A visit to the Emerald Isle brings you to the gorgeous countryside and magical cities of Ireland. And it looks even better than it does in the movies, if you can believe it. Once you set eyes on this beautiful country, you will believe in anything – including the numerous tales of leprechauns you will certainly hear.
Ireland has a lot to offer as far as excellent tourist destinations. The more you are able to visit, the better. But if you can only hit the highlights, the best places to explore are Dublin and Galway.
Ireland’s capital is a tourist hotspot. The city is dense with history and overflowing with exciting destinations that could easily fill a week in your calendar. Here are the must-see spots.
Just walking the streets of Dublin is enough to sense the overwhelming amount of history stored in this city of 1.8 million people. Travel to Dublin’s Historic District and you will find Dublin Castle, City Hall, and Trinity College. The Historic District has maintained the incredible, ancient architecture of the city. You can find affordable walking tours of the area to provide insight into the settling of Dublin, famous Dubliners, and the Irish War of Independence.
Nearby you will find Kilmainham Gaol, and a tour of the former prison that shouldn’t be missed. The history of the Irish War of Independence is illustrated beautifully in this jail-turned-museum that was a central location in the events of the war. During Ireland’s struggle for independence, every significant Irish nationalist leader, with the exception of Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins, has been imprisoned at the site, and their history is told within these walls.
Guinness Brewery and Jameson Distillery
Connoisseurs of alcohol have two great options in Dublin: The St. James’ Gate Brewery and the Old Jameson Distillery. St. James’ Gate is the largest stout brewery in the world, and the 250 year-old building features an incredible tour of the brewing process. You can end your visit by enjoying your Guinness from the seventh floor Gravity Bar, with a breathtaking 360-degree view of Dublin.
Whiskey-lovers will find themselves at home at the Old Jameson Distillery. A fun tour of Jameson history will give visitors a look into the distilling process of the best-selling Irish whiskey in the world. Don’t worry, samples are included.
The city comes alive at night at Temple Bar, the “cultural quarter” of Dublin. Great pubs like the Porterhouse, the Turk’s Head, and the Quays Bar bring locals and tourists together to enjoy a drink. Most pubs feature live traditional Irish music or occasionally rock cover bands most nights of the week.
The fastest-growing city in Ireland is one of the central hubs for Irish culture, often referred to as “Ireland’s Cultural Heart.” A visit to Galway can change your life. I mean it.
Galway Cathedral, located in the center of the city, is the last stone cathedral of its type in Western Europe. The gorgeous structure appears out of nowhere as you travel through Galway. Nearby is the National University of Ireland, Galway. This giant campus is a great destination, and any walk across its grounds should lead to the Quadrangle building, the beautiful Tudor Gothic architectural structure built with local limestone which was the first building when the college opened its doors in 1849.
Football and Hurling
Galway is an excellent place to get your fill of the traditional Irish sports: Gaelic football and hurling. Located near Galway’s downtown, Pearse Stadium was recently renovated in 2003 and features frequent sports matches (in the spring and summer months), as well as the occasional concert. If you have never seen the wildly exciting and fast-moving sports of Gaelic football and hurling, catching a match is a must.
Great shopping can be found in Galway. After a walk to historical Eyre Square, you will find yourself surrounded by Galway commerce. At the bottom of the square is the Eyre Square Shopping center, filled with shops of all shapes and sizes. Continue past the shopping center and you will find the busy pedestrian street aptly named Shop St, bursting with antique shops, street musicians, and delicious food.
Music and Dance
This is where Galway shines brightest. The best experiences with traditional Irish music and dance, called Trad, can be found in the evening in downtown Galway. Shop Street and other adjoining streets are home to a large collection of pubs, bars, and restaurants that feature Trad.
Some of the best Trad musicians can be found on the stage at Taaffe’s. This famous pub is often crowded in the late hours, but fighting through the crowd can land you a seat near the incredible instrumentalists that stop by. Taffee’s features live Trad every night, as do several other amazing pubs nearby such as the Crane Bar, Tigh Coili, and An Pucan. Not far from these venues is Monroes Tavern, where the Trad is accompanied by Irish set dancing many nights.
If traditional music is not your passion, great rock cover bands set up on the stages of the King’s Head, the Quays, and the Roisin Dubh. These larger bars house loud crowds cheering on their favorite soccer club in the afternoon, and transform into busy rock and roll venues in the evening.
More of Ireland
Ireland has too much to do. You’ll be hard pressed to see it all in less than a lifetime. Beyond Dublin and Galway, there are the other large and wonderful cities of Cork, Dun Laoghaire, and Limerick. Some of the finest traditional Irish music can be found in Counties Kilkenny and Kerry. Famous tourist spots like the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle can make for amazing day trips. The Irish language lives on in beautiful Connemara. Travel up to Northern Ireland and you may land at the incredible Giant’s Causeway and the historical cities of Belfast and Derry. Ireland is an adventure waiting to happen for any traveler. Enjoy your stay.
About the Author
Jack Martin is a freelance writer in Seattle who can usually be found seeking worldly adventures from Alaska tours to wineries in France. He has previously lived in Ireland and hopes his tales of adventure inspire others.