The best places to visit in Ireland offer a tiptop blend of the island’s charms—cultural, architectural, natural—that see travelers return year after year.
Whether it’s the cobbled streets of hospitable Dublin; the volcanic cobbles of the northerly Giant’s Causeway; the bonnie charms of southern Kinsale; or the brooding magnificence of the Twelve Bens range on the west coast, Ireland offers something at all points of the compass.
Here are some of the best places to go in Ireland on your next trip.
Just south of Dublin, County Wicklow supplies a convenient country escape for the inhabitants of the country’s capital. However, with a glut of castles fortifying its handsome seafront, outposts of living history (such as Avoca Mill), and historical ruins aplenty, all-rounder County Wicklow is also one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
For all of that, County Wicklow is chiefly a place of extraordinary natural beauty. While Ireland doesn’t usually challenge the Bahamas or California for the title of “top beach destination”, that doesn’t mean that its charismatic coastline isn’t gilded with gorgeous sandy stretches. A pristine example is Wicklow’s Brittas Bay—famous as the landing site of Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick.
Wicklow’s superlatives include the country’s highest waterfall, Powerscourt Waterfall, as well as a number of top-ranked golf clubs. Putting your way through the lush scenery is a popular way to take in Wicklow. Another, at a slightly higher velocity, would be on horseback with the wind in your hair.
At the Kilruddy Estate, one of Ireland’s premier equestrian establishments, gallop through prime Irish countryside while benefitting from expert tutelage. For all skill levels, your route—once you’ve completed the preliminary briefings—will wind through the scenic Hollybrook and Kilruddery Estates without once crossing a road.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Ireland’s social fabric is intertwined with Christianity. For believers, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin represents the country’s most important sanctuary. As such, it’s a powerful place to visit when touring the capital.
Helpfully located off busy Patrick’s Street just south of St. Patrick’s Park, a visit to St. Patrick’s ties in easily with visits to a number of other major sights like St. Stephen’s Green. The cathedral is easy to find—a dramatic 12th-century Gothic edifice clothed in pale grey stone, flying buttresses, and stained glass.
Enter its wide oak doors on a guided tour, and you’ll learn about how the cathedral sits on the original 5th-century site where St. Patrick baptized the local Celtic chieftains. Also within is the final resting place of Gulliver’s Travels author and noted satirist, Jonathan Swift. But perhaps most poignant is the ‘The Door of Reconciliation’ (on display in the cathedral’s north transept), through which two Irish families, with an act of good faith, ended a dangerous feud.
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Drive north of Dublin and after half an hour you’ll reach Malahide, a picturesque coastal village that has become an affluent suburb of the city. A little inland from the clinking sailboat masts of Malahide marina—but still close enough that you can taste the sea on a windy day—is Malahide Castle. The property is one of the country’s oldest castles and generally considered one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
The seat of the Talbot family for nearly a millennium, medieval Malahide used to be one of the most indomitable castles in Ireland. Over the centuries, this Gothic revival mansion has grown and developed, with a resultant eclecticism that helps make a day trip to Malahide so memorable.
Guided tours—and an interactive exhibition on the ground floor—help visitors get under the skin of this historic home while strolling through the oak-paneled, frescoed interiors. While the Talbots moved out nearly a half-century ago, there are tales of former residents, such as a supernatural jester in the Great Hall, that still haunt the premises.
Beyond the historic home is Malahide’s 260 groomed and wild acres. Amid the palms and dahlias is a 5,000-specimen Botanic Garden (one of only four in the country); a Model Railway Museum; Ireland’s only butterfly house; and the beautifully manicured walled gardens staffed with strutting peacocks and unusual statues. If your timing’s right, you might be able to buy tickets for the Malahide Castle Concert series that takes place annually on the West Lawn.
Trinity College, Book of Kells
The alma mater of artistic luminaries such as Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Francis Bacon, Trinity College in Dublin is the country’s premier university.
The campus, founded in 1592 by Elizabeth I, is an orderly arrangement of grand 18th-century buildings with leafy spaces for contemplative students. The library also dates back to the college’s medieval origins, and its elegant, bust-lined Long Room is its architectural highlight, the rare books on its shelves exuding faint odors of leather and vanilla. And while the entire building’s six million printed volumes make the library one of the best places to visit in Ireland, the cherry on top is the unique Book of Kells.
Over 500 years older than the college, this ancient illuminated manuscript depicts the four gospels of the New Testament. Despite its 9th-century origins, this calfskin tome is resplendently intact, every well-preserved page a pain-staking work of art. Be sure to reserve a timeslot to view the manuscript, as the allure remains timeless (and ever-popular).
The 20 miles of the North Antrim Coast from Portrush to Ballycastle are often described as the most striking place that Ireland is known for. It’s a craggy stretch where the Atlantic wears away at this rough-hewn edge of the country, the dramatic contours of which contrast strikingly with the serene inland glens.
That would be enough in itself, but the coastline is blessed with an astonishing geological centerpiece. The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wellspring of folk tales, pin art on a grand scale. Formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago, the causeway is five miles of walkable basalt phenomenon. Just be sure to aim for low tide—much of the Causeway is covered when the tide is high. Visiting this beautiful site is one of the best things to do with kids in Ireland.
Castle Ward Estate
For many visitors to Northern Ireland, Castle Ward Estate—where the country pretends to be a different place entirely—will supply some of their vacation’s most enduring memories.
A historic estate dating back to the 16th-century, Castle Ward had been quietly impressing visitors with its elegant gardens and delightful split-personality architecture up until about 10 years ago when the location scout from a world-famous TV series arrived. After that, Castle Ward became blockbuster, known worldwide as the location for the fantasy stronghold of Winterfell as well as a host of other scenes from the hit series.
Today, Castle Ward offers tours and experiences related to the series. On a visit, reached after a scenic one-hour drive from Belfast, enjoy a behind-the-scenes film exploring the transformation of the historic home into the northern stronghold of the ill-fated Starks.
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Afterward, enter the grounds and visit the locations—including Audley’s Castle—before immersing yourself further by donning costumes and practicing some medieval archery. Towards the end of the tour, you’ll have a chance to encounter the fearsome direwolves (with their keeper, thankfully).
The British Isles’ largest inlet, Strangford Lough is found in eastern County Down and—for its natural beauty and popularity as a sailing hub—is one of the best places to go in Ireland.
That’s doubly true if you’re a bird watcher, for this conservation area acts as a winter migration destination for a dazzling variety of our feathered friends. The geography of the lough is characterized by the numerous islands and islets that chequerboard its western coastal areas.
Enfolded within the low-lying contours of this handsome landscape is the 18th-century thatched home of Tracy Jeffrey. A skilled patissiere, Tracy runs classes teaching how to make the traditional bread of the Irish culture. While you’re simmering in the delicious bready smells of your efforts as they bake, Tracy will regale you with Irish food lore. Afterward, taste test the treats you’ve created accompanied by a reviving cup of tea or coffee.
Killarney National Park
Any of the six national parks could make a list of the best places to visit in Ireland, but Killarney comes top for its all-rounder qualities.
The country’s first national park since 1932, Killarney is a swathe of trembling lakes, craggy mountains, and the country’s largest expanse of verdant native forest. Located within the scenic touring route known as the Ring of Kerry, Killarney’s remote peaks and sprawling woodland are also the strongholds of Ireland’s last herd of wild red deer.
While abandoning the car and tramping into the pristine depths of this peaceful wilderness is a popular option, the national park also conceals a pair of properties within its rugged borders that are well worth a visit. The dramatic 15th-century Ross Castle has been fully restored to the standard befitting a Middle Ages Irish chieftain. Besides exploring the castle, rowboats can be hired to reach nearby Innisfallen Island for a picnic.
Even more spectacular is the Tudor-style Muckross Mansion, positioned between the southern edge of Lough Leane and Muckross Lake. During a guided tour of this leading stately home of Ireland, you’ll learn how the Muckross Estate donated Killarney to the country in the 1930s, as well as gain insight into the gilded lifestyle of landed gentry during their pre-war heyday.
There’s a lot to love about Cork—this vibrant port-city has a rich maritime history, one of the country’s liveliest traditional music scenes, and is a stronghold of Ireland’s Celtic heritage.
But what really makes Cork one of the best places to visit in Ireland is its deserved designation as the country’s food capital. Cork beats out sophisticated Dublin thanks to its proximity to high-quality ingredients—whether freshly fished from the nearby Atlantic or the rich agricultural land that surrounds the city—and a strong emphasis on organic farming.
On your visit, begin at The English Market, considered by many to be the finest covered market in Europe. Make your way up the stairs and into the gallery-cum-bistro of the Farmgate Café. Find a spot overlooking the action before tucking into the cuisine, the ingredients sourced fresh from the market below.
Also worth a visit is Café Paradiso, described by some as the best vegetarian restaurant in Europe. The brainchild of celebrity chef, Denis Cotter, Café Paradiso’s casual bistro vibe belies the seriousness of the cuisine here, with the menu more a series of saliva-inducing gastro-haikus than something you’d imagine could physically arrive in a dish. But it does, and it is wondrous, even for the most dedicated carnivore.
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A half an hour’s drive south from Cork is Kinsale, a coastal town with a splendid harbor, colorful streets, and a 17th-century fort for the history buffs.
Another Irish gastro hot-spot, stopping into the renowned Black Pig wine bar or Finns’ Table restaurant for a bite feels festive any time of the year. The town is also the southernmost stop on the country’s famous Wild Atlantic Way trail, so once you’re done browsing Kinsale’s quirky boutiques, be sure to take a bracing stroll along the handsome coastal paths.
Charles Fort gives historical context to Kinsale, a town that was formerly a significant port and naval base. The star-shaped fort dates back to 1682 and was designed as an impenetrable outpost on Ireland’s south-eastern extent. Today, it’s a national monument, and a guided tour of its grounds will make you feel like an Irish history specialist by the end, such has been the importance of Charles Fort through time.
Curraghmore House & Gardens
Take a drive from Waterford through the picturesque hinterland of the Copper Coast, and you’ll soon arrive at the magnificent Curraghmore House & Gardens.
Ireland’s largest private demesne, Curraghmore House lays claim to 2,500 acres of encircling gardens, woodland, and grazing fields. Its manor, the home of the ninth Marquis of Waterford, is a prime example of the private palaces you find buried in some of the most choice stretches of the Irish countryside.
On a tour of Curraghmore, you’ll visit the main neo-classical reception rooms, see the King John’s Bridge (the oldest bridge in the country) built in 1205, and wander the seemingly limitless formal gardens. You’ll also step onto the pebbly floor of the Shell House, a kind of covered grotto created in 1754 by the former owner Catherine de la Poer who worked seashells from all over the world into its rough walls.
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Experience all of these remarkable places and more on a cruise to Ireland and Northern Ireland. With cruise itineraries calling at Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Waterford, experience the best that Ireland has to offer. Browse our cruise itineraries online and book your next getaway today.