When planning your travels through Ireland, you’ll want to see some of the country’s most memorable landmarks. They’re places that are uniquely Irish, often ancient, and many of them hold stories that you can, almost, hear on the wind.
1. Visit an Irish Castle
When in Ireland you must visit at least one castle. Some are stately and in exquisite shape. You might discover another that is leaning to the left while sheep eat grass on her tumbled walls. The country has thousands of castles—at one time there were 30,000—and each of them is unique. Bunratty Castle is the most complete medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425, it was restored in 1954 to its former glory. Look inside. There are 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art which complete the mood. In Northern Ireland, Belfast Castle sits above the city in weighty silence. You can climb to the top for panoramic views. Other castles of note are Glenveagh Castle in Donegal, Blarney Castle, Ashford, and Dromoland Castles. Every castle experience is a good one. Consider spending a few nights in one for the full, royal experience.
2. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin
When visitors come to St. Patrick’s and make their offerings, their funds help maintain this magnificent, 800-year-old landmark. It feels very much like an Irish Westminster Abbey—there are tombs and memorials that honor great Irish figures throughout. The north part is dedicated to music, and it was here that Handel’s Messiah was first performed. (Try to be present when the pipe organ plays. Amazing.) The south part is a joyous learning center.
3. The Blarney Stone
Even people with a cynical streak pack up their cranky baggage and have a grand time kissing the Blarney Stone. Legends tell us that it gives a person the gift of gab. The origin of the stone is shrouded in myth—some say it was brought back from the Holy Land. Wherever it came from, giving it a smooch is an irresistible act of Irish kitsch.
4. The Cliffs of Moher
Words are mere shadows compared to the awesome power of nature. There may be no other place on earth where you’ll experience that raw, muscular energy without climbing the Himalaya’s or pointing yourself to the Antarctic. The cliffs are an easy drive from anywhere in the west of Ireland—they’re in County Clare. A cloak of cold, fog, and mystic energy, we advise you to tread with caution. There are few barriers and the wind often rises with a fury. Feel it.
5. The Ring of Kerry
The Ring is one of Ireland’s best-loved scenic routes. At 110 miles long, it circles the awesome Iveragh Peninsula. When traveling through, you’ll feel as if you’ve tumbled into nature’s fabled arena, and in many ways you have. The road winds by soft mountains, around bogs, rivers, lakes, and pristine beaches. There are diminutive passes and sweet valleys along the shores of Dingle and Kenmare Bays. Make it an authentic experience, and talk to folks in villages along the way. The Ring attracted Ireland’s first settlers, and ancient ruins abound. Explore to your heart’s delight.
6. Newgrange: The 5,000 year-old Tomb of Irish Kings
Newgrange, in County Meath, crouches on a rise just north of the River Boyne. It is the focal point for other-worldly ceremonies and is a megalithic cemetery that is 5,000 years old. (The tomb’s passage is perfectly aligned to mark the Winter Solstice.) Newgrange was constructed around 3,200BC. This makes it older than the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and 1,000 years older than Stonehenge. The mound is ringed by a stone circle. Some of these stones, and other material, came from parts of Ireland that are hundreds of miles away. Being there is walking into the sheltering unknown
7. The Giant’s Causeway
This UNESCO Heritage site is in Northern Ireland, County Antrim. According to legend, the Irish giant, Fionn McCool, built the causeway so he could walk to Scotland, intending to do battle with an infamous Scots rival. (As is often the case, this rivalry had to do with love.) That rival, so terrified by the site of Fionn, ripped up the pathway so he could never return. It’s also possible that Fionn built the Giant’s Causeway to rendezvous with a true love in Scotland. Go there. Create your own story. This is the place where the scenery is stunning and the storytelling is fit for a giant.