The Emerald Isle may be small in size, but you’re sure to find it huge in heart, history and culture – not to mention populated by some of the friendliest and most talkative people you could ever wish to meet, and some of the quirkiest places to stay.
Lyrical to its core, Gaelic is a fiercely protected language, and Ireland boasts more Nobel Prize for Literature winners than anywhere else in the world, with Dublin designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010. If you’re lacking in creative inspiration, here’s a stirring start!
Indeed, the capital Dublin is a fantastic place to begin, offering everything from Guinness tours and Grafton Street shopping, dining and indulging, to cultural icons including Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College, founded by Elizabeth I in the 16th century. The Book of Kells is on permanent exhibition here, and the Long Room – inspiration for the library in the very first Harry Potter film – is more than worth a visit.
Meanwhile, St. Stephen’s Green is many a Dubliner’s favourite wind-down spot, complete with duck pond, beautiful gardens and graceful Georgian buildings including the Shelbourne Hotel.
How about a trip to Ireland’s most visited attraction? The rugged Cliffs of Moher, around one and a half hours from Galway, are so magnificent that they absolutely need to be seen up close. Unspoilt, and spectacular, the Aran Islands are a must-visit for those looking to experience the ‘real Ireland’, while Killarney National Park, home to 19th century Muckross House and Gardens, was once visited by Queen Victoria and is well worthy of an afternoon ramble.
More superb views and lakeside walks are on offer at Powerscourt Gardens, with over 200 varieties of flowers, trees and shrubs, while the Ring of Kerry offers an incredibly scenic round-trip path from Kenmare or Killarney…we challenge you to complete the entire three-hour route!
Would-be rebels will absorb the dark history of Kilmanhaim Gaol, dating from 1796 and the setting for the 1916 Uprising executions. Heritage fans, meanwhile, will adore the Rock of Cashel, an extremely popular site visited by the Queen in 2011.
Oh – and no trip to Ireland would complete without a kiss for the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle! This is possibly the best-known Irish attraction, set close to Cork and steeped in 600 year-old history. Visit the English Market while you’re so close to Cork, too – a quirky covered market housing the very best local produce. Kinsale, with its annual Gourmet Festival and decidedly Spanish feel, is also a must for foodies.
Of course, wherever you decide to visit, you can expect lots of friendly chatting with the locals! If you’re lucky, you may even hear the Gaelic phrase "céad míle fáilte" – a hundred thousand welcomes.
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