What are your personal favourites in Ireland? This question recently came in from a reader, and I immediately decided to split this all-encompassing question into two parts, as this answer will deal with Ireland outside Dublin, while another answer will put the spotlight on my Dublin favourites.
What are Your Personal Favourites in Ireland?
The answer to this question is, of course, purely personal and thus subjective - so please feel free to disagree.
Frankly, I am expecting people to do so. None more than those involved in the tourist business in a professional capacity. Like the folks being paid to market their attraction to be ranked high in public opinion and Google searches.
It would be prudent to include a note that such a personal list would immediately shun any attraction of the "been there, seen that, bought the garish t-shirt" variety - this is about places that I find myself visiting again and again - sometimes with visitors who want to see more than the main tourist attractions, often in splendid solitude, because that's just my own thing ... noting that this solitude is often linked to being there at weird times, like early mornings.
So without further delay, let me list, in no particular order, some of my favourite places in Ireland:
- The Wicklow Mountains - rugged scenery, beauty spots, ancient monuments and industrial ruins, wildlife (if you care to look for it, and are in no rush), waterfalls, and all this on the doorstep of Dublin. Find out more about the Wicklow Mountains here..
- And while we're in the area, I have to mention Glendalough - though I strongly advise to avoid sunny summer weekends and bank holidays. The less people stroll through the monastic ruins, the better you get a feeling of the place. Find out more about Glendalough here.
- Slieve League in County Donegal - it is a hell of a drive to get there, followed by quite a harrowing drive up to the cliffs, optionally followed by a bracing and at time adventurous walk on the cliff path. Ireland's highest sea cliffs, a scene of beauty, and fresh air straight from the Atlantic into your lungs. Find out more about Slieve League here.
- Lough Erne - though the Shannon is far more famed in song and legend (and the dewey-eyed memories of emigrants), I actually prefer Lough Erne. Whether you rent a cruiser, take a day trip on a boat from Enniskillen, or simply explore Lough Erne with a car ... you'll find nature, ancient monuments, castles, islands with round towers or Hare Krishna retreats.
- The Irish National Heritage Park in County Wexford (which generally is well worth a visit) ... simply because you get a glimpse of Irish life from prehistory to the Vikings in a very accessible and enjoyable manner (the Norman section falls off a bit ... but take a walk up to the fake round tower anyway). Which makes for a nice walk all in all, and educational too. And dare I mention that the restaurant does a mean Sunday roast (be early, the locals flood in regularly). Find out more about the Irish National Heritage Park here.
- Sligo, the town or the country, always worth a visit. Whether it be ancient monuments that can be found in abundance, or the sheer beauty of the landscape in the area, the bracing beach walks followed by a good meal, or an indulgence in cultural offerings. Yup, Sligo is a good place to be. Find out more about Sligo here.
- Emain Macha or Navan Fort, much more attractive to me than other royal sites of Ireland, and with a good exhibition and living history discreetly tucked away. Maybe good for a whole day, but if you get bored easily, the splendid Cathedral City of Armagh is just a few miles away. And also amongst my favourites. Find out more about Emain Macha here.
- The Burren, because .. nothing beats the Burren for rugged landscape, solitary trees on inhospitable terrain growing in accordance with the steady breeze from the Atlantic, hidden beauties of nature in limestone crevices, ancient monuments, and solitude. If you avoid the main tourist hotspots and/or the high season. Find out more about the Burren here.
- Belfast - the capital of Northern Ireland has everything, from shopping to a vibrant cultural life, from museums to street art, from murals to monuments, from a zoo to nature walks. And is a very friendly place. Find out more about Belfast here.
And, of course, there is Dublin ... but that is another story.