Ireland is one of the United Kingdom's most beautiful countries, located within the North Atlantic across the North Channel from Great Britain. Visitors can explore the historic sites of the "Emerald Isle" as part of day trip excursions from meccas like Dublin, including the unique archaeological sites of the Boyne Valley, which date back five millennia. Major cities like Belfast and Cork are home to cultural attractions, fine dining destinations, and interesting museums, including the preserved attractions of the Titanic Quarter, which honor the ill-fated 20th-century ocean liner. Six national parks preserve stunning natural wonders like the Lakes of Killarney, while UNESCO World Heritage Sites protect regions like the picturesque Cliffs of Moher and the volcanic Giants Causeway.
1.The Boyne Valley
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The Boyne Valley is Ireland's former ancient capital, located in the country's eastern region. The region is home to some of Ireland's most historic landmarks, including the great prehistoric tombs of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Brú na Bóinne, or Newgrange. More than five millennia of human history can be traced as part of scenic drives throughout the valley to sites such as the historic Drogheda region, the Loughcrew Megalithic Centre, and the site of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, between the forces of King William and the deposed King James II. Many scenes from the feature film Braveheart were filmed at Trim Castle, Europe's largest Anglo-Norman castle, dating back to the 12th century. Other attractions throughout the valley include the Slane Castle and Distillery, which offers whiskey tastings and live concert performances, and the legendary ancient Celtic crosses at the former Kells monastery.
Belfast is the charming capital city of Northern Ireland, known as one of the United Kingdom's most-visited tourist destinations, attracting over seven million annual visitors. The city was noted Lonely Planet's top recommended travel destination in 2018, best known as the birthplace of the fabled cruise liner RMS Titanic, known for its dramatic sinking in 1912. Visitors can explore the city's Titanic Quarter dockyards, which is home to the Titanic Belfast monument, the Titanic Slipways concert venue, and the preserved drawing offices of shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. More than 40 public park spaces are showcased throughout the city, including the lovely Victorian Botanic Gardens, located within the Queen's Quarter. Its longstanding underground nightclub scene has attracted major international acts since the early 1980s.
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Blarney Castle is a lovely historic Medieval-era stronghold in Blarney, located near the city of Cork and the River Martin. The historic fortifications, which date back as far as 1446, are best known as the home of the famed Blarney Stone, which is said to endow those who kiss it with the gift of eloquence and flattery. Because of this legend, the world "blarney" itself has become synonymous with wit, flattery, and charm. Visitors can also tour areas of the historic castle, which was constructed in its present form by Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, Lord of Muscry. The castle's beautiful surrounding grounds are home to extensive landscaped garden and a number of natural rock formations, including the Witch's Cave, Wishing Steps, and Druid's Circle.
Monacnapa, Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland
4.The Cliffs of Moher
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The Cliffs of Moher a stretch of gorgeous sea cliffs located along County Clare's Burren region, protected within the UNESCO World Heritage Site Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark tourism destination. The cliffs, which are known as a signature point along the official Wild Atlantic Way tourism trail, are one of Ireland's most popular tourist destinations, drawing over 1.5 million visitors each year. Visitors can explore the cliffs via a lovely 18-kilometer Cliff Walk, which spans between Doolin and Hag's Head and passes past sites such as O'Brien's Tower. A lovely visitor center offers exhibits on the region's ecosystems and uses environmentally-sensitive technology to protect the region's fragile habitat. Ferry trips are also available at certain times throughout the year to view the cliffs from the sea.
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Connemara is a lovely district in western Ireland, located along the country's Atlantic Ocean coastline. The charming district showcases rural Ireland at its best, home to beautiful attractions like the expansive Connemara National Park, known for its mountain ranges, bogs, lakes, and heathland stretches and populations of wild Connemara ponies. Visitors can explore the region's Diamond Hill Loop Walk, which showcases the famed peaks of the Twelve Ben Mountains, or explore the quaint coves, bays, and fishing villages at sites such as Roundstone. Kylemore Abbey stands on the shores of Lough Pollacopall, built in 1871 by Mitchell Henry as a romantic monument to his wife, Margaret. In the lively town of Clifden, visitors can enjoy traditional Irish music at a number of concert venues and pubs.
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Cork is Ireland's second-largest city, named as the European Capital of Culture in 2005 and included as one of the world's best travel spots by Lonely Planet in 2010. The city, which is located within the southwestern province of Munster, is known for its famed architecture dating back to the Medieval period, including its historic Red Abbey, St. Fin Barre's Cathedral, and Church Tower of Shandon, known as the city's official landmark and topped by a weathervane featuring an 11-foot salmon. Visitors can explore the beautiful grounds of the University College Cork, attend performances at the Cork Opera House, or shop at the English Market, which dates back to 1786. Major literary community centers include the Munster Literature Centre and Triskel Arts Centre, historically connected to authors like Thomas McCarthy and Seán Ó Faoláin. Visitors can also enjoy delicious local food traditions and sample dishes like drisheen, crubeens, and tripe.
Galway is a lovely city on Ireland's western coastline, located at the terminus of the River Corrib at the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The hip, bohemian city is known as one of the nation's top cultural destinations, populated by vibrant pubs, charming streetside cafes, and gourmet restaurants. Visitors can explore the city's historic Claddagh neighborhood, once home to a significant Irish-speaking enclave community and associated with the famed Claddagh ring symbol. Cultural museums include the Galway City Museum, the Nora Barnacle House Museum, and several museums at the city's university, including the James Mitchell Geology Museum. At 18th-century Eyre Square, visitors can relax and listen to traditional Irish folk music. Boutiques, art galleries, and cafes line the city's delightful Latin Quarter, which still showcases Medieval-era fortification walls.
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Giants Causeway is a unique geological feature in County Antrim on Ireland's northern coastline, located approximately three miles northeast of the city of Bushmills. The UNESCO World Heritage Site protects a region of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns produced as the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. Today, it is widely considered to be one of the United Kingdom's most beloved natural wonders, known as one of Northern Ireland's most popular natural tourist attractions. It earns its name from a legend that the columns were created as a causeway for the Irish giant Finn MacCool. Visitors can explore the site free of charge throughout the year and view exhibits on the region's geology at its new visitor center, opened in 2012.
44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills BT57 8SU, UK, Phone: +44-28-20-73-18-55
9.Glenveagh National Park
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Glenveagh National Park is Ireland's second-largest national park, named in honor of the Irish term "gleann bheatha," which translates as "glen of the birches." The park encompasses much of the beautiful Derryveagh Mountains, Errigal Mountains, and the Poisoned Glen, known for its beautiful walking trails and extensive herds of red deer. The beautiful Glenveagh Gardens are home to a picturesque castle constructed by Captain John George Adair and designed by John Townsend Trench. Visitors can explore the castle as part of guided tours, which last approximately 45 minutes. A half-hour documentary presentation, "Glenveagh," documents the castle's history, available in several languages.
Church Hill, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Ireland, Phone: +35-37-61-00-25-37
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10.The Great Western Greenway
The Great Western Greenway is a charming greenway rail trail in County Mayo, extending 42 kilometers between Westport and Achill. The trail closely follows the route of the former Westport railway line's Achill extension, originally operated between the 1890s and the 1930s. Today, the route is open to cyclists and walkers, extending through towns such as Newport and Mulranny and natural wonders like the coastline of Clew Bay. Travelers can explore beautiful Westport attractions like Westport House, Westport Quay, and the Westport House Activity Center, which offers orienteering expeditions and archery lessons. Newport House offers delicious home-smoked salmon meals, while Drimulra preserves the ancestral homestead of Princess Grace of Monaco. Visitors can also embark on nature exhibitions at Ballycroy National Park, peruse the Greenway Antiques and Book Store in Mulranny, or walk among the remains of Slievemore's Deserted Village.
Howth is a beautiful Irish village located just east of Dublin along the beautiful Howth Peninsula, known for its gorgeous historic landmarks and sweeping seaside views. Visitors can explore the grounds of the beautiful 15th-century Howth Castle, which is home to lovely rhododendron plantings and a transport museum showcasing preserved local trams. A vintage radio museum is showcased at the 19th-century Martello Tower, located near the ruins of the Medieval-era St. Mary's Abbey. Within the charming fishing village's city center, visitors can enjoy excellent opportunities for cod and ray fishing along the city's beautiful pier, dine at excellent seafood restaurants, explore the Bog of Frogs Loop for scenic cliff views and panoramas of nearby Lambay Island, or walk to the beautiful historic Baily Lighthouse. Offshore, the Ireland's Eye island bird sanctuary showcases the ruins of an ancient church.
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Kilkenny is a beautiful Medieval-era town in southeast Ireland, known for its well-preserved historic buildings, including the 12th-century Kilkenny Castle, which was constructed by Norman occupants and served as the seat of the Butler family. Today, it has been refurbished by the region's Castle Restoration Committee organization and is open to the public as a living history museum, showcasing collections from the National Art Gallery. Preserved church buildings throughout the town include the Black Abbey Dominican Priory and St. Canice's Cathedral, dating back to the 13th century. Other historic attractions include the architecturally-significant Green's Bridge, also known as the Great Bridge of Kilkenny, and the historic Kilkenny Walls fortifications, and the Old Woollen Mills, originally constructed in the 19th century. Visitors can peruse the town's lovely crafting and pottery shops and art galleries or enjoy delicious brews at the St. Francis Abbey Brewery.
13.Killarney National Park
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Killarney National Park was Ireland's first national park at its creation in 1932, following land donations from Killarney's Muckross Estate. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve park encompasses more than 102 square kilometers today, home to Ireland's only mainland red deer herd and one of the nation's most extensive tracts of native forest. Visitors can explore the preserved Muckross House, which is open to the public as a living history home and showcases gorgeous preserved 19th-century furnishings and artwork. Other preserved structures within the park include the lovely Old Weir Bridge, Dinis Cottage, and Muckross Abbey. The Lakes of Killarney are also preserved within the park, along with scenic yew and oak woodland habitats that offer delightful hiking, boating, and cycling opportunities.
Co. Kerry, Ireland, Phone: +353-18-88-20-00
14.The Marble Arch Caves
The Marble Arch Caves are a stunning group of natural limestone caves, located in Northern Ireland near the picturesque village of Florencecourt. The caves are named in honor of the nearby natural limestone arch of the same name, which is located along the Cladagh River's upstream Cladagh Glen region. The beautiful caves were formed by the drainage of three rivers along the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain, which are home to one of the United Kingdom's largest karst resurgences. They are the longest known cave system throughout Northern Ireland, stretching for 11.5 kilometers. Visitors can tour the caves as part of guided tours, which include a 10-minute underground boat ride, and view their glistening stalactite formations, mineral veils, and shimmering terraces. Following tours, visitors can explore the exhibits of the caves' visitor center, which detail the geology of the Marble Arch National Nature Reserve.
43 Marlbank Road, Enniskillen BT92 1EW, UK, Phone: +44-28-66-34-88-55
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Northern Ireland is a beautiful United Kingdom region, established as a separate country from the Republic of Ireland after the passing of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act. The scenic country is home to some of the United Kingdom's loveliest historic attractions, including preserved Norman castles and Celtic monuments dating back nearly a millennia. In capital city Belfast, visitors can explore attractions related to the construction of the famed RMS Titanic, noted for its dramatic 1912 sinking en route to New York. Derry is famed for its 16th-century stone walls, the only intact city walls in Ireland today. Natural wonders include the cliffs of the Giant's Causeway UNESCO World Heritage Site and the lovely Marble Arch Caves, one of northern Europe's largest geoparks. Picturesque coastal resort towns like Bangor are noted for their lovely shopping districts and restaurants serving up traditional meals like bangers and mash.
16.The Shannon Blueway
The Shannon Blueway is the first multi-use water and land-based trail system in Ireland, offering delightful opportunities for paddling, cycling, and walking throughout the year. Visitors can explore the lovely trail, which stretches between Boyle and Ballyleague, meandering through sites such as Carrick-on-Shannon and Drumshanbo. Paddling trails stretch through Lough Allen, the Camlin River loop trail, and the picturesque Richmond Harbour, while off-road walking and cycling trails span a floating boardwalk around beautiful Acres Lake. Along the way, visitors can enjoy delicious restaurants or stay at quaint hostelries and bed and breakfast facilities in towns along the path.
Waterways Ireland, The Quay, Carrick-On-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, Ireland, Phone: +35-37-19-65-07-87
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17.Slieve Gullion Forest Park
Slieve Gullion Forest Park is one of Newry's most beautiful outdoor attractions, located along the slopes of the beautiful Slieve Gullion mountain, which reaches elevations of 1,880 feet. The forest park is home to tranquil woodland trails that offer stunning panoramic views of area attractions like the Ring of Gullion, the Armagh Drumlins, and the Cooley Peninsula. Families can frolic and play at the delightful Slieve Gullion Adventure Playpark, which is home to the newly-designed Giant's Lair playplace, Northern Ireland's most ambitious commissioned children's art project. The whimsical Giant's Lair Story Trail recreates a magical living storybook, home to intertwined play fairy houses and folklore creatures. Other attractions include an outdoor performance stage, a charming wildlife pond, and a seasonal al fresco coffee bar.
89 Drumintee Rd, Meigh, Newry BT35 8SW, UK, Phone: +44-28-30-25-66-70
18.The Barrow Way
The Barrow Way is a designated National Waymarked Trail, stretching for 100 kilometers throughout the country between Robertstown in County Kildare and St. Mullin's in County Carlow. The long-distance trail, which is overseen by Waterways Ireland, is popularly completed over the course of four days, though visitors are welcome to walk or cycle for longer or shorter stretches of time at their leisure. The trail begins along the picturesque route of the Barrow Line Canal, which stretches to the towns of Rathangan and Monasterevin in Athy. At Athy, it joins the course of the River Barrow, following its length to nearby Carlow, Muine Bheag, and Leighlinbridge before ending at St. Mullin's.
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Waterford is Ireland's oldest city, originally founded in 914 A.D. by Viking explorers. The city is best known today for its legendary Waterford Crystal glassmaking industry, which operated between 1783 and 2009 within the city. Visitors can explore the city's lovely Waterford Crystal Visitor Center, which showcases exhibits related to the operations and delightful glassworks of the famed industry. Historic attractions include the 11th-century Reginald's Tower, the nation's oldest civic building, and the Christchurch Cathedral. The Waterford Museum of Treasures showcases lovely art and artifact exhibits, while the Theatre Royal, constructed in 1876, seats 600 and presents theatrical performances and concerts throughout the year. Visitors can also peruse the city's historic Viking Triangle, home to historic 10th-century fortifications.
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20.Wicklow Mountain National Park
Wicklow Mountain National Park is a charming 220-square-kilometer national park located within County Wicklow, stretching into areas of South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire. The park, which is within easy day trip distance of Dublin's city center, is the largest of Ireland's six national parks, extending over the beautiful Wicklow Mountain range. Over one million visitors explore the park's lands each year, trekking to scenic sites like the Glendalough Valley, which is home to the ancient St. Kevin monastery remains. Significant populations of native wildlife are protected throughout the park, including rare peregrine falcons and orchid species. Outdoor recreational opportunities include rock climbing, diving, swimming, fishing, walking, and hiking.
Co. Wicklow, Ireland, Phone: +353-40-44-58-00
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20 Best Weekend Getaways and Day Trips in Ireland
- The Boyne Valley, Photo: Richard Semik/stock.adobe.com
- Belfast, Photo: Guilherme/stock.adobe.com
- Blarney Castle, Photo: Madrugada Verde/stock.adobe.com
- The Cliffs of Moher, Photo: Elena Schweitzer/stock.adobe.com
- Connemara, Photo: Irina Schmidt/stock.adobe.com
- Cork, Photo: Madrugada Verde/stock.adobe.com
- Galway, Photo: gabe9000c/stock.adobe.com
- Giants Causeway, Photo: Lyd Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Glenveagh National Park, Photo: Irina Schmidt/stock.adobe.com
- The Great Western Greenway, Photo: lisandrotrarbach/stock.adobe.com
- Howth, Photo: dudlajzov/stock.adobe.com
- Kilkenny, Photo: Julia Mashkova/stock.adobe.com
- Killarney National Park, Photo: Lukasz Pajor/stock.adobe.com
- The Marble Arch Caves, Photo: Adam/stock.adobe.com
- Northern Ireland, Photo: Irina Schmidt/stock.adobe.com
- The Shannon Blueway, Photo: watcherfox/stock.adobe.com
- Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Photo: Stephen/stock.adobe.com
- The Barrow Way, Photo: M.Byrne/stock.adobe.com
- Waterford, Photo: Richard Semik/stock.adobe.com
- Wicklow Mountain National Park, Photo: dudlajzov/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: SBphotos/stock.adobe.com