Top 10 Ireland Attractions
First time visitors to Ireland have a lot of decisions to make. While small in size, this friendly island nation is loaded with awesome things to see and do.
Ireland is arguably one of the best all around travel destinations for families. Last summer, we spent 2 weeks driving around the island nation, including a few days in Northern Ireland.
It was our first time visiting Ireland, so we did quite a bit of research before our trip. We put together what we believe to be the perfect 10-14 day road trip itinerary.
In this post, we share the Top 10 Ireland attractions that first time visitors should include on their trip to Ireland.
1. Eat and Drink your way around Dublin
Most trips to Ireland will start and finish in its charming capital, Dublin. We really enjoyed our time wandering around the city on foot. It’s a very walk-able city and there’s plenty of things to do in Dublin.
The pub culture in Dublin is awesome. And, the best part, kids are allowed in bars and pubs! We were able to soak up the full Irish pub experience with our boys, which was a lot of fun.
The top things to do in Dublin are to visit the Temple Bar district (photo above), Dublin Castle, Trinity College, Phoenix Park, St. Stephen’s Green, Kilmainham Gaol and admiring the city’s history and architecture along the River Liffey.
Find the best deals on Ireland hotels here.
2. Sample Ireland’s finest at Guinness Storehouse
While in Dublin, make sure you visit the infamous Guinness Storehouse and sample a pint of its finest brew. The Guinness Storehouse is located at St. James’s Gate Brewery and, according to Wikipedia, it received over four million visitors since opening in 2000.
The Guinness Storehouse tells the story of Ireland’s celebrated beer through various interactive exhibitions. It’s quite big, spreading over 7 floors of exhibits. You can easily spend a few hours here.
Don’t miss the art of the perfect Guinness pour on the 4th floor and make sure you drink in the 360° view of Dublin from the 7th floor (see photo below)
Learn about the Guiness Storehouse here.
3. Kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle
Without question, one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions is the Blarney Castle, a medieval stronghold in the town of Blarney, located just outside the city of Cork.
Visitors from all over the world come to this old castle to kiss its famous Blarney Stone. The reason people kiss the stone is to ‘gain the gift of eloquence’, though I’m still not entirely sure how kissing a stone can make someone eloquent.
To kiss the Blarney Stone, you must climb up the windy, narrow stairs to the top of the castle. You will lean backwards and grab an iron railing to get in the proper kissing position. There is a man there to hold you and keep the line moving. There are also railings under the stone for an additional layer of safety.
While kissing the Blarney Stone is not for everyone, visiting the Blarney Castle and its surroundings gardens is a must for every Ireland itinerary. More info here.
4. Admire the colourful architecture in Cobh
Cobh is home to Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal, so it’s become quite the tourist town in recent years. Once known as Queenstown, Cobh is widely known as the final port of call for the RMS Titanic when it set out on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.
Cobh is not very big, so you can see most of it within a few hours.
There is a small tourist train (not really a train, more like a open-air bus) that takes you around town and to a few lookout points. Cobh is built on a steep hill, so this train is a good idea.
Make sure you take a peek inside the impressive St. Colman’s Cathedral, the neo-Gothic church that dominates Cobh’s skyline. While at the cathedral, cross the road and check out the iconic Deck of Cards row of colourful homes (see photo below).
Above – St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh.
5. Find your Castle
You can’t visit Ireland without seeing a few of its historical castles. We already mentioned Ireland’s most famous castle, the Blarney Castle, but there are so many castles to explore and photograph.
Most of the castles in Ireland are worth seeing, so you really can’t go wrong.
If you’re doing a road trip around Ireland, which we HIGHLY recommend, you find most castles listed on the road maps. There are literally hundreds, but the big ones are the Rock of Cashel, Ashford Castle, Bunratty Castle, King John’s Castle, Kilkenny Castle, Cahir Castle (above) and Dunguaire Castle.
Above – King John’s Castle is a 13th-century castle located on King’s Island in Limerick.
6. Visit the mighty Cliffs of Moher
Arguably Ireland’s top tourist attraction, the towering Cliffs of Moher are well worth the hype. Located on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare, these rocky sea cliffs, along with the karst limestone hills of the Burren, are recognized at a UNESCO Global Geopark.
In our opinion, the Cliffs of Moher, and the coastal region that surrounds them, is THE reason to travel to Ireland. Okay, the Guinness might also be the reason.
These spectacular sea cliffs run for 14 kilometres and rise 700 feet above the ocean at their highest point. In 2016, the Cliffs of Moher saw a record 1.4 million visitors.
The drive to the Cliffs of Moher is just as amazing. We zigged and zagged along the Atlantic coast, passing through traditional Irish towns and villages that are hundreds of years old.
7. Drive the Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is an impressive 2,500 km coastal driving route around Ireland. It was officially launched in 2014 and currently passes through nine counties and three provinces.
The Wild Atlantic Way is broken into 5 sections:
- County Donegal,
- County Donegal to County Mayo,
- County Mayo to County Clare,
- County Clare to County Kerry, and
- County Kerry to County Cork.
Along the route there are 150+ discovery points, 1,000+ tourist attractions and 2,500+ activities. The most popular attractions on the Wild Atlantic Way are the Dingle Peninsula, Loop Head, Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Killarney National Park, Mizen Head, Killary Harbour and Clifden, no name a few.
To learn more about this epic road trip, get the guide Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
8. Visit Sligo Abbey and Strandhill Beach
Located in the northwest of Ireland, about 50 km’s from the border with Northern Ireland, Sligo doesn’t always make the list of top Ireland attractions, but we think it’s worth mentioning.
Sligo Abbey, pictured above, is a fascinating ruined abbey that dates back to the mid-13th century. This Dominican Friary contains Gothic and Renaissance tomb sculptures and houses the only sculptured 15th century high altar to survive in an Irish monastic church.
While in Sligo, we recommend you visit Strandhill, a charming seaside village and beach town located about 7 miles form Sligo town. The tall grassy sand dunes and rocky beach are quintessential Ireland.
Other Sligo attractions include Benbulbin, Knocknarea, Lissadell House, Parke’s Castle and Coney Island.
9. Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland
Located on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, near the town of Bushmills, the Giant’s Causeway is an area of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of intense volcanic and geological activity.
It’s no surprise this mythical place has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We visited this popular tourist attraction because it came highly recommended by almost everyone we know who has visited Ireland and/or Northern Ireland.
It did not disappoint. The massive sea cliffs are truly out of this world. It was a clear highlight from our 2 week road trip around Ireland.
While your in County Antrim, be sure to also walk across the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, watch the sunset over Dunluce Castle, taste fine Irish whiskey at the Old Bushmills Distillery and go for a ride at Barry’s Amusements in the town of Portrush (we recommend staying in this cute seaside town).
10. Titanic Belfast
If you plan to visit Belfast on your trip to Ireland you should consider adding Titanic Belfast to your itinerary. This monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage tells the stories of the RMS Titanic through a variety of interactive exhibits and galleries. The facility has over 130,000 square feet of floor space!
Travel tip – before you go to Titanic Belfast we recommend you look at when cruise ships are in town – and plan around that. A cruise ship was in port when we visited and it was very busy.
Have you visited any of these Ireland attractions?
Share your experience in the comments section below, our readers thank you!