If there’s one city that should not be missed when visiting Ireland, that would be Dublin. The Irish capital may be compact, but it is cosmopolitan in every sense of the word - packed with fascinating museums, world class libraries, awarded restaurants, and all manner of travelers from around the globe. The majestic architecture and atmospheric cobblestoned streets of the Georgian district echo Dublin’s long history, while a wave of returning ex pats armed with fresh new ideas and heaps of entrepreneurial spirit are shaking things up in the city’s ultra-modern Silicon Docks area and cementing Dublin’s new identity as one of Europe’s leading tech-hubs.
Must Visit: The National Museum of Ireland
Thematically organized around the subjects of decorative arts and history, natural history, archaeology, and country life, there is no better introduction to Ireland’s rich and varied history than through a visit to one of the museums’ three addresses in Dublin (the museum about country life is located much further east near the town of Castlebar). Since all three museums offer excellent collections that are worth exploring and their large size can make the experience of visiting all of them quite demanding, it’s best to stick to the theme or the exhibitions that most closely align with your interests.
Instagram moment: Georgian Dublin
Located on Ireland’s western coast – almost in a straight line from Dublin - Galway combines the best of two very different worlds; the vibrant colors and bohemian vibe of the city’s bustling alleyways with the tranquility and raw beauty of its rugged coastline. You won’t find any world class museums or big-time sightseeing attractions within Galway’s city limits, but its free-spirited atmosphere, exuberant local culture, and fantastic restaurants, pubs and cafes more than make up for it. Galway is also the perfect jumping-off-point to start exploring the striking rural beauty of Western Ireland, so there are plenty of reasons to warrant more than a passing visit to this part of the country.
Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer are collectively known as the Aran Islands - a constellation of three rocky, windswept islands just off Galway Bay that are best known for their wild natural beauty and striking authenticity. Age old traditions are alive and well on the Aran Islands while a strong local culture and the prevalence of the indigenous Irish language as the primary form of communication can make you feel as if you are much further removed from the Irish mainland than you actually are. From Celtic churches and thatched cottages to the extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dun Aonghasa, a visit to the Aran Islands will reveal a truly unique side of Ireland.
Instagram moment: Cliffs of Moher
Kilkenny may be small, but it manages to pack a lot within its borders by combining its long and interesting history with a vibrant nightlife and several excellent restaurants, pubs, and shops. In addition to the city’s beautiful dark-grey limestone buildings that have earned it the nickname “The Marble City”, Kilkenny is also well known for its arts and culture. On a yearly basis between the months of May and August, Kilkenny hosts three large festivals including the Killkeny Arts Festival, which gathers some of the world’s finest musicians, performers, writers, and artists. Whether you’re interested in exploring Kilkenny for its cultural treasures or its contemporary appeal, the Medieval Capital of Ireland is bound to surprise you.
Must Visit: Kilkenny Castle
The mighty Kilkenny Castle sits on the banks of the River Nore and was at one time a central part of the city’s defenses. Built by the Normans during the 12th century, it was inhabited by the prominent Butler family for the greater part of its history until it came into the ownership of the state in 1967. The castle has since undergone extensive renovation efforts and today it is arguably among the most beautiful castles in Ireland. Guided and self-guided tours of the castle are available during different parts of the year while the Kilkenny Castle Park provides an ideal setting for a leisurely walk amidst its beautiful rose garden.
Instagram moment: Rock of Cashel
Though the town itself offers an impressive range of accommodation options as well as plenty of excellent restaurants, pubs, and cafes to while away the hours, being in Killarney is all about being close to the great outdoors. Set in the gorgeous Irish southwest, this charming town is embraced by one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country - the Killarney National Park. The park encompasses 26000 acres of land and is home to three different lakes, beautiful waterfalls, a mansion, a castle, unique wildlife and virile woodlands that stretch as far as the eye can see. If you’re looking for more outdoor adventure, Killarney is also one of the most popular places to start the loop around the famous Ring of Kerry.
Must Visit: Ring of Kerry
Spanning some 120 miles around the Iveragh Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist trails. Rugged mountains, vertigo inducing sandstone cliffs, ancient forts amidst verdant evergreen plains and picturesque small towns set against the wild waters of the Atlantic synthesize a landscape that is at once exceptionally varied and unquestionably Irish. While the full loop can be completed in approximately four hours, given the plethora of sights and interesting little stop overs along the trail, it’s a good idea to dedicate a full day to explore the Ring of Kerry to see as much as possible.
Instagram Moment: Slea Head