All around Ireland
Take to the roads less travelled, and the places well loved. Visit sky-high cliffs and relax in the warm welcomes you’ll receive in our buzzing towns and villages
Every day of this trip around the island of Ireland is packed with suggestions of what you can see and do in that area. Some days you may want to fit it all in, others you may just prefer to stick around the one place… the choice is yours. To help you decide, here's our pick of the highlights you can enjoy!
Take some time to explore Dublin city before heading southbound to Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, a perfect example of the majestic sights to be found in Ireland's Ancient East.Explore Day 1
Dublin: surprising by nature
Enjoy the architectural beauty of Trinity College Dublin and its Long Room Library – home to the illuminated gospel from the 9th century, the Book of Kells. Then head for the Viking fortress of Dublin Castle, and the treasure-trove of artefacts held in the Chester Beatty Library.
If you have more time, explore Dublin's significant history one step at a time with the Dublin Discovery Trails app – a series of walks celebrating the city’s incredible and storied past.
Wicklow's magical garden
Set amongst 47 acres of stunning gardens and voted the third best in the world by National Geographic, the walled gardens and ornamental lakes of the historic 18th century Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow exude serenity. Your reward for successfully negotiating the steps to the top of the Pepperpot Tower (modelled on a pot from Lord Powerscourt's dining table) is the incredible view.
Eat up at the onsite Avoca Terrace Café, which overlooks the beautiful views of Ireland’s Ancient East. If you have more time, visit nearby Glendalough, a haven of serenity and peace within the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
Walk the cobbled streets of Kilkenny and discover the intriguing Butler family legacy, a cathedral’s exquisite stained glass windows and a witch who got away.Explore Day 2
Where modern and medieval meet
Surrounded by a network of maze-like alleyways and lanes, the architectural brilliance of Kilkenny Castle stands dramatically on the River Nore, dominating the city’s skyline. Take the short trip to St Canice's Cathedral, pick up a hurling stick and play like a local at the Ultimate Hurling Experience and have a taste of the oldest ale in the land at the Smithwick’s Experience Kilkenny!
Maybe even time your trip right to join the Kilkenny Arts Festival every August! Take a trip to the Medieval Mile Museum one of Kilkenny’s newest visitor attractions located in the city, which tells the story of Kilkenny through fascinating monuments and artefacts. The city is also known for its buzzing music scene at places like Matt the Millers and Kyteler's Inn – the latter owned by Dame Alice Kyteler, the first person in Ireland to be accused of witchcraft.
If you have more time, rest a while at Kilkenny's Mount Juliet Estate, named after a 16-year old bride back in the 1750s, it's also home to the Michelin Star Lady Helen Restaurant.
Discover the heritage of Ireland's oldest city, Waterford, and then follow the Copper Coast to the harbour town of Cobh.Explore Day 3
Waterford, the original Viking City
Although they have a reputation as pillagers, the Vikings were also builders. Waterford is famously a Viking city, founded in 914. Take the Waterford Viking Triangle tour, visit the King of the Vikings virtual reality experience and see the 12th century Reginald’s Tower, where you'll find weapons from a Viking grave and the Waterford kite brooch. The Vikings knew what they were doing: their city grew to become a busy medieval port that traded across Europe.
The city is also known for its crystal. Witness the master craftsmanship that has enchanted the world for centuries at the House of Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre. If you have more time, don’t leave Waterford without tucking into the famous Waterford blaa. Introduced by the Huguenots in 1690, the blaa is a soft bread roll unique to Waterford city.
Delve into a bygone age
In 1840, the village of Bunmahon was at the heart of the copper-mining industry. The Copper Coast Geo Park Visitor Centre, County Waterford, housed in an old church near the beach, reveals the area’s intriguing legacy.
You can also see the haunting remains of the industry at Tankardstown – by 1879, the miners had smelled gold in the US and the copper mines closed as locals left for foreign shores.
If you have more time, beat the hunger pangs at Aherne's Seafood Restaurant in Youghal, one of Cork’s most beautiful seaside towns and famous for being the filming location for John Huston’s Moby Dick back in 1954.
A maritime legacy
Cobh was the departure point for almost half of the six million emigrants who left Ireland for a new life. The most famous departure? Titanic, on her ill-fated maiden voyage. Trace the experiences of the hopeful passengers at Titanic Experience Cobh, starting in the original White Star ticket office – at the end, find out the fate of each one of the 123 passengers who boarded at this final stop.
If you've got some free time, visit the location named as Europe’s leading tourist attraction at the prestigious World Travel Awards. Dominated by the 200-year-old star-shaped fortress of Fort Mitchel, Spike Island has been through many incarnations over the course of its 1,300 years, including a monastery, a stronghold and a prison.
Make way for a city that locals call the best in the world! Pleasantly compact, Cork never piles on the stress while you're sightseeing.Explore Day 4
A city for all seasons
Onwards to the lively city of Cork, and a vast array of delights await. Easily manageable by foot, for those with a penchant for all things arthouse, the Triskel Arts Centre tops the list.
For a more unique experience, take in the eerie 19th century history and opulent Gothic and classical architecture of Cork City Gaol. Or sample some of the wares produced at the Franciscan Well Brewery, named after the site where a medieval Franciscan monastery once stood – complete with a healing well.
If you have more time, join the Cork Tasting Trail where you'll explore the Victorian English Market, which has been satisfying its patrons' appetites since 1788.
Experience a kaleidoscope of maritime adventure as you continue your journey along the Wild Atlantic Way from Kinsale to the Ring of Kerry.Explore Day 5
Tower above the crashing waves
Set your compass to the Old Head of Kinsale, at the start of the Wild Atlantic Way. With its sheer cliffs topped with that iconic striped lighthouse, the air here is a tonic. The wedge-shaped headland is part of a world-class links golf course, while sea conceals the wreckage of the tragic Lusitania, a British liner sunk by a German torpedo during World War I. Enjoy the gentle looped walk that takes you around the cliffs to a Celtic fort, built around 100BC. If you have more time, peer into the life of Clonakilty’s most famous son: aka "the Big Fella" at the Michael Collins Centre. And definitely sample some of the town’s most famous export: Clonakilty black pudding, delicious!
Whale watching and star gazing
When you visit the Mizen Head Visitor Centre, you’re connected to the mainland by an arched bridge stretching over the crashing waters, below. Do look down, though, you might spot some seals, dolphins and hump-back whales at play!
It was on Brow Head, next to the Mizen Head Peninsula, that the cast and crew filmed some of the scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. One look at the views when you arrive and you’ll know immediately why this area was chosen by location scouts. If you have more time, take a detour and enjoy the savage beauty of the Skelligs – as featured in The Last Jedi. A trip to Skellig Michael may not always be possible, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the area on the mainland.
The gateway to the Ring of Kerry
Searching for great festivals, culinary excellence and a vibrant traditional music scene? Killarney packs it all in. At the foot of MacGillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, the town is filled with energy, made all the better by the stunning County Kerry landscapes surrounding it. Before leaving this charming town, check out Quinlan's Seafood Bar or take in a trad session at Murphy's Bar until the early hours. Home to mountains, lakes, woods and waterfalls, the Killarney National Park is a world away from every day life. Travelling this direction in August? You're in for a treat as The Rose of Tralee Festival comes to town.
Prepare to be wowed by the panoramic views and dramatic walks of the Wild Atlantic Way as you travel through County Clare and on to Galway city.Explore Day 6
Lighthouses and dolphins
Follow the famous Loop Head Peninsula Drive, and you're at the place where the sheltered Shannon Estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean, and in sight of a lighthouse at the edge of the world. This is Loop Head, where the views stretch out to the Blasket Islands in Kerry, and spotting dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds is commonplace.
Take a boat trip with Dolphinwatch to see Europe's largest group of bottlenose dolphins in this EU Special Area of Conservation; or taste freshly smoked organic salmon and discover how salmon is smoked at the Burren Smokehouse. While in the Burren, make sure to learn about the vibrant life of Ireland’s most unique landscape at the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark.
If you have more time, Lahinch is a buzzing location filled with colourful characters and hip food joints. With the sound of the ocean in your ears, tackle the breathtaking and well-worn Doolin Cliff Walk, or visit the atmospheric Gus O'Connor's pub in Doolin to hear some of the best traditional musicians this cultural region has to offer.
The cliffs of more adventure
The imposing Cliffs of Moher wind in and out over a stretch of more than 8km along County Clare's coastline. This unmissable attraction is also home to a plethora of birdlife: razorbills, kittiwakes and even the odd peregrine falcon. From May to July, thousands of brightly coloured puffins nest of the famous cliffs above the savage waves below, creating an incredible spectacle for visitors.
The City of Tribes
At the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way lies the uber-cool bohemian melting pot of Galway city, an oasis for artists and festival-goers. From music and horseracing to literature and top-notch seafood, the City of Tribes delivers in spades through a plenitude of buzzing bars, traditional pubs and chic restaurants. History buffs should visit the Galway City Museum or soak up the medieval atmosphere of the Spanish Arch. In July, you can join the fun at the Galway International Arts Festival, one of Europe’s leading international creative events.
With its sandy beaches, walking trails and rich heritage of Irish language and culture, this journey from Galway to Mayo is authentic Ireland at its finest.Explore Day 7
A place to fall in love
As you set off along the Wild Atlantic Way to Connemara in County Galway, make sure you follow the signposts for Kylemore Abbey, home to the Benedictine nuns since 1920. Visit the restored rooms of the Abbey and learn about the love story of the Abbey's original owners, which is rooted in this spot.
Make sure to visit the Victorian Walled Garden. Shirley Lanigan, author of The 100 Best Gardens of Ireland, has mused: "Any garden that can hold its own against such a backdrop must be impressive." And the formal garden beds of Kylemore are no exception.
If you have more time, take on a spiritual – and physical – pilgrimage by climbing the scree-covered slopes of Mayo’s Croagh Patrick, with its heart-stopping views over Clew Bay. Then head to Westport, and Matt Molloy's pub, where a night of traditional music is almost guaranteed.
A bridge to another world
A visit to otherworldly Achill Island at the western tip of County Mayo is akin to entering some magical time warp, where the simplicity of life from days gone by has been retained.
Drive the narrow coast road to Keem Strand and gaze at the grand sea-cliffs and lush sandy beaches. On your way back, visit Lílí Bán’s seaside shack for a coffee by Keel Beach.
The isolated landscape, country roads and wild coastline make Sligo and Donegal must-see locations for lovers of dramatic seascapes and local adventure.Explore Day 8
The rugged northern coast is regarded by surfers as one of the world’s major big wave locations for cold water surfing. The County Donegal town of Bundoran – listed in the top 20 surf towns in the world by National Geographic – and Sligo's Mullaghmore Head are testament to the region’s worldwide appeal.
But it’s not just world-class surfing here: head to Classiebawn Castle to enjoy panoramic views across Ben Bulben mountain, or visit Drumcliffe Church, the final resting place of County Sligo’s most famous wordsmiths, WB Yeats. Donegal recently topped National Geographic's Cool List. Visit Bundoran during June for the Sea Sessions Music Festival and find out why.
Visit the edge of the world
Among the highest sea cliffs in Europe, Slieve League will undoubtedly prove to be a highlight of your trip. They standing almost three times as high of their most famous County Clare sisters, the Cliffs of Moher. And only experienced hikers will brave the narrow and exposed ridge of One Man's Pass. However, you don’t need to be Edmund Hilary to enjoy the vistas on offer here. Pop into the Slieve League Cliffs Centre, a family-run halfway point packed full of history and culture, locally made knitwear and the odd traditional Irish music session.
If you have more time, head over to the Inishowen Peninsula where if the conditions are just right, you may spot the Northern Lights dancing on the horizon.
Absorb the iconic landscapes that surround the Causeway Coastal Route as it weaves between the Walled City of Derry~Londonderry and Belfast.Explore Day 9
City of culture
Connecting the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route is the Walled City of Derry~Londonderry, built as a defence for early 17th century settlers. The best way to discover the only remaining fully walled city in Ireland is on foot. Even better, take a walking tour with some of the most charming tour guides you could ever hope to meet! Derry~Londonderry is a city with a fascinating and complicated history, so get an overview with a visit to the Museum of Free Derry for the background to the city’s civil rights movement. Then head to the Siege Museum to understand the city's past and the impact those impregnable walls have had on Ireland's history.
If you have more time, visit the white sands of Portstewart's Blue Flag beach and make a date to dine at Harry’s Shack! Feeling active? Head to Portrush, and take some surfing lessons at the Alive Surf School! Or tee off on the championship course at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
A giant's tale
Continue along the Causeway Coastal Route, declared one of the best road trips in the world by CN Traveler, and you’ll pass plenty of jaw-dropping panoramas. However, there’s no doubting the major attraction is the mythic Giant’s Causeway. Up to 40,0000 basalt columns tumble down into the sea due to volcanic activity over 60 million years ago. Others call it the result of feuding giants – a tall tale that's far more fun to believe!
If you have more time, book in to cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a vertigo inducing feat that will literally take your breath away!
Experience island life
With a population of fewer than 150 people, Rathlin island manages to maintain its sense of community while welcoming visitors with open arms. It's also home to an impressive selection of seabirds as well as many legendary tales, the most famous of which concerns the Scottish King Robert the Bruce and the lessons he learned from a relentless spider when took refuge here in 1306. Before you leave the island, don’t miss a tour of the Rathlin West Light, one of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland.
Follow the coast to the peninsula of Islandmagee. Here, you should prebook a visit to The Gobbins cliff path, which wraps around the cliffs and overlooks the crashing waves below; a stunning architectural feat, given its creators erected this over 100 years ago. After all that fresh sea air, head to Larne for a delicious meal at Billy Andy's historic bar.
From the Victorian history of Belfast to the fantasy and intrigue of the Haunted Forest and County Down's Game of Thrones® locations, warm welcomes await.Explore Day 10
The Titanic city
With its iconic attractions and Victorian charm, Belfast is a city that buzzes with energy. It's here that Titanic's soul, story and sorrow are etched not just on the city, but in the history books, too. Explore its legacy at Titanic Belfast, an interactive museum dedicated the liner's story.
When it comes to nightlife, Belfast does pubs incredibly well. Check out the Crown Liquor Saloon for Victorian style, Kelly's Cellars, a stalwart since 1720, and Bittles Bar, an intriguing pub dedicated to Ireland's literary and sporting heroes.
Head south from Belfast towards Strangford Lough. On it’s eastern shore, the majestic 18th century gardens of Mount Stewart have been hailed by garden designer Fionnula Fallon as an “extraordinary mixture of grandeur, whimsy and eccentricity”.
A trip to the Haunted Forest
An amble amongst the woods at Tollymore Forest Park will leave Game of Thrones® fans tingling with excitement. One of the key filming location for the HBO series, the 600-hectare expanse contains Gothic remnants of an 18th century estate – a perfect fit for the fantastic scenery required to bring Westeros to life.
Die-hard Game of Thrones® fans should head to Castle Ward – aka home of the Stark family – and check out Winterfell Tours for banquets, archery lessons, movie location tours and glamping!
Viking heritage, gilded shrines and an UNESCO World Heritage Site: a trip through the historic east from Carlingford to the megalithic wonderland of Brú na Bóinne has a little bit of everything!Explore Day 11
Views aplenty around Carlingford
Back in Ireland’s Ancient East, the medieval village of Carlingford is framed by a twinkling stretch of water, said to have seen the footsteps of giants like Fionn MacCumhall. And the woods nearby are rumoured to be filled with leprechauns. Just ask local Leprechaun Whisperer Kevin Woods, if you don’t believe us!
Go boating, take a walking tour with a local guide – all under the watchful gaze of the Slieve Foy Mountain – or follow the Carlingford Greenway. After all this thirsty work, drop into PJ O'Hare's pub, where you'll find one of Carlingford's liveliest bars, which includes an old untouched grocery store, a blazing open fire and the perfect atmosphere in which to wind down. For one last taste of Ireland's wilder side, make a beeline for the Cooley Peninsula, home to the Cooley Distillery.
Shining a light at the Boyne Valley
In the tranquil setting of the Boyne Valley in County Meath lies one of the great treasures of the ancient world: a Neolithic passage tomb that dates back over 5,000 years – that’s older than the Pyramids of Giza. Accessible via the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Newgrange comes to life every year at the winter solstice, when sunlight passes through a small opening to illuminate the burial chamber within.
If you have more time, explore the colourful tale of the Battle of the Boyne in Oldbridge, County Meath at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre.
Tales of the unexpected
Be warned – there's a gruesome relic on show at St Peter's Church in Drogheda. The preserved head of St Oliver Plunkett, who was hung, drawn and quartered in 1681, resides inside a gilded shrine. Outside in the town of Drogheda, which was once one of the largest walled towns in medieval Ireland, your eye will be drawn to the handsome structure of St Lawrence's Gate; while Millmount Martello Tower is where the Normans established a fort in the 12th century.
As you come to the end of a magical adventure, Ireland's Ancient East throws up one last batch of fun and intrigue as you travel through horse country in County Kildare before heading back to Dublin city.Explore Day 12
Find out why Ireland adores the sport of kings with a trip to the Irish National Stud, where the winners of five horseracing classics were bred. Visit during February to June for foaling season, and you may spot a future champion among the perky youngsters.
Before wrapping up a memorable adventure and heading back to Dublin, pop into the ornate Japanese Gardens next door. If you have more time, take a detour to visit Ireland's first and largest Palladian manor. Only a 30-minute drive from Dublin, Castletown House features gorgeous river walks, lush parkland and opulent beauty. While the nearby Museum of Style Icons in Newbridge displays a host of artefacts from silver screen legends.
Round off your adventure with a trip to Kildare Village discount designer outlet for some relaxing retail therapy.