It is said that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Perhaps that is why the Emerald Island is considered one of the most beautiful places on earth. Rich in luscious landscape, fantastical folklore, and charismatic charm, Ireland should be on everyone’s bucket list. In fact, there are so many places that one would like to visit while in Ireland, that the hard part is deciding which ones to pick. Here are 10 must see places in Ireland that guarantees a trip to remember in this magical country.
The Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara is the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland. As you walk its landscape, you almost feel like you are being transported back in time 6,000 years to when the first Celtic pilgrims came to crown their king.
Tara has always been considered a very special site and is connected to an ancient legend surrounding a standing rock at the center of the summit – the Stone of Destiny.
The major part of the hill is covered with grass that is always a bright spring green. Towards the northeast is another site of historical significance, Newgrange. Straight north is another, The Hill of Slane, where according to legend, St. Patrick lit the Paschal fire in 433 AD. The three of these sites form a triangle that has great spiritual and traditional importance.
However, all of the history isn’t ancient. There is even a new theory suggesting that Tara was the ancient capital of Atlantis, a mystical lost kingdom.
No doubt this place is very historical, mysterious, and fascinating which makes it the perfect spot to start your journey in Ireland.
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Tip: The Hill of Tara is only a short drive from the Dublin Airport, which is another reason why it is a great starting point for your Irish adventure.
Newgrange (Bru na Boinne)
Newgrange, also known as Bru na Boinne, is one of the most ancient and legendary sites in Ireland. The Celtic people believed that it was home to their chief god, Dagda and his son, Aengus – the god of love and poetry. Another legend tells that the mound also once held the remains of the ancient kings of Tara.
The most mystical experience takes place every year on the Winter Solstice.
Although known to be one of the most famous historical passage tombs, it recently has been determined to be much more. Older than the Egyptian pyramids, Newgrange is now thought to be an ancient temple and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Located on the banks of the beautiful Boyne Valley, Newgrange is a huge circular mound house with a diameter of 93 yards and a height of 15 yards. It is surrounded by a transcendent ring of 97 large boulders called kerbstones. Many of the stones are decorated with sophisticated megalithic art carvings. The most impressive is the entrance stone The inside of this ancient temple has remained intact and today is visited by over 300,000 people annually.
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The Hill of Slane
The Hill of Slane, positioned on a hill that rises almost 500 feet above the surrounding landscape, is overflowing with legend and history. The site is beautiful and offers impressive views of the surrounding land but that is not what makes it a must see place. The Hill of Slane has been a place of importance since the time of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. In fact, it aligns perfectly with these other sites and many think that this confirms its worth both astronomically and physically.
An interesting bit of history is that Slane is the location of a legendary healing well. Tradition tells us that many battles took place on the valleys below and between the ancient sites. Badly wounded warriors would hasten to the well at the Hill of Slane to be restored to full health. Throughout the ages, stories and legends surrounding the the Hill of Slane have been passed down.
Some are intriguing, others are shocking but none are so famous as the stories about St. Patrick.
Patrick decided he needed to take a bold stand against the pagan kings of Ireland, so he chose the Hill of Slane. Legend has it that he knew the King and all the king’s men would be at the Hill of Tara and so it was here on that night that he lit the paschal (Easter) fire.
The Hill of Slane was soon converted to a monastery and shortly afterwards a university was built. Patrick lived the rest of his life as the Bishop of Ireland, helping those that held him captive to go free. He died on March 17 around 460 A.D. and today all around the world, people celebrate his life.
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The Dark Hedges
This is one of Northern Ireland’s distinctive hidden gems that has received a lot of attention lately – the Dark Hedges.
The Dark Hedges, a long tunnel of 150 profoundly entangled beech trees, planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family. These massive trees have been impressing visitors for over 300 years.
Recently the Dark Hedges have gain celebrity status through the popular series, Game of Thrones. Since appearing in season 2, episode 1, it has become the most photograph site in Ireland.
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Tip: Be careful. Although these trees are massive, it is easy to drive right pass them. We did this the first time and almost gave up thinking that the sight was all hype. However, we decided to turn around and try again. Looking up and down the roads we passed, we were able to locate it easily. I’m so glad we did.
The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant Causeway is one of the top tourist sites in Ireland and is truly a geological treasure.
It is a unique structure of 40,000 uneven stair like columns formed by ancient volcanic activity. Today it has become a playground to the millions of visitors that come to see this UNESCO World Heritage site each year.
You might be wondering why it is called the Giant’s Causeway. The name comes from an ancient and fascinating myth about two giants, Finn McCool and Benandonner.
Although seeing a giant today is highly unlikely, the tale is loved by both, young and old. It adds a little enchantment to this mysterious and fascinating place.
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Tip: The Old Bushmills Distillery is along the way and is a popular hotspot to quench your thirst.
Located on the Atlantic Ocean, Galway is one of my favorite cities in Ireland. It is historic, quaint, tourist friendly, and known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart. It is popular for its vibrant festivals, celebrations, and events throughout the year.
You can easily walk and enjoy attractive shops and lively pubs on winding cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter. The pubs are quaint and many of them are of the old style. Several little rooms trimmed in dark wood with nooks and crannies throughout. Often there are local bands playing but it is not unusual for someone to walk in off the streets, sit down at a piano, and play a tune. The streets are active with students, artists, business people, and tourists exchanging conversation.
Locals and visitors enjoy leisurely walking along the Salthill Prom, a seaside walkway along the harbor. It is a favorite spot for picnics, dog walking, people watching, and festivals.
Galway has attracted people to its charming shores for over a thousand years. Voted as one of the top 10 European cities, Galway is a city that feels like a long lost friend.
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Tip: There are several days trips that leave from Galway to choose from including tours to the Aran Islands and Inis Mor.
The Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a 111-mile circular route in County Kerry, south-western Ireland.
It is an amazing day drive that has so much to offer from ancient monuments to amazing coastal views. In addition to the beautiful ocean views and soaring mountains, there are grand castles, large mansions, and fine homes. It makes for a wonderful carefree day. Plus, if you are ever going to see a leprechaun or a fairy, it would be here.
But there are many other things to see as you drive around the Ring. Staigue Fort, Ross Castle, Ballymalis Castle, the Blue Pool, Skellig Michael, Beehive Cells, and Derrynane House, the home of Daniel O’Connell are all major attractions. Plus the landscape is gorgeous. We stopped several times to take in the views and capture them in photographs.
There are also several small villages along the way that have great cafes, appealing shops, and friendly residents. Take time to enjoy this pleasant laidback day. It might be only 111 miles, but the roads are windy and narrow, so take your time. Relax, breathe deeply, and relish the moment.
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Tip: Since this is a very popular tourist drive, there are many buses on the route. To avoid them, drive in the opposite direction, starting at Kenmare and ending at Killarney. Plus Killarney is a great city to spend a night or two. It is just big enough to offer many activities yet small enough to easily find your way around.
The Cliffs of Moher
The beautiful Cliffs of Moher are popularly known as one of the most spectacular coastal areas in all of Europe. It is here that the emerald, rolling landscape of southwestern Ireland ends in a sheer drop of 650 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. There is almost nine miles of stunning scenery full of beautiful wildflowers and blowing grasses to stroll. On a clear day, the Galway Bay and Aran Islands can be viewed in the distance.
A popular cinematic backdrop, this rugged rock wall is massive and curves naturally around the wild ocean waves as if to embrace the dancing whitecaps below. Dolphins, whales, and seals are often spotted in the ocean below and seabirds fill the sky above. Imagine hiking the ancient rocks with a gentle breeze blowing and birds singing. A perfect day in Ireland!
Evidently, I am not the only one that thinks so. Over a million people visited this stunning natural wonder each year.
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Tip: Be sure to bring binoculars to enjoy it completely.
Dublin is rather a small city compared to others, but don’t let that fool you. It is rich in history, entertainment, and folklore. Home to Trinity College, which contains one of the most mysterious and fascinating pieces of Irish history, The Book of Kells. On my first visit to Ireland, I couldn’t wait to see the Book of Kells. Consequently, it was one of my first stops along my journey.
A masterpiece of exquisite medieval art from the 7th century, this precious script contains a scribed version of the four Gospels. The colorful figures of humans, mythical beasts, and Celtic knots are woven together artistically throughout the 340 pages.
Dublin is definitely multicultural but its Irish roots come shining through. No trip to Ireland is complete until you visit Dublin.
Of course, you can’t write about Dublin without mentioning a few popular places. Temple Bar is definitely one of those. What many people don’t realize is there are three Temple Bars. However, it isn’t the bar or bars that really set the stage but rather the whole cultural quarter. A smorgasbord of places to eat and drink fill the busy cobbled streets. Sounds of lively music and friendly people fill the air.
Two other places that are just as popular, if not more so, is the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery. Jameson’s bar area is large, exquisite, and a perfect mixture of ancient tradition and modern décor. They offer a lot of interesting cocktails and you might just have to try a few. The Guinness Storehouse is also a favorite hotspot. It has interactive self-guided areas that share the history of Ireland and Guinness in a very interesting way. Be sure to enjoy a free pint at the end of the tour.
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Glendalough, one of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations, is a magical valley between two tranquil lakes. At one time, St. Kevin started a busy monastic settlement in the dell. Centered on holy living, the village grew over several centuries.
Born in the 5th century, Kevin studied at a monastery and eventually became a priest.
Eventually he choose to leave the city for a life full of peace among nature in the valley. Later, a small community center around religious life began and soon it grew and prospered.
The ruins are extensive. The cathedral, started in the 10th century, is the largest. This monastery village included workshops, manuscript writing, churches, a hospital, farm buildings, and homes for religious leaders and parishioners in its prime.
Take the time to leisurely wander the paths along the lakes or try a challenging hike upon the mountains. Either way promises to bring a sense of peace and serenity.
Ireland is magical, welcoming, and full of stunning beauty wherever you turn.
It is a place that wishes are made and dreams come true and is sure to wow you beyond expectation. Visit these 10 must see places in Ireland and you will find yourself planning another trip soon.
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