21 incredible places to visit in Ireland beyond the Cliffs of Moher
With breathtaking views and stunning landscapes throughout the whole country, Ireland's scenery is among the most spectacular in Europe. Yes there are many famous places to see, but if you get off the main roads some of the country’s most stunning scenery can be found on secondary roads that wind their narrow way through standout photo ops.
You'll the Irish are genuinely warm and welcoming, and there are few more enjoyable ways of gaining a greater understanding of the island's inhabitants than a chat with a local. Here’s our guide to the places that will make a trip to Ireland one to remember, for a long time.
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
Best for iconic Ireland
One of Ireland's blockbuster sights, the Cliffs of Moher are staggeringly beautiful, and as a result a visit there is high on every visitors agenda – so be warned it will be busy here. The entirely vertical cliffs rise to a height of 214m, their edge abruptly falling away into a ceaselessly churning Atlantic.
Views stretch to the Aran Islands and the hills of Connemara. Sunsets here see the sky turn a kaleidoscope of amber, amethyst, rose pink and deep garnet red. The turf covered visitors centre, cut into the hillside, has engaging exhibitions covering the fauna, flora, geology and climate of the cliffs.
Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin City
Best for learning about Ireland’s struggle for independence
If you want to understand Irish history, especially the long-running resistance to British rule, then a visit to this former prison is an absolute must. A threatening grey building, Kilmainham Gaol was built in 1796, it's played a role in virtually every act of Ireland's painful path to independence, and even today, despite closing in 1924, it still has the power to chill. The tour is gripping, but maybe not suitable for younger children, as it ends in a courtyard where the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were executed.
Wild Atlantic Way
Best for road trips
No visit to Ireland is complete without tackling some part of the 1555-mile long Wild Atlantic Way. Depending on what direction you travel, the craggy, crenellated Donegal coastline is either the dramatic finale of the Wild Atlantic Way or its breathtaking beginning. Ireland’s northwestern corner is an untamed collection of soaring cliffs (the tallest in Europe), lonely, sheep-speckled headlands and, between them, secluded coves and long stretches of white, powdery sand. Among them, in the county's southwest, is Rossnowlagh, one of Europe’s premier surf beaches and a hotspot for big-wave surfers.
The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
Best for bucket list ticking
This spectacular rock formation – Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage site – is one of Ireland's most impressive and atmospheric landscape features, a vast expanse of regular, closely packed, hexagonal stone columns looking for all the world like the handiwork of giants. The phenomenon is explained in the Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience, housed in a state-of-the-art ecofriendly building half-hidden in the hillside above the sea. Visiting the Giant's Causeway itself is free of charge but you pay to use the car park on a combined ticket with the visitor centre; parking-only tickets aren't available.
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Croagh Patrick in County Mayo
Best for hiking
Mayo has wild beauty and haunting landscapes, but you'll find few tourists here, which means there are plenty of untapped opportunities for exploration by car, foot, bicycle and even horseback. Bright and vibrant even in the depths of winter, Westport is a photogenic Georgian town with tree-lined streets, riverside walkways and a great vibe. From here, pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick, the mountain where Ireland's patron saint fasted for 40 days and nights. Climbing the 764m holy mountain is an act of penance for thousands of believers on the last Sunday of July (Reek Sunday) On a clear day, the tough two-hour climb rewards with stunning views over Clew Bay and its sandy islets.
Belfast Murals, County Antrim
Best for understanding Ireland's recent history
The gable walls of Belfast have become an important tourist attraction, depicting the Troubles of the 1970s and 1980s. As the 'voice of the community' the murals were rarely permanent, but changed to reflect the issues of the day. Many nationalist murals in West Belfast commemorate the hunger strike of 1981, when 10 men IRA men starved themselves to death in prison. The Loyalist battle cry of 'No Surrender!' is common, along with red, white and blue painted kerbstones. There are various tours that will give a good explanation of the history of Northern Ireland and the murals that depict significant events, or you can take a self guided walking tour.
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, County Antrim
Best for thrill seekers
Now firmly on the tour-bus route, Carrick-a-Rede has become so popular that you need to book in advance of a visit. Mornings tend to be quieter; the coaches arrive in the afternoon.
The 20m-long, 1m-wide bridge of wire rope is not for the faint hearted, swaying 30m above the rock-strewn water. Crossing the bridge is perfectly safe, but frightening if you don't have a head for heights, especially if it's breezy (in high winds the bridge is closed). From the island, views take in Rathlin Island and Fair Head to the east.
The Aran Islands
Best for traditional lifestyles
The three Aran Islands are situated 40 minutes by boat from Galway, but each has a very distinct flavour. Inishmore (Irish: Inis Mór) is the largest island and home to the only town, Kilronan. Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) preserves its age-old traditions and evokes a sense of timelessness. Inisheer (Inis Oírr), the smallest island, has a strong traditional music culture. Dún Aonghasa is one of the largest prehistoric stone forts in Europe and stands guard over Inis Mór on the edge of a 100-metre sheer cliff drop.
Best for music and nightlife
Galway is one of Ireland's most energetic cities, while it's steeped in history, the city buzzes with a contemporary vibe. Brightly painted pubs heave with live music, while restaurants and cafes offer front-row seats for observing buskers and street theatre. Remnants of the medieval town walls lie between shops and pubs and a long promenade leads to the seaside suburb of Salthill, on Galway Bay, the source of the area's famous oysters.
St Declan’s Way, Ardmore, County Waterford
Best for starting the Irish camino
The seaside village of Ardmore was once one of the most important Christian settlements in Ireland. Today's visitors come mainly to enjoy the beaches (both the town strand and secluded Ballyquin Beach), as well as water sports and bracing coastal walks. The Irish Camino, St Declan’s Walk, starts from Ardmore through 56 miles (96 kilometres), crossing the Knockmealdown Mountains to Cashel in County Tipperary. Follow the blue signposts along the route and consult this local website for advice. The five star Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore is a destination hotel. If budgets allow, the eight course menu in the Michelin-star House restaurant is something to savour.
Rock of Cashel
Best for a Game of Thrones-like location
Soaring up from the green Tipperary pastures, this ancient fortress takes your breath away at first sight. The seat of kings and churchmen who ruled over the region for more than 1000 years, it rivalled Tara as a centre of power in Ireland for 400 years. Entered through the 15th-century Hall of the Vicars Choral, its impervious walls guard an awesome enclosure with a complete round tower, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral and the most magnificent 12th-century Romanesque chapel in Ireland. Entry is free, but tickets must be reserved online.
Adare Village, County Limerick
Best for a postcard-perfect houses
Overtouted as 'Ireland's prettiest village', Adare's fame centres on its string of thatched cottages built by 19th-century English landlord, the Earl of Dunraven, for workers constructing Adare Manor. Today the pretty cottages house craft shops and fine restaurants, while prestigious golf courses nearby cater to golf enthusiasts. The Irish name for Adare is Áth Dara – the Ford of the Oak. The village is 16km southwest of Limerick, on the approach to the village is Adare Manor, today it is a luxury 5 star hotel and golf resort - visitors are permitted to drive in and take a a look at the incredible grounds and castle.
The English Market, Cork City
Best for food lovers
The English Market is a true gem, with its ornate vaulted ceilings, columns and polished marble fountain. Scores of market traders set up stalls of local fresh produce including meat, fish, fruit, cheeses and takeaway food. Queen Elizabeth II made a memorable trip here on her first visit to Ireland, where she shared a joke with fishmonger Pat O’Connell. On a sunny day, take your lunch to nearby Bishop Lucey Park, a popular alfresco eating spot.
Best for stepping back in time
No trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to Glendalough. Why? It is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and has been recognised for its romantic landscape since the arrival of St Kevin who made a home here in the 5th century.
During the Middle Ages, when Ireland was known as "the island of saints and scholars", Glendalough became a monastic city catering to thousands of students and teachers. The site is entered through the only surviving monastic gateway in Ireland. Around the monastic site can get congested with visitors, but head away from the crowds and up to the lakes of Glendalough for scenery that will take your breath away.
Garnish Island, West Cork
Best for discovering a hidden world
Take the short ferry ride from Glengarrif harbour in County Cork and you step into a garden of Eden. A well kept secret, Garnish is home to exotic plants and unusual species, owing to the microclimate on the island. Stroll around the gardens, including an Italian Garden, a Japanese Garden and the Kitchen Garden, all which have been impeccably maintained for over a century. Visit the Martello Tower on the island, dating from 1805. The ferry ride itself is a wonder, passing a colony of over 250 harbour seals. The island opens from April to October.
Sheep's Head, West Cork
Best for rugged views
The Sheep's Head Peninsula has a wild charm all its own – and as the name suggests, there are plenty of sheep. The road west from Durrus passes through Ahakista (Atha an Chiste), which has a couple of pubs including the charming, tin-roofed Ahakista Bar – take your pint out the back and step into a 19th century Victorian garden with truly incredible view. Make a stop at Durrus Farmhouse, and watch the cheese-making process through a viewing window.
The Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry
Best for breathtaking photos
The Gap of Dunloe is a wild and scenic (and sometimes hairy!) mountain pass – studded with crags and bejewelled with lakes and waterfalls – that lies to the west of Killarney National Park, squeezed between Purple Mountain and the high summits of the Macgillycuddy Reeks (Ireland's highest mountain range).
Take a pony and trap ride with a local for an authentic experience, or walk the Gap to allow time to take in the majestic views. Make your way to Heather cafe, for a true farm to fork experience – with vegetables from its fields and polytunnels, while seafood and meat are locally and sustainably sourced.
Croke Park GAA Stadium, Dublin
Best for sporting fans
Gaelic games (hurling and football) are fast, furious and the beating heart of every town and village in the country.
The dream of every club player is to represent their county at Croke Park in Dublin, the incredible 82,300 capacity stadium right in the heart of the city. Visit the Croke Park museum to discover the history of the GAA, which has Ireland’s cultural identity in its DNA. If you can get a ticket to a match, all the better, and if Dublin are playing, try to get yourself onto Hill 16, where you will be entertained as much by the banter of supporters around you as the sport on the pitch.
Dublin’s Georgian Squares
Best for city strolling
A perfect way to spend an afternoon in Dublin is to wander around the city's elegant spaces of Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares and take in the exquisite architecture. Here you'll find the perfect mix of imposing public buildings, museums, and private offices and residences.
These include the home of the Irish parliament at Leinster House and, immediately surrounding it, the main branch of the National Museum of Ireland and the Museum of Natural History. Situated on Merrion Square is Ireland’s pre-eminent gallery, packed with art from eight centuries of European tradition. Take a trip over to the Northside to the more vibrant, community centered Mountjoy Square, and stop off at the Hugh Lane gallery on Parnell Square on the way, and view an incredible contemporary art collection.
Best for a families
The Phoenix Park has a lot to offer visitors, including Dublin Zoo, Áras an Uachtaráin, home of the Irish president, the official residence of the US ambassador, the Papal Cross (where John Paul II said mass to a million people in 1979) and the often missed Farmleigh House. The Irish government's official guesthouse is this fine Georgian-Victorian pile designed by James Gandon. Originally part of the Guinness estate, the guided tour only includes the ground floor, but it's still pretty impressive, especially the fantastic library and glass conservatory. The vast pleasure gardens with lake and walled and Japanese gardens are a delight to stroll. At the weekends you can enjoy a farmer's market in the grounds of Farmleigh.
Ben Bulben, Sligo
Best for taking your breath away
A flat top mountain visible along Sligo's northern coast, Ben Bulben, resembles a table covered by a pleated cloth. Walking here is not for the uninitiated; High Hopes Mountain Treks leads hikes to the top. It's best to stock up with snacks for hiking in the Benbulben area as restaurants are few and far between. Pay a visit to nearby grave of poet W.B. Yeats in Drumcliffe Cemetery.
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