It’s easy to get lost in the romanticism that a trip to Ireland brings. The island is home to the postcard-style countryside, timeworn villages, beautiful art, great drinks and some of the best food you’ll ever eat. Plan to spend two weeks to truly experience the Emerald Island – home to Ireland and Northern Ireland. As you plan your visit, consider flying into Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. The airport doesn’t seem to be as busy as Dublin or Shannon. So, let’s start our trip there with our Ireland travel guide.
Belfast was once the epicenter during “The Troubles” – the name given to the conflict between England and the Irish Republican Army during the late 20th century. Long settled, the conflict is now addressed as part of the nation’s history. Take a double-decker bus tour of Belfast, where the conflict is discussed. As you drive past historical and architectural attractions, tour guides explain their significance, as well as if they were impacted by “The Troubles.” The Hotel Europa – a beautiful hotel to stay – was the most-bombed place in Belfast during that time. Today, the hotel is the place to stay when visiting and a great stop on our Ireland travel guide.
The RMS Titanic was built in Belfast, before its ill-fated maiden voyage 106 years ago. The city honors the ship’s legacy at the Titanic Museum, including the shipyard where it was built. During your visit to Belfast, you might also enjoy a drink at the Crown Bar. Featuring mosaic tiles, the floor near the entrance features a crown created from tiles. Inside, the booths are carved with dark wood, giving the city’s best-known pub an old-fashioned feel.
Our next stop on this Ireland travel guide is about an hour’s drive north of Belfast. The oldest distillery in Ireland calls Bushmills home and it is a great place to visit. Creating some of the world’s best whiskey since 1784, Old Bushmills Distillery attracts visitors to the rural town. Tour the facility, learning about its history, whiskey-making process and sample a drink or two afterward.
A short drive away from the distillery is a geological marvel. Giant’s Causeway is an ancient collection of unique rock formations. Attracting more than half a million visitors annually, the causeway was created – as the legend goes – when a giant built a bridge to Scotland. He destroyed it after seeing a baby who was enormous. It was the Irish giant dressed as a baby. The Scottish giant destroyed the bridge as he ran home, fearing how tall the baby’s father might be. Regardless of its lore, Giant’s Causeway is a beautiful natural attraction to view.
Northern Ireland is home to the island’s oldest city. Once a walled city, Derry (Londonderry to the British) is easily navigated and a great city to explore on foot. Hugging the River Foyle, Derry’s architecture is worthwhile to tour, including St. Columb’s Cathedral. “Free Derry” is home to political murals, documenting the history of the nation during “The Troubles.” The city was the sight of “Bloody Sunday,” a mid-1970s incident where 13 unarmed people were killed by soldiers. A monument honors the names of the fallen.
We recommend you take some time to drive around Northern Ireland on our Ireland travel guide. You’ll appreciate the beautiful rural scenery, featuring old brick walls along the road. Dunluce Castle stands on a cliff-hugging the coastline. Built in the Middle Ages, remains of the castle attract visitors from all over. If you’re up to a challenge, take the steps outside down to the waterside. It’s an amazing view.
Following your tour of Northern Ireland, head to the Irish Republic. Taking up the majority of the island, Ireland provides beautiful rural scenes, with vibrant green everywhere you look. With rain a common occurrence, the results are amazing green grass and moss, providing impressive looks.
Next on our Ireland travel guide is Dublin which is the best-known city. It’s easy to spend a lot of time in the nation’s capital. Temple Bar district is home to a collection of pubs, including the famous Temple Bar. Enhance your visit to Temple Bar’s pubs with a pub crawl, featuring drinks and music. You can even take a literary pub crawl, following the steps of great Irish writers.
Dublin’s history provides impressive attractions. Trinity College is home to the Book of Kells, a collection of classic literary works. A walk around campus is a trip back in time. Imagine strolling the same places as notable Trinity alumni, such as Oscar Wilde, Edmund Burke, and Bram Stoker.
Built in the 13th century on a former Viking encampment, Dublin Castle primarily serves as the site of ceremonial events and state dinners for the nation’s leader. However, featuring mirrored walls, high ceilings with majestic chandeliers and amazing art, the castle’s beauty is breathtaking and a wonderful stop on the Ireland travel guide.
Irish protestors and rebels were once jailed at Kilmainham Jail. Built in the late 18th century, the jail was hailed as a modern masterpiece. It went on to house several inmates, including the leaders of a 1916 rebellion, whose leaders were executed on site.
No trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Guinness Brewery. Around since 1759, the brewery – known as Guinness Storehouse – offers a self-guided tour through the history of the dark beer. Once you arrive at the rooftop pub, enjoy a complimentary pint to cap your visit, and take in a 360-degree view of Dublin.
Our Ireland travel guide also includes a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. Rising up to more than 700 feet above the sea, the cliffs offer amazing views over a 15-mile route. Ireland is home to beautiful coastal cliffs, but the Cliffs of Moher stand out, offering majestic views of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as colonies of wild animals, including grey seals, whales, and puffin. Park at the visitors center and enjoy a walk along cliffs’ edges to enjoy a beautiful view of the area.
The Ring of Kerry takes you on a scenic drive, with breathtaking views of the ocean, mountains and green landscapes. The route begins with a stop at Kenmare, a small fishing village with picturesque buildings and a sculpture of the Druid’s Circle in the town center. As you drive the loop that takes you through Killarney National Park, make sure to visit the ruins of Billycarbery Castle – built in the mid-1600s – near Cahirciveen.
It may seem the ultimate touristy thing to do, but when in County Cork, you need to visit Blarney Castle and plant a kiss on the Blarney stone. You’ll be joining millions of people who have kissed the limestone rock for good luck over the years, including celebrities and dignitaries. With the assistance of staff, you lay down kiss the stone from underneath. It may seem scary at first, but you’ll be glad you did it. And you can brag to your friends at home.
As with any major country full of attractions, it’s impossible to see everything Ireland has to offer without moving there for a few years. But, as you plan your visit to the Emerald Island, keep the locations on our Ireland travel guide in mind for a truly enjoyable Irish vacation. During your trip, be sure to book stays at our favorite luxury hotels in Ireland.