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Ireland Travel Guide: What to Do in Ireland

It doesn’t take luck or magic to have a fantastic time in Ireland. Whether it’s the plethora of tasty brews, the beauty of the countryside or something else entirely, the Irish are famous for their craic (pronounced crack), which essentially means entertainment, enjoyable conversation and good company all rolled up into one. So it’s unsurprising that so many of the best experiences you can have in Ireland revolve around being with other people.

Like giving the Irish “Traveller” lifestyle a go for a day or two, slowly making your way from village to village with your horse-drawn caravan, stopping frequently to chat with people along the way. Or joining a pub crawl with a group of others, listening to storytellers spin tales of the ancient and recent past while sampling the best beers, ales and whiskeys Ireland has to offer.

And don’t forget the outdoors. Dubbed the Emerald Isle for its vibrant green environs, when the sun is shining there are few places on Earth that are as pretty. Get lost among the ancient ring forts and tombs of the Burren, or marvel at the mighty Cliffs of Moher.

Whether you’ve never set foot on Irish soil or you’ve been to Ireland many times over, has you covered. Click through our slideshow above to see all the magical experiences you can have on your trip to Ireland. Then check out our picks for the best places to stay and discover more about how to get around.

Channel Your Inner Royal

If a villa stay is iconic in Italy and renting a London flat is the chic choice in England, then staying in a castle is the thing to do in Ireland. Let your imagination run wild as you pull up beneath the stone parapets of the 800-year-old Barberstown Castle in County Kildare or 700-year-old Ashford Castle in County Mayo. For a more modern take on the castle experience, check out Fitzpatrick Castle, an 18th-century estate located just 20 minutes from the center of Dublin.

Castle stays can be booked directly with each property, through a travel agent or through companies like and Some 10 to 15 castles and manor homes are available. Learn more about Accommodations in Ireland.

See the Winter Solstice Inside Newgrange

A bead of light pierces the darkness and glides farther inside the ancient burial mound; the dome begins to glow. It’s magical and it only happens five days a year. Well, it only happens naturally five days a year; the rest of the year, modern lighting replaces the solstice sun. The domed mound is Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old passage tomb — older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids — best known for the way the passage and inner chamber light up during the winter solstice.

You can visit Newgrange any time of year and get a modernized taste of the winter event. But to experience the real deal, you have to be one of the lucky 100 randomly selected each year. You can email your info to the folks on site to be entered into the drawing. For day tours to the site the rest of the year, check out Boyne Valley Tours or Newgrange Tours.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Ireland: A Writer’s Paradise by Karen P.
“The most magical aspect to Newgrange is the alignment of its passage: on December 21, the sun shines through a roofbox over the door for exactly 17 minutes and illuminates the central chamber. Only a few people can fit in the chamber, so a lottery is held to select those who’ll observe on 12/21. We entered our names. I get goosebumps when I imagine being there.” Read more!

Get Out of Doors in Connemara

The rugged Connemara region of western Ireland is an outdoor lover’s paradise. With craggy mountain peaks, wide-open meadows, pristine lakes and sand beaches, you can do just about any outdoor activity you like. Fancy a hike? There are loads of trails to choose from. Want to learn archery? You can do that, too. Fishing, horseback and pony riding, cycling, rock climbing? Connemara’s got ’em all.

Among the many tour or rental operators in the Connemara region are Walk Connemara (hiking), Killary Adventure Company (archery, kayaking, rock climbing), (deep sea fishing), Connemara Wild Escapes (hiking, fresh water fishing) and The Point Pony Trekking (pony and horseback riding). For longer tours, check out Connemara Adventure Tours for three- to eight-day walking, cycling and horseback riding treks. Just want a map telling you where to hike or bike? Try or Connemara Wild Escapes.

Pour Your Own Pint of Guinness

Guinness isn’t just a beer; it’s an experience. It must be poured in a certain manner (there are technically two pours involved) and then must be allowed to settle before imbibing can begin. Rush a barkeep or try to grab your glass before the beer is ready, and you may just get your hand slapped. So where else to learn the traditions surrounding this most authentic of Irish beers than in the country of its birth?

St. James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin has been producing the dark stout since 1759. In 2000, one of the brewery’s warehouses was turned into the Guinness Storehouse, where visitors can learn the history of Guinness, watch how it’s made, purchase lots of fun Guinness-branded items and take a class on learning how to pour a perfect pint. When the class is over, the barkeep will give you a frameable certificate — and, of course, you get to partake of your perfect pint.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Dublin …1st Stop on My Big Adventure by Toni K N
“On to Guinness Storehouse for a tour. … The tour at Guinness was so interesting; even though I don’t drink beer I now know exactly how it’s made. The history of Guinness and Ireland … really cool … not to be missed.” Read more!

Cross the Border into Northern Ireland

If you’ve got an extra day or two, a jaunt across the border to Northern Ireland is well worth the trip. Visit Belfast to learn about the country’s turbulent past, or skip urbanity and go straight to the beautiful sea cliffs and beaches of Donegal or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Giant’s Causeway.

While you can drive yourself up north or take a bus, ferry or train, most day visitors choose to do a guided bus tour. For a one-day tour from Dublin to Belfast or Giant’s Causeway, check out, and

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Giant’s Causeway Region – The 8th Wonder of the World by MissRoseDarrensAngel
“On my recent vacation to Northern Ireland, I had the chance to see the breathtaking scenery — water, hills, greenery, rocks, cliffs, etc. — in the Giant’s Causeway and Glens of Antrim area. I highly recommend a bus tour and there are several reputable companies in Belfast (and other areas of Ireland). You can book online easily for the journey.” Read more!

Go Barging on Ireland’s Waterways

Famous for its mix of vibrant greenery, rocky terrain, quaint villages and historic cities, Ireland also has some lovely rivers. Like so many other European countries, Ireland’s main cities are often connected by a series of rivers and canals. Dublin, for instance, connects to Shannon via the Grand Canal and River Shannon, and to Waterford via the Grand Canal Barrowline and River Barrow. For a unique mode of transportation, consider renting a barge and traveling a small portion of the waterways. Or just spend a day on the water as your hired barge glides leisurely down the river.

You can rent a variety of small barges from Barrowline Cruisers, Canalways Ireland and Riversdale Barge Holidays. No previous experience is required. The 10-passenger Shannon Princess II can be chartered from, complete with onboard crew and chef. Canal Boat Restaurant offers dinner cruises on a barge that travels Dublin’s Grand Canal.

Bike the Ring of Kerry

Despite its mystical name, the Ring of Kerry is actually a tourist trail in the southwest of Ireland that covers some 111 miles in County Kerry. Starting from Killarney, the circular trail passes through five scenic towns and past several popular tourist attractions, including Muckross House, Killarney National Park and the Gap of Dunloe. While most tourists “do” the Ring of Kerry on crowded bus tours, it can also be circumnavigated by bike. Cyclists can do part or all of a signposted bike path that uses mostly quieter roads.

Looking for someone to guide you as you pedal your way through Ireland’s green pastures? Try Go Visit Ireland, Connemara Adventure Tours or Macs Adventure for seven-night full-circuit journeys. Cycling Safaris offers a six-night, self-guided option.

Join a Pub Crawl in Dublin

Maybe it’s the number of bars per square mile. Maybe it’s the vast selection of tasty beers on tap every night. Maybe it’s the lively atmosphere full of music and laughter you find in every establishment. But whatever the reason, no one does pub crawls as well as the Irish do. The great thing about Dublin pub crawls is that they aren’t just about drinking. You’ll also be treated to a variety of Irish music or hear about some of Ireland’s greatest authors.

There are lots of pub crawl operators in Dublin, but some are geared more toward the partying crowd. Try for a crawl with a literary theme, for a general crawl and for a music-themed excursion.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Ireland – The 40 Shades of Green by Heather Ranes
“After the tour we roamed back to Temple Bar to visit a few of the pubs we’d passed earlier in the day. If you’re hungry or thirsty, Temple Bar is a safe place to land. It’s several blocks of nothing but pubs, restaurants and shopping. I first tried a Guinness stew at the Oliver St. John Gogarty Pub in Temple Bar and it was delightful!” Read more!

Get Lost in the Past in the Burren

By day the Burren, a rocky circle of land in the northwest of County Clare, offers the perfect setting for those seeking out remnants of centuries past. What at first appears a barren landscape is in fact dotted with ring forts, megalithic tombs, dolmens and other ancient stone monuments. Take a walking tour with Burren Wild Tours or Heart of Burren Walks and learn about Irish history and mythology, or explore the local flora and fauna with an expert guide from Burren Tours.

As the sun sets, head to the villages ringing the Burren. If you’re in the area in September, you might catch the famous Matchmaking Festival in the spa town of Lisdoonvarna. No matter the time of year, you can always count on live music in one of tiny Doolin’s handful of pubs.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Ireland with Go-Ahead Travel by svitak5
“The limestone formations of the Burren are porous and fill with the water and allow it to surface in different areas. So what appears to be a field today may be a lake tomorrow. I don’t know how the Irish determine where it is safe to build and where to avoid. The Burren appears barren. It is rock, but it also has a unique ecology that allows plants to grow there that grow nowhere else.” Read more!

Hit the Road in a Caravan

Before trains and cars were invented, Irish nomads moved from place to place by horse-drawn carriage. Like a modern camper, these carriages served as transport during the day and a place to lay your head at night. Though the horse-drawn caravan lifestyle is gone (modern “travellers” use motorized caravans), visitors can step back in time and experience life on the road the traditional way. For one or more nights, you and two to three others can travel, cook and sleep in your caravan as you slowly make your way over country roads, stopping off to chat at farms and pubs along the way.

Several operators offer horse-drawn caravan rentals including Clissmann Horse Caravans in County Wicklow, Mayo Horse Drawn Caravan Holidays in County Mayo and Kilvahan Horse Drawn Caravans in County Laois. Keep in mind, you’re not going to get far; it’s not like a rental car where you can pick up your ride in one village and drop it off in another.

Hike or Cruise the Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most spectacular natural wonders, but if you’re going to visit (and you should!), skip the tour buses. The buses and throngs of tourists they carry clog the attraction throughout the day, yet the best times to see the cliffs are sunrise and sunset. The only drawback to visiting in the evening is that the hike to nearby Hag’s Head takes some time, and you don’t want to be trying to find your way back in the dark. One fun and slightly less crowded way to see the Cliffs during the day is from below, by boat.

You don’t need a guide to follow the Cliffs of Moher hiking trail, but pay attention to signs as some areas are not considered safe. For a unique guided hike, check out the three-hour Doolin Cliff Walk offered by farmer-turned-guide Pat Sweeney, an expert on local history. For a one-hour boat tour of the Cliffs, try either Doolin2AranFerries or Doolin Ferry, both of which depart from Doolin.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Idyllic Ireland by Martha W.
“Continuing on, we visited the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. The cliffs are dark sandstone 600 feet high and about five miles long. They rise out of the Atlantic. Adjoining them is O’Brien’s Tower built in 1853 as a ‘look-out.’ It is a beautiful sight to behold on a lovely day.” Read more!

Cheer on an Irish Rugby Team

Seeing a sporting event in Ireland is nothing like taking in a game at your favorite baseball stadium. The Irish, like most Europeans, take their sports very seriously, even when those sports are a bit odd to the rest of us. Ireland’s national sport, hurling, for instance, involves a small ball that can be hit with a stick, slapped with a hand, struck on the ground polo-style, kicked or caught. Another very popular sport in Ireland, rugby, involves something called a scrum, which really looks like a bunch of guys hugging each other. But regardless of whether you understand the game or not, taking in a local game is an exhilarating experience.

Because hurling is rather incomprehensible to folks outside of Ireland, we recommend checking out a rugby match. The three premier Republic of Ireland rugby teams are Leinster in Dublin, Munster in Cork and Connacht in Galway, but there are numerous smaller teams as well. To learn how to find a game schedule and buy tickets, check with your hotel or ask the barman at a local pub.

Best Time to Go to Ireland

Summer is the most popular season for travel to Ireland, but it’s during this season that prices are at their highest and crowds at their thickest. Although Ireland has mild winters, many Irish attractions and hotels basically shut down during the winter season. In fall and spring, which are shoulder seasons in Ireland, you can find reasonable prices and, for the most part, decent weather (with a bit of rain, naturally). Daily drizzles in Ireland are routine, so always pack the appropriate gear — rain boots, a waterproof jacket and an umbrella.

Ireland on a Budget

Ireland, for the most part, is a budget-friendly European destination for U.S. travelers. The island’s stunning countryside is the perfect place for a variety of low-cost outdoor activities, from bike tours through emerald-green fields dotted with castles to hikes along stunning sea cliffs. There’s a surplus of affordable lodging in the country (expect hotel rates to be most expensive in Dublin). You can book low-priced, family-run Irish home B&Bs, which are located throughout the country, through the Irish Tourism Board. Cheap packages to Ireland aren’t difficult to find, either. Aer Lingus, the Irish airline, regularly sells economically priced packages that bundle airfare, hotel and sometimes even a car rental for one affordable price.

— written by Dori Saltzman

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