From legendary castles and iconic lighthouses to Neolithic monuments and medieval abbeys, get up close and personal with the island's unique history
Welcome to a land where history is alive and kicking. You can see it in the ruins of medieval fortresses as they rise up dramatically on the horizon. You can feel it when you trace your fingers over megalithic spirals carved into millennia-old monuments. And you can hear it, maybe as an expert tour guide regales you with a tale of high kings and pirate queens, or maybe it's a whisper carried on the wind, across rolling green fields.
Shh... do you hear that? This ancient land is calling!
Cities of old
In Ireland, you don't have to go far to answer the call. Fly into Dublin or Belfast and there is a wealth of historic landmarks waiting to be explored.
Don't miss Trinity College Dublin, a beautiful university campus dating back to 1592. Wander the beautiful cobbled squares – made famous in the recent TV hit, Normal People – and stop into the Old Library and the Book of Kells. History buffs should visit Kilmainham Gaol to hear tales of Ireland's foremost political prisoners. And both St Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedrals are must-sees for pilgrims.
In Belfast, uncover the city's incredible Titanic history at the Edwardian-era Thompson Dry Dock and see where the ill-fated "Ship of Dreams" was built. The nearby Titanic Belfast museum is unmissable – a shimmering shell built in the shape of the famous ship. Inside, expect gantry rides, an underwater cinema show, and cabin recreations.
Elsewhere, the classical Renaissance style of Belfast City Hall is a sight to behold and the 19th century Botanic Gardens features a cast-iron Palm House which evokes the city's Victorian past in some style.
As for other cities around the island, walk on Derry~Londonderry's 400-year-old city walls, explore the 17th century star-shaped Elizabeth Fort in Cork, and stroll along Kilkenny's Medieval Mile.
Brú na Bóinne
With three awe-inspiring ancient wonders – Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth – this UNESCO World Heritage Site on the banks of the River Boyne is a marvel.
Castles of dreams
Ireland and castles go together like bacon and cabbage or Bono and The Edge! You'll find them dotted all around the island, from cliff-top ruins such as Dunluce Castle on the Causeway Coastal Route, to 5-star stunners such as Dromoland Castle in County Clare.
They also cover vast periods of history. Go medieval at King John's Castle on the shores of the River Shannon in Limerick city. Check out Trim Castle in County Meath for an Anglo-Norman powerhouse. And visit Belfast Castle on the slopes of Cave Hill for a 19th century Scottish Baronial style beauty. Whichever castle you visit, it'll have its own rich and storied history to tell.
On a similarly large scale, Ireland's big houses are captivating landmarks in their own right. Sites of elegance and grandeur from a time past, they make a great location for a day out or a weekend away.
Don't miss Bantry House in West Cork, which is gorgeously situated beside Bantry Bay. Clonalis House in County Roscommon is a cosy retreat, deep in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. And Newforge House in County Armagh is a 5-star country house offering next-level luxury mixed with family-run warm hospitality – a winning combination!
Historic house stays
Majestic manors, luxurious houses, country retreats... fall asleep surrounded by living history in accommodation unique to the island of Ireland.
Ireland's early Christian history has also left an indelible mark on the island's landscape. Dating from the late 5th century, the ruined monastic settlement of Monasterboice in County Louth features the tallest high cross in Ireland! Whereas Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, which dates from the mid-6th century, was once a bastion of religion and learning in Europe.
Round towers are also a prominent feature of early religious sites in Ireland. One of the finest examples is to be found at Glendalough in County Wicklow. It's believed that these imposing structures were used as bell towers. But some suggest they also provided safe shelter for Irish monks during Viking raids!
Monks built many communities on the island of Ireland which can still be explored today. Perhaps the most stunningly located one is Skellig Michael off the coast of County Kerry. So eye-catching a site, it was used as a filming location for Star Wars.
Other worthy contenders are Jerpoint Abbey in County Kilkenny and Inch Abbey in County Down, both ruined Cistercian monasteries, the latter of which starred as one of the Northern Ireland filming locations for Game of Thrones®.
5 great hidden gems
It's not every day that you can take a boat or kayak tour on a glistening lake to explore a fairytale-like castle. But on Lough Oughter, you can!
This tranquil stop on St Patrick's trail is where the saint established his first place of Christian worship in Ireland. A sacred site.
This monument to Viking Waterford now houses exhibitions and a museum featuring Viking swords, jewellery, and more.
Enjoy a guided tour of the 400-year-old house or explore the 400-acres of woodland walks, gardens, and forest trails.
Certified by Guinness World Records as the oldest pub in Ireland – dating back to 900AD – stop for a drink in this legendary watering hole.
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Here are some great articles to get you started...
Rock of Cashel - St. Patrick's RockVisit website
Kilmainham GaolVisit website
Devenish Island Monastic SiteVisit website
The National Famine Museum | Strokestown ParkVisit website
Queen's University BelfastVisit website
Mussenden Temple & Downhill DemesneVisit website
Dunluce CastleVisit website
Poulnabrone Portal TombVisit website
King John's CastleVisit website
Bantry House & GardenVisit website
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre - Newgrange and KnowthVisit website
Hook Lighthouse & Visitor CentreVisit website
Rock of Cashel - St. Patrick's Rock
The Rock of Cashel, found in County Tipperary is an iconic ecclesiastical site and one of Ireland’s top attractions. The group of medieval buildings are located near the centre of Cashel Town and offer stunning vistas of the surrounding farmlands.
Before its closure in 1924, Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol housed some of the most famous political and military leaders in Irish history. The prison is considered a must see in Dublin and offers a panoramic insight into some of the most profound, disturbing and inspirational themes of modern Irish history. Pre booking online is essential.
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre - Newgrange and Knowth
The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre is the access point for guided tours of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth—Ireland’s world-famous Neolithic monuments in County Meath. All admissions are processed through the visitor centre, which also features exhibitions.