30 Must-See Places and Things in Ireland
Known for its greenery, Ireland doesn’t disappoint when it comes to natural wonders. The 32,000-mile island (about the same size as the state of Indiana) is lush with cliffs, mountains, bays and more from coast to coast, plus a plethora of rich history and culture—think: castles, pubs and, yes, more castles. Here are some of the best sights to see across the Emerald Isle.
The Old Library at Trinity College
Book lovers pack into this historic book collection as soon as the doors open to view the ancient Book of Kells (a Christian gospel manuscript preserved from the ninth century) and head upstairs to a university library straight out of Hogwarts. Busts of famous (all male, but whatever) authors line the bilevel rows of wooden shelves, containing serious antique manuscripts, like Shakespeare’s first folio.
This stone medieval castle dates back to the early 1200s, when it was used as an English, and later British, government headquarters. The exterior is impressive, like something out of a historical drama. Visitors can walk through the gardens or book tours to peek into the lavish state apartments, castle chapel, Viking excavation and more.
The Irish Whiskey Museum
Located in a former pub in Dublin’s city center, this nondenominational museum (that is, it’s not associated with any single Irish whiskey distillery) gives visitors a thorough history of Irish Whiskey, showcasing the eras and people that made the spirit what it is today. Tours conclude with a tasting, of course.
That iconic Dublin picture you’ll want after you leave? It’s on the lace-like, U-shaped bridge swooping over the River Liffey, which divides the city. This bridge, the first to arch across the river, dates back to the early 19th century, when pedestrians would have to pay a “ha’penny” to cross by foot.
The best view of Dublin is found at the rooftop bar atop the Guinness Storehouse, the brewery and tourist center of Ireland’s famous stout. Seven floors up, floor-to-ceiling windows offer 360-degree views of Dublin’s architecture and surrounding hills, best enjoyed at sunset while sipping a pint of the dark, frothy stuff.
St. Stephen’s Green
The historical park and garden in the center of Dublin is the perfect spot to escape the city for a stroll in the greenery, among swans, ducks and statues that illustrate important figures in Dublin’s history.
One of the main pedestrian thoroughfares in Dublin, this shopping street is full of small shops (and now some larger chains) and restaurants as well as historic stop-offs, like the famed Molly Malone statue. Busking at the traffic-free intersections is common, with to-be-famous musicians singing and strumming guitar to a consistent crowd.
Killarney National Park
Ireland’s first national park is nearly 40 square miles in size, packed with lush plants, waterways and natural wildlife habitats. Visitors can travel by horse and buggy, hike, canoe or kayak through the grounds, trying to spot stags, bats, butterflies and more. And since we’re in Ireland, there are also castles to see.
Accessible solely via ferry from Ireland’s West Coast, this small uninhabited island is full of history and picturesque sites, ranging from Viking ruins to a medieval monastery and Victorian lighthouse.
Iveragh Peninsula (Ring of Kerry)
Located in County Kerry, the towns of Killorglin, Cahersiveen, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee (pictured), Waterville, Caherdaniel, Sneem and Kenmare are situated on this peninsula, which is also home to Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain and peak. Visitors will often refer to this area as the Ring of Kerry, or the driving route that allows guests to loop through this scenic area.
You’ll feel as if you’re coasting through the sky on this route in Clifden Bay, where you’ll ascend to panoramic views.
The Butter Museum
One of Ireland’s national treasures is its butter—rich, creamy and delightful with nearly every dish Ireland churns out. In Cork, learn more about the history and making of Irish butter at this playful museum.
This 800-year-old castle and adjoining 19th-century manor hold several claims to fame, including a stop on Kim and Kanye’s honeymoon. The historic digs turned five-star resort are gorgeous, of course, with a spa, golf course, horse stables, well-appointed dining room and lounge and more areas for guests to unwind like royalty.
Recognizable to fans of the movie Braveheart, this Hollywood-famous medieval castle is also Ireland’s oldest. The enormous stone building dates back to the 12th century, and a guided tour around the property can fill you in on some of the knight-filled history.
Famous for its signature friendship ring of the same name, this ancient fishing village in western Galway is now a quaint seaside area to explore by foot (and maybe go jewelry shopping).
Home to the famous stone of the same name, this 600-plus-year-old castle is where aspiring writers and linguists searching for eloquence must climb in order to literally bend over backward (there are supporting rails) and kiss the legendary Blarney Stone.
Dingle Peninsula and Dingle Bay
Practically a stock image scenic screensaver in the best sense possible, this surreal part of Ireland’s southwestern coast is incredibly beautiful. Visit in the summer for swimming and surfing.
Rock of Cashel
There’s a reason this medieval limestone castle atop a grassy hilltop is one of Ireland’s most-visited attractions: It’s breathtaking. The entire elevated complex looks straight off the set of a historic fantasy movie, but it is, of course, 100 percent real.
Connemara National Park
In Galway, this expansive geological park is home to mountains and bogs, which serve as a habitat for wildlife like foxes and shrews, as well as the domesticated Connemara ponies. The park is also home to traditional tearooms where you can unwind with homemade pastries and warm tea.
Comparable in scope to visiting Alcatraz off of San Francisco’s bay, this historic prison turned museum details Ireland’s history through a (unjust) justice system, during which people were imprisoned in this preserved building.
Powerscourt House and Gardens
Over 40 acres of landscaped gardens (in European and Japanese styles), plus a rustic enclave housing Ireland’s tallest waterfall, Powerscourt Waterfall (yes, the best place to look for a rainbow), make up this historic estate.
Though these cliffs may be less famous than the Moher Cliffs, they are nearly three times higher, and some of the tallest in the region. A short hike brings you to the panoramic view with a steep drop-off that feels truly like you’ve reached the end of the earth.
The Aran Islands
Spend a weekend island hopping between this collection of islands off the coast of Galway, Inis Mór, Inis Meain and Inis Oirr, for incredible views, the archaeological wonder Dun Aonghasa and quaint bed-and-breakfasts.
At over 21 meters tall (five stories high), this stone windmill is the largest running mill in Ireland. Inside, you can climb to the top and also explore exhibits on 19th- and 20th-century agriculture, emigration and observe the Kerry model railway.
Killary Sheep Farm
Yep, Ireland is home to more sheep than people, and a short detour to meet some of Ireland’s fluffier citizens is well worth it. Killary is a working farm with plenty of guest-friendly activities, including sheepdog demos, sheep shearing, bog cutting and more.
This ancient tomb is older than the Egyptian pyramids, dating back to 3200 B.C. A World Heritage Site, this Neolithic monument from the Stone Age is only viewable via tour and consists of 97 enormous stones adorned with megalithic art.
Also referred to as Guinness Lake, this stunningly blue pint-shaped lake (yep!) is surrounded by white sand, imported by the beer-brewing family of its nickname. Though the body of water is on private property, the best viewing points are from above, in the surrounding mountains of Wicklow.
Thanks to an ancient volcanic fissure eruption—or, according to legend, a giant—you can now gape upon the likes of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that form one of the most unique and beautiful landscapes in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is free of charge to visit, and an absolute must. We suggest you bring a sketch pad in case inspiration strikes. (It will.)
Plenty of bars boast their greatness with superlatives, but only one can lay claim to being the world’s oldest, and that’s Sean’s. Located in Athlone (about an hour and 20 minutes outside Dublin), the world’s oldest remaining pub is worth a stop on any Irish road trip, if only to relax with a pint and say that you’ve had a beer at a bar dating back to the early 12th century.