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Ireland Highlights: Must See Places for Your Bucket List

The Gap of Dunloe in Kerry.
The Gap of Dunloe in Kerry. (Photo: ©  stevegeer via Canva)

Ireland is easy to fall in love with. One of the reasons that tourists keep making return trips to the island of Ireland is because of the wide range of highlights it has to offer. 

This post hopes to give you a quick impression of just some of the main Irish highlights that await you in the Emerald Isle!

Landscape Highlights

Ireland’s stunning landscapes are undoubtedly one its main attractions. People from the United States, the UK, Germany, France and beyond come to Ireland each year to see the picturesque scenery and take some time to slow down for a while and enjoy the environment around them. 

Ireland’s Coastal Highlights

The Cliffs of Moher at sunrise.
The Cliffs of Moher at sunrise. (Photo: © Bhargava Marripati via Canva)

As an island on the western edge of Europe, Ireland has a varied coastline, featuring towering cliffs, beautiful beaches, cozy coves and charming harbors.  

The 2500 km (ca.1600 miles) Wild Atlantic Way Coastal Drive that spans the west coast of the island from Malin Head in County Donegal in the north, to Kinsale in County Cork encompasses some of the more diverse landscapes that Ireland has to offer. 

These include the impressive cliffs of Slieve League (or Sliabh Liag) County, Donegal, and the very famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Long sandy beaches with breathtaking backdrops, think along the lines of Streedagh beach in County Sligo (filming location of Normal People). As well as the expansive vistas along the Ring of Kerry loop. 

Northern Ireland has its own breathtaking coastal drive, the Causeway Coast with must-see highlights including the Giant’s Causeway, Fair head and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. 

Ireland’s Inland Highlights

Brackley Lake, County Cavan at sunset.
Brackley Lake, County Cavan is just one many spectacular lakes in the county. (Photo: © Paul O’Hanlon via Canva)

Irish coastal areas get a lot of attention, but it is worth mentioning that some of the inland areas are true hidden gems. Highlights include panoramic mountains (Macgillycuddy Reeks, Twelve Bens Mountain Range, Wicklow Mountains), waterfalls (such as Torc Waterfall, Powerscourt Waterfall and Gleninchaquin Waterfall), parks such as Lough Boura, and lakes – lots of them. 

County Cavan, Ireland’s Lake County, is thought to have 365 lakes or one for each day of the year! 

For a different view of the Irish scenery, the River Shannon (Ireland’s longest river) and the River Erne offer some very beautiful, tranquil spots that enable tourists to explore other aspects of Ireland via the waterways.

Ireland’s Natural Wonders

View of the Blasket Islands, County Kerry.
Whale, dolphins and seal are just some of the marine wildlife regularly seen off the Irish coast, like here near the Blasket Islands in County Kerry. (Photo: © Dimitry Anikin via Canva)

In addition to the amazing landscapes, Ireland also has many special wonders from the natural world. 

Encounters with Ireland’s wildlife can be utterly magical. From Ireland’s marine wildlife of whales and dolphins off the coast to the marvels of Lough Hyne, there is much to see and explore. 

The Burren in County Clare is a limestone area that has a very special mix of climate and geological factors that enable highly unusual assemblages of plants from both Alpine and Mediterranean areas to grow together. To really discover the wonder of this UNESCO Global Geopark site, it is best to get some local specialist knowledge about the area.

If you are lucky enough to encounter the rare, but mesmerizing natural spectacle of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis in Ireland, then you have hit the jackpot! 

It is important to note that flora and fauna in nature should always be respected and left alone. Please keep in mind that it is essential to leave no trace, cause no damage or interference to protect Ireland’s precious nature. 

Ireland’s Ancient Highlights

The burial tomb of Newgrange in Brú na Boinne is one of Ireland's most important Prehistoric sites.
The burial tomb of Newgrange in Brú na Boinne is one of Ireland’s most important Prehistoric sites. (Photo: © MNstudio via Canva)

When it comes to ancient treasures, Ireland is certainly well endowed. 

From the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Brú na Boinne, (home to the famous Newgrange burial tomb) and Skellig Michael off the coast, to the dizzying feats of those who built the promontory fort at Dún Aonghasa on the Aran Islands, Ireland has some remarkable ancient monuments. 

Ruins of early and late Christian settlements and monasteries are scattered throughout the country, some of which feature exquisitely carved high crosses or tall round towers that act as reminders of Ireland’s history of viking raids. 

The monastic settlements in Glendalough situated in the picturesque Wicklow National Park in County Wicklow, as well as at Clonmacnoise, County Offaly and Monasterboice, County Louth are some of the more popular sites. 

Ireland also has many castles, ranging from long forgotten ruins to luxury hotel experiences that will make you feel like royalty! Of course, there is also a very famous stone in Blarney Castle. (Tradition has it that all who kiss the stone receive the gift of the gab, or eloquence).

Cultural Highlights

Dublin on a sunny day.
Dublin on a sunny day. (Photo: © Stockbyte via Canva)

Irish cities are buzzing with culture and the small towns and villages have a special charm all of their own. The capital city of Dublin is a bustling place with an extensive variety of top class attractions to suit all tastes and holiday types. 

Cork prides itself in its gourmet culture and is home to many superb restaurants and great pubs. One city that has a particularly special vibe is Galway. The delightful, chilled atmosphere of this city is a big hit with those who visit it. 

Music is an important part of Irish culture and daily life in Ireland, be it from world famous bands (such as U2 to just name one example), to artists busking on the streets (Galway is great for this) or traditional Irish music sessions in pubs. Don’t forget about the many music festivals that take place in Ireland throughout the year as well!

As a top filming destination, Ireland is gaining more and more prominence on the world stage. Once again, Ireland and Northern Ireland can thank the island’s diverse scenery for capturing the imaginations of location scouts for some very big productions, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Green Knight and the HBO series Game of Thrones and Normal People

There is plenty more information about Irish Culture here. 

Attraction Highlights

Muckross House and Gardens in Killarney next to the lakes of Killarney.
Muckross House and Gardens in Killarney is very scenic location next to the lakes. (Photo: © Boris Breytman via Canva)

Ireland has many outstanding attractions that cater for all interests. The list could go on and on! 

(Tip: browse through the Destinations section to get a feel for some more attraction highlights by county or region.) 

For example, some of the best highlights Dublin has to offer include the Guinness Storehouse, the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI), the EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, The Book of Kells in Trinity College Dublin (for more of Dublin’s highlights that go beyond the well known sites, such as Temple Bar, check out our post on the best of Hidden Dublin)

Muckross House and Gardens on the outskirts of Killarney, County Kerry, Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway and Bunratty Castle, County Clare are firm favorites with visitors, year after year. 

Northern Ireland highlights include the Titanic Belfast experience, which delves into the making and history of the Titanic liner, Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery, the historic Walls of Derry, and Carrickfergus Castle to mention just a few.

Adventure Highlights

View of Slieve League, Co. Donegal
The hike along Slieve League is challenging and offers incredibly rewarding views. (Photo: © MNstudio via Canva)

Let’s not forget how much Ireland has to offer in terms of outdoor activities. 

It is jam packed with everything from scenic walks on long beaches and golfing, to the more adventurous coasteering and hiking (and pretty much everything in between that will keep you busy for days!)

An entire section of the Wild Atlantic Way is called the Surf Coast, thanks to the ideal surfing conditions for beginners and experienced surfers alike. 

Cycling has become more and more popular in Ireland recently and the several old railway lines have been converted into greenways that are ideal for both cyclists and pedestrians. 

The Waterford Greenway (County Waterford), Great Western Greenway (County Mayo) and Great Southern Greenway (County Limerick and County Kerry) are just some of these. Lots more are planned for the future, so continue to watch out for these new developments! 

Water related activities such as fishing, kayaking and boating are also catered for, particularly in the Midlands

To get you started, why not take a look at the Landmarks of Ireland. It is a good way to get some inspiration to plan your own Ireland travel tour!

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