Picture-perfect moments await around every bend of the Emerald Isle. Whether it's castles, cottages or lively pubs, each whimsical place in this verdant country has its own story to tell—and you'll be part of it!
Dublin serves as Ireland's capital and is the country's largest city. Modern in its own right, the “Fair City” boasts a wealth of museums, art galleries, Michelin-star restaurants and its own Fashion Week. Despite these cosmopolitan amenities, Dublin's rich past is the real draw here. Celebrate the city's literary tradition at the Dublin Writers Museum and James Joyce Museum, then visit top attractions such as Dublin Castle, Trinity College, Guinness Brewery and St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Continue south of Dublin to the counties of Kildare, Wicklow, Kilkenny and Waterford. Kildare and Wicklow offer lush hills and some of the most beautiful gardens in Ireland. Horseracing and golf are popular sports in these counties. Situated along the River Nore are the Norman castles and medieval abbeys of Kilkenny, a region also known for its distinctive array of arts and crafts. Just below Kilkenny are the famed Waterford Crystal Factory and Old Jameson Distillery in Waterford.
At the southernmost tip of the island is Cork, where fertile farmlands and river valleys contrast with sandstone hills and craggy coastlines. Climb to the top of the Church of St. Anne for amazing views of the area, remembering to alert the county of your arrival by ringing the eight bells you'll pass along the way. Any trip to Cork requires a visit to Blarney Castle to kiss the magical Blarney Stone for its powers of speech.
Traveling up the untamed western coast brings you to the Ring of Kerry, Limerick, Clare and Galway. The 100-mile route around the Ring of Kerry offers jaw-dropping vistas of the sea, cliffs and mountains. Killarney, also in county Kerry, houses Killarney National Park with its soft moss, fragrant wildflowers and peaceful lakes encircling tiny islands—all set against a backdrop of mountain peaks and waterfalls. Within the park are the estates of Muckross and Knockreer, as well as the melancholy remains of medieval castles and abbeys.
Founded as a Viking settlement in the 10th century and famous for its rhymes, Limerick is home to St. Mary's Cathedral, King John's Castle and the Treaty Stone. Explore the Hunt Museum for treasures from the Medieval, Celtic and Bronze Ages.
The natural wonders of Clare include the stunning Cliffs of Moher rising 700 feet above the Atlantic shore and the karst limestone anomaly of the Burren dotted with Celtic crosses and megalithic tombs. In Galway, visit the Spanish Arch and Galway Cathedral before traveling through the wild mountainscape of Connemara to see Lough Corrib and Kylemore Abbey.
On the northwestern coast of the country you'll find Mayo, Sligo and Donegal. Ceide Cliffs, Doo Lough Pass, and Croagh Patrick are main attractions in Mayo, and you can see William Butler Yeats' resting place in Sligo, a region once called the “land of heart's desire” by the poet. The unruly shores of Donegal are made up of varied terrains of beaches, countryside and mountains ideal for hiking and exploring.
Crossing the invisible border into Northern Ireland leads you to Derry and Antrim. Located on the edge of the Inishowen Peninsula is the walled city of Derry with its medieval architecture dating back to 1613 AD. Although the walls faced brutal attacks and repeated sieges, they remain solid and unbroken today.
Running along the northeastern coast, Antrim is where Saint Patrick once tended his sheep on the slopes of Slemish Mountain. It's also home to the UNESCO world heritage site of Giant's Causeway and Ireland's oldest whiskey distillery, Old Bushmills.
Plagued by violent unrest in the 1970s and 1980s, the city of Belfast in Antrim has quickly become a thriving metropolis with upscale shopping centers, world-class restaurants, trendy pubs and a glittering waterfront lined with modern art. Landmarks include City Hall, Cathedral Quarter, the poignant political murals of West Belfast, and Harland & Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.