Visiting Ireland

Ireland Guide: The Wicklow Way walking trail in the Wicklow Mountains National Park

The Wicklow Way walking trail in Ireland, the Wicklow Mountains National Park. Photo by Joe King.

Why visit Ireland?

This ‘Emerald Isle’ is a lush place of medieval castles, exquisite lakes, majestic mountains, battered coastlines and sweeping, unspoilt country landscapes – the perfect holiday destination for outdoor folk who have been well waterproofed.

Attractions range from quaint fishing villages to sophisticated culture in Dublin, from prehistoric sites to the Guinness brewery, from dance-tastic live music to zany traditional festivals, and then there are the activities, not just drinking and hiking but cycling, mountain biking, horse riding, spectacular driving routes and even surfing are on the options list.

The locals are amiable (apart from the leprechauns, obviously, who cause endless trouble) and there are not too many of them (a good number of them are either in London or New York), so Ireland is a place where you really can get away from it all and a welcoming place it is whatever the budget, rock bottom budget to full-on luxury.

Ireland is in the EU (European Union) and has used the Euro as currency since 2002.

Ross Castle, Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland

Ross Castle, Killarney, County Kerry. Photo by Digital-Eye.


• The roads are often in poor condition, so if you go self-drive, go slowly or go 4×4. Or both.
• Ireland is not cheap, particularly alcohol, and you can be overcharged in touristy places where some restaurants and hotels fleece unwary tourists.
• The weather is often wet, but wait a moment and it’ll change.

Ireland Weather

Best: May – September.

Worst: December- February (cold, dull grey skies, rain, wind and short daylight hours, though the temperature rarely falls below freezing).

The southeast of Ireland, where Dublin is located, is the driest part of the country.

Length of stay

Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: a long weekend, in and around Dublin.
Max: up to 3 weeks if you want a quiet, countrified get-away-from-it-all kind of holiday.

Things to See


Dublin Cathedral, Ireland

Dublin’s Dublinia Arch and Christ Church Cathedral (The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity). Photo by Donaldytong.

Ireland’s capital is a lively, beautiful Georgian city with great culture, impressive architecture, history up to the shillelaghs and wild pubs. See Dublin travel.

County Cork and County Kerry

Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland

Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. This is thought to be a very, very early church. Photo by Forage.

After sophisticated Dublin most tourists head straight for the wild reaches of County Cork and County Kerry in the southwest, a spectacular area of mountains, lakes, dramatic coastline and apparently endless rain (270 days a year on average). Killarney National Park is the most scenic spot in Kerry and includes the Ring of Kerry. Kerry is the #1 tourist destination in Ireland.

County Clare

Moher cliffs, County Clare, Ireland map

The famous Moher cliffs walk beside the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare. Photo by Gerald Tapp.

Moving north up the Atlantic coast to County Clare, hikers should stroll the Moher cliffs, various castles and the Burren in County Clare, an extraordinary limestone range with a unique floral habitat.

Aran Islands

The luscious Aran Islands, across the mouth of Galway Bay, are where you can see rural Ireland as it was centuries ago; the traditional way of life of the Aran islanders has not been subject to modernisation and Irish is still spoken there. You can reach the islands by ferry from Galway.

County Galway

Moher cliffs, County Clare, Ireland map

Kylemore Abbey, County Galway. Photo by Bert Kaufmann.

Ireland’s least populated region (except during the superb Galway summertime festivals – such as the Oyster Festival – when the area becomes party central), and Connemara is the heart of it, with a wonderful landscape of moorland and mountains and still supports pockets of Irish speakers.

Athenry Priory in County Galway, Ireland

Athenry Priory in County Galway, one of two ruined attractions. The other is a castle. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.


Baginbun Head East Beach outside Fethard in County Wexford, Ireland

Baginbun Head East Beach outside Fethard in County Wexford. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert.

Clonmacnois, County Offaly, is home to a fascinating early monastic site.
Literary buffs will want to continue north into County Sligo and visit Yeats country including the famous Ben Bulben and the grave of the great poet.
Glendalough lies in a pretty valley in County Wicklow and is the well-preserved site of an early Christian settlement and includes a round tower and St Kevin’s Church and many ancient crosses.

Ireland Activities

Ladies View, a scenic viewpoint on The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Ladies View, a scenic viewpoint on The Ring of Kerry. Photo by Ingo Mehling.

Walking: Ireland is brilliant walking country and there are 2, 000 miles of unspoiled, marked trails such as the Ring of Kerry and Wicklow Way.
Ring of Kerry, a spectacular 112 mile (179 km) circular walk on ancient paths passing through tiny villages. County Kerry encompasses many more superb walks in a lush landscape of mountainous peninsulas.
• Wicklow Way is an 80 mile hike (128 kms). It’s easy to get to and offers scenery ranging from from mountains, lakes, glacial valleys and mountain streams to forests and farmland. Wicklow Way starts in Dublin’s south suburb of Rathfarnham and heads southwest across the Dublin, through the hill country of County Wicklow and ends in the tiny village of Clonegal.

Fishing: You can fish almost anywhere along Ireland’s vast coastline and in the many rivers and lakes e. g. Lough Derg, Erne and Gill. Fishing permits cost IR£5 but you need a national licence for salmon and sea trout.

Mountain biking: Hire bikes are available. You can mountain bike in the great walking areas, hills, rough tracks or dedicated areas such as Ballinastoe, Coillte mountain in Co. Wicklow.

Mountain-climbing: Mt Gabriel on the Mizen head Peninsula, Hungry Hill on the Beara Peninsula, and Croagh Patrick near Westport.

Horse Riding: all kinds of horsey holidays are on offer, and all utilising quiet, pretty trails and beaches, many in the south-west. Or. . . for a truly ethnic experience what about a horse-drawn caravan holiday!

Sailing/kayaking: very popular round the west coast, especially between Cork Harbour and the Dingle Peninsula, the coast north and south of Dublin and on the larger lakes.

Windsurfing: Steady year-round wind and good waves make this sport popular too.

Surfing: try the waves in Easkey in County Sligo, Castlegregory and Barleycove on the Mizen Head Peninsula.

Self-Drive Inland Boating: Ireland has over 400 miles of navigable rivers, lakes and canals that you can explore by yourself with minimal instruction on a narrow boat, with plenty of moorings and marinas en route.
Or take go on a cruise boat a let someone else do the driving.

Scuba: Yes, strange but true! From March to October hardy divers explore the rocky coasts and colourful fish courtesy of the Gulf Stream.

This 179 km circular tourist driving route in County Kerry officially starts in Killarney, south-western Ireland, and is so narrow but busy in summer that tourist buses only travel in a counter-clockwise direction to avoid blockages.
If you’re driving yourself there are arguments in favour of traveling either way. Whichever you choose, rent a narrow car! Or better, a motorcycle.
There is also a quieter cycling route and a very quiet 214 kilometre (133-mile) hiking trail that generally takes about nine days.


Hotels in Ireland range from luxury to shabby but all get busy in the summer season so book ahead. Hostels are popular, as are B & Bs and a chain of 26 Irish Youth Hostels known as An Oige.

Getting Around

• Cars: Ireland is not massive, the road network is good, buses often inconvenient and train routes very limited so this is one of those few destinations where a rental car is the way to go, even if signposting is negligible and potholes common. Book cars ahead, preferably in your own country where prices may be less extortionate.

• Buses: there’s a fair network of mixed private and public buses, at low cost too, but slow and erratic.

• Irish Rail trains are pricey and focused on the Dublin area.

• Cycling is fine for tough bikers with tough bikes who don’t mind skies full of water and roads full of holes. Cycles can be carried on buses and most trains.
Bike rental is available in various locations and guided tours are also on offer from Cycling Safaris and Go Ireland.
If you plan to bike the west coast head from south to north, with the prevailing winds.

Dublin, Liffey River walk, Ireland

And our last stop in Ireland, it’s back to Dublin for a stroll beside the Liffey River before a visit to a pub where there’ll be Guinness awaiting, to be sure. . .Photo by Jean Housen.

Irish Festivals

* June, Music in Great Irish Houses Festival, mostly Dublin, plus counties Wicklow and Kildare. Excellent.
June, Eigse Carlow Arts Festival, all kinds of music and street entertainment.
June, Galway Pride, parades, fancy dress and general hard partying.
* July, Galway Arts Festival, all kinds of entertainment at this great show.
August, Waterford Spraoi Street Festival
August, Muff Festival, wild and wacky 3 day street event.
*August, Puck Fair, a bizarre 3 day event.
August, Kilkenny Arts Festival, set in superb surroundings.
*August, Rose of Tralee International Festival, a massive party celebrating romance!
August, Fleadh Cheoil, huge all-Ireland music competition, music everywhere, Clonmel, County Tipperary.
September, Galway Int. Oyster Festival, with fun events of all sorts.
End of October, Cork Jazz Festival, 4 days
*Mid October-early November, Wexford Opera Festival, small but perfectly formed.