An Ireland vacation tops so many bucket lists with good reason: Ireland is beautiful, welcoming and filled with rich history.
Whether you’re seeking Ireland’s gorgeous vistas, warm culture or the roots of your family tree, planning your trip to Ireland can feel confusing at first. How can one small island have so much to see and do?
Let’s try to narrow it down a little! Here are seven Ireland vacation experiences you simply can’t miss.
Well, of course you’re going to see Dublin, right? The nation’s capital has a lot of history to share, including the medieval Book of Kells on display at Trinity College; Dublin Castle, where the business of running the country has been humming along for centuries; St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest church in Ireland, and the Guinness Storehouse, a themed museum experience showcasing the history of Ireland’s signature brew. At the top, you can lift a pint while looking over Dublin from the 7th-floor Gravity Bar.
With all that to explore, Dublin’s also a fine city just for wandering. Criss-cross the River Liffey on its notable bridges, including the pedestrian-only Ha’penny Bridge (so-named for its old toll!). Explore the Georgian terraced houses with their famous brightly-colored doors, and stop off for something restorative in one of Dublin’s many local pubs or the newer cafes opening their doors around town. It’s a small city with big-city punch.
2. The Ring of Kerry
Stone circles, ring forts, white cottages, Victorian mansions, all set amongst stirring green fields, rock-strewn mountains, blue lakes and the crashing Atlantic Ocean: the Ring of Kerry has been drawing awestruck visitors since the Victorian age.
Towns with alluring names like Sneem and Cahirciveen make enchanting way-stops on the looping drive, and Killarney National Park shelters Ireland’s highest mountain range, McGillycuddy’s Reeks (talk about an alluring name). A drive around the Ring of Kerry is an unforgettable day. Discover more about the Ring of Kerry with this article.
You can even add a truly Victorian experience by hiring a jaunting car. These high-wheeled, one-horse carts have been taking visitors down car-free roads within the national park for generations. Look across the Lakes of Killarney to the stately ruin of Ross Castle and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time.
3. The Cliffs of Moher
A staggering seven hundred feet of open air between you and the Atlantic Ocean below? The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most spectacular sights… and that’s saying something.
Located on the west coast, to the south of the city of Galway, the cliffs are Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. Luckily, there’s five miles of them to enjoy. Want to get even higher? O’Brien’s Tower is built at the highest point of the cliffs. Climb up and take a look!
The medieval ambiance of historic central Galway makes this city a must-see during your Ireland vacation. Galway owes its bohemian nature, with a thriving arts scene, to being a college town. But its charm is found in how the present day loves what came before: like the Spanish Arch, a stone holdout from the city’s medieval walls where today you can hear buskers play tunes. Wander the car-free streets of the old city and then find yourself some seafood: Galway’s dining scene is top-notch.
5. Traditional Music Sessions
Trad music sessions are an essential part of the Irish pub experience, and one you’ll want to prioritize just as high as that perfect pint of Guinness. Sessions aren’t your usual bar music experience. Instead of highlighting one band or performer, a trad session invites any musician in to join. You might get two or three musicians, you might get twelve — it just depends on the local scene and who shows up that day!
In Dublin, you’ll find sessions at centrally-located pubs like O’Donoghue’s on St. Stephen’s Green, as well as in Temple Bar, Dublin’s artistic quarter. Different pubs offer sessions nightly, so check the listings online and then head out for the night. You’ll also find traditional music played by professional bands – just look for the word “Irish,” because you’ll also find rock and other genres being played!
Out in the country and other towns, you’ll also find fantastic music scenes. It’s just in Ireland’s blood! Places known for their music culture, like Dingle, get a lot of credit for their sessions and rightly so, but you can find an Irish music performance or session wherever you land for the afternoon or evening.
6. Irish Artisans
From crystal to linen, Ireland has been home to fine-crafted goods for centuries. One of their most famous exports is Waterford Crystal, and you can visit the home of this elegant glassware at the House of Waterford Crystal. Here glass is still blown by hand, sculptors work glass into whimsical shapes, and artists trace geometric patterns into glass destined for engraving.
If you’re looking for a variety of Irish goods under one roof, Blarney Woolen Mills is your one-stop Irish shopping destination! Close to Blarney Castle and housed in a Victorian mill, you can find all the crystal, linens, knits, pottery and jewelry you could ever need, all in one space. Add in free shipping back home and you’ve got souvenirs covered.
Why choose just one? Ireland’s a castle-lover’s dream, so throw a few of them on your must-do list. Many castles, like Blarney Castle, are ruins today… or they’re more of a manor house, like elegant Muckross House in Killarney National Park, than a fairy-tale of stone towers. But you can get a look at what life was like in a medieval stone castle at Bunratty Castle, in Co. Clare. Along with a folk park showcasing typical life in 19th-century Irish homes and villages, Bunratty Castle’s restored 15th-century tower house is furnished in artifacts and offers a nightly castle banquet. (Here’s a list of ten castles in Ireland definitely worth your time.)
All of these Ireland vacation experiences can fit into a week’s trip to the Emerald Isle. Ready to learn how to do it? With Virgin Vacations, you can book a package which includes your flights, hotels and car rental all in one, perfect for a road-trip around Ireland. Or you can join a variety of tour itineraries exploring all of these great destinations and more.