The country of Ireland is a bit more affordable than most other travel destinations in Western Europe and has some of the most incredible countrysides, so it could be the perfect place for your next trip. If you usually like celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day and everything Irish, why not visit the Emerald Isle?
Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that ended the violent conflict in Northern Ireland, which is a separate region that is part of the United Kingdom. Still, it was a significant event for all of the island of Ireland as well (with the main part being the country of Ireland, officially the Republic of Ireland).
Irish culture is one of the most celebrated and appreciated worldwide, as you may have noticed last month. On March 17th, millions of people around the world put on their most ridiculous green outfits and drink like the Irish.
In fact, Canada has some of the biggest celebrations in the world outside of Ireland, and over 4.6 million Canadians have Irish heritage. It’s always a fun weekend with so many Canadians celebrating Saint Paddy’s Day; it’s even an official national holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador.
But nothing beats going there.
Here are the top 5 must-see places in the Republic of Ireland that are not Dublin.
Cork is Ireland’s 2nd most populous city (after Dublin), and it’s often called the “real” capital.
Unlike Dublin, which has become increasingly touristy, Cork remains truly authentic with traditional Irish pubs, plenty of museums (like the Nano Nagle Place and the Cork City Gaol), art galleries (like the Crawford Art Gallery), and the famous Blarney Stone.
The Blarney Stone is part of a tower at Blarney Castle and Gardens on the outskirts of Cork. The castle is worth visiting on its own, but if you’re brave enough, hang upside down and kiss the Blarney Stone, which is supposed to give you the “gift of the gab.”
Make time to visit Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral and the English Market, and then walk around the cobbled streets of Cork to do some shopping. The brightly-colored seafront houses are beautiful when lit up at night.
Cork is also a great place to try the local Irish whiskies and tour one of the distilleries, like Rebel City Distillery.
With a good university keeping the city busy all year round (the UCC campus has beautiful architecture to admire), Cork is vibrant and fun.
The large harbor extends for miles and has several islands to explore, including Great Island, which has fantastic hikes. It’s also the final place the Titanic visited before its last fateful voyage from Southampton, so there is a fascinating museum to visit, the Titanic Experience Cobh.
It’s easy to get to Cork. There are often good prices for flights from Canada to Ireland on the Flytrippers cheap flight deals page, but they are often to Dublin (DUB). The train between the 2 cities is affordable and fast.
But if flights are expensive for your dates or you want to land in Cork directly, there are cheap flights from Europe to Cork (ORK), including to London for $19 one-way. The self-transfer tip can save you money on flights (and/or allow you to visit 2 countries on the same trip).
2. Killarney National Park
Ireland is known for having some spectacular parks and wilderness; one of the most beautiful is definitely Killarney National Park. Situated in southwest Ireland, Killarney is a vast expanse of rugged, untamed mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls.
Many hiking trails range from gentle walks of a few hours to multi-day treks and the beautiful Torc Waterfall.
The park is home to plenty of wildlife, including herds of deer that have roamed the area since Neolithic times and wild plants and trees native to Ireland.
Killarney is famous for several attractions, such as Muckross House, Killarney House, Ross Castle, Copper Mines, Innisfallen, Muckross Abbey, Old Weir Bridges, and the Brickeen Bridge over Muckross Lake. You can also see the highest peaks in Ireland, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range.
It’s typical of the untamed, fierce natural beauty that gave Ireland its Emerald Isle nickname.
Halfway down the Atlantic coast is the city of Galway, which really does have something for everyone.
The town has cobbled medieval streets rich in Irish tribal heritage and a maze of small independent shops, restaurants, and bars. Quay Street and Galway’s Latin Quarter are the epicenter.
Often referred to as wild and bohemian, Galway is famous for art, artists, music, dancing, and street performances (and Ed Sheeran’s famous Galway Girl song!). It’s a fun, upbeat city that is in touch with its history and even has a 4-day Saint Patrick’s Day celebration every year.
The locals celebrate many old festivals, and the Irish language is often used here. For many people looking to experience singing songs in an Irish bar and waking up the next day to explore, Galway is the best place to be.
The nearby beaches are often packed with surfers and sea kayakers. There are great natural attractions like Connemara National Park, a beautiful section of the Wild Atlantic Way, Galway Bay, and Salthill Beaches.
Galway is also the departure point for the following 2 must-see places in Ireland: boat tours taking you along the coast to see the Cliffs of Moher from the water and ferries to the Aran Islands.
4. Cliffs of Moher
No trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Cliffs of Moher. Stretching for 14 kilometers, these vertical sea cliffs are dramatic and genuinely magical.
Plunging down into the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s southwest coastline, an incredible 18 km hiking trail runs along the way along the cliffs. The trail runs through the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark with stunning views over the Ocean and back over Ireland.
Most people complete the hike in under 5 hours, but with plenty of car parks and local buses nearby, you can hike some smaller sections for a more leisurely trip.
Another famous walk starts at the cliffs and heads south to Hagshead. Starting at the south viewpoint for one of the most famous views of the cliffs, it only takes around 1.5 hours to complete.
Remember: the height of the cliffs and the vast oceans means the clifftops are usually very windy. There is often a decent breeze, even on warm sunny days, so don’t stand too close to the edge!
5. Aran Islands
Just off the coast of the island of Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean are the Aran Islands. The 3 islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, are as remote as you could ever dream of being, and you genuinely feel like you’ve stepped into a strange Irish dream.
The islands are well connected to each other and the mainland by ferries running multiple times daily.
They are popular with visitors thanks to the incredible medieval ruined castles and churches, the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa, the natural site of the Clochán na Carraige stone, and The Worm Hole natural pool.
With picturesque stone houses and roads walked by locals for thousands of years, the islands feel like stepping back in time.
Only around 2,000 people live on all 3 islands; you can enjoy the beaches, explore shipwrecks, and experience Ireland in all its glory without anyone else around.
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Ireland is a wonderful country, and while most people visit the capital and largest city, these 5 must-see places in Ireland that are not Dublin are definitely worth exploring for an even more authentically Irish experience.
What would you like to know about the must-see places in Ireland? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Cliffs of Moher, Ireland (photo credit: Abimelec Castillo)