Somewhere Wonderful in Ireland Is Waiting

Connemara National Park is a gorgeous area to explore on foot or kayak
Connemara National Park is a gorgeous area to explore on foot or kayak | © Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Gethin Morgan
Campaign Production Associate19 July 2021

The gates to the mystical Emerald Isle have finally reopened. Spend a night in a castle, see natural wonders unique to this land and sip on a cool pint of Guinness when you book a trip to Ireland.

Many people often don’t know where to start when visiting Ireland, but there are two obvious options. You can visit Dublin and explore its surrounding areas on the east coast or traverse the Wild Atlantic Way, covering the western shores of the island from north to south. However, if you want the full Irish experience, you can do both, and while they’re certainly the strongest, there are many other lovely parts of the country to discover, such as the counties of Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and Tipperary. For a more in-depth guide to the best coastal destinations and the most beautiful towns in Ireland, check out our expert picks.

Dublin

Temple Bar in the city centre is where the tourists flock | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

First, there’s Dublin. The Fair City has a population about five times the size of the next biggest city in Ireland, Cork, and is very much the hub for culture, nightlife and mainstream tourism. It can be easy to fall into tourist traps – such as Temple Bar – but this city has a truly wonderful atmosphere and endless pockets of history waiting to be discovered on every corner. You can go on whiskey tours around cobbled streets, visit the creepy Kilmainham Gaol prison museum and see the magical library at Trinity College Dublin.

There’s also a host of unusual things to do in Dublin, and for the outdoorsy traveller, natural beauty surrounds the city. For example, there are some lovely beaches nearby and a range of great places to hike – the Wicklow Mountains are only an hour away. Read our guide to the best day trips from Dublin to find out more.

Wild Atlantic Way

Blarney Castle, near Cork, is home to the famous Blarney Stone | © Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Second, there’s the otherworldly Wild Atlantic Way. It has 2,500km (1,553mi) of shoreline boasting great surf spots, hiking trails, national parks, countless charming villages and some of the most astonishing pieces of coastal scenery you can find anywhere in Europe. Start your journey in Cork, making time for a quick trip to Blarney Castle. The nearly 600-year-old structure houses the Blarney Stone, which, when kissed, is said to reward the kisser with the kind of eloquence and skills of flattery that the Irish lilt has become synonymous with.

Now, you can set off on your journey through Cork and into County Kerry, where you’ll find Killarney National Park – the first national park in Ireland and arguably the most beautiful. From there, you can head north towards characterful Limerick, and after that, County Clare and County Galway, perhaps the most inspiring stretch of the whole journey. In Co Clare, you’ll find the famous Cliffs of Moher, while farther north in Co Galway, you can travel inland a little to explore the wild mountainous grasslands of Connemara National Park, with hiking trails that are sure to blow your mind.

Be careful when you’re hiking the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare | © Gareth McCormack / Alamy Stock Photo

Finally, you can travel to the northern reaches of the island, near the country’s border with Northern Ireland. To get there, you’ll pass through the counties of Mayo, Sligo and Donegal, where you’ll find ancient castles and some of the best surf spots in the nation.

Covid travel rules and guidelines

From Monday, 19 July 2021, Ireland is opening up its borders to fully vaccinated travellers, meaning that people in the UK can cross the Irish Sea without having to quarantine on either side. To get into the country, you’ll need to fill in a Covid-19 Passenger Locator Form and show a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours before departure. Remember that the definition of fully vaccinated includes a period of time after your second jab. The Irish Government defines this as seven days for Pfizer, 14 days for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, or 15 days after AstraZeneca. These rules are valid in Ireland for everyone who has a valid certificate showing they’re fully vaccinated.

In terms of arriving in the UK from Ireland, you simply need a negative result from a pre-departure test, along with a further negative PCR test on or before day two of your arrival.

Things to do in Ireland

If you’re looking for a deep dive into the best things to do here, then read our guide to the 20 must-visit attractions in Ireland. Alternatively, you can search for your dream tours, activities and experiences, bookable on Culture Trip. In the meantime, here’s our pick of three of the most extraordinary places that you can’t find anywhere else on Earth.

Skellig Michael, Co Kerry

Natural Feature
Map View
© scenicireland.com / Christopher Hill Photographic / Alamy Stock Photo
This striking green island was put on the global map when Luke Skywalker was found hiding here at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). But this was an awe-inspiring attraction long before Hollywood landed. Standing 218m (715ft) tall amid the choppy Atlantic, this haven for rare seabirds was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 1996 and was home to monks as far back as the sixth century. Monastic remains still embellish the island’s peak, giving it an almost fantastical atmosphere that would attract any location scout worth their salt. There are several excellent boat tours available every day to explore the island and its surroundings.

Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare

Natural Feature
Map View
Ireland, County Clare, Cliffs of Moher, 200 meter high cliffs, dusk
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
The Wild Atlantic Way is a huge stretch of land widely regarded as one of the most spectacular coastlines on the planet, and the Cliffs of Moher are the crowning glory of the whole route. Sheer sandstone cliffs rise as high as 214m (702ft), and lifetimes of coastal erosion have created countless fascinating rock formations, including caves, sea stacks and sea stumps. A wild variety of flora and fauna populate the area, where green meets blue via a craggy grey drop on Europe’s western frontier. You’ll find the cliffs halfway between Limerick and Galway, with plenty of cosy pubs in nearby villages, where you can meet the locals and hear folk tales of underwater cities and mermaids tempting fishermen off the cliff edge.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

Building, Museum
Map View
Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland.
© Vincent MacNamara / Alamy Stock Photo
A trip to the capital isn’t complete without a sample of the most famous Irish export. And there’s no better place to have a crisp pint of the black stuff than in the Gravity Bar, a rooftop bar with 360-degree views of Dublin – it awaits you at the end of a tour around the Guinness Storehouse. Discover the fascinating history behind this unique brew, from its founding fathers to the method behind its magic and the ingenious marketing that helped propel it to world fame. And that perfectly poured pint? It’s free with a ticket to the museum.

Where to stay in Ireland

Ireland has no shortage of excellent hotels, apartments, spa hotels and even the occasional castle for you to stay in. If you’re looking for somewhere specific, we have hand-picked the best hotels in Dublin, Galway, Donegal and Cork. However, if you’d prefer to browse yourself, you can search for your personal favourite here.

Lough Eske Castle, Co Donegal

Bed and Breakfast, Spa Hotel
4.6/5 (490 Reviews)
Lough Eske Castle, County Donegal_085747cf
Courtesy of Lough Eske Castle / Expedia

Live like royalty in this lough-side castle near the Blue Stack Mountains. The 160-year-old building, sitting on the grounds of a castle dating back to the 14th century, has been masterfully renovated to offer luxurious modern services without sacrificing an ounce of its character. Rooms are elegantly decorated and include garden suites overlooking the perfectly kept greenery, courtyard rooms set in the old stables, or the gorgeous Lake Lodge – a secluded, private house on the shores of Lough Eske. Whatever you choose, make the most of the hotel’s award-winning luxury spa.

More info

Iveagh Garden Hotel, Dublin

Boutique Hotel
4.5/5 (812 Reviews)
Iveagh Garden Hotel_1c5bbe00
Courtesy of Iveagh Garden Hotel / Expedia

Looking for a hotel in the centre of Dublin? How about this stylish four-star gem, deemed to be the very first sustainable hotel in Europe. While the classic contemporary stylings, rich textures and bespoke joinery don’t give the impression of your traditional ecofriendly establishment, this hotel is leading the way in terms of renewable energy and having a low carbon footprint. It also holds exceptional standards of accessibility, with wheelchair-friendly rooms and accessible showers. Downstairs, Elle’s Bar offers fine wine, cocktails and craft beers, while Elle’s Bistro serves excellent food for both formal and informal occasions.

More info

Baybridge House, Connemara

Cottages
Baybridge House, Connemara_a86b3434
Courtesy of Baybridge House / Expedia

If you want a place you can have entirely to yourself, book a stay at this beautifully designed hillside holiday home near Connemara National Park. The open-plan layout is spacious with plenty of natural light, and you can enjoy stunning views of the coast inside and out, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling lounge windows and large deck perfect for a summer barbecue. The house places you conveniently around the midpoint of the Wild Atlantic Way, surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery on the whole west coast.

More info

Where to eat and drink in Ireland

Ireland may not be thought of as an obvious foodie destination, but don’t underestimate the incredible diversity of great food on offer across the country. From Michelin stars in Dublin to high-class family-run restaurants in Cork and Donegal, it’s home to exciting restaurants making the most of the incredible local produce available.

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin

Hotel Restaurant, Irish, Contemporary, French, European, $$$
Map View
Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
© Barry McCall

Head to the capital, near Merrion Square and St Stephen’s Green, and you’ll find the first restaurant in Ireland that received two Michelin stars. This classical French establishment is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2021 and has consistently made headlines in the Irish food scene since its opening. Bring a deep wallet – it isn’t cheap – but you very much pay for what you get, which, in this case, is a beautifully designed and perfectly executed menu, paired with the most extensive wine selection in Dublin.

Pilgrim’s, Co Cork

Restaurant, Irish, $$$
Map View

You’ll find this small, rustic eatery in the quaint seaside town of Rosscarbery in Co Cork. Don’t let its unassuming exterior fool you, as the food here packs a tasty punch. The menu frequently changes, with a seasonal menu highlighting local produce. The end product is a diverse menu that includes modern takes on classic Irish fare, freshly caught seafood and even some delicious East Asian-influenced dishes.

Misunderstood Heron, Connemara

Food Truck, Contemporary
Map View

You won’t find a better view anywhere in Ireland while dining al fresco. This quirky food truck overlooking the jaw-dropping Killary Fjord in Connemara, on the Wild Atlantic Way, was founded in 2017 by married couple Kim and Reinaldo. They focus on keeping things simple, tasty and fresh, ensuring they master every aspect of their menu before expanding further. Expect clean, flavoursome meals, excellent coffee and a lovely slice of cake to keep you going as you adventure along Ireland’s incredible west coast.

These recommendations were updated on July 19, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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