The Emerald Island on the western end of Europe might not be the biggest in size, but it surely has a lot to offer when it comes to culture, traditional heritage and a fantastic range of outdoor activities to be enjoyed in the awe-inspiring scenery of green hills, golden boglands and a sheer endless rugged coastline. To help you plan your next trip to Ireland and to make sure that you will enjoy your precious time off to the fullest, we put together this regional guide to include some of the best experiences in Ireland.
Wicklow Mountains National Park
The Wicklow National Park South of Dublin is only a short drive from Dublin and Dublin airport and is home to some of Ireland’s highest mountains and rich cultural heritage. Hiking possibilities seem countless with a long distance trail leading all the way from Clonegall in Co Carlow through the Wicklow Mountains to Marlay Park in Co. Dublin. Further, you will find several well-maintained and (mostly) sign-posted loop walks that can be accomplished in a couple of hours or a day and range from every level - if you are looking for a challenge in climbing up Wicklow’s highest mountain Lugnaquilla, explore the wild and remote Glenmalure Valley or combine monastic history with fabulous scenic views in Glendalough, there is something for everybody.
The National Park spans an area of 220km2 and also offers great opportunities for cycling, horse riding, canoeing, fishing and kayaking. The Wicklow Mountains are also home to some of Ireland’s most beautiful gardens and offer some high quality golf courses.
The coastline extends all the way from Dublin down to Co. Wexford and there are good opportunities for water sports including sea kayaking, swimming, surfing and wildlife watching all the way from Dublin to Wexford. The further you travel South, the longer and sandier the beaches get.
Much of Ireland's southeastern area is part of the “Ancient East”, which is characterized by a rich historical heritage with Viking, Christian and Norman influences. Historic points of interest include the monastic site of Glendalough, the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary, the Norman towns of Wexford and Waterford and the medieval town of Kilkenny.
The East Coast (Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Meath, Westmeath, Monaghan, Offaly, Cavan, Louth)
Much of the eastern coast of Ireland is dominated by Dublin, which has a centralized position in terms of economy, but also when it comes to culture and history. Guinness Storehouse, Merrion Square or Temple Bar are only a few of the popular sights to visit. Dublin is also home to a wealth of museums, galleries, theatres and of course a substantial amount of traditional pubs and modern bars. It is possible to explore the city in unique ways, including segway tours, kayaking tours, themed walking tours or as a viking! Dublin is home to Europe’s biggest park, the Phoenix Park, which offers walking or cycling and is also home to the wonderful Dublin Zoo.
The Dublin mountains rise at the southern end of the city and are a popular spot for walking and recreation. To the North, you will find the historic valley of Boyne, home to the megalithic tombs of Newgrange and Knowth and the mythical Hill of Tara, the former seat of the Old High Kings of Ireland. Further inland, you will find the iconic monastic site of Clonmacnoise on the banks of the Shannon in Co. Offaly and the two traditional Whiskey distilleries Tullamore and Kilbeggan. While you find some beautiful coastal mountain scenery in the Northeast, the interior North is characterized by lakes, loughs and glacial formations with some great possibilities for walking, cycling or water sports.
Northern Ireland (Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone)
From hiking and cycling in the Mourne Mountains overlooking the Irish sea, water activities and boat tours on the Fermanagh lakes and the Neagh and Strangford Loughs to the a road trip along the beautiful scenery along the Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland is varied and offers plenty of choice for activities. The stairways to Heaven through the boglands of Fermanagh or the Gobbins along the coast are some of the spectacular walks that can be enjoyed around here.
Northern Ireland is also home to the world-famed Bushmills Whiskey, the spectacular cliff formation of the Giant’s Causeway and many historic cities, including Belfast, Derry, Enniskillen or Armagh.
Northwestern Ireland (Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo)
The northwestern area of Ireland was always characterized by poor agricultural soil and has seen long episodes of mass immigration, making the area the least populated in Ireland. The unspoiled, lonely and melancholic landscape makes for the special appeal for this area, where you will find a wild, rugged coastline with lonely bays and beaches, endless golden boglands and fantastic mountain deserted mountain ranges.
Northwestern Ireland is home to three National Parks, Glenveagh National Park in Co Donegal, Ballycroy National Park in Co. Mayo and Connemara National Park in Co. Galway. Besides education on the local flora and wildlife, the national parks offer great opportunities for hiking and cycling. Coasteering, sea kayaking, surfing and swimming can be enjoyed along the coast and it is also possible to watch dolphins and whales along the western Coast. All the Way from the Inishowen peninsula in Northern Donegal, the coastline is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The northwestern part of Ireland has managed to maintain an authentic cultural heritage and the conservation of traditions, music and culture plays an integral part. The city of Galway celebrates its cultural and musical heritage with many festivals and events that take place over much of the year. Connemara is the largest Gaeltacht area in Ireland, where many people still speak Gaelic in their everyday life. Learn about traditional farming while learning how to cut turf or to herd sheep, discover some culinary traditions on a foraging tour along the coast and enjoy the slower pace of life while enjoying a perfect pint of Guinness in a rural and authentic environment.
Some of the islands off the coast can be visited, making for a great day out in a beautiful natural setting, where you can enjoy to get away from it all and to learn about a part of Ireland where traditions are still alive today.
The West and Southwest (Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick)
Much of the western area of Ireland is characterized by a spectacular rugged coastline with high cliffs, sandy beaches and wild mountains. From the Cliffs of Moher and the Shannon Mouth to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle peninsula, you will find many iconic landscapes in the southwest of Ireland,
The hilly landscape is making the area a popular destination for walking and hiking, cycling, surfing, swimming, kayaking and coasteering. Hiking opportunities range from looped walks that take a few hours or a day to long distance walking routes over a few days, including the Burren, Kerry, Dingle or Sheeps Head Way. All these routes will take you through beautiful wild unspoiled nature and small traditional villages.
Carrauntoohil, the highest mountains in Ireland, can be found in the Killarney National Park outside Killarney, a beautiful wild landscape with fantastic views over the mountains, waterfalls and the lakes of Killarney.
Co. Cork in the very South of Ireland is known for its culinary delights and the little town of Kinsale has become to be known as the foodie capital of Ireland. Traditional food markets, cooking classes or walking tours give an insight of the surprising and refined food trends in Ireland. Middleton in Co.
Cork is also home to the world renowned James Whiskey Distillery. Some of Ireland’s most iconic heritage can be found in the western and southwestern region, including the impressive Anglo-Normanic Bunratty Castle in Co. Clare or the iconic Blarney Castle in Co. Cork.