17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ireland
Welcoming and wonderfully rich in culture, Ireland, the "Emerald Isle," is sure to put a sparkle in your eye. You'll love its friendly people, laid-back culture, often-tragic yet fascinating history, and its rugged, romantic landscapes. This is "the land of saints and scholars" and boasts more Nobel Prize winners for literature than any other country in the world. Dublin was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010. The state museums are all free, there are endless outdoor pursuits to enjoy countrywide such as horse riding, golf, and sailing to name a few, remote wild islands to explore, and of course, the famous Irish "craic" (good time) to be had wherever you decide to go. This pick of Ireland's best is sure to guide you on your way.
1 Trinity College, Dublin
No visit to Ireland's capital is complete without coming to this esteemed ancient seat of learning and the oldest university in Ireland. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity is a world within a world, once you enter the gates and cross the cobblestones it's as if the modern thriving city outside simply melts away. A stroll in and around the grounds is a journey through the ages and into the hushed world of scholarly pursuit. Many shop and office workers take their lunchtime sandwiches here during summer months simply to escape the hustle and bustle outside. The college is famed for its priceless treasures including the awe-inspiring Book of Kells (on permanent exhibition) and the mind-boggling Long Room (the inspiration for the library in the first Harry Potter movie).
Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 9:30am-5pm, Sunday (May-September) 9.30am- 4.30pm, Sunday (October-April) 12-4.30pm
Admission: Adults €9, senior citizens & students €8, children (under 12) free
Address: Trinity College, College Green, Dublin 2
2 The Cliffs of Moher
So many superlatives have been used to describe these magnificent cliffs it's hard to find the right words. Vertigo-inducing and awe-inspiring spring to mind and they are indeed both of these things as well as being utterly wild and ruggedly beautiful. For those who've read up on the Emerald Isle prior to visiting, the cliffs will be familiar, starring as they do in countless postcards and guidebooks. Yet no image can ever do them justice. This is Ireland's most visited natural attraction and with good reason. About one and a half hours by car from Galway, in neighbouring County Clare, the cliffs are visited by close to a million people from across the globe each year. They stretch for eight kilometers along the Atlantic and rise some 214 meters at their highest point. Take a walk along the trail to experience the raw power of nature at its most majestic.
Hours: Open from 9am (visitor center closed December 24th-26th) seasonal closing
Admission: Adults €6, seniors & students €4, under 16s free
Address: Liscannor, Co. Clare
3 Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Magical and mysterious, Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. The settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed into what's known as the 'Monastic City'. For thousands of years, people have been drawn to the valley of the two lakes for the magnificent scenery, rich history, matchless archaeology, and abundant wildlife. The monastic site with its incredibly preserved round tower is a joy to explore, and the surrounding woodlands and lakes are perfect for rambling through at your leisure or stopping off for a picnic. There are marked nature trails to follow and a Visitor Centre for all the information you'll need for a day out like no other.
Hours: Glendalough Visitor Centre is open daily mid October-Mid March 9.30am-5pm, mid March-mid October 9.30am-6pm
Admission: Adults €3, seniors/group €2, child/student €1, family €8
Address: Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
4 Grafton Street Area, Dublin
So much more than a shopping street, Grafton Street is alive with buskers, flower-sellers, and performance artists. You will also find countless places to stop off and simply watch the world meander by. Café culture has taken off in the capital, and on a sunny day, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in Barcelona or Lisbon. True, this is Dublin's shopping heartland, but there's no need to spend a fortune if visiting. You'll find friendly, chatty service no matter where you go and be entertained from the bottom of the street to St. Stephen's Green at the top. Grab a coffee or, in the mornings, a legendary Irish breakfast at Bewley's Oriental Café. Take time as well to duck down the numerous alleyways and streets to see what you can discover.
5 Muckross House & Gardens, Killarney, Co. Kerry
If visiting the Kerry region, 19th-century Muckross House and Gardens, set in spectacular Killarney National Park, should be top of the must-see list. Standing close to the shores of Muckross Lake, one of Killarney's three lakes that are famed worldwide for their splendor and beauty, this former mansion oozes the grandeur and gentility of bygone days. When exploring, bear in mind that Queen Victoria once visited here. In those days, a royal visit was no small affair; extensive renovations and re-landscaping took place in preparation, and no detail was left to chance. The house and gardens are a real treat and there are Jaunting Cars (Killarney's famous horse & traps) to take you around the grounds in style. The adjacent Traditional Farms are also well worth taking in for a taste of how the ordinary folk once lived.
House & Gardens
- Hours: Open daily, July-August 9am-7pm, September-June 9am-5.30pm
- Admission: Adults €7.50, seniors €6, children & students €4
- Hours: Open daily, June-August 10am-6pm, May & September 1am-6pm, low season 1pm - 6pm Saturdays, Sundays, & Bank Holidays
- Admission: Adult €7.50, seniors €6, children & students €4
6 Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Featured in many a rebel song and occupying a notoriously dark place in Irish history, Kilmainham Gaol should be high on the list for those with any interest in Ireland's troubled past. It was here that the leaders of the 1916 Uprising were brought and, after being convicted of High Treason, executed in the prison yard. The only one spared was future Irish President Eamon De Valera who, by virtue of his American citizenship, didn't suffer the same grisly fate. Dating from 1796, the prison was a dank vile institution that housed those guilty of such misdemeanours as being unable to pay their train fares and, during the famine, the destitute and hungry. In Irish eyes, Kilmainham became an irrevocable symbol of oppression and persecution. A visit here will open your eyes and senses and remain with you indelibly. The yard mentioned earlier is particularly spine chilling. In short, this is one of Ireland's absolute must-sees.
Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm, Sunday 10am-6pm
Admission: Adults €6, seniors €4, child/student €2
Address: Inchicore Road, Dublin 8
7 Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow
Superb views, serene lakeside walks, engaging history, and the stunning backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain are just some of the treats in store when visiting this magnificent home, just 20 kilometers from Dublin. Now owned by the Slazenger family, the house is set on 47 manicured acres. Take time to explore the ornate Italian Gardens, the formal walks of the Rose and Kitchen Gardens, and numerous hidden treasures. There are more than 200 varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers, and particularly moving is a section where much-loved family pets were buried complete with headstones and inscriptions. The Gardens were laid out over a period of 150 years and were designed to create an estate in harmony with the wider landscape. On site, in the former Palladian home, are craft and design shops and an excellent café/restaurant. Truly one of the most majestic attractions in Ireland, a visit here shouldn't be missed.
Hours: Open daily 9.30am -5.30pm (dusk in Winter)
Admission: Adult €8.50, seniors & students €7.50, child (aged 5-16) €5, under 4's free, family (2 adults & up to 3 children) €25
Address: Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow
8 Dalkey and Killiney on Dublin's south coast
Escape the city for a while, jump on a DART (Dublin's light rail system) and head for charming Dalkey/Killiney, a mere 25-minutes southbound from the city center. The picture-postcard village of Dalkey attracts visitors from around the world, perhaps something to do with the eclectic arty population, including such figures as Bono of U2, singer/songwriter Enya, filmmaker Neil Jordan, and a host of other artists and writers. Indeed, the village is so famous that Michelle Obama stopped off here during her 2013 visit with her daughters to have lunch at Finnegan's with the U2 singer and his family. There's a wonderful Heritage Center, set in a castle, and spectacular walks along the coast and up onto adjacent Killiney Hill. A ferry service starting in summer 2014 will bring you across to beautiful Dalkey Island, just a couple of minutes from Coliemore Harbour. In recent years, friendly and intimate Dalkey Book Festival has attracted giants of the literary world each June.
Dalkey Castle Heritage Centre
- Hours: Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, weekends 11am-5pm, closed Tuesdays
- Admission: Adults €8.50, seniors & students €7.50, under 12s €6.50, under 4s free
- Address: Castle Street, Dalkey, Co. Dublin
9 The Aran Islands
Originally brought to world attention in 1934 by the fictionalised documentary Man of Aran, these islands have been entrancing visitors ever since. This is a taste of Ireland as it once was. Gaelic is the first language, there are a mere 12,000 inhabitants, and once ashore, you'll feel as if you're in a time warp. There are three islands, the largest being Inishmore, then Inishmaan, and the smallest is Inisheer. Wild, windswept, rugged, and utterly unique, the islands offer a visitor experience quite like no other. Once experienced, the great stone fort of Dun Aonghasa and the towering cliffs of Aran will never be forgotten. The local culture is quite different from that of the mainland, the archaeological heritage cannot be found elsewhere and the rich scenery is simply breathtaking.
10 The Little Museum of Dublin
A recent addition to the capital's museums, The Little Museum should be top on the list for anybody wishing to grasp Dublin's recent history. The museum grew organically from a 'meet and greet' service for visitors and quickly became what we see today. As well as informative, personally guided tours, new initiatives include Dublin by Land & Sea and The Green Mile Walking Tour. On permanent exhibition are such items as the lectern used by John F. Kennedy during his 1963 visit to Ireland and a U2 exhibition with mementos donated by band members themselves. This is a joyful museum that celebrates Dublin with all its quirkiness and humor.
Hours: Open Monday-Sunday 9.30am-5pm, Thursdays 9.30am-8pm
Admission: Adults €7, senior citizens (over 65) €5.50, students/under 18 €4.50
family €14 (up to 2 adults and 3 children), children under 3 free
Address: 15 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
11 The Ring of Kerry
If in Kerry, take the time to explore what is arguably Ireland's most scenic route, the Ring of Kerry (Iveragh Peninsula). Of course you can start anywhere along the way, however most set out from either Kenmare or Killarney ending, naturally enough, back in the same spot. The entire journey non-stop could take under three hours, but that's unlikely to happen. En-route there's a feast of jaw-dropping Atlantic Ocean views, stunning islands to visit, wild sweeping mountains, and many picturesque villages. This area of astounding natural beauty boasts a range of outdoor pursuits including golf, water sports on pristine beaches, cycling, walking, horse-riding, and terrific freshwater fishing and deep-sea angling. For history enthusiasts, there are Iron Age forts, Ogham Stones, and ancient monasteries all in a landscape carved out by the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.
12 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin
Beloved by Dubliners and with a colorful history, tranquil St. Stephen's Green is a great place to wind down, enjoy a picnic, or feed the ducks. Incidentally, during the 1916 Uprising, special dispensation was given on both sides to the park keepers. Hostilities ceased daily so that the ducks could be properly fed. It could only happen in Dublin. Nowadays 'The Green', as it's known locally, boasts beautifully maintained gardens, the ubiquitous Duck Pond, a picturesque bridge, recreation grounds, mature trees to rest beneath, and a playground. Around the perimeter are many of Dublin's premier Georgian buildings as well as the iconic Shelbourne Hotel, founded in 1824, where afternoon tea in the Lord Mayor's Lounge is considered by many to be a real treat.
13 Kinsale, Co. Cork
Soaked in history, and in a scenic coastal setting at the gateway to West Cork, Kinsale has been attracting large numbers of visitors for decades. The town has a decidedly Spanish feel, particularly in summer. This is hardly surprising bearing in mind that in 1601, three years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Spanish sent a military force to Ireland, most of whom disembarked at Kinsale. This led to the English laying siege to the town and ultimately the defeat of Spanish and Irish forces by superior English military might. Kinsale is now a magnet for those who love sailing, fishing, walking, marvellous scenery, and great food. The town is packed with restaurants of all sorts and the seafood on offer is excellent. There's an annual Gourmet Festival among others, and a visit to imposing Charles Fort shouldn't be missed.
14 Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
A visit to the Shannon region wouldn't be complete without coming here. Dating from 1425, the castle is the best-preserved medieval fortress in Ireland and was restored to its former glory in the 1950s. Containing a fine array of 15th- and 16th-century furnishings and tapestries, the castle will transport you back to ancient medieval times. The themed banquets in the evenings are great fun, although certain guests who misbehave run the risk of being sent to the dungeons below. The impressive Folk Park brings the Ireland of a century ago vividly to life. Featuring more than 30 buildings in a village and rural setting, the folk park has farmhouses, village shops, and streets to explore. It's all great fun for families and kids.
Hours: Open daily 9.30am-5.30pm
Admission: Adults €10, seniors €9.45, under 16s €8, under 6s free
Address: Bunratty, Co. Clare
15 Shop Street, Galway
If you're in Ireland's third largest city, Shop Street is a must. Crammed with all manner of retailers including booksellers, jewelers, boutiques, and cafés alongside street entertainers and buskers, this winding pedestrian thoroughfare captures all the charm of Galway within a few hundred yards. The street also boasts Ireland's best-preserved medieval townhouse Lynch's Castle, although unfortunately, it now houses a branch of AIB Bank. The exterior however is well worth stopping to admire. There's no shortage of gift shops too, many stocking the Claddagh rings Galway is famous for. By far the best thing about Shop Street, however, is the people and laid-back atmosphere. Galway has long been a destination for arty types and here you'll encounter all sorts of people generally having a good time no matter the weather.
16 The English Market, Cork
No visit to Cork would be complete without dropping by the English Market. Although it's a tad ironic that what is arguably Cork city's best attraction should contain the word 'English' as Cork folk usually see themselves as far more ideologically and culturally removed from neighbouring Britain than their Dublin counterparts. Having said that, they hold a special place in their hearts for this quirky covered market, which stocks the best of local produce, including the freshest seafood, artisan breads, and excellent cheeses. A market has existed on the site since the late 1700s, although the distinctive entrance on Princes Street dates from 1862. Recent worldwide fame came when Queen Elizabeth II dropped by on her first ever state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011. Iconic images of her sharing a joke with Fishmonger Pat O'Connell were beamed across the globe. For those who wish to linger a while, there's coffee to go and cozy Farmgate Restaurant upstairs.
Hours: Open 8am-6pm, Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays and Bank Holidays
Address: Princes Street, Cork (off St. Patrick's Street & Grand Parade)
17 The Rock of Cashel
Ireland's most visited heritage site, the Rock of Cashel, stars in countless images of the Emerald Isle. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain even visited by helicopter during her 2011 official tour of the country. Set on an outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, this spectacular group of Medieval buildings includes the 12th-century round tower, the High Cross and Romanesque Chapel, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral, a 15th-century castle, and the restored Hall of the Vicars Choral. Tourist attractions include an audio-visual show and exhibitions. It's also said that this was once the seat of the High Kings of Munster prior to the Norman invasions.
Hours: Open mid June-mid September 9am-7pm (seasonal variations)
Admission: Adults €5.30, seniors €3.70, students €2.10, family €11.50
Address: Cashel, Co. Tipperary