A-Z Guide to the Best of Ireland
By Melanie McDowell
Whether you are looking for a partner at the matchmaking festival of Lisdoonvarna, eyeing up a gorilla, or surfing white sandy beaches, Ireland isn’t all about the Guinness and Leprechaun stereotypes! (although you might just spot one after one too many, see P!) Without further ado, we present Ireland: A-Z…
Aran Islands: Step back in time as you explore the ancient, weather beaten islands of Inishmor, Inisheer, and Inishmaan where age-old traditions continue, just a 40 minute boat ride, yet centuries apart from Galway.
Belfast: Dublin’s less fashionable Northern sister is finally stepping into the limelight, and is well worth a visit. Take a taxi tour of the political murals revealing Belfast’s troubled past, or a boat tour of the docklands where the tragic Titanic was built.
Cliffs of Moher: These spectacular cliffs in county Clare are deservedly one of the top attractions in Ireland, but with popularity comes crowds, so make the effort to take the 10 minute walk to Hag’s Head where few others venture and you will get to appreciate the awe inspiring views in relative peace.
Dingle: The capital of the serene Dingle Peninsula is centered around an array of colorful pubs, many doubling up as shops, and most importantly a resident dolphin called Fungi who has lived in the bay for nearly 30 years!
Enniskerry & Powerscourt Estate: The village of Enniskerry nestled in the Wicklow Mountains is as picturesque a village as you will find, and its origins are down to the neighboring Powerscourt Estate which is a truly magnificent, historic pile set in stunning landscaped gardens with breathtaking views.
Farmleigh: Formerly owned by the Guinness family and now taken on by the Irish government, this is the preferred residence for royal visitors like the Queen. With its commanding position in the Phoenix Park, you can see why. For us mere mortals, we can snoop around the historic house and gardens on a free tour, or enjoy the Sunday food market.
Galway: The heart of Western Ireland has a charming, village feel with its cobbled streets and lively music scene. Galway is also home to the hugely popular horse racing festival, the Galway Races, not to be missed in August. The surrounding scenery of Connemara with its misty bogs, moody lakes, and russet mountains will conjure up the inner poet in anyone, whilst the coastline boasts some of the best beaches in the country. If this isn’t enough to get your imagination going, visit the neo-Gothic Kylemore Abbey with its stunning lakeside location.
Hurling & Gaelic Football: These national sports are fast and furious. Watching a hurling game, played with a flat ashen stick called a hurley at Croke Park stadium is an experience not to be missed.
Irish Museum of Modern Art & National Gallery: Free entry isn’t the only reason to visit Dublin’s major art galleries. The IMMA is housed in the impressive Royal Hospital at Kilmainham and boasts modern pieces from Picasso to Damien Hirst. If your tastes are less contemporary, the National Gallery has an impressive collection including a Carvaggio, and the unmissable Yeats Collection.
James Joyce: Ireland’s rich literary tradition is personified in the literary giant of James Joyce. In honor of the great man, there is a statue off O’Connell Street, the James Joyce Cultural Centre, the James Joyce Museum, and even a festival, Bloomsday commemorating Ullysses. If you are looking for a lighter hearted approach, you can always join a Literay Pub Crawl where the actor guides will reel off literary quotes from the likes of Joyce over a few pints.
Kerry: Ireland’s best loved county referred to as ‘The Kingdom’ is made of the stuff of myths and legends. With the highest mountains in Ireland, glacial lakes, and the scenic ‘Ring of Kerry’ coastal drive, this is Ireland at her best. Take a jaunting car around the Killarney lakes, a boat trip out to the puffin studded Skelligs, a horse gallop along Rossbeigh beach, or join the festivities of Puck Fair centered around a crowned goat (yes, really!)
Lisdoonvarna: This town was once a centre for matchmaking local farmers with wives. Still today, there is the annual Matchmaking Festival over September and October which is a good excuse for plenty of ‘craic‘ (good fun). This is also a great base to explore The Burren, a special conservation area of rocky, windswept beauty.
Mizen Head: This breathtaking West Cork peninsula with scatterings of vibrant villages, patchwork fields, and wild islands brings you to the most southwesterly point of Ireland. Enjoy the white sandy beach of Barleycove, a boat ride out to Cape Clear, exhilarating walks, or live music in the famous Hackett’s pub in lively Schull.
Newgrange: You cannot get more prehistoric than this Neolithic necropolis, one of the most remarkable sites in Europe dating from around 3200 BC, predating the Pyramids by 6 centuries! You can walk down the narrow passage into the tomb chamber and take in the wonder of this magnificent UNESCO Word Heritage Site.
Old Jameson Distillery: This huge museum in Smithfield is dedicated to Ireland’s second favorite tipple, whiskey (See P for favorite). Build up a taste for it during a tour explaining the distilling process, and end up in the bar for a tasting, picking up a bottle in the gift shop on your way out.
Pint of Guinness in Mulligan’s: Escape the Guinness Storehouse crowds and enjoy a pint of the famous ‘black stuff’ in the wonderfully atmospheric Mulligan’s, reputed to pour the best pint in town.
Quick stroll: Clear the head in central Stephen’s Green during your lunch break after the busker playing, shopping crowd bustle of Grafton Street.
Rugby: Get into the spirit of this popular game and watch an International match at the world class Aviva stadium, or soak up the atmosphere in one of the many surrounding pubs along Baggot Street.
Surf: Hit one of the many surf breaks on the West Coast of Ireland. Bundoran in Donegal, Strandhill and Easky in Sligo, and Lahinch in Kerry are all top surf spots where you can take lessons and rent boards, and more importantly, wetsuits!
Trinity College: Ireland’s oldest and most beautiful university is steeped in history and is well positioned in the very centre of Dublin. Be sure to visit the ancient Book of Kells housed in the Old Library, but to really appreciate its beauty, take a stroll through in the evening when the crowds have dispersed and the buildings are lit up.
U2: Missed the U2 tour? Take your own tour on the coastal DART train from Dublin to Killiney to catch a glimpse of Bono, or at least his house which in an enviable position overlooking the sea. Explore the historic village of Dalkey, and continue on to Greystones where you can walk the beautiful cliff walk to Bray.
View: Get a view of Dublin from atop the distinctive Sugar Loaf Mountain after a 7km hike to the top. Reward yourself afterwards to a well earned lunch at Dublin’s highest pub, Johnnie Fox’s.
War Memorial Gardens: Shhhh, don’t let the secret out but these are the most tranquil landscaped gardens in Dublin. Sure, Stephen’s Green, the Botanic Gardens, Merrion Square, Iveagh Gardens, and Phoenix Park all have their charms but this is where to really escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
X the Blarney Stone: Give yourself the ‘gift of the gab’ by kissing this famous stone perched on top of the 15th century Blarney Castle. The gift doesn’t come easily though, there is a steep ascent, and then you need to bend backwards over a long drop in order to kiss the stone!
Yeats country: Find inspiration as William Butler Yeats did in the lush, lake filled landscape of Sligo county, and enjoy the easy blend of culture and modernity in Sligo town.
Zoo: Visit Dublin Zoo, one of the oldest in the world set in the Phoenix Park, Europe’s largest city park, more than double the size of New York’s central park. If you want to do some free animal spotting, you can look out for deer in the park, otherwise head into the zoo for a more exotic selection of over 400 animals including tigers, elephants, and gorillas.