The Republic of Ireland is an independent country that is also known by its Irish name Eire. It is sometimes called the Emerald Isle because of its lush countryside that is kept green by the rains coming from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The west coast part is rugged with cliffs, craggy inlets and small offshore islands. The low mountains around the coasts give way to central lowlands dotted with pastures and black peat bogs. There are many lakes (called loughs) and rivers teeming with trout and salmon. The Irish enjoy laments (sad songs) as well as lively dance tunes called jigs and reels. The Republic’s neighbor, Northern Ireland, is part of the United Kingdom.
These are ten of the not to be missed places when in Ireland:
The Glasnevin Cemetery Museum is a vast expanse of stunning Celtic crosses and gravestones in a row where the greatest men in Irish history lie buried. You can take a guided tour inside the museum and learn the interesting and amusing stories that cover its more than 150 years of existence (without losing the respect for death and the departed.) The tour of the largest cemetery in Ireland can be done in 2- 3 hours. A knowledgeable guide will take you to the tombs of important Irish personalities like O’Connell, Parnell, De Valera, Roger Casement, and Michael Collins.
Besides the great and famous names you get to hear the story of a little boy who was the first buried in Glasnevin, learn why there is a pub next to each cemetery and every church in Ireland, and discover the reason why funerals are always held in the morning in this country. Each gravestone also tells its own story. Glasnevin is totally not a sad place, but a lively place with lots of exciting anecdotes and discoveries. It is best reached by a cab or Bus no. 40 (15 to 20 minutes) from the Dublin city center.
A visit to the cemetery is ideal to combine with the National Botanic Garden that is located right behind it. If you like flowers, if you like to spend time thinking about nothing, or if you like to escape for a bit of peace, tour the whole garden. The Victorian-style horticultural attraction is well maintained and admission is free. Inside, you can also see old glass houses being protected by the shade of the century-old trees. It’s like being catapulted into another world where peace, calm, and tranquility blends in harmony with nature. Several greenhouses within the acres of wide parkland provide an insight into many species of flowers including orchids, alpine flowers, and tropical and exotic plants. The lawns and flower crops are beautiful, and there is a very interesting section dedicated to herbs.
The wild countryside around Galway is very typical of the Republic of Ireland’s farmland. The farmhouses are low and whitewashed, with thatched roofs. Stone walls divide fields that are grazed by sheep and cattle. The region’s unspoiled beauty attracts many tourists. The Connemara National Park is a natural park with hiking trails of varying difficulty, some of them perfectly accessible to children. The walks offer stunning views and there is a peace that makes you disconnect from the real world. The red-yellow color of the hills and the reflections of the peat lands create a fairytale landscape, and the almost total absence of houses allows you to fully appreciate the wilderness. The park is accessible if you drive from Cifden. But if you’re in town and able to walk a bit, you can go to the Old Monastery and find a direct access point that is much closer.
On the Salthill Promenade you can watch the beautiful views of the sea and feel the breeze of the fresh cold wind as you take a long walk. The promenade is always full of people, windy with the fresh air from the ocean. From Galway to Salthill you need about 20 minutes, and the promenade continues. It is a nice area for walking and cycling between the green grass and the sea — often coupled with a little of the famous “classical rain” from the Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of benches for resting, along with some cafes, bed and breakfast resorts, restaurants and various shops along the Promenade.
The Killarney National Park is probably one of the most picturesque landscapes in Ireland. To explore it, you can choose to start from the Muckross House and from there take one of the paths on foot, by bicycle (for hire in Killarney city) or horse-drawn carriage (can be hired in the park of the villa). The park itself is full of interesting corners and viewpoints where one can take beautiful photos. Do not miss the path leading to the Torc Waterfall. Visit the free park that allows you to explore a mansion (the interior has a fee), a lake view, a garden, and take a (steep) climb to an unforgettable panorama. Everything is designed so that cars can stop and park at various locations. The stores sell nice quality local souvenirs. It is a huge natural park with little gems here and there to discover.
Anyone who enjoys hiking in nature will have a great time in the Gap of Dunloe. The road is paved and has a few slopes and is therefore well suited for families with strollers or cyclists. The trail begins at Kate Kearney’s Cottage where there is also a free car park. The Gap of Dunloe is a 7.5-mile-long passage through the McGully Range mountains. It is a breathtaking journey, and you can explore by foot or take a rented horse carriage. The trail is doable even for the elderly when combined with a boat trip.
The Cobh is a quaint town that is worth a visit when in the city of Cork, Ireland. It has a huge cathedral right on the harbor, lots of colorful houses, a nice promenade, and the famous Titanic Memorial. In fact, the previous name was Cobh Queenstown — the last port from which the Titanic sailed a week before sinking in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912. The headquarters of the company, White Star of the Titanic, still stands up to this day and serves as a museum for the ill–fated ship.
Starting the journey from Cork, Cobh can be easily reached by riding the small train. Cobh itself is a natural harbor that often welcomes major ocean liners to its docks. Once the cruise ships are in, there is always something extra going on at the pier. Otherwise, Cobh is a quiet town with a remarkable Gothic style church called the St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, and a park with seating on the water. On the small promenade there are many pubs and restaurants where you can stop for a bite.
After a short trip in the company of playful dolphins and a transfer to a ferry boat that can dock by itself on a coast without a harbor, you will arrive to one of the natural splendors of Dingle City, the Great Blasket Island. Here, you can admire the charms and the emerald green of the meadows, the gentle curves of the hills, and the presence of the numerous nice wild rabbits. Immerse yourself in unspoiled nature with incredible views of the sea.
Located at the end path of the Dingle Peninsula, the Gallarus Oratory is one of the oldest pieces of evidence of Christianity in Ireland. These simple monuments are the real jewel of Irish history and a great way to discover the culture of its people. The oratory is a dry stone structure dating back to the 12th Century built in the shape of an upturned boat measuring 9.8 X 10.4 feet with a small door open to the west and a single round window to the east. From here the view over the bay of Smerwich is splendid. The oratory is very impressive, so ancient but perfectly preserved.
The Kilkenny Castle is the main attraction of the city; it has many Moorish influences and a roof that looks like the skeleton of a Viking ship. Taking photos is unfortunately prohibited. In every room there is an audio guide that is available in all languages, along with a staff that explains and answers questions about every exhibit. The tour takes you through dining and bedrooms to a great hall with huge paintings. They have brochures in several languages with basic site information. Spend time exploring the adjacent gardens and if the weather is good, eating or having a picnic is allowed on the grass and shady areas within the castle grounds.
The first thing that impresses anyone upon entering the castle is its vast stretch of green grass in front. People enjoy the park lying down on the grass, walking, taking the kids to a little area with rides available for them, or by simply watching the swans gracefully floating down the River Nore.
The old and mighty King John’s Castle is beautifully situated beside the River Shannon in Limerick. The Castle restoration was time-consuming and costly. The result is impressive by any measure, offering an entirely new interactive visitor experience utilizing 21st century technology. The museum has a rich treasure trove for history buffs. During the high season typical crafts are displayed live on the patio, also documenting the history of the city of Limerick.
In summer, the courtyard features a medieval campaign tent, a blacksmiths forge and part of a 17th century siege — together with a great many computer animations. The excavation works are worth visiting, and the view from one of the towers is great.
The Westport House & Pirate Adventure Park is a manor style home that is definitely worth seeing; it is filled with period furniture and decorated like the olden times. The surrounding park is huge and inside there is a theme park about the pirates for children (but also for adults), where they can spend a delightful day engaged in various attractions. A relaxing ride on board a pedal boat shaped like swans can be enjoyed around the edge of the lake. The spacious property offers a large car park, a camping area, and a bar/restaurant where you can eat lunch or have a quick snack.
The cost is not high, but for students presenting a document (e.g. student card), there are special rates; there are also discounts for families and, of course, you can choose to only visit the manor or the amusement park. From the cultural point of view it is important to know that the foundations of the manor belonged to a castle owned by Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland.
The Banna Strand is composed of long stretches of sand and is not densely populated. Upon arrival at low tide you can see one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. In summer, it is a true bathing paradise. Board and kite surfing can be explored along with enjoying the waves.
The beach is endless and offers ideal walking and jogging conditions. It is still not touched by any hint of commercialism like other tourist spots have. There are some areas that are yet to be explored and discovered on this far flung beach attraction.
The visitor center called the Molly Gallivan’s Cottage and Traditional Farm is conveniently located between Kenmare and the Glengariff road. It is ideal for a stopover, and requires only a small amount of time (about 1/2 – 1 hour), but it is highly informative for those who are interested in history and also because of the many different animals for children that are enjoyable and entertaining. The hosts are super — friendly and very humorous.
Their farm provides enough “stuff” to feed the animals. Even the gift shop and tearoom are nicely done. Incidentally, the Visitor Centre will charge no entry fee but it will ask for a donation. It is a great discovery if you are going in the direction of the Caha Pass.