Ireland LOVES sport. Per capita, there can’t be many countries that sustain so many high-end sporting entities, from the four internationally competitive rugby sides to astonishing GAA (Gaelic football and hurling) clubs that seem to exist in almost every neighbourhood. There’s even an unlikely pro ice hockey team in Belfast (the Giants) and the chance to explore unusual outings like Footgolf or kitesurfing, and indulge in abundant sea swimming.
It’s the iconic spots you’ll really want to explore, though, naturally. Check out the very best venues to tour, or catch a game, below…
Croke Park, Dublin
Unquestionably the stand-out sports venue in the country, Croke Park‘s history is profound and complex. The 83,000 capacity monster is traditionally the home, strictly, of only sports within the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). It found itself at the heart of the 1916 uprising in the city, after the British army opened fire on a crowd here, killing 32. The passing of Rule 42 by the GAA in the early 00s allowed the stadium to be used for soccer and rugby for the first time. It’s still dominated by GAA, and as well as breathtaking Gaelic football and hurling match days from February to September. Croke Park also features an excellent museum and a new skyline tour, offering views from the stadium rooftop.
Jones Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 3, Ireland +353 18192300
The Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Previously known as Lansdowne Road (a name many hardcore fans insist on sticking with), the bedpan-shaped, turn-of-the-century redevelopment of the stadium – now branded the ‘Aviva‘ – is the home of Ireland national football team, rugby team and a host of other high-profile sporting and musical events. It’s possible to get into some fairly big events on the cheap (the national club soccer final, for example, costs €10), and to get a tour of the venue. If you can, snap up a golden ticket to the vibrant, boisterous buzz of the national soccer and rugby team’s games, which are something a bit special.
Lansdowne Road, Dublin 4, Ireland +353 12382300
Thomond Park, Limerick
We could pick almost any one of Ireland’s four provincial rugby stadiums and point to is as something locally iconic, but there’s something a little bit special about Munster’s Thomond Park. Maybe it’s the roar of one of rugby’s most knowledgeable crowds, or the spectacular history, which includes a much-recalled victory over New Zealand in the late 70s. It took the Ireland national team until late 2016 to repeat the victory over the world-dominating All Blacks. Munster are always close to the top of the European game, and their stadium feels like a rugby temple.
Cratloe Road, Limerick, Ireland +353 61421100
Ballybrit Racecourse, Galway
Irish horse racing has long been a national institution, with the array of breeders and trainers known globally in racing circles as being some of the best found anywhere. There are a more than twenty venues in total, including Leopardstown (Dublin) and The Curragh (Kildare). Ballybrit is extra-special due to one of the biggest events in the Irish sporting calendar, the Galway Races. The week-long sporting festival in late July/ early August is accompanied by Galway’s biggest, most raucous street party and attracts visitors from around the world. Ballybrit also hosts a few lesser-known events through the year. Incredibly, there has been racing here since 1764.
Ballybrit, Galway, Ireland +353 91753870
Windsor Park, Belfast
The home of the Northern Ireland football team has become something of an icon in recent years, as the national side has outdone themselves in making unprecedented progress in national soccer qualifying tournaments, with recent victories over the likes of the Czech Republic, Greece and Norway sticking in the memory for the tiny nation, who reached the last 16 at Euro 2016. The stadium is also the home of local club side Linfield, meaning there’s plenty of chances to catch a bit of sporting action here.
Donegall Avenue, Belfast, UK +44 2890669458
Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork
Pronounced ‘Park E Kweeve’, the home of Cork GAA has recently undergone a fantastic redevelopment aimed at advancing the ‘dual county’ (a county that’s competitive in both Gaelic football and hurling), as well as playing a role in Ireland’s bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The new 45,000 capacity stadium at Pairc Ui Chaoimh will start featuring major games in early 2018 (there’s been a stadium located on the site since the mid-70s, but this is a vast improvement), and even offers a ten-year access ticket for enthusiastic GAA and concert fans.
Dalymount Park, Dublin
Arguably the ultimate venue for Irish club football, Dalymount has a rugged charm to it these days, having undergone a considerable fall from grace since it was a regular host of the national team thirty years ago. Built in 1901, it’s the home of Bohemians football club, an enticing and passionate bunch who graffiti their walls, produce their own beer and light flairs at the big local derby with Shamrock Rovers. Dalymount has long been touted for overdue redevelopment, but it’s all but certain to lose the current charm, so get there while you still can.
Phibsborough, Dublin 7, Ireland +353 18680923