Things to Do in Ireland
Waterford Crystal, the prestigious brand behind New York City’s Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball and the chandeliers at Westminster Abbey, was founded back in 1783. These days, the public can visit the main crystal factory complex to observe skilled craftsmen blowing the molten crystal or browse a collection of dazzling crystal pieces.
The port town of Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown, was the departure point for millions of Irish emigrants who left the country between 1848 and 1960. Housed in the town’s Victorian train station, the Cobh Heritage Centre chronicles the often-heartbreaking journeys of Irish emigrants during the Great Famine and beyond.
Killarney National Park, with idyllic lakes and ancient woodlands backed by the serrated MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains, is an area of stunning natural beauty. The park is also historically significant, with two heritage buildings on-site: Ross Castle, a 15th-century fortress-turned-hotel, and Muckross House, a stately Victorian estate.
Gallarus Oratory is Ireland's best preserved early Christian church. The exact year of its construction is not known, but it is believed to be more than a thousand years old. The church is located five miles from Dingle Town on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland. It was constructed entirely from dry stone masonry and resembles an overturned boat. This church is one of the highlights of the scenic Slea Head Drive. Along the scenic drive, visitors will also see views of Smerwick Harbor, the Three Sisters and Mount Brandon.
Visitors will be able to see a church that has not been restored because it hasn't needed to be. The stones were carefully fitted together without the use of mortar, and aside from a small sag in the roof, the construction has held up for centuries. You can enter the oratory through a 6.5 foot doorway, and there are two stones with holes that once held a door. The nearby visitor center shows a 15 minute audio-visual presentation about the Gallarus Oratory, and there is a gift shop.
Even though it’s only seven miles long, Clifden’s Sky Road feels like a journey through all of Connemara and time. When driving this winding, rural road, views look down on the town of Clifden and its two iconic spires—which is a view you’re sure to see on any postcard of Western Ireland or Connemara. Behind the town are the 12 Bens hills, standing brown, rugged, and proud, and as the drive loops around away from town, views stretch out to the offshore islands and the open Atlantic Sea. Aside from the sweeping landscape views, ancient castles and historic mansions are around every bend in the road. At the 19th century Clifden Castle—built in a Gothic style—visitors can walk the dirt road that leads right up to the castle. Another stroll is up Memorial Hill and offers famous view of Clifden, and by turning uphill at the fork in the road, the drive climbs past the old Coast Guard station to 500 feet above sea level. There is a small parking lot near the road’s summit, where whitewashed cottages appear as flecks on the misty, wave battered coast. The Sky Road has often been called one of Ireland’s most scenic drives, and seeing as it’s just a short loop from Clifden, is an Irish road trip that any Connemara visitor with a car can enjoy.
Said to be one of Ireland’s most beautiful estates, Westport House and Gardens is a heritage attraction on the country’s west coast. With more than 30 rooms open to the public, the 18th-century home offers guided tours telling the story of its owners and connection to Grace O’Malley, the famed pirate queen.
A vision on the shores of Lough Leane, the 15th-century Ross Castle was built as a medieval fortress for an Irish chieftain named O’Donoghue, and was said to be one of the last strongholds to fall to the brutal English Cromwellian forces in the mid-16th century. The ruin has been restored, and features lovely 16th- and 17th-century furniture.
The fifth-century home of the kings of Munster, the Rock of Cashel—or St. Patrick’s Rock, as it’s also known—is now home to a collection of religious monuments, including a roofless medieval cathedral and a 12th-century chapel. Set atop an elevated knoll, the site commands excellent views over the green, grassy Irish countryside.
The vast Gothic cathedral of St. Canice is named in honor of a sixth-century Irish abbot and preacher and sits on the site of a church dating right back to that time. Completed in 1285, it is a prominent landmark in the charming – and tiny – Irish city of Kilkenny, which in the sixth century was the main settlement of the ancient Kingdom of Ossary. The town grew to be a Catholic center of some importance in Ireland, which explains the presence of the country’s second-largest cathedral. Complete with rose windows and slender spires, the exterior of the cathedral is built of limestone, and on sunny days its interior is aglow with light that sparkles on the patterned marble floors from the stained-glass windows. Among its treasures are several unusual 17th-century tomb chests and the reputed stone throne of St Kieran, a fifth-century bishop. St. Canice also houses the Great War Memorial List, containing the names of all Irishmen who died in World War I.
The slender, 98.5-foot (30-meter) round tower adjacent to the church was built in the ninth century and originally acted as a look-out tower to protect the residents of Kilkenny and their precious religious sites. It can be climbed by a steep internal stairway for views over the medieval rooftops of the city center.
Off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, a group of abandoned sandstone islands rise out of the Atlantic Ocean. For hundreds of years, the Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodai) were home to an Irish-speaking population; however, in 1953 the Irish government decided that, due to their isolation, the islands were too dangerous for habitation and ordered a mandatory evacuation.
More Things to Do in Ireland
Zigzagging along Ireland’s west coast, the 2,175-mile (3,500-kilometer) Wild Atlantic Way driving route shows off some of the country’s most thrilling coastal scenery. From the wave-battered sea cliffs of Slieve League and Moher to edge-of-the-world archipelagos such as the Skelligs and the Aran Islands, this route is a visual feast.
The Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the area draws thousands of tourists each year who come to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.
The Bishop’s Palace is one of the three museums known as the Waterford Treasures located in the Viking Triangle in Waterford, Ireland. It was designed in 1741 by architect Richard Castles, one of Ireland’s greatest architects. The front of the palace overlooks the town wall, which forms part of the palace’s terraced garden. The ground floor and first floors of the palace are furnished as an elegant 18th century townhouse and feature period furniture, beautiful fireplaces and rare paintings.
The museum tells the history of Waterford from 1700 to the mid-20th century, with an entire floor dedicated to stories about Waterford’s Home Rule story, World War I in Waterford and the War of Independence in Waterford. It also displays unique pieces such as the Penrose Decanter, the oldest surviving piece of Waterford Crystal, dating to 1789, and the only surviving Bonaparte “mourning cross,” one of just 12 crosses produced upon Napoleon’s death in 1821.
Home to two golf courses, a luxury hotel, a Palladian-style country house, and Ireland’s highest waterfall, the 25-square-mile (64-square-kilometer) Powerscourt Estate has no shortage of attractions. The landscaped gardens, with their cascading terraces, lakes, and follies, are, however, the greatest draw to this sight in County Wicklow.
Built more than 800 years ago, Hook Lighthouse is one of the oldest operational lighthouses in the world. Picturesquely perched on Hook Head, at the tip of Hook Peninsula, the squat black-and-white-striped structure marks the eastern entrance to Waterford Harbour. Explore the tower and learn about the history of the lighthouse.
While Ireland’s weather is famously cool, it isn’t the temperature that will give you chills when visiting Clonmacnoise. Rather, it’s the 1,500 years of monastic history that’s powerfully felt in these ruins—where temples, cathedrals, home sites, and graveyards have withstood the elements for centuries. Originally founded in the 6th century, this stone village along the River Shannon prospered for a time as Christian monastery in Ireland’s central plains. Years of outside siege, however, would leave the settlement in ruins, and even though it now sits empty and is a shell of its former self, the stone towers and towering crosses can still move people today. When visiting the ruins at Clonmacnoise, silently stroll past one of the largest collection of Christian gravestones in Europe. Gaze upwards at the brown sandstone that forms the Cathedral’s north wall—a piece of architecture that astoundingly dates to the early part of the 8th century. Once finished wandering the grounds and admiring the 12th-century churches, head inside the Clonmacnoise Museum for its collection of preserved Celtic crosses. Standing over 12 feet in height, the Cross of the Scriptures and the South Cross are both intricately carved, and are some of Ireland’s most famous examples of traditional high Irish crosses.
The Burren area of County Clare offers more questions than answers. It’s a vast countryside of karst limestone and millennia of human existence, and a place that leaves you shaking your head at the mysteries it holds inside. At a place like ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen (also known as the Poulnabrone Portal Tomb for the two thin, vertical portal stones that support its 12-foot capstone) the first question that arises is how it was built in the first place. Dating to Ireland’s Neolithic period, the dolmen structure is estimated to be over 5,000 years old. When the area was excavated in 1985 to repair a crack in a stone, the remains of over 25 people—including adults, children, and an infant—were found buried by the Poulnabrone Dolmen, and along with items such as a stone axe and bone pendants, helped to date the portal tomb to around 3,600 BC. Today, when visiting this mystical and ancient site in the fields of County Clare, there’s a profound sense of historical unknown that’s held in the silence of the stones.
Flowing in from the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s west coast, Galway Bay laps the shores of some of the country’s most picturesque stretches of coastline. With the three windswept Aran Islands at its periphery, the bay meets land at the artsy city of Galway and numerous fishing villages, coastal cliffs, and beaches.
Towering 702 feet (214 meters) above the Atlantic Ocean at their highest point and stretching for five miles (eight km) along the water, the world-famous Cliffs of Moher define the rugged west coast of Ireland. They are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, with tours available from cities such as Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Killarney, and Doolin, set only 5.6 miles (nine km) away.
The lake-studded glacial valley known as the Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín) is wedged between County Kerry’s Purple Mountain and MacGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range. The rugged natural scenery along the 7-mile (11-kilometer) paved mountain pass made it a magnet for sublime-seeking, 19th-century, Romantic writers such as William Thackeray and Alfred Lord Tennyson, who waxed lyrical about its beauty. Despite its popularity, the landscape remains as unspoiled as ever.
This quaint fishing village on the Howth Head peninsula draws Dublin day-trippers with its rich seafaring history, dramatic cliffs, and medieval landmarks. Highlights include Howth Castle, St. Mary’s Abbey, the National Transport Museum, and a bustling market stocked with souvenirs and fresh produce.
Wayfaring Norse invaders first arrived in Ireland in the eighth century, and while they looted, enslaved and caused quite a bit of destruction, these early Vikings also founded several Irish towns, including Waterford. Established in 914, Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, and its cultural and historic center — once surrounded by Viking walls — is today known as the Viking Triangle.
One of the Triangle’s most fascinating landmarks is Reginald’s Tower, a twelfth century building that now houses one of the three Waterford Treasures Museums. It is also the only monument in the country to be named after a Viking. Other attractions of note in the Viking Triangle’s narrow streets are the Medieval Museum, Bishop’s Palace and the House of Waterford Crystal.
Set on the banks of the River Ratty, this imposing 15th-century castle has been immaculately restored and is filled with period furnishings. The estate encompasses a re-created 19th-century village where visitors can explore typical rural dwellings and businesses, as well as observing demonstrations of traditional jobs and crafts.
Tumbling an impressive 397 feet (121 meters) into scenic parkland, Powerscourt Waterfall is one of Ireland’s tallest falls. Nature trails lead through trees, including giant redwoods, that house a wealth of birdlife. The site also has a children’s playground, a snack kiosk in season, and restroom facilities.
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- Things to do in Dublin
- Things to do in Galway
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- Things to do in Kenmare
- Things to do in Shannon
- Things to do in Cork
- Things to do in Ring of Kerry
- Things to do in Limerick
- Things to do in Northern Ireland
- Things to do in England
- Things to do in South West Ireland
- Things to do in Western Ireland
- Things to do in West Midlands