Travel experts often advise that you should become a tourist in your own country. If you think that you’re already familiar with all that Ireland has to offer, this list will challenge you to take the road less travelled and discover some of these hidden gems.

Fourknocks passage tomb in Co. meath is well worth a visit
Fourknocks passage tomb is older than Stonehenge © Print Collector/Getty Images

Delve into Irish prehistory

Older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, Meath is home to some of the most important prehistoric monuments in the world. As well as Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth, it's worth visiting  Fourknocks, Stamullen, Co Meath, which is a little more difficult to find. Built around 3000 BC, it has a larger chamber than Newgrange and a shorter passage and features engraved stones, and what is thought to be one of the first depictions of the human face found in prehistoric Irish art. It’s not just a case of turning up and seeing this Neolithic burial mound: visitors must first obtain a key from the White family, who live a mile away, before 6pm.

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Jump aboard Ireland's only cable car on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork
Ireland's only cable car at Dursey Island, Co. Cork © Algirdas Gelazisu / Shutterstock 

Jump aboard Ireland’s only cable car

Dursey Island, located on the scenic Beara Peninsula in Co Cork is famed for its wide variety of seabirds and butterflies, as well as the dolphins and whales who regularly visit the waters. One of the few uninhabited islands on the southwest coast, you can get there by taking a trip on Ireland’s only cable car, which has room for six adults. The cable car runs all year round – weather permitting – and takes approximately eight minutes each way. It’s best to come armed with water and snacks as there are no shops or pubs once you land on Dursey, which is regarded as a walker’s paradise. 

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Wicklow Way wines are making wine from berries
Wines produced in Wicklow using blackberries, raspberries and strawberries © Wicklow Way Wines

Meet the Irish winemakers

Ireland is rich with world-class craft brewing and distilling, but winemaking is now something to be enjoyed right there at home. That’s changing thanks to producers like Wicklow Way Wines, who use berries to create Móinéir (it means ‘meadows'), Irish raspberry, strawberry and blackberry wines, which are made in small batches and feature on the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants around the country. The small winery sits in the Wicklow hills and a personalised tour here takes in the wines’ production, fermentation (depending on the time of year) and bottling, followed by a tasting session where the wines are paired with chocolates or artisan Irish cheeses. 

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Coral Strand, Mannin Bay, Connemara
Mannin Bay near Ballyconneely, Connemara © Maurice ROUGEMONT/Getty Images

Seek out an extraordinary beach

The Wild Atlantic Way on Ireland's western seaboard boasts an array of beautiful sandy coastal stretches, but only two coral beaches: Coral Strand looking out on Mannin Bay near Ballyconneely in Connemara, and Coral Beach near Gleesk Pier in Sneem, Co Kerry. Strictly speaking, the term ‘coral’ here is a misnomer as this coral is not made from animals, as you might find on the Great Barrier Reef, but instead is formed from dried algae. The two beaches are striking to look at and are also havens for nature enthusiasts and explorers, and both are situated in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

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Mayo Dark Sky Park is one of the best places to stargaze in Ireland
Mayo Dark Sky Park borders Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park © Failte Ireland

Reach for the sky in Mayo

Visit Mayo Dark Sky Park, which borders Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park and you will experience one of the best places to stargaze, not only in Ireland but in the world. Mayo has international dark sky gold tier status because of the quality of its night sky, which is free from light pollution and where on a clear night you can see over 4500 stars along with other planets in the solar system. There are three signature viewing points in the park at easily accessible locations, one of which incorporates Cleary’s Hill, which offers a panoramic view of the night sky.  

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If you're looking for an adrenalin rush, Loop Head Peninsula in Co. Clare is the place for you
Loop Head is made for water adventures © Failte Ireland

Splash around the Loop Head Peninsula

With its dramatic cliffs and glorious seascapes, this area of Co Clare is made for water adventures. Kayaking, scuba diving, stand up paddleboarding, surfing and sea angling are popular pursuits here and if you're looking for a real adrenalin rush, coasteering is a relatively new exhilarating adventure sport to try. It combines climbing, jumping, swimming and scrambling while wearing a wetsuit and helmet and under supervision of an experienced guide. It's the perfect way to explore some of Loop Head's many rock pools, gullies and caves.

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Dunmore Cave, Ballyfoyle, Co. Kilkenny
Dunmore Cave was formed several million years ago © Ireland's Ancient East

Explore Ireland’s dark Viking past

Formed millions of years ago, the first account of Dunmore Cave in Ballyfoyle, Co Kilkenny, can be found in a 9th-century manuscript where it is referenced as the darkest place in Ireland. But there is a more morbid reason for its fascination for visitors to the cave, which can be experienced by private tour only. According to the Annals of the Masters, dated to the 17th century, it was the site of a Viking massacre in 928 AD, where 1000 people – mainly women and children – were said to have been killed when they sought refuge in the cave and perished when the Vikings lit a fire to smoke them out. Archaeological finds have indeed shown Viking activity here. 

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Experience medieval life at Ferrycarrig's Irish Nation Heritage Park
Travel back in time at Ferrycarrig's Irish National Heritage Park © Failte Ireland

Get medieval in Wexford

Travelling back in time is possible at Ferrycarrig’s National Irish Heritage Park when you stay overnight in a medieval wooden ringfort and experience life as it would have been in the time of St Patrick. The dwelling is constructed with materials that our ancestors would have used including stone, oak and ash and features a thatched roof and central hearth. It sleeps six to eight people and authentic costumes are provided so that you can get dressed up, with instructions provided on how to live like a medieval farmer. Guests also have access to the 35-acre park when it closes to the public and can cook on an outdoor fire. 

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The Elphin Windmill was built in the 1730s
Explore Ireland's only fully restored windmill at Elphin in Roscommon © Failte Ireland

Explore an 18th century restored windmill

The Elphin Windmill in Co. Roscommon is Ireland's only fully restored windmill in the west of Ireland. Built in the 1730s by landowner Edward Synge, the Archbishop of Elphin, it functioned for 100 years grinding wheat and oats from farmers in the area but fell into disrepair after the Napoleonic wars when flour prices fell across Europe. Lovingly restored by a local community group, it was reopened to the public in 1996 by actor Gabriel Byrne. The mill is also home to a visitor centre where the windmill's workings are explained, as well as an agricultural museum featuring various machinery used to harvest grain.

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Sliabh Liag is three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher
Sliabh Liag has some of the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe © Failte Ireland

Take the perfect photo at Sliabh Liag

Reaching three times higher than the cliffs of Moher, Sliabh Liag in Co. Donegal has what are regarded as some of the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. It offers unparalleled views across Donegal Bay, notably the Bunglass Viewing Platform from which you can snap spectacular views of the cliffs. More picture-perfect spots can be found along the Pilgrim's Path, a 4km route with a waterfall and views across Lough Agh and the ruined remains of a chapel associated with the Saints Aedh MacBric and Assicus. The next plateau up provides more panoramic views which take in seven counties.

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This article was created by Lonely Planet in collaboration with Failte Ireland. It was written to reflect Lonely Planet’s policy of editorial independence and impartiality.

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