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Ireland Travel Guide

Ireland is a centuries old landscape full of charm, history, culture great food and welcoming people. Discover here what makes Ireland such an amazing place to visit, and how to make the most of your trip, with hints on what to see, where to stay, and how to add a little luxury to your experience.

Introduction to Ireland

Ireland is situated to the west of Great Britain, and part of the British Isles. Known in its own language as Eire, the island is actually split between the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. This guide covers the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent country and a part of the European Union.

The capital of Ireland is Dublin, on its east coast. This is the largest city, and a great place to discover the best of Ireland, through its culture, history and people, as well as some of its best hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Other important cities and towns in Ireland include Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny.

In between you’ll find miles of rolling green hills and small villages preserving traditional ways of life, all surrounded by some of the most amazing coastline anywhere in the world.

The Irish people are natural entertainers. Their heritage is all about singing, dancing and enjoying the company of others. Known as the craic, it sees people coming together over food and drink all over the country, and visitors are more than welcome to join them.

History of Ireland

Ireland was once a connected part of mainland Europe before the last Ice Age. Its earliest inhabitants date from the same period, but it was the arrival of the Celts that began what we know today of Ireland and its people.

Traditionally a farming nation and one which traded by the sea, the arrival of Celtic influence added language and some of the traditional culture we know today.

Through the middle ages and medieval times Ireland comprised a fluid set of separate kingdoms. While already claiming a belief in Christianity, the arrival of missionaries from Rome (including St Patrick) saw the removal of druid culture and the introduction of a monastic culture and widespread growth of this religion.

Invasion by the Normans in the 1100s led to a period where Ireland saw large castles being built, like the large Trim Castle, but by their influence was waning by the 1300s and a period as a royal kingdom ensued. However, the kings ruling Ireland were those also ruling in England’s Tudor dynasty, starting with Henry VIII.

Conflicts with England and Scotland would last from the 16th century until the 1920s when Ireland was partitioned, leaving Northern Ireland remaining as part of the United Kingdom, and the now Republic of Ireland to go its own way following its official separation from the British Empire in 1949.

Ireland has suffered a number of famines in its history, sometimes as a result of conflict and others as a result of failures of crops. The most recent and notable was the famine of 1845-85 which saw the country lose one third of its population, through death and the emigration of residents to the United States and Canada. A further one million people would emigrate over the following century, leading to the widespread influence of the Irish people in the history of North America.

Where to stay in Ireland

Ireland has so much to offer in all of its regions. Where you stay will depend on what your visit entails.

Cork similarly has a compact heart and lots to see and do in a city environment that still feels like a small town. It has plenty of hotels, a great nightlife, and attractions, plus it’s close to some scenic towns like Cobh and Kinsale.

Galway, on the west coast, is a great hub for exploring this region. It has lots of festivals every year, and is well catered to visitors with hotels, restaurants and good nightlife. Nearby Limerick is also a good hub for exploring both the west coast, as well as central Ireland. It has a Georgian heart, and lovely character, and at its heart is the medieval King John’s Castle.

For something far removed from the rest of Ireland, head to wild and remote County Donegal in the north west of the country. It is a land of windswept clifftops, unspoiled beaches, spectacular golf courses, and pretty little villages. Donegal itself is the largest town and has hotels, but there are many spas and country retreats throughout the region.

Accommodation in Ireland

In Ireland you can stay anywhere from a cool and hip city hotel to a sprawling country retreat, and everywhere in between.

Dublin has many great places to stay, with all of the city’s main attractions only a short distance away. The intimate yet sleek Fitzwilliam Hotel is centrally located overlooking St Stephen’s Green with a fine restaurant. Meanwhile the Clarence Hotel, owned by members of rock band U2, is a boutique place right at the heart of the city’s nightlife in Temple Bar.

Just outside Dublin in the countryside is The K Club at Kildare. This period mansion has a wonderful setting and amenities to match, like a spa, two golf courses, a pool and restaurant, and offers activities like horse riding, whiskey tasting, fishing and art tours.

Cork city has lots of central hotels to choose from which are all convenient for its sights, nightlife and local landscapes. The River Lee Hotel is a modern and relaxing hotel, while the Hayfield Manor is a traditional old house hotel with pool and restaurant, next to the university.

However, throughout the Cork region there are great places to stay, from traditional B&Bs and self-catering accommodation, to dramatic coastal spas like the Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa perched above the breakers of the Atlantic Ocean.

Wild County Kerry in south west Ireland has both traditional and modern places to stay. Head to villages like Kenmare and Dingle, or the Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa in Killarney.

If your visit takes you to Galway, there are many hotels and B&Bs. The Galmont Hotel & Spa in the centre of the town is classier and overlooks Lough Atalia inlet.

In Limerick you can try The Savoy Hotel at the centre of the town, and convenient for all its attractions and nightlife.

In County Donegal you can stay in Donegal itself for local amenities, or choose one of the traditional hotels or spas around its coast. None are more dramatic than the Sandhouse Hotel & Marine Spa at Rossnowlagh which overlooks the Atlantic and the windswept beach.

Places to visit in Ireland

Ireland is a place of grand scenery, sweeping views, rolling hills, ancient ruins, vibrant cities and traditional towns and villages. If you’re looking for the best places to visit, try the following:

Dublin. Ireland’s capital city is a modern place which preserves a traditional way of life. Its centre is split by the River Liffey, which is spanned by bridges as it passes the hotels and restaurants on either side. Its main attractions are its historic buildings, the Guinness Storehouse, Phoenix Park, the shopping districts, Trinity College and the Temple Bar area with its traditional Irish bars and evening entertainment.

Kilkenny is a medieval town an easy drive south of Dublin. Once the capital of Ireland, it is watched over by the 12th-century Kilkenny Castle and in its narrow streets you’ll find museums, shops and traditional pubs.

Cork is the gateway to a large region of great coastal scenery and rolling hills. It is also a lovely town with traditional bars, boutique hotels, narrow streets and the Gothic St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. It’s also easy to take a day trip to kiss the Blarney Stone at nearby Blarney Castle, which will reputedly give you the gift of the Irish gab!

Limerick is another small Irish town which is worth a visit. The River Shannon passes through, watched over by Arthur’s Quay Park, and the town centre is full of traditional pubs, museums and galleries which make it one of Ireland’s best cultural places.

Just to the north is the compact but striking Burren National Park which draws fans of its scenery, the wildlife, hikers, and those interested in Ireland’s history because of its ancient monolith tombs.

County Kerry represents probably Ireland’s wildest landscape. Facing the full force of the North Atlantic, this region in the south west of the island is a vast area full of cliffs, inlets, wildlife, beaches and traditional little towns. It encompasses the Killarney National Park, with its red deer, lakes and walking trails, and the town of Tralee. Try the 112-mile Ring of Kerry scenic drive if you have a car, or take a boat ride to visit the UNESCO heritage sites on the Skellig Islands with their ancient monasteries.

The town of Dingle is also worth a visit as a base for exploring Kerry. One of the few places where Irish is spoken widely, this is traditional Ireland at its best, with little fishing boats, wild scenery and traditional pubs. There are also attractions here like the aquarium and whiskey distillery to visit.

To the north of Dingle is Mount Brandon, one of Ireland’s highest peaks, and a place of pilgrimage for Catholics. There are well marked paths to the top, or you can enjoy the vista of the mountain from the drive along Conor Pass.

Galway is a historic trading port in north west Ireland, and famed today for its pubs, entertainment, festivals and narrow streets. But it’s not all about the nightlife. Galway has a huge cathedral, shopping, good hotels and attractive parks to enjoy.

Tipperary is one of those Irish places many have heard of. Situated between Waterford and Limerick, it is a medium-sized town with a long Main Street of shops, pubs and hotels through its centre. A few miles east, however, is the Rock of Cashel – a limestone outcrop overlooking the small town of Cashel, atop which sits a 13th century monastery.

One of Ireland’s most visited attractions, and a great introduction to its western coast, is the Cliffs of Moher. An easy drive from Galway and Limerick, these dramatic outcrops rise 120m from the crashing waves below to quiet green meadows atop. From the edge you have amazing views across to the Aran Islands and along the coast in either direction. Just to the south is the Lahinch Golf Club links course.

Connemara National Park is another of Ireland’s most beautiful and remote regions. Its landscape is full of wildlife, lakes and mountains, with miles of walking trails. To its north is Ireland’s only Fjord at Killary Harbour, and the spot where Alcock and Brown completed the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic by air in 1919.

Into the north of Ireland, the town of Sligo is a medieval masterpiece. Its river is spanned by arched stone bridges and there are many reminders of its history dotted around the centre of the town. This is where W B Yeats spent his childhood summers and drew inspiration from its landscapes in his famed works. The town has many museums, old townhouses, boutique hotels and traditional bars. There are shops, riverside walks and family attractions, too.

Just outside Sligo is Knocknarea Mountain which overlooks the town and the coast if you hike the fairly easy climb to its summit.

In the very north of Ireland is Donegal – the largest town in the region, and the gateway to the most remote part of the country. Donegal has sights of its own, and is a good place to find accommodation. Then it’s time to explore the coast’s dramatic cliffs (the tallest in Ireland are at Sliabh Liag), the windswept beaches where surfers flock, like Bundoran and Tullan Strand.

There are coastal roads stretching all the way around this dramatic landscape. Inland you’ll find the Glenveagh National Park whose centrepiece is Lough Beagh. This whole region is has a wealth of sea views, quiet villages, golf courses, country spas and outdoor activities to enjoy. Its location is easy to reach from Northern Ireland, too.

Things to do in Ireland

For the essential visitor experience, you need to try the best of what Ireland has to offer – you just might need to plan a return visit to do it all!

To enjoy Ireland’s culture, you should start with some of its oldest attractions. Glendalough near Wicklow is a 6th monastic site with ruins, a cathedral, walks and forests to explore. But there are much older sites than that, such as The Burren megalithic site in County Clare and the Hill of Tara in County Meath where Celtic kings once held court. Meanwhile Newgrange, north of Dublin, is a site older than the Pyramids of Egypt.

Of Ireland’s impressive collection of castles, try to visit Reginald’s Tower in Waterford, the 12th-century Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle (where you must kiss the Blarney Stone!), Bunratty Castle near Shannon, or Trim Castle in County Meath – Ireland’s largest.

In Dublin itself there are historic attractions galore, like Christ Church Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Trinity College, which was founded in 1592 and displays the ancient Book of Kells.

While in Dublin you will also find worthwhile attractions to visit like Kilmainham Gaol, the Guinness Storehouse, the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Little Museum of Dublin or the huge Phoenix Park.

Nighttime culture is an important part of any visit to Ireland, and it doesn’t have to be about over-indulgence. The Irish count the traditional pub as one of its greatest assets and an important part of life. In central Dublin, Temple Bar is a hub for such bars, albeit geared towards tourists. A pint in the aptly named and legendary The Temple Bar should be tried, however. Kehoe’s on South Anne Street and Toner’s Pub on Baggot Street are also authentic Irish pubs in Dublin with restored interiors and fun patrons.

Some other classic Irish pubs to try are McCarthy’s in Tipperary (which doubles as an undertakers), Thomas Connolly’s in Sligo, The Glyde Inn at Louth, Smuggler’s Creek in Donegal, or Ireland’s oldest pub – Sean’s Bar in Athlone (it dates to 900AD!).

Exploring Ireland’s West Coast is best done as part of a road trip or organized tour. This can be done in one long stretch, by means of the Wild Atlantic Way which stretches 1,553 miles from Malin Head on the Northern Ireland border to the Old Head of Kinsale in County Cork. This covers the best of this wild and dramatic coastline, with its cliffs, beaches, villages and ancient monuments. You’ll discover some of Ireland’s best views, most traditional places to stay or enjoy a meal or drink. There are also many options for luxury along the way, at spas, golf clubs and in some of the towns it passes through.

Not everyone has time for such a long route, and you can tackle smaller sections quite easily. In the south west section enjoy the Ring of Kerry route, which covers Killarney National Park, Dingle and an opportunity to visit the ancient Skellig Islands.

The central section routes from Galway to Limerick and passes the popular and spectacular Cliffs of Moher. If you have time arrange a visit to the Isles of Aran with their ancient landscapes and peoples.

The northern section loops around County Donegal. It includes some incredibly wild and scenic beaches, Slieve League Cliffs (Ireland’s tallest), Glenveagh National Park and many quiet little villages.

Throughout Ireland there are countryside areas to enjoy, ranging from the easily accessible Wicklow Mountains near Dublin, to the wild and extreme parts of the West Coast. Wherever you go, you’ll find National Parks and beautiful scenery, traditional villages and historic buildings, and always a warm welcome in the pubs, hotels and B&Bs along the way.

Ireland is packed full of options for outdoor pursuits, with hundreds of golf courses all over the country (like Old Head in Cork, Lahinch in County Clare and Portmarnock in Dublin), surfing, sailing, hiking trails and mountain climbing.

Restaurant

Food in Ireland

Ireland is one of the world’s great food producing countries. Thanks to its abundance of agricultural areas and its climate, it is known to produce some of the finest natural ingredients in the world. It is also a source of incredible seafood like salmon, haddock and oysters, and produces mouthwatering beef, bacon and lamb.

The abundance of food here means that Ireland’s traditional dishes are just as tasty and enjoyable today, and many restaurants and pubs serve modern-day versions of food that has been a staple of Ireland since its earliest days.

Probably the most authentic and traditional meal you can enjoy in Ireland is a stew. Typically comprising meat like mutton (lamb), with a range of vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions and herbs, this is a mouthwatering meal served all over the country. It’s best enjoyed in the winter.

An alternative to a stew is Coddle, usually cooked with bacon or sausages and lots of potatoes.

Bacon and potatoes form the basis of many traditional Irish meals, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Both black and white pudding, made from pork, blood, suet and oatmeal, are a tasty addition to an Irish breakfast.

Ireland’s strong relationship with the sea means seafood is of exceptional quality. Oysters are harvested and served in the west of Ireland, and smoked salmon is a particular specialty, served with salad or potato cakes. Or try a fulfilling chowder with fresh salmon and haddock, accompanied by locally baked soda bread.

When it comes to drinks, there’s nothing more traditional in Ireland than Guinness. This filling stout is still produced in Dublin, despite its popularity around the world. You can even tour the brewery to learn of it history and the brewing process.

Getting around Ireland

Local train services are extensive around Dublin (operated by Dublin Area Rapid Transit, or DART) and Cork, with some local services around Galway and Limerick, too.

Long distance bus routes operate from both Dublin and Cork to Galway and Limerick, as well as locally within and around towns and cities, and to airports. The system is operated by various companies, like Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann and Go-Ahead Ireland.

Taxis are commonplace around the main towns and cities, and private drivers can be hired in advance.

If you want to explore more remote parts of Ireland, such as its west coast or the Donegal region, you should hire a car. There are car hire offices at all airports and in some city centres. Cars in Ireland drive on the left, like in the United Kingdom.

When to visit Ireland

The best months for warmer weather in Ireland are from June to September, where you can often experience warm and sunny days. However, Ireland’s climate can be wet for much of the year, which is the main reason its countryside is so green and abundant with life.

Most visitors come to Ireland in July and August. So if you can time your stay for the quieter months of May, June and September, you can often combine pleasant weather with lower prices and less crowded hotels, attractions and roads.

The winter months in Ireland can be colder and quieter, but these are excellent times to explore the cities where there’s always a warm hotel or restaurant to enjoy, and most attractions stay open year-round (however some are often closed in January).

There are various festivals throughout the year in Ireland, so whatever the month there’s usually something to enjoy. The biggest by far is St Patrick’s Day, celebrated on March 17th. For more somber celebration, reflect on the patron saint in St Patrick’s Cathedral, or join with revelers in bars across the city – and across the country for that matter – for celebrations late into the night.

Events in Ireland

The Irish love to celebrate their saints, history, food, drink, creativity, music, religion and culture, so there’s usually something for everyone through the year.

January

Temple Bar TradFest, Dublin

February

Dublin International Film Festival

March

17th – St Patrick’s Day, Nationwide
St Patrick’s Festival & Parades, Dublin

April

Good Friday and Easter Holidays
World Irish Dancing Championships, Dublin

May

1st – Labour Day, public holiday
Fleadh Nua Music Festival, Ennis
International Literature Festival, Dublin
Wicklow Arts Festival
Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, Kilkenny
Listowel Writers Week (into June)

June

16th – Bloomsday (James Joyce celebration), Dublin
Ennis Street Festival
Taste of Dublin food festival
Cork Midsummer Arts Festival
Irish Derby (horse racing), County Kildare

July

Galway Art Festival
Galway Races (horse racing)

August

Killorglin Puck Fair, County Kerry
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann music festival, location varies
Dublin Horse Show
Kilkenny Arts Festival
Rose of Tralee International Festival, County Kerry

September

Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival
Dublin Theatre Festival
Waterford Harvest Festival

October

Dingle Food Festival
Kinsale Gourmet Festival, County Cork
Guinness Cork Jazz Festival
Dublin City Marathon
Wexford Festival Opera
Halloween

November

Cork Film Festival

December

Killarney Christmas Market
Dublin Docklands Christmas Festival

Luxury travel tips

With some of Europe’s best scenery, most welcoming people, most incredible culture, best food, drink and entertainment, there are many opportunities for enjoying a fun and luxury stay.

In Dublin you can enjoy a luxury stay at a hotel like The Marker or The Shelbourne, each with spas, restaurants and other amenities. Take a chauffeur-driven drive around the city’s sights, including a tour of the Guinness Storehouse brewery, the Book of Kells at Trinity College or marvel in the splendour of Trinity Cathedral. Follow it up with some shopping along Grafton Street, or the Brown Thomas department store.

Enjoy fine dining at restaurants like the Michelin-starred Chapter One or L’Ecrivain, or experience a pint of Guinness in traditional surroundings like Toner’s pub.

You can also hire chauffeur tours further afield, to attractions like Waterford, the Blarney Stone, Glendalough historic site or Ashford Castle. Similar options are possible in Cork for exploring the sites of this region.

Ireland has one luxury train route – the Belmond Grand Hibernian which tours Ireland over four nights, taking in Dublin, Cork, Killarney, Galway and Westport before moving into Northern Ireland for two nights. This is a wonderful way to explore the country, with stops to explore the different regions in luxurious comfort.

Throughout Ireland there are opportunities to tee off on some of Europe’s most scenic golf courses. The Old Head Golf Links is probably the most spectacular, but there are many more all around the coast and countryside.

For a luxury stay, there are spas, country houses and even castles welcoming guests. Try Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa near Cork, Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal Ballyfin in County Laois for unrivalled luxury, surroundings and amenities.

Language and culture

Ireland is a Gaelic nation, which is an influence you can see everywhere, through art, literature, music, folklore, national sports and of course the language spoken by its people.

English is the most widely spoken language in Ireland and is understood everywhere. A minority of people also speak Irish, or Gaelic, which is a Celtic language. Despite it not being heard as much, you will quite commonly see Gaelic language written on signs, and an influence in the names of places or even people across Ireland.

Music plays a big part in Irish culture, especially with traditional instruments like the violin, harp or guitar, and folk music can be heard regularly in pubs, as often as not played by patrons rather than paid entertainers. Irish dance is an important outlet of entertainment, and the Irish pub has almost religious status (as does a pint of Guinness, or a glass of Irish whiskey).

Art and literature are also major influences on Irish culture, and religion still plays a part in daily life. Ireland is a Christian country.

Useful words and phrases

  • Ta – Yes (in Irish)
  • Nil – No (in Irish)
  • Oscailte – Open (in Irish)
  • Dunta – Closed (in Irish)
  • Chips – French Fries
  • The Jacks – Toilets/Bathroom
  • It’s Grand – It’s Good
  • The Craic – The Fun
  • Slainte! – Cheers! (in Irish)
  • Mineral – Soft Drink
  • Gardai / Garda – Policeman or woman / The Police
  • Mammy – Mother

Weather in Ireland

Visiting Ireland soon? See below for the latest weather forecast for Ireland.

IRELAND WEATHER

Useful information

Timezone

UTC +0 Greenwich Mean Time
UTC +1 Irish Standard Time (Summer)

Currency

The Republic of Ireland’s currency is the Euro which replaced the Irish Pound in 2002. See www.xe.com for current exchange rates with the British Pound and the American Dollar. Note that Northern Ireland uses the British Pound since it is part of the United Kingdom.

Power

The Republic of Ireland, like Northern Ireland and the UK, operates on 230V/50Hz system and has three-pin plug sockets accepting type G. Appliances with a different voltage, such as those from Continental Europe and the USA, can be used here with the correct adapter.

Tipping

Tipping in Ireland is accepted but not required. You should leave around 10-15% of your bill at sit-down restaurants and cafes, based on your experience. If it was not good service, do not leave a tip. Tipping in bars and pubs is not expected in Ireland, but you may consider leaving a tip if you have table service or food. Porters in hotels may expect a tip, and it’s normal to give taxi drivers a tip by rounding up the fare.

Telecommunications

The three main network providers in Ireland are Vodafone, Three and eir. UK, USA and other European phones can be used here but if you wish to use an Irish SIM card, you will need to have your phone unlocked in one of the smaller, independent phone shops.

WiFi

Free WiFi is available in many cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels in Ireland, plus tourist information areas, trains, stations and some buses. Some places will limit use without paying for extra or signing up.

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Author

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel 'Best Travel Influencer' Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted "one of the world's best travel blogs" and "best for luxury" by The Daily Telegraph.

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