Whether you’re an explorer or a sightseer, a city or village enthusiast, a contemporary or a medieval lover, a beer or a whiskey drinker; Ireland will grant any of your wishes.
The Emerald Isle is well known for its lush green landscapes, its wild beaches, and mesmerizing mountains. The land hosts some of the oldest sites and monuments in the world. Traditions and customs are proudly kept and celebrated each year.
Here are the reasons why you can’t say no to a trip to Ireland.
#1 – Ireland: A Beer Shangri-La!
Just like every good holiday, let’s start this list with beer. Luckily Ireland is the beer’s Promised Land.
The nation has been acclaimed for its barley concoctions throughout centuries.
Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on the Saint James’s Gate Brewery, in Dublin, and focused his creation on the dark-red porter. Today, the Guinness Company produces 3 million pints of the iconic stout each day.
The capital city also hosts other ancestral establishments such as:
- Sean’s Bar, the oldest bar in the world, opened its door around
- The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in the country, was founded in 1198.
Beer is the nation’s most popular alcoholic beverage and breweries are spread all over the country. From ales to lager, there is something for every taste. Here are Vinepair’s 30 bests.
Ireland also hosts several beer festivities throughout the year such as:
- The Irish Craft Beer Festival in Dublin
- The White Hag International Brewery Festival in Ballymote, an exclusive showcase of outlander beers
- Indie Beer Week, a local independent brewers celebration
- International Stout Day at the Guinness Store House
- The Great Irish Beer Festival in Cork
- Oktoberfest in Dublin
- The Hilden Beer and Music Festival, in the Hilden brewery, the oldest independent brewery
- Autumn at The Bull and Castle in Dublin, a disclosure of seasonal and special beers
- Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair
Oi Mate! Time to sláinte (toast)!
#2 – A land of adventure
The Emerald Isle was shaped to be walked. The country records 4,000kms of trails, including 43 long-distance trails (from 22 to 214kms). The highest peak is the Carrauntoohil and can be climbed in 7 hours.
There are also 6 Mountain biking trails in Ireland and many Greenways to travel on foot or cycle. Twelve pilgrimage paths will award the spiritual walkers.
The road trip aficionados will be astonished by The Wild Atlantic Way, the longest defined coastline in the world (2,600kms). The water sports enthusiasts will be thrilled all along the way. Adrenaline junkies and more grounded souls will also find exciting experiences.
If time is lacking, the Inishowen 100, a 160kms scenic driving trail, is a great alternative.
It is also possible to:
- Abseil in most of the country
- Go on a survival weekend
- Skydive in Kildare or Offaly
- Kayak through caves and tunnels on Copper coast or Cavan
- Dive in the Solomon’s Hole
- Raft on the river Boyne
- Do some coasteering on Wexford’s Hook Peninsula or Old Head
- Kitesurf on Duncannon beach
- Birdwatch in Dun na Rí, Kingscourt, Co Cavan
- Cliff-dive up to 27 meters in Pol na bPiest (in Gaelic), the Worm Hole
If the search of the thrill goes in pair with local culture, then those events need to be attended:
- Experience the Gaelic Games
- Snorkel during the Irish Bog Championship
- Become a Tough Mudder (mud run)
- Adventure Race on the May Bank Holiday
- Hurling during Kilkenny Way Hurling Experience
- Christmas dive in Forty Foot in Sandycove, Co Dublin
#3 – Magnetic Scenery
Ireland has not only the longest defined coastal route in the world and astonishing cliffs but also majestic fjords, unspoiled lakes, hundreds of viewpoints and over 80 beaches. The winter solstice at Newgrange (Co Meath) and the sunset hike to Lough Ouler (Co Wicklow) are not to be missed. Other must-do locations are:
- Saltee Islands
- Ring of Kerry
- The Giant’s Causeway
- The Burren
- Connemara and Glenveagh National Parks
- Mizen Head
- Inchydoney is a hidden paradise off Ireland’s west coast.
- View of Coumshingaun Lake
- Gap of Dunloe
- The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim, along with the Causeway Coast
#4 – An Open-Air Museum
History buffs will be ecstatic every step of the way. Ireland displays its past via its countless monuments and sites, restaurants and pubs, villages and folklore. From the stone circles of the Neolithic era to the Vikings conquest, the earliest monasteries to the medieval castles, the Norman invasion to the Celtic Tiger (rapid economic growth of 20th/21st centuries); the nation’s civilization predates both the Roman and Egyptian empires.
Two hundred thirty institutions, scattered all over the isle, exhibit the vestiges and treasures of the sovereign state. The National History Museum, founded by Doctor David Livingstone in 1857, is the first of them all. Locally referred to as the Dead Zoo; the edifice overflows with more than 10,000 exposed artifacts.
Over 30,000 castles and ruins survived hundreds of generations. Trim Castle, built in 1169, is the first and most massive Norman fortress. Cahir Castle, built in 1375 is the most secure. Bunratty and Blarney are the two most visited. Kilbrittain, 1035, finds itself the oldest inhabited one.
The city of Waterford was built by the Vikings in 914 and is the oldest city in the country. Dublin comes 2nd, being 74 years younger.
Spike Island is another great witness of these ancient times: 6th-century Monastery, a star-shaped fortress, and a prison that jailed over 2,300 detainees. Kilmainham Gaol on its side was opened in 1796 and turned into a museum. The latter became a symbol of activism and militancy as several separatist rebels ended up incarcerated there.
There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country:
- Brú na Bóinne, also known as Boyne valley tombs, a Neolithic enclosed area.
- Skellig Michael, a monastery
Here are four ways to celebrate the land’s heritage:
- Dublin hosts the biggest Festival of History
- West Cork History Festival
- National Heritage Week
- European Heritage Day
#5 – Festivals, The Land-of-Plenty
There are hundreds of celebrations all year-long. Everything is a matter of festivity in Ireland: History and Arts, sports and local cuisine, music and Literature, culture and nature, storytelling and animals. Even twins have their fête. These gatherings are notable nationwide and, villages are ideal to combine serenity with traditions.
Again, the range of entertainment is limitless:
- Saint Patrick’s Day is Ireland National Day. Globally renowned and observed, there is nothing like a homeland experience.
- The Puck Fair in Co Kerry
- Fleadh Traditional Irish Music Festival in Sligo
- Red Head Convention
- Kilkenny Art Festival
- Rose of Tralee, a praised beauty pageant
- National Ploughing Championship in the Midlands, County Laois
- Oyster Festival.
- Surf Music Festival in Bundoran.
- Cat Laughs comedy festival
#6 – Halloween’s motherland
It is the best excuse to put on sanguinary attire and still look normal. Halloween in Ireland grasps from darkly haunted tours to street demonstrations. One thing is for sure; a celebration is always more significant in its native shores than it is anywhere else.
Halloween is a pagan festival, born over 1,000 years ago in Ireland. Samhain, as per its original name, means the end of summer in Gaelic. The Celts believed that on the eve night, buried souls would come back to haunt the beings. Disguises were used as a trick to camouflage. Large fires were lit to prevent supernatural visitors from getting closer. Orange and black represent death for the Celts.
It was brought to America by the Irish fleeing the Great Famine in the 1840’s. The pumpkin replaced the turnip, and a more modern tradition took over.
In Ireland, again, the choices are endless:
- Tremendous parade in Dublin.
- Meet the five specters of Malahide Castle
- The family-friendly Bunratty castle and folk park or Virginia Pumpkin Festival
- Haunted Spooktacular Horror Farm
- Abooo Halloween Festival, the largest in the country, Galway
- ‘Ireland’s most extreme scare attraction’ at Nightmare Realm horror house
- Wicklow’s Historic Gaol (adults only)
- Haunted Maze at in Greenan Maze
#7 – Stunning Cuisine
Irish cuisine ranks in the Top 50 food experiences in the world by Lonely Planet. The Ulster fry, with or without Boxty (sort of potato pancake), is the most famous breakfast. Bacon and cabbage with a pint of milk and a roll of soda bread is another classic. The Irish lamb stew, on its side, goes without recommendation.
The country fails to live up to its “meat and two veg” reputation as it is a vegetarian-friendly destination.
Seafood lovers will enthuse over the array of fish, lobsters, mussels, and oysters of the coastal regions. Dairy addicts will be delighted by the fresh butter and flavourful Cashel Blue. Buffet style roasts, known as Carvery, are very popular. If sweets are more of a craving; then the carragheen moss, the soda bread pudding, the whiskey truffle, and the Guinness chocolate mousse are prerequisite.
The best opportunity to taste as much food as possible in a short period is to attend a food festival. Luckily, Ireland overflows with them such as:
- Cork Vegfest
- Galway Food Festival
- Connemara Mussel Festival
- Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair
- Dublin Bay Prawn Festival
- West Waterford Festival of Food
- Big Grill Festival
#8 – The Craic of your life in Dublin
The Capital city is the place to have the craic (fun). Dublin bursts with all types of events all year long such as the Dublin dance festival, Taste of Dublin, TradFest Temple Bar or Dublin LGBT Pride.
Beer fans will have to choose between the 751 pubs and breweries. Whiskey drinkers will appreciate the tasting at the Jameson Distillery.
The people who highly value the good old days will be back in time while the spiritual crowd will spend days visiting prestigious religious sites.
Those energized by ancient and modern Arts will feel enchanted by the wide variety of choices such as Hugh Lane Gallery, Douglas Hyde Gallery, IMMA or the People’s Art.
The literati will perfect their expertise in the UNESCO city of Literature.
The adventure seekers can practice their kayaking skills; experience the Gaelic Games and, wakeboard on Grand Canal Dock. If the need for fresh air arises, Dublin Mountains are only a few kilometers away.
#9 – Sensational people
It is well-known that Irish people are warm, engaging and welcoming. Many visitors define them as the friendliest they’ve ever met (96% according to the Visitor’s Attitudes Survey) Ireland has been ranked as one of the top countries reputation-wise.
Moreover, the goodness and generosity of the locals are stupefying. “As you share your hearts with one another, May they always be loyal and true, and friendship is between you in all that you do” is a popular native saying. Nothing is taken seriously as laughter and craic are both parts of the DNA.
Their genuine sense of community is a reflection of their connecting behavior. Besides, due to their History of warfare, Irish know how to put things into perspective.
#10 – Vibrant Music
The harp has been used for more than ten centuries. The fact that this same instrument is depicted on the Éire euro coins shows the significance of music in Ireland.
From informal gatherings to festivals, live performance alternatives are countless. The Cobblestone is known as being “a drinking pub with a music problem.” The Choir at Christ Church Cathedral is acclaimed as one of the finest. Bluegrass, blues, and folk are celebrated at Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival and Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Electronic, deep house, techno, and pop artists will perform at the Life Festival, the Forbidden Fruit and Body and Soul Festival. Sea Surf sessions offer a cadenced adventure with a great line-up.
Modern Irish music is generally a combination of ancient and contemporary. U2, Van Morrison, The Corrs or The Cranberries are some of the most internationally renowned.
The concertina, the fiddle, the bodhran (drum), the wooden flute, Uilleann pipes, and the tin whistle are commonly used in traditional Irish and folk music. The Dubliners, The Irish Rovers or Clannad are some of the most influential bands.
#11 – A “Cine-ful” Nirvana
More than 30 movies were shot in Ireland. Indeed, the seventh art highly praises the most magical sceneries of the country. Craic guaranteed for both nature-lovers and cinema-aficionados.
Star Wars fans will discover the sets of ‘The Last Jedi” and ‘The force awakens’ while Harry Potter’s will follow the steps of their hero at the Cliff of Moher. Other classics such as ‘Excalibur,’ ‘The Italian Job,’ ‘Lassie’ or ‘Moby Dick’ were also filmed in the country. ‘Braveheart,’ ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘King Arthur’ can also be added to the list. For total immersion, three movie trails are suggested:
- Made in Ireland Movie Map
- Atlantic Film Trail
- Wicklow Film Trail
For novelty-seekers, festivals are a great way to discover different genres:
- Galway’s Film Fleadh
- Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival
- Dingle Film Festival
- The Audi Dublin International Film Festival
#12 – Amazing Irish Literature
Ireland has been a source of inspiration for many local writers. The author of ‘Angela’s Ashes, A Memoir’ and, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Franck McCourt found his creativity in Limerick. Synge’s stimulation came from Inis Meáin, in Aran Islands. As for ‘Ulysses,’ James Joyce’s imagination was nourished by the Martello Tower, in Sandy Cove. Other locations such as, Seanchaí Visitor Center, Castlebar’ Museum of Country Life or Sligo County Museum & Art Gallery are not to be missed.
Dublin, UNESCO City of Literature, is a dream site for any literati. The Trinity College was the place of study to dozens of notable alumni such as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett or Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. Its Old Library houses ‘The Book of Kells’ (palimpsest of Latin Gospel) but also 200,000 other historical pieces. The manuscripts of ‘The Life and Work of William Butler’ can be seen at the National Library. Dublin Writers Museum and Chester Beatty Library honor the most illustrious storytellers.
The fans of Gulliver’s Travels can pay their tribute to Jonathan Swift at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Brendan Behan, Francis Skeffington, Christy Brown, John Blake Dillon and, Arthur Griffith are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.
The Literary Pub Crawl brings back to life the deceased authors through live performances around a pint.
The festivals gather people who share the same passion for Literature from all around the world:
- Cùirt International Festival of Literature, Galway
- Dublin Writers Festival
- Borris House Hay Festival, Carlow
- Hinterland Festival, Kells
- West Cork Literary Festival
- Write By the See Festival, Kilmore Quay
#13 – Golfing Paradise
With hundreds of courses, any golfer would feel spoilt for choice in Ireland. Since the apparition of the sport in the 1850s, the number of clubs has grown exponentially.
The land gave birth to champions such as Padraig Harrington.
Some of the world’s best players, such as Tiger Wood, love to train in the Royal County Down Golf Club. The latter was elected Best Golf Course in the Planet, by Golfdigest.
Even Hollywood actor, Bill Murray, defines Ireland as “the most beautiful country to play golf.”
#14 – Irish Folklore
Everyone likes a good story. Irish are specialists in storytelling. Literacy skills were not that common centuries ago. As a consequence; knowledge, life lessons, family history, and myths were transmitted orally. The oldest pub in the country, The Brazen Head, is a prime setting to witness this very ancient tradition.
Touring Ireland through a captivating esoteric journey is another excellent way to experience some of the oldest legends such as:
- The Children of Lir in Inishglora Island
- Brian Boru at the Rock of Cashel, Armagh or St Patrick’s Cathedral
- Queen Maedh Knocknarea at the end of the Queen Maedh Trail
- The High Kings’ ancient seat at The Hill of Tara
- Cú Chulainn in Louth, also known as “the land of ”
- Finn Mac Cool at Giant’s Causeway
#15 – Recommended by Specialists
No one wants to see their holidays go wrong — no risk with the Irish case. World experts such as National Geographic or Lonely Planet have awarded Ireland for several prizes. Donegal was recognized as “the coolest place in the world.” Ireland was nominated for “Europe’s Leading Destination 2017”. Other titles include:
- Reader’s Choice, Rough Guides.
- Dublin, Friendliest Cities, Condé Nast Traveler
- Best Travel Destination, Travel and Leisure China.
- Jameson Distillery Bow St, Europe’s Leading Distillery Tour.
- Hook Lighthouse, Best Tourism Project.
- Thirteen stars, Michelin Guide.
- Royal County, Best Golf Course in the Planet
- European Region of Gastronomy, Galway region
- Spike Island, #1 Tourist Attraction in Europe
- Best International Destination in the World, Group Leisure and Travel Magazine.
More Reasons To Visit Ireland:
Rugby or soccer fans will choose to watch their favourite game in the pubs; assist to one of the many festivals or play sports with the locals.
Linguaphiles will be mesmerized by the sound of one of the oldest languages in the world. Gaeilge, Irish Gaelic, is the official language of the Republic of Ireland (alongside with English). Its first attested inscribed version dates from the 4th century.
Whiskey fans will be thrilled to tour the different distilleries. More details here.
Herbalists and plants amateur will love a visit to the National Botanic Garden. It is home to 300 endangered species and six that no longer exist in the wild.
You might be Irish! With 80 million people worldwide asserting their lineage to Ireland and the country’s history of emigration, it is time to take a DNA test.
What else is unique to Ireland?
Let’s start with the most obvious characteristic: the Irish accents. Every county has its emphasis. Here is a guide to help you out.
Have you ever heard of poly-bale rolling, hay bales competition, scarecrow festival, a pub/convenience store, the Tayto sambo sandwich, Barmbrack, Gaelic Football? If you did, you are either Irish or have already been to Ireland. Otherwise, it’s time to plan your next adventure.