Ireland Tours and Travel Guide
Ireland Attractions & Landmarks Guide
The name "Ireland" conjures up images of rolling green hills and valleys, coastal promontories and rugged offshore islands, shamrocks and fisherman-knit sweaters, the Blarney Stone and the gift of gab, St. Patrick and not-so-saintly leprechauns, literary giants and the Giants Causeway, charming small towns and sophisticated cities, and of course music-filled pubs serving up pints of Guinness to thirsty locals and travelers. All of it is true (though the leprechauns may be in hiding) and much more, on the Emerald Isle.
Ireland is one place that seldom disappoints – it’s exactly as you imagine it.
That is, if you imagine it as a land of emerald green, with impossibly scenic coastlines and rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep; that’s steeped in culture, especially its rich legacy of writers, poets and dramatists; and that’s populated with many great talkers and storytellers who haunt its pubs, often lubricated by pints of Guinness and shots of Irish whiskey.
Not to mention a certain amount of blarney, whether found in a legendary stone or in tales of mischievous leprechauns and lucky shamrocks.
Ireland fashion seems most comfortable in fisherman-knit sweaters and rain slickers to ward off the damp; while Irish history is reflected in a mix of grand country estates, smart Dublin townhouses, and gritty Belfast Victorians as well as hilltop castle ruins and occasional graffiti remnants of The Troubles that plagued the island throughout much of the 20th century following its partitioning in 1921.
The Emerald Isle has now been at peace with itself throughout the 21st century, and it’s helped to focus more on the similarities between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and less on the latters allegiance to staying in the United Kingdom, which isn’t necessarily due to any great love of the British. Ireland is very much its own island, despite its historical class and sectarian differences.
The Main Cities - Dublin and Belfast
Many Ireland tours begin in Dublin, and deservedly so. James Joyce immortalized it in Ulysses, Oscar Wilde studied art and aesthetics at Trinity College, and playwright Brendan Behan declared “I’m a drinker with a writing problem” here, having sampled most of the city’s 750-some pubs.
Among Dublin sights and experiences not to miss are:
The ancient Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript kept well-guarded in the Old Library at Trinity College;
St. Stephen’s Green, the city’s nicest and most popular park, lined by brick Georgian buildings and the famous Shelbourne Hotel;
Merion Square, the heart of Georgian-era Dublin;
The National Gallery of Ireland, for great artworks;
A visit to the Guinness Storehouse, for a look at the history of Ireland’s magic elixir, complete with samples at the end;
The vibrant nightlife in the Temple Bar area, known for its pubs, and the lively atmosphere of Grafton Street, Ireland’s best known shopping street.
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, which is part of Great Britain, is perhaps most recognizable as the site of turmoil between Protestants and Catholics in the late 20th century. But since a peaceful settlement was reached in 1998,, Belfast has blossomed into a pleasant base for exploring one of the most scenic and historic regions of the entire island. You can get a good pint of Guinness here, listen to Irish music, and even tour the shipyard where the Titanic was built.
The Scenic Southwest
If you enjoy hiking over hills and dales with scenery galore – including lush vegetation, herds of sheep and gushing waterfalls -- it’s hard to top County Kerry in southwestern Ireland. The town of Tralee is the gateway to the county’s Dingle Peninsula, while the town of Killarney is the gateway to the equally spectacular Iveragh Peninsula. Killarney National Park contains some of the country’s best known hiking trails, and the 135-mile-long Kerry Way loops around the entire peninsula.
The little fishing village of Portmagee is the base for boats that ferry passengers to Skellig Michael, an island off the craggy coastline that served as the setting for the dramatic last scene in the most recent Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. The island is home to beehive-shaped stone huts that are remnants of a 1,400 year old Christian monastery, as well as winding hiking trails to the top.
Elsewhere Around the Republic of Ireland
In County Cork in southern Ireland, you can kiss the precariously situated Blarney Stone, located at Blarney Castle. While it may be the most touristy activity in the entire country, you may wish to join the fun if you want to acquire the gift of gab (as it’s reputed to impart). Just don’t try a selfie, since it’s a long drop down if you let go of the hand gripper.
You’ll find the dramatically situated Cliffs of Moher in County Clare on the west coast, and, a bit farther north, Galway Bay, with the Aran Islands sitting at its mouth. The islands are strongholds of traditional Irish culture: language, music, food, and fashion.
Throughout Ireland you’ll find towns with familiar names that beckon you to explore them: Limerick, Kilkenny, Donegal, Sligo…the list goes on.
Elsewhere Around Northern Ireland
Perhaps surprisingly, Northern Ireland is actually the region where Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick, did most of his missionary work in the 5th Century AD. You can visit some of the key sites of his life here; the St. Patrick Centre in County Down is a good place to start. (To be sure, St. Patrick also did some of his work in southern Ireland as well – at the Rock of Cashel, he’s said to have converted the King of Munster to Christianity.)
Northern Ireland’s winding Antrim Coast is home to the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder whose thousands of step-like columns appear to lead the way to Scotland. (A myth claims that a giant built it.) Many scenes from the HBO series Game of Thrones were shot nearby. Also nearby is the Old Bushmills Distillery, which may have you believing in giants and the Iron Throne after a few samples.
Whether or not it’s St. Paddy’s Day, or whether or not you have any Irish blood coursing through your veins, you can uncover your own inner Irish person by booking a tour to Ireland. And that’s no blarney.
Things to Know Before You Go
Ireland tours are available all year round, but it does get quite chilly. Often tours in Ireland feature a lot of time outdoors along the coast, so be sure to dress warmly!
Walking is a very popular activity on many tours to Ireland. It is advised to bring a pair of warm, sturdy walking shoes or broken in hiking boots to protect your feet from blisters.
What to expect from a Tour in Ireland
Touring Ireland is a wonderful experience, full of jovial fun, fascinating history, and of course a pint or two. If you enjoy beer, it’s safe to say you will enjoy a tour in Ireland. If you don’t enjoy beer, don’t worry, but be prepared for a few pub visits. You may like the taste of beer by the end of your trip!
American travelers in particular may be surprised by the pub atmosphere in Ireland and the wider UK. The Irish pub experience is far more family friendly than a typical bar or pub in the United States. Going by yourself to hang out with a book is perfectly acceptable. But if you’re a more outgoing person, and enjoy meeting and hanging out with locals, the pub is the place to be; and you will be considered a local by the end of your trip if you go consistently. This is one reason why Ireland tours for singles are so popular.
Other than whiskey and beer, Ireland has much to offer in the way of history. Guided tours of Ireland will definitely touch on some of this, in varying degrees depending on which tour you choose.
Ireland Tour Routes
You may be wondering whether your trip in Ireland will visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In most cases, Ireland tours do visit both. The Republic of Ireland is dramatically larger than Northern Ireland, so you will spend most of your time in this area.
Some likely stops on this part of your tour include the Ring of Kerry, a stunning scenic route dotted with various historical sites. The Cliffs of Moher, which are only a short distance from Dublin, are another popular spot. The only thing that makes these breathtaking cliffs more stunning is the powerful, heart-stopping wind that blows in off the sea.
Northern Ireland is home to the Titanic Museum in Belfast, a very popular tour attraction. Giants Causeway is also a main attraction in Northern Ireland, especially for being a Game of Thrones filming location. Finally, your small group tour in Northern Ireland will likely include some historical components about recent conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in this part of Ireland.
Ireland Walking Tours
Because of Ireland’s natural beauty, relative accessibility and general safety, going on hiking and walking tours is one popular way of visiting the country. Going on a walking tour around Ireland is a great way to remove yourself from the routine, and place yourself in an otherworldly landscape.
If you decide to visit the Western coast of the country, you will be confronted with contrasting, dramatic stone landscapes and beautiful mountains. This region is known for both its rough seas, and its population of wildflowers.
If you want to experience the entire island, consider a coast-to-coast walk. On this route, you are sure to experience many more cultural landmarks, including the some of the earliest Christian landmarks.
If the call of England and Scotland are too irresistible to you, you are in luck, as many tours combine visiting the three, similar locations. This way you can get triple the dosage of intense historical drama, jaw-dropping natural landscapes, and good drink and pub food.
What is the weather like in Ireland?
As it is nearly surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland’s climate is both kept temperate by the water, and also made irregular because of it. As a result, Ireland’s weather is relatively unpredictable -- but not extreme.
When traveling to Ireland in the winter, you should dress warmly, but don’t worry about freezing temperatures. It rarely drops much below 46 degrees, and a result, don’t expect any heavy snows either.
In the summer, temperatures are in generally in the upper 50’s, and reach highs of around 66 degrees. Unlike in Scotland, you never have to worry about extremely long rain spells, nor will it rain consistently enough to make you wish you had your own pair of wellies. Either bring a light rain jacket just in case, or use every drizzle as an excuse to grab a Guinness in a cozy pub -- the choice is up to you!
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