How to Plan a Trip to Ireland
An Ireland holiday promises gentle green hills, Guinness, leprechauns, and the friendly folks that characterize this small country. From the busy big city of Dublin to cozy countryside, the emerald isle harbors a varied landscape and is steeped in tradition. Visitors can immerse themselves in the native Irish language by visiting a Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking region of the country, where traditional culture thrives. The Irish are known for being open and welcoming: from the moment you land to the moment you leave, you'll be met with "cead mile failte"--a hundred thousand welcomes.
Places to Visit in Ireland
Regions of IrelandProvince of Leinster
: Boasting the country's capital, a picturesque coastline, and charming rural towns, it comes as no surprise that Leinster is Ireland's most-visited province. Province of Munster
: Traditional Irish music blares from pubs and restaurants of world-famous cities while the accompanying countryside, home to ancient castles and monasteries, remains a tranquil oasis.Province of Connacht
: Packed full of famous Ireland attractions, Province of Connacht plays host to some of the country's best-known natural wonders alongside the enchanting Aran Islands and famed city of Galway.
Top Cities in Ireland
- Dublin: Ireland's capital city delights visitors from all over the world with its plethora of history-rich attractions, charming architecture, and world-famous nightlife scene.
- Galway: Blending a deep reverence for traditional Irish culture with a thriving contemporary arts scene, Galway's colorful energy is evident almost anywhere in the city but is best enjoyed in its multitude of lively pubs.
- Cork: Fashionable nightlife spots, excellent shopping opportunities, and a burgeoning foodie scene have helped Cork retain its second-city status, while its distinct character and history are palpable in the centuries-old attractions here.
- Limerick: Though it received a bleak portrayal in the memoir and hit film "Angela's Ashes," Limerick has emerged in the 21st century as a vibrant riverside city, with handsome Georgian buildings housing bars, restaurants, theaters, and more.
- Kilkenny: One of the country's most charming but least-populated cities, Kilkenny serves as a popular weekend trip in Ireland, offering medieval architecture and extensive ornamental gardens.
- Dingle: Sitting between rugged mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, picturesque Dingle maintains a small-town feel, proud musical heritage, and quirky pubs, several of which double as stores.
Things to Do in Ireland
Popular Ireland Tourist AttractionsGuinness Storehouse
: A perennially popular stop on Ireland tours, the Guinness Storehouse serves up pints and a bit of history about one of Ireland's most famous exports.Kilmainham Gaol
: One of the most storied prisons in history, Kilmainham Gaol housed inmates from 1796 until 1924, including several notable Irish independence fighters.Cliffs of Moher
: An iconic part of Ireland's wild western coast, the Cliffs of Moher tower more than 200 m (700 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean, providing a habitat for thousands of seabirds. St. Stephen's Green
: A long-established picnic spot filled with statues, St. Stephen's Green makes a rejuvenating oasis in the heart of the capital.Trinity College Dublin
: Historical, esteemed, and utterly enchanting Trinity College offers student-led tours through its campus, where visitors can admire the centuries-old buildings and glimpse rare books in the library
: Millennia-old and steeped in local lore, the tiny Gallarus Oratory church provides a window into ancient times, traditions, and architectural achievement. Killarney National Park
: Encompassing more than 10,00 hectares (25,000 acres) of unspoiled nature, Killarney National Park is a must-visit for those who want to include outdoor adventures in their Ireland itinerary. Rock of Cashel
: The Kings of Munster lived upon the legend-steeped Rock of Cashel for several centuries before the Norman invasion. Though little from their time remains, you can still visit this limestone hill and view a number of medieval buildings. Blarney Castle & Gardens
: Best known for a stone
that supposedly grants the gift of the gab to anyone who kisses it, Blarney Castle and Gardens' main keep dates back to 1446. Glasnevin Cemetery Museum
: The Glasnevin Cemetery Museum narrates the social and political developments of Ireland over the past two centuries by examining the lives of those buried in the country's largest non-denominational graveyard.
Planning an Ireland Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Ireland with Kids
Welcoming, compact, and packed full of top-notch kid-friendly attractions, Ireland serves as an ideal family holiday destination. The bustling city of Dublin
offers a rich assortment of indoor cultural and educational activities making it particularly well-suited to rainy days, of which there can be a few at any time of year. If you and your little ones are keen to get outdoors, head to Western Ireland
. This picturesque region boasts world-class beaches alongside a host of mythical castles that simply beg to be explored. Killarney
, home to the famous Killarney National Park
, is deservedly popular with families due to its accessible countryside and plethora of varied attractions. If you've got critter-crazy kids, make sure to include some of the area's numerous animal centers on your Ireland itinerary as well as the famed Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms
Things to Do in Ireland with Kids
Wherever you visit on your Ireland trip, you're likely to find a wealth of options for family-friendly fun. Immersive historical sites are dotted across the nation, such as castles and abbeys, taking kids on a trip through time and encouraging them to let their imaginations run wild. Some attractions, such as the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre
, even have costumed staff and playful activities for kids to participate in. Ireland's iconic natural delights, including The Burren
and Cliffs of Moher
, are bound to impress the whole family--plus, they include modern visitor centers that help provide the context and history of the area in an engaging way. If you're planning a city vacation in Ireland, make use of some of the excellent urban parks on offer, for example, Dublin's
extensive Phoenix Park
, home to a herd of wild deer, or Eyre Square
in the center of Galway
Tips for a Family Vacation in Ireland
Families that want to explore outside the country's urban centers should consider renting a car for their Ireland holiday. Public transport is very sparse in rural areas and can be tricky to navigate, particularly when kids are added to the mix. Children are welcome in nearly all Ireland attractions but will need to be on their best behavior if visiting one of the nation's many churches. If you're worried about your kids being noisy, try to attend at a time outside of mass when there are likely to be fewer visitors.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Ireland
Cuisine of Ireland
Though Ireland is not a country renowned for its fine cuisine, an ever-growing foodie scene exists with more and more top restaurants embracing the nation's traditional dishes. Food here is generally uncomplex with very few spices or herbs used. Instead, chefs rely on the isle's rich offering of fresh ingredients from its ample coastline and green pastures, and a reverence for traditional methods, such as those used frequently in whiskey distillation and bread-making.
The ingredient most associated with Irish cooking is the potato. Introduced in the second half of the 16th century, it quickly came to be the primary food crop of the poor and greatly influenced the country's cuisine. This starchy vegetable stars as the main component in a plethora of national dishes you can try on your Ireland holiday, for example Irish stew (lamb or mutton stewed with potatoes, carrots, onions, and parsley), colcannon (a mix of mashed potato, cabbage, and butter), and boxty (a type of potato pancake).
Each Irish province boasts miles of coastline and good-quality seafood is ubiquitous across the country. Along with fresh fish, shellfish is very popular, particularly in the seaside cities of Galway
, the latter of which lends its name to a lobster dish using whiskey and cream. The classic combo of fish and chips can be found almost anywhere on your Ireland tour.
With a pub on nearly every corner, it comes as no surprise that drinks form an important part of Irish cuisine and culture. Stout, whiskey, cider, Irish cream, and Irish coffee are all traditional alcoholic beverages, while breakfast tea provides a less heady option.
Shopping in Ireland
Ireland's cities have a wide range of international chain stores, designer boutiques, and department stores to meet all your shopping needs. However, a more memorable retail experience can be had by including some of the country's independent stores, many of which have been family-owned for generations, in your Ireland itinerary. You can find an assorted mix of these kind of shops alongside some market stalls in Dublin's
colorful George's Street Arcade
. Brewery and distillery tours, such as those held at Smithwick's Brewery
and the Old Midleton Distillery, give you the opportunity to buy some of Ireland's most famous exports directly from the source.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Ireland
History of Ireland
Though humans have lived in Ireland since 7500 BCE, the Celtic tribes that came to characterize the Irish people did not arrive until around 2,000 years ago. From around the 5th century CE, tribes appear to have given way to kingdoms, organized by patrilineal dynasties. The Irish peoples are also thought to have been Christianized around this time. The National Museum of Ireland
displays a number of enlightening artifacts from these times. To learn specifically about the country's early Christian history on your Ireland holiday, pay a visit to the Clonmacnoise Monastery
, which dates back to 546 CE.
Following the Norman invasion of the 12th century, England claimed rule over Ireland, commencing 700 years of direct English, and later British, involvement in the country. However, English sovereignty did not extend over the entire island until the Tudor conquest of the 16th and 17th centuries. This was reinforced by the hoards of protestant English farmers King James I sent to resettle in Ireland.
In the 1690s, new laws were enacted that aimed at economically and politically disenfranchising Ireland's Catholic majority, forbidding them from owning land or practicing their religion. These laws remained in effect until 1829, contributing to a growing resentment against English and British rule.
One of Ireland's darkest periods came with the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1852. A severe potato blight across the country ravaged Ireland's staple food crop, leading to the death of around one million people and the emigration of an additional one million. The extreme famine is considered a watershed moment for the nation and further worsened the tense relations between many of the Irish people and the British Crown. To learn more about this period, include a trip to Doagh Famine Village
in your Ireland itinerary.
In 1916 the six-day Easter Rising took place, in which armed Irish patriots seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed Ireland to be independent of the United Kingdom. The militarily superior British army were able to suppress the rising and executed the rebel leaders. Nonetheless, support for republicanism continued to rise in Ireland. You can see where the leaders were executed at Kilmainham Gaol
Three years later, the Irish War of Independence broke out, in which Britain finally relinquished control of most of the island. But while the lower provinces became the Irish Free State, in the northern six counties, Britain's grip tightened. This was followed by the arguably bloodier Irish Civil War from 1922 to 1923, a conflict between Irish republicans over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Those who supported the treaty were armed by the British government and able to win the conflict, defeating those who saw it as betrayal of the Irish Republic. However, the losing faction's political party, Fianna Fáil, took power peacefully and democratically in the 1932 general election. In the 1937 constitution, the country's name was changed to Ireland.
Customs of Ireland
As you might expect from the land of "cead mile failte" (a hundred thousand welcomes), the Irish are a friendly and relaxed people with flexible customs that are easy to navigate. Perhaps the most hard-and-fast rules to consider on your Ireland trip are are those that apply to the pub. When heading to the bar to buy a drink, it is polite to ask if anyone else in your party would like one. They are then expected to buy you one later in return.
If Ireland sightseeing takes you to a small village or walking along a country path, it is customary to say hello to other people you encounter. When you meet someone, a handshake is the most common greeting.
Always remember that though Ireland was once part of the United Kingdom, it is its own distinct country, with a history, culture, and traditions that should not be conflated with those of Britain. Locals are likely to take offense to confusion over the matter.
Holidays & Festivals in Ireland
While there is no official state religion, around 85 percent of the population identify as Roman Catholic and Christian holidays are considered very important and celebrated across the country. Ireland's best-known holiday is Saint Patrick's Day, held on March 17 every year. A celebration of the country's patron saint, it is an opportunity to party and indulge in all things typically Irish. If your trip to Ireland coincides with this holiday and you want to take part, note that the biggest festival occurs in Dublin
, but shamrocks, green outfits, and lots of Guinness can be found almost anywhere in the country on this day.
Ireland Travel Tips
Climate of Ireland
Ireland's unpredictable weather is a favorite discussion topic across the country and you can often hear locals bemoaning the small nation's abundant rainfall in pubs, supermarkets, and buses. Though wet, temperatures are seldom extreme, and very rarely lower than -5 C (23 F) in winter or higher than 26 C (79 F) in summer. No matter what time of year you tour Ireland, it's a good idea to pack a sweater, waterproof jacket, and rain boots. Be prepared for lots of wind if visiting the north or west of the country.
Transportation in Ireland
A number of transportation options are available to you on your Ireland holiday. The Irish Rail railway network provides fast journeys to cities and major towns. However, train tickets are expensive and can involve some tricky changes if your beginning and final destination are not on the same line. Long-distance buses take longer but are considerably more affordable, with the best fares available several weeks in advance. To experience beautiful stretches of sparsely populated countryside on your Ireland vacation, you'll need to rent a car, as these areas are not served by public transportation. Though gas is on the pricier side, distances are small in this compact land.
Language of Ireland
Though English remains the dominant language of Ireland, Irish is enshrined as the "national language" in the Republic's constitution. This Gaelic tongue is used daily in some small western rural areas, known collectively as the Gaeltacht, and rarely throughout the rest of Ireland. You'll notice when sightseeing in Ireland that most road signs use both languages.
Tipping in Ireland
While staff in Ireland appreciate receiving a tip, leaving one is not obligatory and should only be done if you are satisfied with the service. A 10- to 15-percent tip is standard at restaurants, and some establishments will automatically add a service charge to your bill, particularly if you have been dining in a large group. Though taxi drivers and hotel staff will not expect tips, it is a nice gesture to give one if they have gone out of their way to help you on your Ireland trip. It is very unusual to tip bar staff.