1. The Wild Atlantic Way
Every Royal Visit needs a majestic backdrop, and Ireland’s dramatic Wild Atlantic Way certainly fits the bill. At 2,500km (1,500 miles), it’s the longest defined coastal touring route in the world, winding its way down the west coast from the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal to the pretty fishing village of Kinsale, County Cork. Expect untamed beauty at every turn, and a journey that follows that thrilling line where land and sea collide.
One standout along the way is the Burren, County Clare, a stunning limestone landscape home to the smallest of Ireland’s six national parks. It’s popular among rock-climbers and cavers and is thought to have inspired author JRR Tolkien when writing The Hobbit.
2. Sligo and Yeats’ Country
Sligo, lovingly referred to as Yeats’ Country, is the setting of some of WB Yeats’ greatest poems. This year, Ireland is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth with a year-long series of events entitled Yeats150. The Nobel prizewinner’s remains were buried at Drumcliffe Church, since his wish was to rest “under bare Ben Bulben’s head” at the foot of Ireland’s most distinctive mountain. His father John and brother Jack were also creatively inclined. World-renowned painters, their work can be viewed in The Model in Sligo town, a contemporary art centre built in 1862.
3. County Galway
This wonderful county has a deserved reputation for artistic creativity and an up-tempo vibe. Its backdrop includes crenellated castles, boutique hotels, historic universities and leading Irish theatre.
Lough Cutra Castle, designed by John Nash (of Buckingham Palace fame) boasts a 1,000-acre lake and unspoiled woodlands in rural Galway. The city’s National University of Ireland was first established as a Queen’s College in 1845, and several of its graduates went on to establish the Druid Theatre, one of the best-known theatre companies in the English-speaking world, and celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
There are also great places to stay in the city, like the boutique and beautiful House Hotel at the heart of the city’s Latin Quarter.
4. Elegant homes: Mount Stewart and Hillsborough Castle
County Down boasts two of the most elegant mansions on the entire island: Mount Stewart and Hillsborough Castle. The neo-classical Mount Stewart is an 18th century house and garden, situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough, and listed as one of the top 10 gardens in the world by the Daily Telegraph.
Hillsborough Castle is a late Georgian mansion built in the 1770s by Wills Hill, first Marquis of Downshire. Today, it’s the official residence of the Royal Family when in Northern Ireland.
5. Landscapes straight from the realm of fantasy
The timeworn ruins and rugged landscapes of Northern Ireland seem to spark creativity in those who see them. Take the imposing Mourne Mountains in County Down. They were named by CS Lewis as his inspiration for fantasy the land of Narnia. Meanwhile, Jonathan Swift looked at Cave Hill outside Belfast and saw not a rugged outcrop of rock, but the sleeping giant he would immortalise in Gulliver’s Travels.
Then there’s HBO’s worldwide hit series, Game of Thrones, which chose Northern Ireland and its stunning landscapes as one of its key filming locations. In fact, everyone from Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney to playwright Samuel Beckett used their surroundings on this beautiful island to inspire their art.
6. Titanic Experience
The tale of tragic Titanic spread to every corner of the globe in 1912. It’s a story that still captivates the world, a story that began in Belfast. It’s here that Titanic’s soul, story and sorrow are etched not just on the city, but in the history books.
On the site of the original Edwardian-era dock, you’ll find the vast shimmering Titanic Belfast. It impressed James Cameron, director of Titanic, who said: “It’s really quite phenomenal. It’s a magnificent, dramatic building; it’s the biggest Titanic exhibition in the world.”
7. The Year of Irish Design 2015
Ireland may be best known for its unspoiled coastline, exciting foodie scene and welcoming people, but there’s a lot more to this creative island. Like its contribution to arts and crafts, for example.
As Ireland celebrates the Year of Irish Design 2015, designers and craftspeople around the island are showcasing their distinctly Irish designs, including pottery, jewellery, clothing and more. Traditional methods that have been handed down through generations are being given a contemporary Irish twist and the result is something truly special.
Come and see for yourself at one of the many events around the island during the busy year-long schedule.