Famous Landmarks in Ireland
Ireland is known for its beautiful landscapes, rugged coastlines, lively culture and rich history. This unique combination leaves a footprint on the landscape which can be seen in the diversity of the landmarks in Ireland.
A landmark is a distinguishing natural or manmade feature, object or structure of significant aesthetic, historical or cultural importance.
In Ireland, remarkable landmarks are found throughout the country so it is difficult to narrow down the list to just a few. This post introduces you to the unmissable Irish landmarks that you will find nowhere else in the world.
Top Dublin landmarks are included in this article, as well as famous landmarks in Northern Ireland.
Please note that the numbers do not indicate any particular order or ranking. We think that all of these landmarks are well worth visiting and should be added to your bucket list!
The two, rocky, steep-sided islands off the south west coast of Ireland were once thought to be the edge of the known world. Today, the larger of the two islands, Skellig Michael (Scelig Mhichíl) is one of the most famous of all Irish landmarks for its historical and environmental importance and more recently, its otherworldly appearance in the Star Wars Episode VII “The Force Awakens”.
Sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries, the first monks settled on Skellig Michael and built the iconic bee-hive huts as part of a Christian monastery.
The isolated nature of the location, roughly 12 km off the coast of County Kerry, has helped to preserve the early Christian settlement in remarkable condition, which resulted in the island being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Both Skellig Michael and the smaller island, Little Skellig are home to protected seabirds such as Storm-petrels, Puffins, Guillimots and Kittiwakes and are important internationally recognised breeding areas.
In recent times, Skellig Michael has become even more well known due to its use as a filming location for Star Wars and the smaller of the islands, Little Skellig was also featured in the Harry Potter Film.
Due to the sensitive nature of settlement and the protected seabird colonies, visitors are only allowed to visit Skellig Michael during the summer months and strict visitor quotas apply.
If you do wish to visit, make sure you book a place on the ferry boat to Skellig Michael well in advance to ensure that you will be able to enjoy the wonder of this amazing landmark.
Skellig Michael landing tour boats depart from Portmagee, Caherdaniel or Ballinskelligs Pier in County Kerry. In Portmagee you will also find the Skellig Experience where you can learn more about Skellig Michael and its rich history.
Newgrange and Brú na Bóinne
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Brú na Boinne Complex in the Boyne Valley, County Meath. The area in and around the River Boyne has been a focal point of human settlement in Ireland for over 6,000 years, resulting in a rich archeological history.
The most famous of the Irish landmarks in Brú na Bóinne are the three passage tombs of Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange that were built about 5000 years ago during the Late Stone Age period. (Yes, they are older than the Egyptian pyramids!)
Newgrange is the one of the most recognised historical landmarks in Ireland. This neolithic monument has a unique alignment that allows sunlight to enter the burial chamber only in the days around the winter solstice.
The megalithic art on the entrance stone and the standing stones around the large mound is truly exquisite. Depictions of spirals, chevrons, triangles and arcs can be seen in the intricate ancient carvings.
The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre provides additional background and information about the site and guided tours of the passage tomb are available. It is also possible to apply there for the draw to be one of the lucky few to be inside the tomb for the occurrence of the winter solstice.
One of the things Ireland is most known for is its famous beer Guinness. It is therefore no coincidence that one of the most popular landmarks in Ireland is the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. In fact, it has been the most visited attraction in Ireland for several years with over 1.7 million visitors in 2018.
Arthur Guinness founded Guinness in 1759 and started his brewery in St. James’s Gate in Dublin, where Guinness is still produced today.
The Guinness Storehouse visitor center building is situated next to the St. James’s Gate Brewery and extends over seven floors detailing the brewing process, as well as the history and marketing concepts of this hugely successful company.
Reviews of this attraction often state that visitors highly enjoy the Gravity Bar on top of the Guinness Storehouse. This is where they will experience unbeatable views of the Dublin City skyline along with a perfect pint of the Irish “Black Stuff”, if they so wish.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are undoubtedly one of the most internationally famous Irish landmarks and a highly popular tourist attraction in Ireland.
Situated on the west coast of the country in County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher are just one of the star attractions along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal drive. The cliff edge stretches about 8 km (5 miles) along the Atlantic Ocean coastline coast and reaches 214 meters (702 feet) at the highest point.
The view of the towering wall of rock looks particularly stunning at sunset, when the rays of the sun illuminate the rockface.
A modern visitor center has been built to enhance the Cliffs of Moher visitor experience and provide more background and information about the geography and geology of the area.
Due to their unique geology the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher have been designated a UNESCO Global Geopark.
Visitors often plan a day tour to the Cliffs of Moher in combination with a visit to the nearby Burren. Tour buses to the Cliffs of Moher depart daily from the main cities including Dublin, Galway and Cork.
The cliffs have also been used as filming locations for both Harry Potter and the Princess Bride movies.
Ha’Penny Bridge Dublin
The Ha’Penny Bridge is arguably one of Dublin’s best loved landmarks and one of Ireland’s best known bridges. Built in 1816, this iconic pedestrian bridge spans the River Liffey.
The cast iron bridge arches elegantly 3 meters over the river, has a 43 meters span and is 3.5 meters wide. Decorative lamp posts add to the special charm to this landmark.
It was built by the Liffey ferry operator William Walsh, who decided to construct a bridge rather than repair his aging ferries. A toll of half a penny was charged to cross the bridge until about 1919, hence the name “Ha’Penny”. The official name of the bridge is the Liffey Bridge.
As the bridge is very centrally located in Dublin City and close to Temple Bar, it is popular with tourists, as well as Dubliners alike with tens of thousands of people traveling across it each day.
Movies such as Far and Away (1992) and Michael Collins (1996) also feature this bridge.
Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren
The Poulnabrone Portal Dolmen is an iconic landmark located on the karst limestone pavement of the Burren, County Clare. Undoubtedly this megalithic monument is one of the most famous of Irish portal tombs and is designated a National Monument of Ireland.
Not only is the structure of the monument highly impressive, but the lunar-like rocky surroundings make it a very striking feature on the landscape and a popular destination for tourists and photographers alike!
The portal dolmen of Poulnabrone stands almost 2 meters tall and has a capstone roughly 3.5 meters in length. It consists of upright stones and topped by a slanted capstone. The large stone behind the tomb is thought to have been another capstone that has since collapsed.
Given the basic tools and equipment (ropes, pulleys and ramps etc.) that were available at the time this was built, it is even more impressive that such portal stones could be maneuvered into place and still remain standing to the present day.
In 1986, the Poulnabrone dolmen site was excavated and the human remains of about 22 individuals, both adults and children were found in the burial chamber. Along with the remains, other ancient artifacts such as pendants, beads, a polished stone axe and pottery were found in the burial chamber.
Situated in the south west of Ireland, a short distance outside Cork City is the Blarney Castle, home of the internationally famous Blarney Stone. Originally dating back to about 1200, the castle has a rich history and was occupied by Cormac MacCarthy, the King of Munster in the 12th century.
Many tourists travel especially to Cork to visit this popular Irish tourist attraction. The experience of kissing the Blarney Stone, by hanging backwards over a high drop, is one of the main highlights. All of those who complete this act of aerial acrobatics is said to receive the gift of eloquence for life…. Try it for yourself and see!
Furthermore, the grounds surrounding the castle are exceptionally well maintained and a wonderful place to explore. There are several different gardens including an arboretum, Poison Garden and a Fern Garden.
Trinity College Dublin and the Book of Kells
On College Green, right in the center of Ireland’s capital is Trinity College Dublin, the oldest university in the country. The beautiful 18th-century monuments and buildings, as well as gardens and sports grounds make the university a lovely place to wander around and explore.
Former Trinity students include Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, as well as the female presidents of Ireland Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese to name but a few.
The Book of Kells is probably one of the highlights of Trinity College Dublin, with hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to see this unique medieval illuminated manuscript each year.
Thought to date back to about the 8th century, this national treasure was kept for many years in the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, hence its name.
It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament exquisitely decorated with illustrations and ornamentation. The Chi Rho page and the cover page of each of the Gospels are exceptionally ornately decorated.
In addition to viewing the manuscript itself, visitors also have access to the Long Room, arguably one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. The old library has a wooden barrel vaulted ceiling and its rows of bookshelves and busts are remarkably striking.
Rock of Cashel
For more than 1,000 years, the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary has been a site of great importance in Ireland and it is now one of the highlights of Ireland’s Ancient East historical trail.
The rocky outcrop commands excellent views over the lower lying areas, making it a very strategic location that was once the seat of the Kings of Munster. It is even said to be the spot that Saint Patrick converted King Aenghus to Christianity.
Around the 12th century, the site was given to the church and over the following centuries the number of buildings at the location continued to expand.
They include a round tower (unfortunately not accessible to the public), as well as an architecturally significant 12th century Romanesque chapel, a 13th century cathedral, a 15th century Tower House and the Hall of the Vicars Choral.
A wander around the nearby less well known, but highly impressive Hore Abbey, as well as Cashel town is also worth it.
Dún Aonghasa on the Aran Islands
Off the west coast of County Galway lie the three islands of Inis Mór (Inishmore), Inis Meáin (Inishmaan) and Inis Oírr (Inisheer), known collectively as the Aran Islands.
The largest of these islands, Inis Mór, is home to one of the most impressive promontory forts in the world, Dún Aonghasa. This prehistoric stone fort is literally perched on the edge of a cliff edge 100 meters above the crashing waves of the wild Atlantic Ocean.
Earliest settlement at Dún Aonghusa is thought to date back over 3,000 years. The structure has been modified and fortified through the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Originally, the fort was probably oval in shape, but over time parts have collapsed into the sea, giving it its current D-shape.
The defence system of the fort consists of four concentric walls that are up to 4 meters thick in places. The outermost wall encompasses an area of about 6 hectares (14 acres), making it a large ruin by prehistoric standards.
In addition to the walls, there is also a field of up-right rocks, known as a “Cheval de frise”. While some of the walls and steps have been restored, other parts, including the up-right rock field are very well preserved.
As well as having a tour of this heritage site, it is really worth spending some time exploring the unique scenery and culture of the Aran Islands.
The rocky landscape, somewhat similar to the Burren in County Clare, is framed by miles and miles of stone walls. The Irish playwright, John Millington Synge, was particularly fond of the islands. During his visits, he collected folklore and learned Irish, which is still predominantly spoken on the islands today.
The Spire of Dublin
One striking landmark in Dublin City centre is “The Spire” or the “Monument of Light” (“Túr Solais” in Irish). This stainless steel, needle shaped monument stands 120 meters tall, with the base measuring 3 meters in diameter and the apex just 15 centimeters.
An international competition was held to select the design for the monument, which was won by the London-based Ian Ritchie Architects.
It is a relatively modern addition to the Dublin skyline having been completed in January 2003. Situated on O’Connell Street at the site of the former Nelson Pillar, this landmark has pride of place in the capital.
As usual, the Dubliners were quick to christen the monument with some creative monikers such as the “Spike” and the “Stiletto in the Ghetto”.
Killarney National Park, County Kerry
In the south west of Ireland lies County Kerry, home to Killarney National Park. This incredibly scenic landscape was designated as the first national park in Ireland in 1932 and recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1991.
The park is highly regarded internationally for its ecological value in terms of its flora, fauna and unique woodland areas. It has a broad diversity of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), as well as several very rare, protected species including the Killarney fern. Native red deer (as well as the non-native sika deer) are also found within the park.
Undoubtedly, the Lakes of Killarney are one of the park’s main highlights. On the shores of one of the lakes, Lough Leane, lies the idyllically situated Ross Castle.
For amazing views of the landscape that was greatly influenced by the ice age, head to Ladies View for an unparalleled vista.
In the park, there are several wonderful walking trails of different difficult levels suitable for all abilities.
Other places that should not be missed within the park include 19th century Muckross House and Gardens, Muckross Abbey and the picturesque Torc Waterfall.
Killarney town is only a short distance away from the park, as is the famous Gap of Dunloe. While in the area, it is also possible to take a trip around the Ring of Kerry, one of Ireland’s most scenic driving routes.
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
From both a historical and architectural point of Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced “jail” and often misspelled as Kilmainham Goal) played a central role in the Irish civil war.
Located near the Phoenix Park on the outskirts of Dublin City, this is definitely a very important historical landmark.
Nearly all of the main freedom fighters (such as Robert Emmet and Charles Stewart Parnell) and the rebel leaders of the Easter Rising (including Patrick Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh) were incarcerated and many executed in this prison.
In fact, Ireland’s first president, Èamonn de Valera, was one of the last prisoners to leave the prison before it closed.
In addition to its important place in Irish history, this building has also been used as a filming location for several different films, including “The Italian Job”, “In the Name of the Father” (1993) and more recently, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (2006). U2 also featured the building in their video for the song “A Celebration”.
Tours of Kilmainham Gaol museum are available, enabling visitors to learn more about the history and view the impressive interior prison architecture of this famous national monument. Be sure to book your tour a day or two in advance. Only a limited number of people are allowed per tour and this is a popular attraction.
Gallarus Oratory on Dingle Peninsula
One of Ireland’s most unusual looking landmarks is one that dates back to about the 12th century. Gallarus Oratory, on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, is a small stone building with a very distinctive appearance, thought to have been used as a small church or oratory.
Dry stone masonry was used to create a corbelled vault that resembles an upturned boat. The precise positioning of overlaid stones created sloping sides that ensure that the rain and elements are kept out of the structure.
The interior of the building is very dimly lit as the only light comes from the doorway at the entrance and a single round window on the rear wall
Kylemore Abbey, County Galway
One very photogenic Irish landmark is Kylemore Abbey in Connemara National Park, County Galway.
Built as a private home by Mitchell Henry and his wife Margaret Henry in the 19th century, the stunning Kylemore Castle is a popular attraction along the Wild Atlantic Way coastal drive. The reflections of the building in Lough Pollacapall add beauty to this particularly picturesque landmark.
In 1920, Benedictine nuns from Ypres in Belgium founded an abbey on the grounds of the castle after their own abbey was destroyed by bombing during the First World War. The gothic church and Victorian walled garden have been restored and maintained by the nuns down through the years. Kylemore Abbey was also home to a boarding school for girls until it closed in 2010.
Visitors can experience tours of the Abbey to learn more about its rich history and enjoy wandering in the gardens.
Hill of Tara, County Meath
The area in and around the Boyne Valley in County Meath was a hotspot of activity during the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. The Hill of Tara, the ancient Seat of Power of Ireland, can attest to this fact. This famous mound has a rich archeological history and is the source of many fanciful Irish myths and legends dating back over 3,000 years.
Today, the most recognizable feature of the Hill of Tara is the raised circular earthen mounds are still visible on the landscape. During its high time in the late Stone Age and early Iron Age, the Hill of Tara was the inaugural site of the High Kings of Ireland, with significant importance as an entrance to the otherworld in Pagan belief.
One of the most intriguing ancient monuments is the standing stone Lia Fáil- or Stone of Destiny, one of treasures of the Tutha de Dannan which is said to cry out when the rightful high King touches it.
In the surrounding area there are a number of other monuments also dating to this period, the oldest being a passage tomb named The Mound of Hostages. Other monuments hidden beneath the surface have been discovered using aerial photography and geophysical survey work.
More information about this fascinating ancient site can be found in the The Hill of Tara Visitor Centre.
Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin
The second of Dublin’s famous bridge landmarks is the Samuel Beckett Bridge. This contemporary bridge was opened in 2009 and links Sir John Rogerson Quay to the Docklands area of Dublin City.
The stunning design, created by the Spaniard, Santiago Calatrava, and has won several international awards. The slender design of the structure was inspired by the Irish harp, which has been the national symbol of Ireland for centuries.
At its highest point, the steel pylon reaches 46 meters (151 feet) above the River Liffey. The bridge is 124 meters (407 feet) long and 27 meters (89 feet) wide and is open both to pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The structure rotates through 90 ° degrees to allow taller vessels to pass.
It is named after the Dubliner, Samuel Becket, who was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.
Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland
Not only is the Titanic Belfast one of the most modern and interesting visitor attraction in Northern Ireland, the spectacular architecture of the building makes it one of the best Belfast landmarks.
The museum is situated on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the actual RMS Titanic vessel was built for the White Star Line Company. In a nod to the heritage of the area, this part of Belfast City has been renamed the Titanic Quarter.
Designed to resemble the prows of a ship, the elaborate Aluminium outer structure of the museum is inspired by the maritime influences.
The Titanic visitor experience is second to none, with state of the art galleries and interactive exhibits enabling you to explore the world of Titanic in depth, from the ship building process through the disastrous maiden voyage and the underwater remains.
Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim is undoubtedly a very impressive landmark and probably the best known of all the Northern Ireland landmarks. Legend has it that it was built by the Irish warrior Finn McCool in order to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner!
The 40,000 or so dark basalt columns create intricate landscapes of staircases along the Antrim coast. This natural phenomenon was created by volcanic activity over 50 million years ago.
Visitors travel from all over the world to view this incredible place and experience the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. In fact the Giant’s Causeway is the most popular attraction in Northern Ireland. It received about 1.5 million visitors in 2019.
So there you have it! We will continue to add to this list over time.