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The Emerald Isle. The land of luck and leprechauns. The home of Guinness and Gaelic.

Yes, Ireland is all of these things — and more. For such a small country, it actually has a lot to offer any traveler, whether you’re visiting for a few days or a few months.

Dublin, Ireland

I’m by no means an expert on travel in Ireland, but there are certain places and experiences that have always stood out from my time there. So, no matter how much time you have to spend in Ireland, here are 5 stops you should make sure to build in to your travel itinerary.

Dublin

The capital of the Republic of Ireland, and the country’s largest city, Dublin will likely make it into any Ireland travel plans — and for good reason; there’s a lot to do here.

Take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which is perhaps Ireland’s top tourist attraction. For 13.5 euros, you can tour this 7-story beer fun house, learning about the history of the Guinness brew, how it’s produced, and how the brand has evolved over the years. At the end, enjoy a pint at the seventh-story Gravity Bar.

Temple Bar, Ireland, Guinness

For more debauchery and booze, many tourists head to Temple Bar for pubs and nightlife, even though the area is criticized for being overpriced and kitschy. The locals look down upon this area, but it’s still worth seeing, at least, and there’s always live music playing. Though, if you want a real Irish pub experience, head elsewhere.

Kilmainham Gaol (jail) is also worth a visit. This former prison-turned-museum was built in 1796, and was used as a prison until 1924. Since the 1980s, the museum has been run by the government. Along with being old (and slightly creepy at times), Kilmainham played an important part in Irish history, as many leaders of the Irish rebellions were imprisoned (and sometimes executed) here by the British. Tours (cost: 6 euros) take you throughout the old, crumbling prison blocks, and into the yard in front of the Gaol where hangings used to take place.

Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland

County Wicklow

When the desire arises to get away from the city, head out from Dublin into County Wicklow. Characterized by rolling hills, forests, and the Wicklow Mountains, this area is beautiful.

Be sure to visit the old monastic settlement of Glendalough, which is said to have been founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. The settlement was partially destroyed in 1398 by the English, but parts still remain in-tact, such as St. Kevin’s Church, the Round Tower, old moss-covered gravestones in the cemetery, and the foundations of chapels and a cathedral.

St. Kevin's Church, Glendalough, Ireland

If you’re looking for a taste of old Ireland — the like of which you’ve read about in legends and old fairy tales — you’ll likely find it here at Glendalough.

Irish countryside

There’s a lot to be said about the Irish countryside. It’s both rugged and rolling, coarse and charming. Frequent Irish rainshowers leave the grass brilliantly green, and the sky is at least twice a day kissed by rainbows.

Ireland, Irish Countryside

There are a whole host of little Irish towns worth visiting throughout Ireland, most characterized by stone cottages, brightly-colored store fronts, and friendly locals. To call these towns “cute” or “quaint” would be an understatement; the words simply do not do these places justice.

For me, I will always associate my Irish countryside memories with County Cavan and towns like Cavan and Belturbet.

Cavan, Ireland

Galway

It would be very easy to fall in love with the city of Galway, I think. This fast-growing city is becoming more and more popular with visitors to Ireland, and it’s easy to see why.

Located on the country’s west coast (nearly opposite Dublin), Galway is often referred to as the cultural capital of Ireland. It’s known for its vibrant streets, numerous festivals, and palpable artistic flair.

Galway

Check out the Spanish Arch, the last remnant of the walls that used to surround the city, and don’t miss out on a stroll down Shop Street, Galway’s main thoroughfare. Here you’ll be greeted by old brick buildings, colorful store fronts, plenty of pubs, and an array of street performers.

While out shopping, you may want to pick up a Claddagh Ring, the famous ring design of two hands grasping a crowned heart that originated in Galway and stands to represent love, friendship and loyalty. Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold, located on William Street, claims to be the original maker of the Claddagh Ring, as well as the oldest jeweler in Ireland.

I would also suggest a visit to some of Galway’s churches and cathedrals, which are truly impressive. Galway Cathedral (or the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas) boasts a Renaissance-style dome, rose-shaped stained-glass windows, and a wonderfully huge pipe organ. Also consider a visit to St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the largest medieval parish church in Ireland that has been in use since 1320. The old stone church is small, but has a really interesting arched ceiling and smooth, worn stone floors with old engravings on them.

Galway Cathedral, Galway, Ireland

Galway Cathedral

Aran Islands

And, before you leave Galway, be sure to catch a ferry over to the Aran Islands. Inishmore (Inis Mor) — the largest of the three islands — is the most popular with visitors, though you can also visit Inishmaan and Inisheer.

Visiting this small island group is a little like stepping back in time. Irish (Gaelic) is still the official language on the islands, which were for a long time largely cut off from mainland Ireland (perhaps mostly by choice).

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

Taking a tour of Inishmore, you’ll learn how early settlers on the island mixed layers of sand and seaweed on top of rocks in order to create fertile soil, and you’ll see evidence of their settlements in the form of thatched cottages and the ancient, low stone walls that are still used today to contain livestock.

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

Visitors to Inishmore usually hike up the cliffs to the Iron Age fort called Dun Aengus. Not only is the ancient fort interesting, but its location affords a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean crashing against 300-foot cliffs.

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

Before you leave, don’t forget to visit a local shop selling clothing made of Aran wool. While sweaters are the most well-known product made on the Aran Islands, you can also buy hats, gloves and socks. I purchased two knitted hats made of Aran wool, and they are some of my favorite articles of winter clothing.

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There, of course, are plenty of other worthy places to add to any Ireland itinerary, too – the country is full of cities large and small that harbor both history and legends, green farmland that stretches all the way to the sea, and some of the warmest, friendliest locals you could ever hope to meet.

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

Have you visited Ireland before? If so, what other spots would you add to this list? If not, is it in your travel future?

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30 Responses to 5 Stops Not to Miss in Ireland

  1. Elise says:

    I went to Ireland with my family about 8 years ago and will definitely be back again one day. For me, coming from Australia (a country that is so young in it’s history) I loved driving through the countryside of Ireland and just seeing old castle and turrets everywhere! Real castles!!

    I also really liked the town of Wexford. :)
    Elise recently posted..Video Diaries- Tailors In India Elise Was In Heaven!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I, too, really loved just how old Ireland felt and looked. I love a place with a lot of history!

      I’d definitely love to go back to Ireland some day, too – and hopefully for longer than a week the next time!

  2. Jess says:

    Def. Waterford, and New Ross. New Ross is home to the JFK park (which is beautiful) and the Dunbrody (which is a coffin ship on display). Waterford is home to the famous crystal factory and has a lovely downtown area. This summer there is the tall ship festival in Waterford, and I am told it is a sight to see! I’m only sorry I’m missing it.

  3. Angela says:

    Great suggestions! I’ve lived in Dublin for two years but I realize I didn’t travel much, I’ve been to Galway, Aran Islands and Glendalough though, and also some towns around Dublin, like Howth, which I recommend visiting as it’s very nice and has delicious salmon. There is so much to see in that “small” island!
    Angela recently posted..A Carnival of local markets around the world

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Sounds like you and I have visited a lot of the same places! I agree, though – there’s so much to see in Ireland, despite it being a “small island”!

  4. Rabihat says:

    Great photos! I’m planning to visit Ireland someday with my family. Dun Aengus sounds an interesting place, would like to go there too :)
    Rabihat recently posted..Chest Coach System Review – Does It Work

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Thanks, Rabihat! Dun Aengus was pretty neat. The fort is surrounded by all these circular walls made out of stone. Lots of old stone things worth seeing in Ireland. :) I hope you and your family make it there someday!

  5. Christine says:

    I’ve only been to Cork and Killarney in Ireland, but I absolutely loved them both! I visited a friend who studied at the University of Cork, and we had a blast exploring the Killarney countryside by bike, kissing the Blarney Stone and learning to Irish jig with locals in a pub in Killarney. Dying to go back so I can check out all your can’t-miss experiences!
    Christine recently posted..Share the Tongariro love

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’d definitely like to check out Killarney the next time I’m in Ireland! And learning an Irish jig with locals in a pub? What fun!!

  6. Suzy says:

    All good choices! I didn’t get to the Aran Islands, but I loved Glendalough. I would also add County Donegal to see Slieve League, the highest cliffs in Europe. I also loved Achill Island in County Mayo. It’s connected to the mainland by a little bridge. There is so much to see in Ireland, I could really keep going but I will spare your comment box ha.
    Suzy recently posted..The Churches in Europe Wish You Were Here

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Aww, my comment box wouldn’t have minded! Haha. Too bad you didn’t get to the Aran Islands. But it sounds like you definitely saw a ton of other great spots!

  7. I haven’t been to Ireland, yet. I have heard great things about all of the areas you discussed especially the Aran Islands! I am looking forward to staying at some of the B&B’s and castles while in Ireland.
    Debbie Beardsley recently posted..Fabulous Friday – Gengenbach Calling!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      My friend went to Ireland with her parents one year, and they stayed in all sorts of awesome B&Bs. I’d love to go back and do that sometime, too.

  8. Great post–if you could only choose one, what would be your top Ireland destination?
    Sensibletraveler recently posted..Top 5 New Zealand Adventure Activities

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Oooo, that’s tough! I really really found the Aran Islands fascinating, though. So perhaps Inishmore would be my top pick. But I think Galway would be a close second!

  9. Anthony says:

    I can’t wait to go to Ireland. The Guinness Tour will be first on my list of things to see and drink. Who needs food when you have Guinness. A meal in a pint! ;)
    Anthony recently posted..Daily Travel Photo Chowpatty Beach Mumbai

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, exactly! Actually, I don’t even drink, but the Guinness tour was really cool! And my boyfriend at the time gladly drank my pint for me.

  10. Seri says:

    Lovely post, I’m planning on a small trip to Dublin at some point and so this gives me a few ideas on what to do while I was there (the Guiness Storehouse is definitely my number one destination!)
    Seri recently posted..Eating- Drinking and Sleeping in Tallinn

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Dublin is so full of fun things to do and see! I also toured Dublin Castle, and went shopping on Grafton Street. But I think the Guinness Storehouse is at the top of most people’s lists!

  11. Tijmen says:

    I haven’t been there so far, but the Guinness Storehouse should be worth the visit :P Would also love to see the castles and other ruins like Dun Aengus.
    Tijmen recently posted..3 Reasons Why you Should Visit Ghana

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Even for a non-drinker like me, the Guinness Storehouse was fun. It’s almost like a museum dedicated to the history of Guinness, which was cool.

      Next time, I want to see more castles, though, for sure!

  12. I’ve only been to Dublin for a few days and didn’t really enjoy it – although most people tell me that Ireland is not so much about the capital as it is about the countryside. I can’t argue, the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Mohair and the simple beauty of the rolling hills are certainly worth a detour to the island.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Dublin can be fun, but I agree that Dublin isn’t necessarily “Ireland.” It’s a part of Ireland (and an important one, at that), but it’s not really a good representation of how awesome the rest of the country is!

  13. Rob says:

    I recall some 22 years ago visiting Ireland and loving it, and then going to Inis Mor and hating it. At least then the people were unfriendly to the point of being hateful, and while they wanted your tourist money they clearly despised tourists. I met a woman from “the mainland” (Dublin) who had married a man from Inis Mor and 10 years later the locals pretended not to know her when she got off the ferry from Galway. She observed that you don’t overcome centuries of inbreeding overnight. The ferry back to Galway left at 10am the next morning, and virtually all the tourists were at the dock by 9am to be sure they didn’t get left behind and be forced to spend even more time there. The contrast with the rest of Ireland was extreme.

    I’m going back to Ireland next summer, if all goes well, but certainly not to the Aran Islands. I’ve been badmouthing them for 22 years and will continue to do so! My little contribution to their tourist economy.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Oh no! I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience there… I didn’t notice any of that hostility when I was there, thankfully. But that sucks that you did!

  14. Steve says:

    I will be going to Ireland next March as my Spring Break trip for University. One thing that I would have put on this list is Giant’s Causeway, the “8th Wonder of the World.”

    I found your blog via @candicewalsh and @CailinONeil. I’ve liked perusing the older posts.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Hey Steve! Welcome to my blog!

      There are lots of places I would add to this list for next time I visit Ireland (Giant’s Causeway perhaps being one of them), but the spots listed here are some of the places I’ve already seen and would recommend. There’s so much to see in Ireland, though. Which is crazy, considering how small of a country it is!

  15. [...] Dangerous Business – Ireland: Of Pints and Afterthoughts  and 5 Stops Not to Miss in Ireland [...]

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