The capital is the nation's primary repository of archaeological artefacts, artistic treasures and other cultural treasures. The National Museum's three Dublin branches are the place to start, while the city's multitude of galleries have art on their walls from the Renaissance to the current day.
Pubs & Nightlife
With a thousand-odd pubs to choose from, there is plenty of choice when deciding where to enjoy a pint of Dublin's most celebrated produce. But beyond Guinness and pub chatter there is theatre old and new, all manner of gigs and a host of sporting distractions.
Story in Every Stone
Virtually every Dublin street is lined with monuments to its storied history, from the cobbled grounds of Trinity College to the bloodied walls of Kilmainham Gaol. Its finest buildings and most elegant streets belong to its golden Georgian age, when Dublin was the second city of the empire. But even the most innocuous alley and unassuming house has a story to tell.
Counties Wicklow & Kildare
There are splendid views pretty much everywhere in the Wicklow Mountains, especially at the top of the passes that cut through the range; on a clear day you can see five counties. In Kildare, the fecund Bog of Allen offers another classic Irish landscape.
Not only are the ruins of Glendalough utterly absorbing, but their location, at the bottom of a glacial valley by two lakes, is absolutely enchanting and well worth the visit alone.
Ireland’s most popular walking trail, the Wicklow Way, cuts through the county north to south. Kildare is horse-breeding country, where the walking paths are a little bit gentler but no less enjoyable.
Counties Wexford, Waterford, Carlow & Kilkenny
Iconic emerald-green fields above ragged ebony cliffs that end in a cerulean sea: you will never tire of the vista. Should you need a break, perfect pockets of sand dot the coast, while Wexford’s beaches stretch beyond the horizon. Inland, rural Ireland includes wild rivers and bucolic farms.
You half expect to encounter a Viking as you wander the streets of Waterford and Wexford, where traces of the Middle Ages are all around you. Kilkenny’s medieval past is impossible to miss, from its soaring cathedral to its great castle.
Head to Dungarvan, County Waterford, to enjoy Irish cooking at its best, and enjoy the region’s wonderful produce in all towns, big and small.
County Cork is the unofficial gourmet heartland of Ireland, from the fabulous eateries of Cork city to the wealth of local producers and foodie artisans of West Cork, where you can buy directly at source and eat like a lord.
The county’s three western peninsulas – Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head and Beara – have it all: mountain passes, lonely windswept hills, beautiful beaches and views that will stay with you long after you’ve left for home.
Story of Rebellion
'The Rebel County' wears its history with pride, even the sorrowful kind. You can explore it all, from Famine memorials and scenes of 17th-century battles to the powerful tribute to its more recent fallen heroes.
An Irish Postcard
County Kerry is the very definition of scenic Ireland – the Connor Pass, the Dingle Peninsula and, particularly, the Ring of Kerry are the gold standard by which Irish landscapes are judged. Decide for yourself by picking up a postcard.
Fresh from the Sea
Kerry’s intimate relationship with the sea means that the fresh catch of the day is exactly that: throughout the Dingle Peninsula you can eat fish fresh off the boat you’ve just watched land.
No Kerry town or village is complete without at least one pub featuring traditional music, played by musicians schooled in the respective styles of their region. It’s the proper accompaniment to a visit to the county.
Counties Limerick & Tipperary
It’s a long way to Tipperary, but keep going once you get there, tramping through the chequered Glen of Aherlow and along the more challenging Tipperary Heritage Trail, a 56km walk through beautiful river valleys dotted with ancient ruins.
Castles & Monasteries
From the mighty monastic city of Cashel in County Tipperary to the impressive fortifications of King John’s Castle in Limerick city, the varied fortunes of the region’s history are easily discernible throughout the two counties.
At its broadest point, the mighty Shannon makes for some beautiful vistas, while the rolling hills and farmland of County Tipperary, peppered with ancient ruins, offer the kind of views for which Ireland is renowned.
Rising from the stormy Atlantic in all their sheer dramatic glory, the Cliffs of Moher are an arresting sight not to be missed. Elsewhere on the Clare coast are similar levels of drama and beauty, especially at Loop Head and the coastal roads leading to and from its spectacular views of the restless Atlantic.
Clare plays Ireland’s most traditional music, with few modern influences. At festivals, in pubs or even just around any corner, you can hear brilliant trad sessions by the county’s surfeit of musicians.
There is no town in Clare that doesn’t have at least one wonderful old pub where the Guinness is ready, the peat is lit and the craic never ends.
Islands & Mountains
Hundreds of years of ceaseless toil have brought green accents to the otherwise barren rocks of the Aran Islands. The results are gorgeous, and a walk around these windswept and intriguing islands is one of Ireland’s highlights. In spring, when the gorse blooms in brilliant yellow, the Connemara Peninsula’s beauty astounds.
Even as you read this, millions of succulent oysters are growing to the perfect size out in the tidal waters of Galway Bay. Local chefs excel at creating tasty treats with the water’s bounty.
On any given night, Galway city’s pubs and clubs hum with trad sessions, brilliant rock and tomorrow’s next big band. It’s a feast for the ears.
Counties Mayo & Sligo
There are reputed to be 365 islands in Mayo's Clew Bay, including one once owned by John Lennon. There’s also Craggy Island, which isn’t the island of Father Ted fame but rather the home of the notorious pirate queen, Grace O'Malley (or Granuaile).
From the world’s most extensive Stone Age monument at Céide Fields to the megalithic cemeteries at Carrowmore and Carrowkeel, the environs of Mayo's Ballycastle are a step back into prehistory.
County Sligo is Yeats country: he’s buried in the church at Drumcliff, in the shadow of Benbulben; and throughout the county you’ll find tributes to him in museums and heritage centres, while the landscapes are reflected in his poetry.
Mountains & Cliffs
Untamed and almost impossibly wild, Donegal is the ultimate frontier country; from the wave- and wind-lashed cliffs and beaches of the coast to the mountainous interior, it's as brooding as it is beautiful.
The county with the second-longest coastline has the country’s best beaches, including surf-friendly Rossnowlagh, unspoilt Tramore and the red-tinged sands of Malinbeg. The multitude of coves hides an astonishing number of sandy hideaways.
In Donegal you can learn to surf as well as take on some of the world’s toughest breaks – the county is arguably the best place in the country to ride the waves due to its great mix of beaches and abundance of surf centres.
The Mighty River
Saints & Scholars
Spread almost innocuously across the Midlands are some of the most atmospheric pubs in the country, including Morrissey's of Abbeyleix in County Laois, perhaps the most perfect pub in Ireland.
What better way to explore the length and breadth of the country’s belly than by cruiser along Ireland’s longest river? See the sights and stop off along the way to eat in the riverbank restaurants that have sprouted for that purpose.
The top monastic site in Ireland is Clonmacnoise, perched on the edge of the Shannon in County Offaly. Within its walled enclosure you’ll find early churches, high crosses, round towers and graves in astonishingly good condition.
Counties Meath, Louth, Cavan & Monaghan
Chieftains & Conflict
Irish history was lived and written across these counties, at the Hill of Tara, the Neolithic monuments of Brú na Bóinne and Loughcrew (all in Meath), and in the magnificent abbeys of Mellifont and Monasterboice, and in towns such as Drogheda (all in Louth).
Angling & Coarse Fishing
County Cavan’s myriad lakes are famed for coarse fishing. County Monaghan isn’t far behind, and if you fancy a little sea angling, towns such as Clogherhead and Carlingford in County Louth are the places to go.
Lakelands & Hills
These counties offer all kinds of scenery, from the lakelands of Cavan and Monaghan to the fecund hills of County Meath. There are beautiful seaside views too, along the Louth coast as far up as scenic Carlingford.
Belfast's shipbuilding heritage has been salvaged and transformed into Northern Ireland's most-visited museum – a fabulous multimedia experience centred on the construction of the world's most famous maritime disaster, which you can explore in virtual detail.
The Victorian classic pubs of the city centre are Belfast’s most beloved treasure – the Crown might be the most famous, but equally beautiful are the John Hewitt and the Garrick, while older taverns such as White’s and Kelly’s have even more atmosphere.
From DJs spinning tunes in the Eglantine to sell-out gigs at the Odyssey, Belfast’s music scene is top-notch. Best of the lot is probably the Belfast Empire, which features new bands and established acts nightly.
Counties Down & Armagh
With an impressive calendar of yearly events including birdwatching meets, walking festivals and more-strenuous activities such as rock climbing and canoeing, there’s enough to do here to keep you busy every day of the year.
Birds & Seals
The bird-filled mudflats of Castle Espie in County Down are home to a wildfowl and wetlands centre that will entice even the most indifferent of ornithologists, while large colonies of grey seals are but the most obvious of visitors to Strangford Lough in County Armagh.
You’ll find first-rate dining in the restaurants and gastropubs of Hillsborough, Bangor and Warrenpoint. Many of the best places to eat are in the countryside, and use seafood, beef, apples and other fine local ingredients.
Counties Londonderry & Antrim
A Walled City
Derry, Ireland’s only walled city, has a rich historical past, poignantly told along the walls that withstood a siege in 1688–89, in its storied museums and, most tellingly, in the political murals of the Bogside district, where history was played out on its very streets.
Virtually the entire length of the Antrim coast is scenic gold, but the real stars are the southern section around Carnlough Bay and the North’s most outstanding tourist attraction, the surreal geological formations of the Giant’s Causeway.
On the Trail
Game of Thrones fans will recognise Antrim's Dark Hedges as the Kingsroad; Mussenden Temple on the Causeway Coast as Dragonstone; Cushenden Caves as the spot where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow baby in Season 2; and Ballintoy Harbour as the Iron Islands' Lordsports Harbour.
Counties Fermanagh & Tyrone
Walking & Fishing
Need something to do? How about fishing in the waters of County Fermanagh, or taking part in the Ulster American Folk Park’s annual Appalachian and bluegrass festival? Or, for something more spiritual, why not climb to the summit of Mullaghcarn, County Tyrone, along with other pilgrims?
From a Height
Whether you’re boating on Lough Erne, staring out the windows at the top of the round tower on Devenish Island (both in County Fermanagh) or hiking across the broad range of Tyrone's Sperrin Mountains, the scenery is beguiling, especially if you have any kind of decent weather.
Conflict & Connections
The towns of Omagh (County Tyrone) and Enniskillen (County Fermanagh) speak volumes about the atrocities of violence, but Northern Ireland’s history isn’t just one of conflict: County Tyrone's Ulster American Folk Park expertly tells the story of the province’s strong links with the USA.