The ‘land of a thousand welcomes’, the Emerald Isle – Ireland goes by many names, but you have to visit to understand why.
Ireland’s cities will grab hold of you with their charm and wit. From the cobbled streets of Dublin’s Temple Bar to the colourful houses of Cork and bustling pubs of Galway, your introduction to Ireland is sure to be a warm and welcoming one. With so many opportunities to learn about the country’s history and get a feel for what it’s like today, the energy of Ireland’s cities will charge you up for what’s to come.
No trip is complete without spending some time in its more rural areas. Rolling hills and perfectly carved cliff faces lead you through the coast and countryside of Ireland, where some of Europe’s most sought-after road trips are waiting to be explored. Truth be told, few expect it to be as beautiful as it is. Complete with castles, ancient ruins and outstanding hidden bays, you’ll encounter some of Ireland’s finest hiking trails along the way.
Nowhere delivers culture like Ireland, and at the heart of it all is Trad music. Whether you are looking for it or not, you’ll bump into a Trad music session while on your tour of Ireland. To set the scene, locals of all ages and abilities meet in pub corners across the country to play music. With a pint on the table in front of them, singers, fiddlers and accordionists will become the soundtrack to your trip!
Ireland is packed to the brim with activity. With so many gorgeous road trips and vibrant cities to visit, it’s hard to pick what’s best for you. This guide to Ireland will put all the cards on the table to see what’s possible!
- When to Go to Ireland
- Best Places to Go in Ireland
- How to Get Around Ireland
- Where to Stay in Ireland
- What to Eat in Ireland
- Festivals in Ireland
- Things to Know Before You Go to Ireland
- Eager to Plan a Trip to Ireland?
When to Go to Ireland
Sitting firmly in the middle of the northern hemisphere, Ireland is a cold, breezy and unpredictable country when it comes to weather. In this part of the world, people love to talk about the weather, which is, in part, due to its unpredictability.
The best time of year to travel to Ireland is in the summer, from May to August, when warmer days will bring out locals to enjoy the sunshine. However, the month of July falls into many summer holidays around Europe, Dublin can be very busy at this time. To avoid the high prices, May and September still offer pleasant temperatures with much lower costs and, for the latter, you’ll have the added benefit of getting to see the autumn colours come through in the countryside.
With so many events and activities, Ireland is very much a year-round destination – if you don’t mind the chilly temperatures and inevitable rain that winter brings.
For the ultimate travel inspiration, local insight straight from our expert Local Designers and exclusive offers you won’t find anywhere else from Designer Journeys, sign up today! Don’t miss out.
Don’t Miss Our Exclusive Offers! Subscribe Today!
For the ultimate travel inspiration, local insight straight from our expert Local Designers and exclusive offers you won’t find anywhere else from Designer Journeys, sign up today! Don’t miss out.
Best Places to Go in Ireland
There’s no city like Dublin. History chimes into the present through streets names and famous locations that still exist to this day. Although Ireland’s revolution happened over 100 years ago, you can somehow still feel its presence.
Trendy quarters are popping up like daisies in Dublin. Forward-thinking art galleries and kitsch businesses stand up against old-time pubs that prop up the city’s infrastructure, as much as the locals prop up its bars.
At the centre of it all is Temple Bar, where all Dublin and Ireland tours begin. Marking the centre of the city, with traditional-looking bars and the faint sound of Irish music lingering between its streets, this is the tourist hub of Dublin, and the starting point for all of Ireland’s pub tours – self-guided or not! However, there’s a little more to it than that: Temple Bar’s cobbled stone streets contain all that this city is known for, as well as the expected, like a pint of Guinness.
Dublin is a vibrant city that sits firmly at the heart of the action. All manner of Ireland tours from Dublin are possible, with some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes just a short distance away.
Ring of Kerry
Rolling hills, plenty of livestock and seemingly endless hidden gems: this is the ultimate driving tour in Ireland. The Ring of Kerry is a far-from-round 179-kilometre loop that hugs the southwestern corner of Ireland. It’s among the top three contenders for Ireland’s most scenic coastline alongside the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara.
If there is any reason to go deep into Ireland’s rural landscape – this is it!
The loop takes you on the main road of the Iveragh Peninsula and ends in the charming town of Killarney; you can choose whether you want to drive it or challenge yourself on one of Ireland’s best bicycle tours.
On the way, you’ll pass five lakes, Killorglin, the home to King Puck the goat, and Glenbeigh, which is home to beautiful beaches, to name but a few! To make the most of your time on the loop, you can do it over two days. You’ll finish at Killarney National Park, one of Ireland’s most beautiful, as you’ll see on this 12-day southern Ireland delights tour, where you can explore on foot or by bicycle.
Galway and the Surrounds
Galway captures the heart of all Irish people. This charming city is perfectly matched by the allure of what lies out of it. From Connemara to Clifton and Clare – Galway’s day trips are second-to-none.
Galway is a city for the senses: brightly coloured townhouses burst with the sounds of Galway’s best singers and Trad bands. Out in the suburbs of the coastal Salthill, the smell of cured and cooked salmon and ever-present chucking of oysters will leave you with hunger pangs you didn’t know you had. Maybe it’s the city’s student youth, but Galway has an energy to it that is addictive!
You don’t have to drive far out of the city before you are met with endless greenery from the rolling hills of Galway’s coastline.
In Connemara National Park, you’ll have to double-check that you’re not in the South Pacific (unless you want to go in the sea), as you’ll see in this 4-day Dublin and Connemara tour. Among the other beauties that surround Galway, you’ll find the Cliffs of Moher, Clifden and the Aran Islands not too far away. With endless walking trails dotted with viewpoints and castles to explore, Galway will ease you into the idea of staying a little longer.
The Cliffs of Moher and Dingle Peninsula
Of all that Ireland has to offer, exploring the Cliffs of Moher on a guided walking tour in Ireland is a trip that you cannot miss!
Watching diligently over county Clare’s coastline, the Cliffs of Moher are a wind-beaten outcrop that looks out to the Atlantic Ocean. The Cliffs of Moher are a favourite subject among artists of all kinds, known for their staggered formation that has also attracted scientists and geologists to study their form.
A Cliffs of Moher day trip from Dublin will take you on a beautiful yet slightly blustery trail between the viewpoints, including O’Brien Tower, which acts as an observation point that travellers have used since its completion in 1835.
The rolling hills and rocky shores of Dingle Peninsula’s nature trails are home to some of the best of Ireland’s hiking tours. A haven for the adventurous, Dingle Peninsula is dotted with beaches that interrupt the region’s unrivalled scenery where hikers, bikers and surfers thrive.
Taking a break from the action around Dingle Peninsula is a chance to get acquainted with rural Irish culture in the small villages in the area. Here, you’ll have a chance to pick up some Irish while learning about the folkloric tales through Trad music and the friendly locals that play it!
Rock of Cashel
Home to Ireland’s most impressive medieval architecture, the Rock of Cashel is a keystone of Irish history as the seat of the king of Munster, the capital way back in 978 and the centre of the Ecclesiastical church by the 12th century.
The Rock of Cashel complex is made up of an abbey, a Romanesque chapel that contains Ireland’s only frescoes belonging to the era, a 15th-century tower house, the Hall of Vicars and a Gothic cathedral. Nested on a limestone outcrop that watches over Golden Vale in the heart of Tipperary, this complex is one of the most remarkable of its kind and an essential day trip from Dublin, Ireland, when on the way to this landlocked county.
Waterford and Cork
Experience the old and the new in Waterford and Cork. These two cities offer the Irish experience with a mix of history, traditions and a bold dash in the direction of modernity.
In Waterford, Viking tales will never be too far away, as Ireland’s oldest city, history quite literally sits in its foundations. From the Viking Triangle in the city, with its narrow cobbled streets to the modern waterfront, the city is brought to life by the locals whether you stumble upon a quirky shop filled with handmade trinkets or find yourself amid an event.
Locals will proudly demand that you must visit Cork! A city with panache, Cork has a young, fresh and progressive feel that is championed by its people. This is balanced out by the ever-present music scene that no city in Ireland is complete without.
Set around the River Lee, Cork is painted in pastels, splashing a little colour on its 17th-century streets and churches that are contrasted by bold, modern additions that dot the city, most notably of which is the opera house – a must-visit.
Outside the city, the county of the same name is known for being home to charming towns, beautiful stretches of coastline and a chance to kiss the Blarney Rock, all of which you can see on a day tour from Cork. To save the best ‘til last, a highlight of all Ireland’s sightseeing tours is just moments away, the Jameson Distillery.
How to Get Around Ireland
Rental Cars and Private Drive Tour
As all locals will be eager to tell you, you have to get out on the road when looking for tours around Ireland! The best way to see the country is doing an Ireland driving tour in a rental car – hit the road, and take your time! If self-drive tours are not your thing, not to worry, you can hire a private driver for your trip through our Local Designers.
The roads in Ireland are well-paved with very little traffic outside of the cities; however, don’t be surprised if some sheep get in the way now and again.
If you are looking to travel between Ireland’s well-known cities and towns, you’ll find that the train services are efficient and can take you everywhere that you need to go. From Dublin, you’ll find accurate timetables with regular trains leaving throughout the day. Should you be looking to go to Northern Ireland, a beautiful train ride will take you across the border.
The capital has numerous buses that will take you around Dublin’s sites and shopping areas. If you are looking for a tour to go along with your bus service, the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus is popular among first-timers to the city. Outside of Dublin, Ireland’s main cities also have efficient bus routes, but when you get outside to the more rural corners of the country, buses can run as little as once a week.
Where to Stay in Ireland
As a city that is constantly on the move, you must be at the heart of the action to make the most of Dublin. Therefore, it’s best to stay in the city centre. Portobello, an up-and-coming trend-setting area by a canal; Merrion Square, just moments from St. Stephen’s Green, and the Northside around Smithfield are all exciting areas to base yourself in!
Castle Hotels in Ireland
Nested in beautiful locations across the country, Ireland has regal castles that will blow you away! Perfect for a luxury tour of Ireland with your loved one, castles have served as the setting for Irish Celtic history and have been cosy escapes for many familiar Irish figures, making this accommodation experience all the more exciting!
Today, the castles are heirlooms and family homes open to guests where weddings frequent, and celebrities escape. Think old manors, round fairytale-like turrets and endless gardens, and you’ll find yourself in Ireland’s castles!
Galway’s thriving city centre acts as a gateway to the surrounding towns that line its charming coast.
While there are some great areas to stay in the city, some of Galway’s charms are its small towns that act as suburbs to its centre. Where you stay is dependent on what you want to get out of your time here.
For first-timers, finding your bearings in the city is recommended. Similarly, if you want to get acquainted with Irish culture, in Kinvarra, you’ll find yourself in an Irish pub listening to music in no time. For those looking to hike out into the Irish countryside, the stunning Oranmore and Aran Islands offer a chance to get remote on some of Ireland’s best nature trails, the perfect day trip from Galway.
Ireland’s Farmhouses and Estates
The counties of Ireland are littered with farmhouses where families have lived for generations while tending to their land. Some have upgraded to create beautiful remote homes where you can stay in your corner of the house with the family.
There’s no end to the perks of staying with locals: organic produce is grown on-site, the chance to pick your eggs for breakfast or even a glass of homebrew cider! This is perfect for families looking for an immersive experience while on tour around Ireland.
For high-end travellers looking for a more regal experience, private estates are often like farmhouses but triple the size! Horses and chickens roam free; however, if privacy is what you are looking for, this is more of a hotel experience, so you’ll never be interrupted.
What to Eat in Ireland
If hearty, homemade grub is what you look for in a country, you’ve come to the right place;
This warming dish is perfectly matched with Ireland’s well-known temperamental weather. Meat, typically mutton or lamb, is cooked slowly with vegetables and potatoes to create a flavoursome, thick broth. As the dish has potatoes in it already, you’ll typically be given soda bread on the side. Dating back to the early 1800s when ingredients were scarce, Irish stew has no set recipe and will differ across counties and households.
Irish Breakfast and Boxtys
A good breakfast will set you up for all manner of tours in Ireland! An Irish breakfast is made up of the usual suspects that you would expect to appear on a fry up in this corner of the world: eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, and beans. However, you’ll have traditional Irish additions such as soda bread, black and white pudding, and on the odd occasion, hash browns which are fried potato cakes.
Fry ups aside, the next breakfast of champions is a “boxty” which is local slang for a potato cake, similar to a pancake. This simple version of breakfast food can be savoury or sweet and shows you just what you can do with a potato.
Scones with Irish Butter
When stopping for a coffee anywhere in the British Isles and Ireland, having a scone, which is a cross between a cake and bread, is a real treat. Ireland is known for its quality baked goods, and scones might top the list. Traditionally made with cheese or raisins, scones are not complete without butter or a dollop of cream and jam.
This brings us to Irish butter—a strange addition to a list of what to eat but deserving nonetheless. Ireland is proud of its local produce, and its dairy is the most impressive of them all. Irish butter is in or alongside just about everything and has a distinctly memorable flavour and colour that you cannot find elsewhere.
Cork’s Foodie Scene
Cork’s food scene is the most sought-after in the country from famous vegetarian eateries to long-standing establishments in trendy central settings.
Locally sourced ingredients, seafood, the freshest of bakes and international fayre echo throughout cafes and restaurants and breathe life into the city. Experimentation and a slight hipster scene has changed Ireland’s food in a way that only Cork could – with bold, eclectic energy. If you want to get to the source of it all, the English Market fuels Cork’s cuisine and is a must-visit!
Irish Whiskey and Guinness
No Ireland travel guide is complete without some dedication to the country’s two most-loved beverages.
The well-known saying across the Celtic lands is that while the Irish invented whiskey, Scotland made it. Although Jameson is on every bar shelf across the world, few other Irish whiskeys have made the cut – few travellers are aware that the spirit is still made across the country until they get there.
Visiting an Irish whiskey distillery is a unique chance to delve deeper into the origins of whiskey and how it differs from its Scottish competitors. Famous names that are worthy of a visit are Teeling, Tullamore Dew and Bushmills.
No Dublin tour is complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse. Trying this stout in Ireland is almost considered a ritual. Rumour has it, Guinness doesn’t taste the same anywhere else in the world! A tour around the storehouse will walk you through the process of how it is made before you go into the rooftop bar, where you’ll pour your own pint and drink it while looking out over the city.
Festivals in Ireland
Fleadh Irish Music Festival
Ireland’s favourite Irish music festival brings together the country’s best artists in a grand showcase of Irish culture. If you are looking to be immersed in Irish culture truly, then Fleadh is your chance.
The festival changes its location yearly. Musicians young and old are given the opportunity to show off their musical skills as several Trad bands take to the stage throughout the weekend.
Galway Oyster Festival
Foodies flock to Galway’s Oyster Festival. At the end of September, vendors from across the country come to the city to showcase their freshest produce. The star of the show is the Clarenbirdge oyster, an internationally acclaimed mollusc that will leave you craving more! Your tasting sessions will be paired with an impressive range of wines and beers; all are meticulously paired with the food on offer.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
An event that needs little introduction for most, St. Patrick’s Day is an elaborate celebration of Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick. The day celebrates the tales of St. Patrick, who brought Christianity into the country.
Today, the celebration is far from its Christian roots as Irish people around the world gather to celebrate their cultural stereotypes with Irish flags, four-leaf clovers and Guinness. When in Ireland, there is no better place to celebrate than Dublin’s Temple Bar when the streets are alive with music from morning ‘til night, and a parade takes you through the city.
Calling all redheads – there is a festival just for you! What started as a joke between two red-headed siblings in County Cork became a huge event dedicated to the beauty of ginger hair. Taking place over two days at the end of August, this glorious event has attracted redheads worldwide.
Competitions over the course of the day include the number of freckles per square centimetre and the best red eyebrows.
Things to Know Before You Go to Ireland
Visa: Many people can come to Ireland for up to three months without a visa. It’s best to check before you travel to avoid any fees.
Currency: The currency of Ireland is the Euro. At the time of writing, June 2021, 1 Euro is equal to 1.22 USD.
Language: The two official languages of Ireland are English and Irish Gaelic. As you travel further into rural Ireland, Irish will become more prevalent; however, only about a third of the population can speak it. Everyone can speak English, although many people have a strong accent – you’ll grow accustomed to it!
Borders: For the record, Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and Ireland is an independent Republic. While there is no physical border, the definitions are clear; it’s best to read up on the history before arriving to avoid embarrassment.
Weather: In this corner of the world, it rains—a lot. Be prepared with a rain jacket; you’ll need it!
Stereotypes: As with most countries, it’s best to play it down when it comes to Irish stereotypes. That’s no leprechauns, saying ‘top of the morning’ or pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Eager to Plan a Trip to Ireland?
To cover all that Ireland has to offer, you need to plan with precision and experience. Luckily, our Local Designers have all of that, and more!
With a host of fully customisable trips to Ireland, at Designer Journeys, we provide a comfortable base to get you started. Our Local Designers in Ireland have put these trips together to give you a taste of what’s possible.
If you can’t find what you are looking for just yet, click ‘design your own trip’ and answer some simple questions regarding your travel needs and style, then a tailored trip will be on its way to you very soon!