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Things to Do in Ireland

On the Emerald Isle, coastlines, castles, and hospitality abound. Pucker up at the Blarney Stone, sip a stout in a thatched-roof pub or after a tour of the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, or feel the icy blast of the Atlantic at the Cliffs of Moher. Indisputable highlights include the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway, with its mysterious rows of hexagonal columns; the culture-rich cities of Galway and Cork; and the natural wonders contained by the Ring of Kerry. Roughly 300 miles long, the island can easily be explored end to end, with live music, ancient ruins, and traditional watering holes never too far away from any stop.
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Cobh Heritage Centre (The Queenstown Story)
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2 Tours and Activities

The port town of Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown, was the departure point for millions of Irish emigrants who left the country between 1848 and 1960. Housed in the town’s Victorian train station, the Cobh Heritage Centre chronicles the often-heartbreaking journeys of Irish emigrants during the Great Famine and beyond.

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House of Waterford Crystal
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1939
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Waterford Crystal, the prestigious brand behind New York City’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball and the chandeliers at Westminster Abbey, was founded back in 1783. These days, the public can visit the main crystal factory complex to observe skilled craftsmen blowing the molten crystal or browse a collection of dazzling crystal pieces.

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Killarney National Park
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Killarney National Park, with idyllic lakes and ancient woodlands backed by the serrated MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, is an area of stunning natural beauty. The park is also historically significant, with two heritage buildings on-site: Ross Castle, a 15th-century fortress-turned-hotel, and Muckross House, a stately Victorian estate.

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Gallarus Oratory
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10 Tours and Activities

Gallarus Oratory is Ireland's best preserved early Christian church. The exact year of its construction is not known, but it is believed to be more than a thousand years old. The church is located five miles from Dingle Town on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland. It was constructed entirely from dry stone masonry and resembles an overturned boat. This church is one of the highlights of the scenic Slea Head Drive. Along the scenic drive, visitors will also see views of Smerwick Harbor, the Three Sisters and Mount Brandon.

Visitors will be able to see a church that has not been restored because it hasn't needed to be. The stones were carefully fitted together without the use of mortar, and aside from a small sag in the roof, the construction has held up for centuries. You can enter the oratory through a 6.5 foot doorway, and there are two stones with holes that once held a door. The nearby visitor center shows a 15 minute audio-visual presentation about the Gallarus Oratory, and there is a gift shop.

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Sky Road
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Even though it’s only seven miles long, Clifden’s Sky Road feels like a journey through all of Connemara and time. When driving this winding, rural road, views look down on the town of Clifden and its two iconic spires—which is a view you’re sure to see on any postcard of Western Ireland or Connemara. Behind the town are the 12 Bens hills, standing brown, rugged, and proud, and as the drive loops around away from town, views stretch out to the offshore islands and the open Atlantic Sea. Aside from the sweeping landscape views, ancient castles and historic mansions are around every bend in the road. At the 19th century Clifden Castle—built in a Gothic style—visitors can walk the dirt road that leads right up to the castle. Another stroll is up Memorial Hill and offers famous view of Clifden, and by turning uphill at the fork in the road, the drive climbs past the old Coast Guard station to 500 feet above sea level. There is a small parking lot near the road’s summit, where whitewashed cottages appear as flecks on the misty, wave battered coast. The Sky Road has often been called one of Ireland’s most scenic drives, and seeing as it’s just a short loop from Clifden, is an Irish road trip that any Connemara visitor with a car can enjoy.

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Westport House and Gardens
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Said to be one of Ireland’s most beautiful estates, Westport House and Gardens is a heritage attraction on the country’s west coast. With more than 30 rooms open to the public, the 18th-century home offers guided tours telling the story of its owners and connection to Grace O’Malley, the famed pirate queen.

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Ross Castle
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A vision on the shores of Lough Leane, the 15th-century Ross Castle was built as a medieval fortress for an Irish chieftain named O’Donoghue, and was said to be one of the last strongholds to fall to the brutal English Cromwellian forces in the mid-16th century. The ruin has been restored, and features lovely 16th- and 17th-century furniture.

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Blasket Islands
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6 Tours and Activities

Off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, a group of abandoned sandstone islands rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. For hundreds of years, the Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodai) were home to an Irish-speaking population; however, in 1953 the Irish government decided that, due to their isolation, the islands were too dangerous for habitation and ordered a mandatory evacuation.

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Ring of Beara
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The Ring of Beara is a circular road around the Beara Peninsula in southwest Ireland. It follows the coast and is about 85 miles around. The road begins in Kenmare in Kerry County, and you can go in either direction around the loop. The road passes through several small villages along the way, including Castletownbere, Bonane, Lauragh, Ardgroom, Eyeries, and Allihies. You can also see mountainous landscapes, jagged cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, and herds of sheep.

The Uragh Stone Circle, a neolithic stone circle with some stones reaching almost 10 feet tall, is also located along this journey. A few islands are located just off the coast of the peninsula. One in particular is Dursey Island which is reachable by cable car. Healy Pass offers the best viewing point on the Beara Peninsula. A rock tunnel called Caha Pass connects Kenmare to Glengarriff in Cork County. There is also a 122 mile walking trail for those who would rather take it slowly and see the area on foot.

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Rock of Cashel
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1704

The fifth-century home of the kings of Munster, the Rock of Cashel—or St. Patrick’s Rock, as it’s also known—is now home to a collection of religious monuments, including a roofless medieval cathedral and a 12th-century chapel. Set atop an elevated knoll, the site commands excellent views over the green, grassy Irish countryside.

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More Things to Do in Ireland

Wild Atlantic Way

Wild Atlantic Way

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27 Tours and Activities

Zigzagging along Ireland’s west coast, the 2,175-mile (3,500-kilometer) Wild Atlantic Way driving route shows off some of the country’s most thrilling coastal scenery. From the wave-battered sea cliffs of Slieve League and Moher to edge-of-the-world archipelagos such as the Skelligs and the Aran Islands, this route is a visual feast.

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St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower

St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower

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The vast Gothic cathedral of St. Canice is named in honor of a sixth-century Irish abbot and preacher and sits on the site of a church dating right back to that time. Completed in 1285, it is a prominent landmark in the charming – and tiny – Irish city of Kilkenny, which in the sixth century was the main settlement of the ancient Kingdom of Ossary. The town grew to be a Catholic center of some importance in Ireland, which explains the presence of the country’s second-largest cathedral. Complete with rose windows and slender spires, the exterior of the cathedral is built of limestone, and on sunny days its interior is aglow with light that sparkles on the patterned marble floors from the stained-glass windows. Among its treasures are several unusual 17th-century tomb chests and the reputed stone throne of St Kieran, a fifth-century bishop. St. Canice also houses the Great War Memorial List, containing the names of all Irishmen who died in World War I.

The slender, 98.5-foot (30-meter) round tower adjacent to the church was built in the ninth century and originally acted as a look-out tower to protect the residents of Kilkenny and their precious religious sites. It can be climbed by a steep internal stairway for views over the medieval rooftops of the city center.

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Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

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Towering 702 feet (214 meters) above the Atlantic Ocean at their highest point and stretching for 5 miles (8 kilometers) along the water, the famed Cliffs of Moher define the rugged west coast of Ireland. They're also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, with tours available from Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Killarney, and Doolin.

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Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

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The Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the area draws thousands of tourists each year who come to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.

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Bishop's Palace

Bishop's Palace

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The Bishop’s Palace is one of the three museums known as the Waterford Treasures located in the Viking Triangle in Waterford, Ireland. It was designed in 1741 by architect Richard Castles, one of Ireland’s greatest architects. The front of the palace overlooks the town wall, which forms part of the palace’s terraced garden. The ground floor and first floors of the palace are furnished as an elegant 18th century townhouse and feature period furniture, beautiful fireplaces and rare paintings.

The museum tells the history of Waterford from 1700 to the mid-20th century, with an entire floor dedicated to stories about Waterford’s Home Rule story, World War I in Waterford and the War of Independence in Waterford. It also displays unique pieces such as the Penrose Decanter, the oldest surviving piece of Waterford Crystal, dating to 1789, and the only surviving Bonaparte “mourning cross,” one of just 12 crosses produced upon Napoleon’s death in 1821.

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Powerscourt Waterfall

Powerscourt Waterfall

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Tumbling an impressive 397 feet (121 meters) into scenic parkland, Powerscourt Waterfall is one of Ireland’s tallest falls. Nature trails lead through trees, including giant redwoods, that house a wealth of birdlife. The site also has a children’s playground, a snack kiosk in season, and restroom facilities.

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Powerscourt Estate

Powerscourt Estate

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Home to two golf courses, a luxury hotel, a Palladian-style country house, and Ireland’s highest waterfall, the 25-square-mile (64-square-kilometer) Powerscourt Estate has no shortage of attractions. The landscaped gardens, with their cascading terraces, lakes, and follies, are, however, the greatest draw to this sight in County Wicklow.

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Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poulnabrone Portal Tomb)

Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poulnabrone Portal Tomb)

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The Burren area of County Clare offers more questions than answers. It’s a vast countryside of karst limestone and millennia of human existence, and a place that leaves you shaking your head at the mysteries it holds inside. At a place like ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen (also known as the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb for the two thin, vertical portal stones that support its 12-foot capstone) the first question that arises is how it was built in the first place. Dating to Ireland’s Neolithic period, the dolmen structure is estimated to be over 5,000 years old. When the area was excavated in 1985 to repair a crack in a stone, the remains of over 25 people—including adults, children, and an infant—were found buried by the Poulnabrone Dolmen, and along with items such as a stone axe and bone pendants, helped to date the portal tomb to around 3,600 BC. Today, when visiting this mystical and ancient site in the fields of County Clare, there’s a profound sense of historical unknown that’s held in the silence of the stones.

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Howth

Howth

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This quaint fishing village on the Howth Head peninsula draws Dublin day-trippers with its rich seafaring history, dramatic cliffs, and medieval landmarks. Highlights include Howth Castle, St. Mary’s Abbey, the National Transport Museum, and a bustling market stocked with souvenirs and fresh produce.

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Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

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Set on the banks of the River Ratty, this imposing 15th-century castle has been immaculately restored and is filled with period furnishings. The estate encompasses a re-created 19th-century village where visitors can explore typical rural dwellings and businesses, as well as observing demonstrations of traditional jobs and crafts.

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Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín)

Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín)

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The lake-studded glacial valley known as the Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín) is wedged between County Kerry’s Purple Mountain and MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range. The rugged natural scenery along the 7-mile (11-kilometer) paved mountain pass made it a magnet for sublime-seeking, 19th-century, Romantic writers such as William Thackeray and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who waxed lyrical about its beauty. Despite its popularity, the landscape remains as unspoiled as ever.

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The Burren

The Burren

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Covering an area of more than 115 square miles (300 square kilometers), the Burren is a vast, otherworldly expanse of scarred and fissured limestone rock, naturally sculpted through acidic erosion. Though it may look barren from afar, this rocky plateau is anything but lifeless. In spring and summer, wildflowers and rare plants thrive here.

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Aran Islands

Aran Islands

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Set off Ireland’s craggy, wind-battered Atlantic coast on the western edge of Europe, this trio of sparsely populated and starkly beautiful islands is a stronghold of traditional Irish culture. The Aran Islands’ jagged coastal cliffs enclose a patchwork of green fields, where the remnants of ancient stone forts and medieval churches can be seen, while in their one- and two-pub towns, locals trade gossip in Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) and traditional music sessions last well into the night.

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Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

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Dublin Castle has served many functions since it was built by King John of England in 1230. Originally a defense center against Norman invaders and the seat of the English government, it has since also been the site of the Royal Mint and police headquarters. Today, the castle grounds attract visitors and function as a venue for Irish government functions and ceremonies.

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