Ireland's mountain of mystery arises from its rich associations with Irish legends and myths.
The River Shannon carves its way through some exceptional countryside, and at 386 km is the longest river in Ireland. This enchanting waterway weaves past picturesque villages down to the Atlantic Ocean at Limerick and makes an ideal spot for a fishing, boating, or simply relaxing vacation.
The Burren in County Clare. Identifying the plethora of flora and fauna in the region offers up some spectacular sights, including sheets of gold and cream Arctic-alpine even in May and the 22 varieties of orchids, which flower through the months until September.
The Mourne Mountain range is an area of outstanding natural beauty with a compact and accessible collection of peaks in the south-eastern corner of Northern Ireland. Clustered within this area are twelve peaks over 600 meters high, including Slieve Donard, the region’s highest mountain.
The Emerald Gardens
Perched on the western edge of Europe, it’s not hard to see why Ireland has become known as the Emerald Isle. But as well as a landscape bounteous in natural beauty, Ireland is also famed for its hauntingly beautiful cultivated gardens with exotic, verdurous plants, mystical greenery and intriguing character.
Ireland’s history will set your imagination on fire. And its corresponding castle strongholds, gothic revival houses, formal 17th-century gardens, landscaped parks, rustic wilderness gardens, cottage gardens, botanic gardens and arboreta offer a vibrant insight into Irish cultural life, past and present.
Tender tree ferns from Australia, exotic banana plants from Japan, primulas from the Alps and sunny daisies from South Africa all thrive in Ireland’s renowned soft climate.
The wild, watery haven of Annes Grove in Castletownroche, County Cork, has been in the hands of the same family since the 17th century and is a beautifully diverse garden with winding waters, native plants, such as meadowsweet and marsh valerian, exotic bamboos and gigantic-leaved gunnera.
Belvedere in County Westmeath. Lord Belfield went to live there in the 18th century after his wife, Mary, had an affair with his younger brother Arthur. Arthur fled, but Mary was not so lucky. Lord Belfield locked her up in the family seat, and decamped to his lakeside villa at Belvedere. Mary stayed incarcerated for 30 years, while Lord Belfield amused himself by fabricating a picturesque landscape on his 160-acre property.
Botanic Gardens, Belfast, is home to two of the most notable early greenhouses in Europe. The Palm House is one of the remarkable Victorian cast-iron conservatories erected with the assistance of Dublin engineer Richard Turner. The Tropical Ravine is landscaped as a luxuriant tropical glen to be viewed from a high walkway all around.
Butterstream in County Meath. With billowing herbaceous borders, neatly hedged enclosures, classical architecture, mossy urns and silvery canals, Butterstream has a wonderfully historic air, which is all the more surprising when you consider it’s only around three decades old!
The Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara is beautifully manicured and delightfully traditional. This six-acre garden was first constructed in the latter half of the 19th century and is now cared for by Benedictine nuns.
The National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Extremely popular with Dubliners, the National Botanic Gardens house plants from all over the world, among them a fine collection of vireyas, tender rhododendrons from Southeast Asia.
Mount Stewart, Newtownards, County Down. Northern Ireland’s most celebrated garden where almost every style of gardening popular in the last two centuries is represented. This great diversity of style, and plants from every continent were ingeniously combined by Edith, Lady Londonderry, to produce a garden of outstanding quality and character.
Florence Court, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Overlooked by the dramatic outline of the Cuilcagh Mountains, Florence Court is well known to gardeners as the home of the Irish Yew, which is now a feature of gardens throughout the world. The original tree, discovered around 1760 can still be seen on the fringe of Cottage Wood.
As well as being hip, vibrant and cosmopolitan, Ireland’s 11 urban hubs are perfectly formed – not too big to be overwhelming, and not so small that you can see it all in a day!
Ireland has two capital cities. The capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin is one of Europe’s coolest capital cities. The city pulsates with energy thanks to its excellent restaurants, chic boutiques, legendary pubs, beautiful art galleries, verdant urban parks, elegant architecture, fascinating and turbulent history, plus its unique scenic location perched at the edge of the Irish Sea. Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, meanwhile, is legendary for its excellent nightlife – this is one city that knows how to have a good time. But beyond the pubs, bars and nightclubs, Belfast is also one of Europe’s most exciting city break destinations with critically acclaimed restaurants, smart boutique hotels and top shopping.
History, heritage and gourmet food mark the three fascinating cities of the South and Southeast. Affectionately known as the “People’s Republic of Cork”, Ireland’s southern gem enjoys a vastly different flavor to Dublin. Cork is a free-spirited spot with a rich cultural heritage, reflected in its position as the 2005 European Capital of Culture. And with a top gourmet reputation, excellent shops, fabulous food markets and chic bars, the city is a winner for a city break. The heritage cities of Kilkenny and Waterford are also steeped in history: With a rich medieval flavor, a world-renowned comedy festival and seriously good pubs, Kilkenny City is definitely worth the trip; while the ancient Viking city of Waterford continues to wow the world with its incredible crystal, Light Opera Festival and delightful places to eat, drink and be merry.
The Wild West’s two fabulous cities are brimming with atmosphere. Galway city is not only one of the prettiest in Ireland, it’s also one of the most social. With a laid-back boho vibe, and an utterly unique atmosphere, this urban beauty in the west of Ireland wins out with its combination of wonderful pubs, fabulous scenery, excellent festivals and fabulous seafood restaurants. The Vikings also had a hand in the heritage of Ireland’s third largest city, Limerick. As well as the city’s atmospheric medieval quarter, the wonderful King John’s Castle and the Limerick Museum, Limerick is also famous for the excellent Hunt Museum, home to Ireland’s largest private collection of art and antiquities.
Northern Ireland boasts four incredible cities outside of its capital, Belfast. You just have to take a trip to wonderful Londonderry and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the only completely walled city in the UK to understand its enduring appeal. From the award-winning Tower Museum to the excellent restaurants, lively pubs, great shops and scenic views across the River Foyle, Londonderry is simply breathtaking. Armagh is the ancient capital of Ulster and is also widely regarded as the City of St. Patrick, with heritage sites reflecting over 6,500 years of the island’s history. Newry has a distinguished history, with a fine selection of both civic and religious buildings. But the real joy of this city is how easy it is to work your way from urban delights to exhilarating outdoor activities nestled on the doorstep of the city limits. And Lisburn, the newest of them all, was awarded city status in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. A picturesque city, it has a natural beauty thanks in no small way to the meandering Lagan Valley and its elegant heritage sights.
Get ready for a retail experience that will excite you – Ireland is a sophisticated, chic and buzzing shopping destination whether you’re looking for cutting-edge fashion or traditional crafts.
Glass by Design
With outstanding reputations for excellent craftsmanship, the leading crystal companies embrace both traditional and contemporary styles following collaborations with some of Ireland's top fashion designers. These include Louise Kennedy for Tipperary Crystal and John Rocha for Waterford Crystal.
Newbridge Silverware has also launched an elegant glassware collection with famed Irish designer Paul Costelloe. Meanwhile, Jerpoint Glass Studio is a small, family-run glassblowing studio in Kilkenny where you can see both the glass being blown and pick up an individual piece to bring home with you.
Aran to Cashmere
Traditional Aran sweaters have a unique style all of their own, while designers such as Jimmy Hourihan are turning out elegant capes in a mix of cashmere and wool. Good places to seek out traditional Irish knitwear are Kilkenny Design, Blarney Woollen Mills, Dublin Woollen Mills and Avoca Hand weavers.
Mind you, if you're looking for something more contemporary, then try the internationally renowned Irish knitwear designer Lainey Keogh or cashmere designer Lucy Downes’ Sphere One collection.
What to Bring Home
You’ll be spoiled for choice with a whole host of souvenir shopping opportunities: Parian china from Belleek; a bottle of Jameson whiskey, or Bushmills whiskey from the oldest licensed distillery in the world; linen from the Irish Linen Centre; lace products from the various craft shops, and, of course, a fresh or smoked Irish salmon.
For something a little different, try The Cowshed Studios in Kesh, County Fermanagh, where you will find unusual hand painted Batik art and Celtic garden sculptures.
Step Out in Style
If traditional stuff isn’t quite up your street, then prove your sartorial worth with something special from one of Ireland’s top designers including Louise Kennedy, Quin & Donnelly, Oakes, Paul Costelloe, John Rocha, Lainey Keogh, Michelle O’Doherty, Joanne Hynes, Orla Kiely and haute couturier Jen Kelly.
In Dublin, gorge on unique boutiques including a raft of stores along Clarendon Street and South William Street. Look out for one-off designer pieces at The Design Centre, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, and Brown Thomas, Grafton Street, or rummage for something cool at the Cow’s Lane Market (Saturday 10am-5pm, Old City, Temple Bar, Dublin 2).
In Northern Ireland, you simply must visit the Lisburn Road, Belfast, which is fast becoming a shopping Mecca! From antiques to fashion boutiques, craft stores to designer shoe shops, delicatessens to interior designs, you’re sure to find something special. In towns, such as Ballymena, Newry, Londonderry and Coleraine, you’ll find intriguing stores to please every taste.
Meanwhile, around the rest of the country, check out Beth in Cork (Douglas Shopping Centre, Cork) and Les Jumelles (11 Upper Abbeygate Street) in Galway.
A Place for Pottery
Ireland has a strong reputation for pottery and ceramics with styles ranging from chic and contemporary to rustic and traditional. Keep your eye out for leading names like Stephen Pearce, Louis Mulcahy, Nicholas Mosse, and Michael Kennedy.
A good place to browse through a selection of Irish pottery is at Kilkenny Design on Nassau Street, Dublin and Kilkenny. In Northern Ireland, check out Eden Pottery, Millisle; Ballydougan Pottery, County Armagh; and Mhacha Pottery, Benburb, for inspirational designs and exciting product ranges. And, of course, check out the store at Belleek Pottery Visitor Centre, County Fermanagh, where you can purchase this infamous Parian China.
Small but interesting craft stores are dotted around the country, and even the tiniest village is likely to have an intriguing variety of handcrafted sculptures, local artwork and original craftworks.
Some of the better known and more popular crafts stores include the gorgeous Avoca Handweavers in County Wicklow, with everything from gourmet relishes to super-cute baby clothes; Blarney Woollen Mills with a whole host of crafts from Belleek China to Fisherman Knitwear; and Dublin Road in Belfast with its top selection of craft shops.
The charming Craft Village on Shipquay Street in Londonderry takes you back in time to the city of old, where you can observe craftspeople working or selling gifts in traditional Irish shops.
Kilkenny – Ireland’s Craft Center
Kilkenny is Ireland’s unofficial crafts center and a great place to go if you’re fancy wandering around workshops and seeking out something special.
Make sure to pay a visit to Chesneau Leather for impressive, beautifully made contemporary handbags and leather goods; the Kilkenny Design Centre for a good variety of modern and traditional crafts; the National Craft Gallery – a complex of innovative craft shops; and Nicholas Mosse Pottery for some of the potter’s trademark Irish work.