Flung onto the foggy fringe of the Atlantic pond like a mossy millstone, Ireland drips with mystery, drawing you in for a closer look and then surprising you. An old farmer cuts turf from the bog, while his son staffs the tech helpline for an international software firm. Buy them both a pint in a pub that's whirling with playful conversation and exhilarating traditional music. Pious, earthy, witty, brooding, proud, yet unpretentious, Irish culture is an intoxicating potion to sip or slurp — as the mood strikes you.
At a Glance
Republic of Ireland
▲▲▲ Dublin Bustling Irish capital, with fascinating tours (historical, musical, and literary), passionate rebel history (Kilmainham Gaol), treasured Dark Age gospels (Book of Kells), intricate Celtic artifacts (National Museum: Archaeology and History), and a rambunctious pub district (Temple Bar).
▲▲▲ Dingle Peninsula My favorite fishing village (a traditional Irish-music pub paradise), which serves as a launchpad for the gorgeous Slea Head loop drive (or bike ride), featuring a wealth of Celtic and early Christian sites.
▲▲▲ Aran Islands Three windswept, treeless limestone islands in the Atlantic, laced with a maze of angular rock walls, crowned by Iron Age ring forts, and inhabited by sparse villages of hardy fisher-folk.
▲▲ Near Dublin Of the varied sights near Dublin, the best is the Boyne Valley’s ancient pre-Celtic burial mounds of Brú na Bóinne, with the majestic Norman castle in Trim nearby. Other choices are the green horse-racing pastures of the Irish National Stud, the graceful Gardens of Powerscourt, and the evocative monastic ruins of Glendalough.
▲▲ Kilkenny and the Rock of Cashel Best two destinations in Ireland's interior: the town of Kilkenny, with its narrow medieval lanes, cathedrals, and castle; and the Rock of Cashel, with its dramatic hilltop hodgepodge of church ruins overlooking the Plain of Tipperary.
▲▲ Kinsale and Cobh County Cork's two quaint harbor towns: Gourmet capital Kinsale, guarded by squat Charles Fort, and emigration hub Cobh — the Titanic's last stop.
▲▲ Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry Colorful, tidy town and ideal base for side-stepping the throngs flocking to drive Ireland's most-famous scenic loop route.
▲▲ County Clare and the Burren Ireland's rugged western fringe, with the take-your-breath-away Cliffs of Moher, stone landscape of the Burren, cozy trad music crossroads of Doolin, and handy Shannon Airport access from friendly Ennis.
▲▲ Westport and Connemara Lushly green region with hilly Irish outback of cottages, lakes, and holy peaks, dotted with photogenic settlements such as Cong, Kylemore Abbey, and the leafy riverside town of Westport.
▲ Waterford and County Wexford Gritty historic port town with famous Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre, and the hinterland of early Norman invasions, with a huge lighthouse and the JFK ancestral farm.
▲ Galway Energetic university city with thriving pedestrian street scene, great people-watching pubs, and the west coast's best base from which to reach the Burren, Aran Islands, and Connemara.
▲▲ Portrush and the Antrim Coast Unpretentious beach resort of arcades and amusement park rides, a stone's throw from the geologic wonderland of the Giant's Causeway, dramatic cliff-edge ruins of Dunluce Castle, and exhilarating Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
▲▲ Belfast No-nonsense industrial revolution metropolis, with stirring sectarian political murals, grandly domed City Hall, Titanic museum, and the charming nearby Victorian seaside retreat of Bangor.
▲ Derry and County Donegal Seventeenth-century British settlement ringed by stout town walls — infamous as the powder keg that ignited Ireland's tragic modern "Troubles" — with an insightful city history museum and access to the rugged beauty of Donegal.