Limerick has distinctive character – a sense of the past as well as a buzzing new scene that encompasses art, theatre and hip-hop music.
So you want to explore Limerick? The compact city on the west coast of Ireland has its own culture and history. Give yourself time to visit its ancient castle and its iconic rugby stadium but try to venture further out into the countryside. You could spend weeks exploring in detail. Here are our favourite places you simply have to visit.
Let’s start with the obvious: King John’s 13th-century fortress on the banks of the Shannon has a state-of-the-art visitor centre to better explain its history, which includes medieval battles and a siege. There is a self-led tour as well as interactive displays, and from the castle you get the best view of the river you’ll find in the city.
Munster, the iconic rugby team representing Ireland’s south province, plays the majority of its home games at this smart modern stadium. Thomond Park also hosts the occasional gig for non-event days. Munster is at the very core of Limerick life, making this an essential stop-off.
One of two cathedrals in the city, St Mary’s has been at the heart of Limerick’s religious life since the 12th Century. As the oldest building in the city, much of Limerick has grown up around this spot, and you can touch a little of that history in the scratch marks around the west door where defenders of the city sharpened their swords during the city siege eight centuries ago.
Limerick’s home to all the locally produced fresh food you could ask for (and a growing number of impressive foodie offerings based upon local farm products, in particular), the iconic Milk Market is full of great finds while its gorgeous surroundings date back more than a century and a half. One of Ireland’s most enticing markets, it can be quiet during the week but really comes to life on bustling Saturdays.
Lakes – or loughs – are at the heart of what’s so particularly beautiful about the Irish countryside, and Lough Gur Heritage Centre is perfectly set is in this very Irish landscape. As well as being a great spot for a stroll, the lakeside is home to an ancient stone circle, with evidence of thousands of years of history, and Lough Gur has given rise to many myths and legends, which you can find out about here. Make sure you check out the ruins too.
Not an overly impressive sight in its own right, Limerick’s Treaty Stone symbolises an agreement that ended the Williamite War. The truce didn’t last for long, and the events that led to it still echo on. It’s not an overly impressive relic in its own right, but it has fantastic views, a plaque explaining the history (which dates back to 1691) and offers a real sense of stepping back in time.
The mythical side of Irish life (which is still fairly widely loved, if perhaps seen locally as a little clichéd) is one of the great Irish experiences for many people. Terra Nova is a magical garden that contains an ancient fairy fort dating back thousands of years, though the addition of modern fairy statues and magical touches will probably entice most visitors. Atmospheric, to say the least.
An unspoilt walker’s paradise, Ballyhoura Woods, with extensive trail options, is also a fantastic place to go mountain biking. You’ll find a range of difficulty options for both hikers and riders, and trails that take you under the forest canopies and on to more rugged ground. A sublime taste of rural Ireland.
Limerick has a particular love of horses (in fact, there are plenty of rural spots around the city that specialise in riding, with options for lessons or trekking). Horse-drawn carriage rides, though, are one of the best ways to see the place, complete with heavily accented drivers telling stories galore as you trot about. Slow-travel heaven.
For a good chunk of the younger crowd, this pub and music venue is the very best thing about Limerick city. It combines touring bands, local stars and quiet trad sessions — and at times can be impressively wild. Dolan’s has also been at the heart of the city’s burgeoning hip-hop scene over the past couple of years.
A garden with glorious water features in the south of County Limerick, Coolwater is inspired by mountains and Alpine flowers grow happily here. It’s not big, but anyone into quiet spots or gardening will find plenty to enjoy, from water lily ponds to serene pagodas. Nearby Rockstown Castle — visible from the garden — is worth a stop too.
Just outside the town of Adare (which we recommend in its own right, see below) Adare Desmond Castle is a 13th-century riverside fortress, now in ruins, sat right next to an ancient ring fort. Regular tours during the summer give an insight into the spot’s revolutionary history while an exhibition gives a sense of life at the castle through the Middle Ages.
This strange but appealing mishmash of attractions includes a full-size replica of a Boeing 314 flying boat, an exhibition on the history of the Shannon River, an exploration of transatlantic flights in the 1930s and 1940s and a 1940s-style tearoom. You can sample an Irish coffee – invented here, it is claimed – at O’Regan’s Restaurant.
Sat right next to St John’s Castle, Bishop’s Place is the former home of the Protestant Bishop of Limerick city and now home to the Limerick Civic Trust. That makes it both one of the main draws for those looking to learn about local architecture and one of the key sites in any such tour in its own right. Drop in to chat about buildings or grab advice on other spots to see.
An 1840s riverside structure that looks like a castle, the Toll House is a faux defensive structure and was designed simply to collect a payment from those travelling into the city on the river. It’s just a building, but one quirky and well located enough to be worth the stroll down the banks of the Shannon for a visit.
A picture-postcard, 13th-century village in a rural, riverbank setting, Adare is a vastly underrated spot that rarely gets more than half a page in the guidebooks. With its heritage centre, creamery, manor and abbey you could easily spend a day here, and it will give you a good contrast with the city of Limerick.
An unusual little museum in Bruff, Old Irish Ways is a collection of things from the past hosted by a man with a clear passion for what he does. Curator Dennis’ oddities include an old phone box, countless branded items that have disappeared from Irish shelves, concert posters, road signs and even an entire reconstructed yesteryear pub.
A locally themed museum with changing displays, the Hunt Museum houses the largest private collection in Ireland, with a mixture of art, antiques and objects from early history and the establishment of the Christian church in the country. There’s a strong collection from Greece and Italy too, but it’s the local history, covered in detail through eclectic items ranging from tribal drinking horns to Celtic cross carvings, that’s the must-see.
A decent-sized, contemporary gallery that’s free to enter, Limerick City Gallery of Art hosts a series of exhibitions spotlighting a mix of local and international talent. The permanent collection leans more heavily towards Irish talent. It’s a great spot to see the Michael O’Connor poster collection or the work of artist Jack B Yeats, brother of the poet WB Yeats.
One of the city’s most prominent green spaces, the People’s Park is the place for a breather after a busy day exploring Limerick. Unveiled in 1877, the park takes after Dublin’s elegant Mountjoy Square, complete with elaborate drinking fountains, a bandstand, and trees with elephantine trunks. Perfectly located in the city centre, the park is a stone’s throw from the Newtown Pery shopping district. If you want to see it at its prettiest, stop by in spring, when the cherry and crab-apple trees are in full bloom.
Ireland is famous for its rugged natural beauty, and the Cliffs of Moher are among the country’s finest sights. At their highest, these staggeringly dramatic cliffs reach 214 metres, and they stretch for 8km along the Atlantic coast. It might be windy at the top, but it’s worth it for the view – from here, you can see the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, as well as The Twelve Pins, the Maumturk Mountains in Connemara and Loop Head to the South. They’re also a haven for wildlife, with a colony of seabirds nesting here. The cliffs are a one-hour-and-twenty-minute drive from Limerick, and plenty of tour operators in the city offer affordable day trips.
Boasting one of the largest collections of any Irish museum, the Limerick City Museum is a treasure-trove for anyone wanting to get to know the city’s story. Going strong since 1916, the museum has amassed an incredible 60,000 objects, including archaeological artefacts, Limerick silver, Limerick lace, examples of local printing, military artefacts and much more. The aim is simple: to tell the story of Limerick and its people. There is no charge for admission.
This sprawling forest park lies 20km away from Limerick centre, but it’s a world away from bustling city life. Dense woodland, spanning 313 hectares, with trails for hikers and cyclists, as well as camping sites, Curraghchase is the perfect place to escape from modern life for a day or two. The entrance fee of 5 euros per car is beyond reasonable, considering the well-kept amenities on site. Be sure to check opening hours when you make your visit – gates close at 9pm in summer and 6.30pm in winter.
This 510-seat, state-of-the-art theatre is at the heart of Limerick’s vibrant theatre scene. Situated on a college campus in the far south of the city, the Lime Tree plays host to drama, live music, comedy and film. Since opening in 2012, its eclectic offerings have given a huge boost to Limerick’s cultural scene. It stages both intimate and big-scale shows, and its line-up strikes a balance between local and international talent. Look out for art and crafts workshops if you want to get involved yourself.