10 beautiful destinations to visit in Ireland beyond Dublin
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With the impending arrival of St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve got Ireland on the brain. Dublin is an easy and obvious choice for a visit, via short, nonstop flights from the East Coast. But there are so many other incredible destinations on the Emerald Isle.
These alternative spots aren’t necessarily off the beaten path (the names are familiar and you may have seen them in the Harry Potter films or on Game of Thrones), but none are tourist traps — no Blarney Stone here.
So, here are some of our favorite places outside Dublin — a quiet village, cliffside beaches, cool castles, delightful foodie spots (yes, Ireland has a food scene well beyond Guinness and pub grub).
Don’t miss TPG’s Ireland hub — it’s got everything you need to know about traveling to the Emerald Isle.
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The Aran Islands
These three islands — less than an hour’s boat ride from Galway City — are traditional Gaelic havens, where the roughly 1,200 locals still speak the language while basking in the mild climate and lush agriculture (the islands have one of the longest growing seasons in the country). The Aran Islands are home to many forts and castles dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, so if history is your interest, this is your place.
Only 15 miles south of Cork, this town’s motto is “Your Taste of Ireland,” so head there and start chowing down. Kinsale is known as the gourmet capital of the country with its annual food festival each year in October. Even if you don’t visit during the festival, you can still enjoy Irish and international gastronomy at the many wine bars, pubs and restaurants in Kinsale. Burn off a delicious lunch by exploring the town’s yacht-filled harbor, walking the charming narrow streets or visiting the many boutiques and art galleries.
Galway is one of the two European Capitals of Culture this year (Rijeka, Croatia is the other). Opening ceremonies in Galway were held in February, but cultural events will take place throughout the year, making 2020 the perfect time to visit. You may first get a modern vibe from this colorful, vibrant city where the streets are lined with boho-chic bookshops, vintage boutiques and lively pubs, but there’s a long history in its old buildings and many castles. The city was once inhabited by 14 tribes who helped it flourish and grow. Don’t miss St. Nicholas Collegiate Church, one of the largest medieval churches in Ireland — it dates back to 1320 and is still in use today. Galway City is also the perfect place to hear traditional Irish music, with many venues offering concerts and workshops where beginners can learn the basics.
Connemara National Park
Covering about 11 square miles, Connemara National Park is made up of mountains, bogs, grasslands and woodlands. It’s also home to a graveyard, 4,000-year-old court tombs and Kylemore Abbey, a stunning monastery on the grounds of Kylemore Castle. You can spot sheep, rabbits, foxes, shrews, bats and Connemara ponies on the beautiful green landscape. A visit to Connemara is the perfect day trip from Galway City — it’s only about a 90-minute drive.
The Cliffs of Moher
Rising 400 to 700 feet above the Atlantic, the Cliffs of Moher run for about five miles on Ireland’s western coast. If you’re not convinced by the photo below, perhaps some Hollywood glitz will win you over: The cliffs have been used as a backdrop in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Princess Bride ( Vizzini’s “Cliffs of Insanity!”), Ryan’s Daughter and The Guns of Navarone. More than 30,000 birds of 20 different species live on the cliffs, making it an ideal spot for nature lovers and birdwatching enthusiasts. The visitor fee (4-8 euros/$4.30-$8.60, depending on time of entrance) covers parking, access to the visitor’s center and is used to help conserve the cliffs.
If you want that Irish small-town experience, Clifden’s your spot. The village, nestled along the Atlantic coast in an expansive green countryside in County Galway, has live music, a great food and pub scene and a ton of outdoor excursions like fishing, horseback riding and cycling. Explore the rolling hills behind the village that lead up to Clifden Castle, a ruined manor house that dates back to 1818. You can also drive along the Sky Road that rises 500 feet above the sea and offers stunning views of the ocean, castle and the Irish countryside. It’s also close to Connemara National Park, so you can easily visit both spots in one trip.
The Skellig Islands
The Skellig Islands are two rocky isles — Skellig Michael and Little Skellig — that jut above the Atlantic a few miles off the coast of southwest Ireland. Skellig Michael, also known as Great Skellig, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for a sixth-century monastery that teeters on a cliff about 1,500 feet above the ocean. Visitors can hike up to see the remains (it’s a steep climb) of the monastery where monks went to worship in isolation. If this scene seems mildly familiar, there’s a reason: It served as the secret hiding place of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Because of inclement weather and rough seas, access to the islands is usually limited to May through September.
Killarney National Park
A UNESCO biosphere reserve, Killarney National Park is one of the most protected parks in the country, with almost 26,000 acres of diverse flora and fauna. Home to massive natural wonders like the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range (the highest in Ireland) and the Lakes of Killarney, the park also has some of the largest oak forests in all of Europe. Torc Waterfall is worth seeing and don’t miss Ross Castle, a 15th-century edifice at the edge of the park.
Glens of Antrim
The Glens of Antrim are nine deep, narrow valleys near the coast of Northern Ireland. The rolling green hills of the glens are intermixed with craggy cliffs and monolithic rock formations. Cruise the winding, harrowing roads to visit the glens. Glenariff is one of the most beautiful, with a cascading waterfall and the Glenariff Forest Park.
County Antrim has several beautiful sites besides the Glens. Stop and admire Giant’s Causeway, made up of thousands of connected basalt columns formed in an ancient volcanic eruption. The blustery coastal village of Ballycastle along the Antrim coast is particularly quaint, especially if you love coastal walks. From Ballycastle, you can hop a ferry to Rathlin Island, Northern Island’s most northern point. Dark Hedges, a mystical tunnel of beech trees, is also a popular sight — you may recall it in Season 2 of Game of Thrones. Thrill-seekers should walk across the teetering Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge suspended 100 feet above the sea, which links Northern Ireland with the teeny island of Carrickarede.
Featured photo of The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland by joe daniel price/Getty Images.
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