It is hard to narrow down the top places to see in Ireland because the country is filled with so many famous attractions. There is the rugged landscape of the mountains and natural wonders like the otherworldly Burren and the striking Cliffs of Moher, as well as historic castles and ancient abbeys. With so much to choose from, there is quite literally sometimes for everyone in gorgeous Ireland. Here are the 20 amazing sites that are among Ireland’s most universally loved places to see.
The Lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, Co Kerry
If you want to experience spectacular coastal scenery, breathtaking mountain landscapes, ancient monuments and the tranquil old-world-charm of Killarney's lakes, castles and houses, this is the place to go. Bear in mind that thousands of tourists will have the same idea—the best time here is spring or fall (in order to avoid the crush of people that arrive in summer). Killarney is located in County Kerry, part of the Irish Province of Munster. The nearest airport is Cork Airport or Killarney (though this has European flights only).
The Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare
When the undulating landscape suddenly ends in a sheer drop of more than 650 feet, straight down to the Atlantic, then you know you have reached the Cliffs of Moher. One of the most spectacular coastal areas in Europe, the cliffs are best when the winds are low so that visitors can take a stroll along the (roped off) edge. The visitor center has been rebuilt on a grand scale and there is now a higher price of admission to see the national attraction for yourself. The Cliffs of Moher can be found in County Clare, in Ireland's Province of Munster. The nearest airport is Shannon Airport.
Newgrange and Bru na Boinne, Co Meath
Rather than a single sight, one of Ireland’s must-sees is a complex historic landscape on the banks of the Boyne, dotted with prehistoric monuments. The largest are Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Newgrange and Knowth can only be visited by taking a tour, which starts at the modern visitor center. Be there early and plan to stay for a half day (at least) to take in the whole experience. Newgrange is located in County Meath, in the Province of Leinster. The nearest airport is Dublin Airport.
Dublin is a relatively small city which can sometimes feel more like a jumble of villages than a major capital. It is, however, rich in history, as well as full of sights and museums that are best explored on a day out on foot. Dublin's top attractions alone can keep the tourist busy for a whole week! Between live music, art, culture, and even a castle, Dublin is Ireland’s most popular stop (even for Irish visitors, who often head into the city on the weekends). Dublin Airport is outside the city limits, but a bus ride into town will only take about half an hour.
The Giant's Causeway, Co Antrim
The Giant's Causeway is made up of strangely regular basalt columns point that the way towards Scotland, which can be seen on the horizon on good days. It is possible to reach Northern Ireland's top sight by car and shuttle bus (if the fairly steep final mile seems too daunting). Travelers with some time on their hands can also take in the nearby Old Bushmills Distillery which is connected by steam train. Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway are located in County Antrim, in the Northern Irish part of the Province of Ulster. The nearest airport would be Belfast.
Hill of Tara, Co Meath
The ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland and one of the Irish royal sites, can look like little more than a mound covered with grass when you see the area for the first time. However, there is an excellent audiovisual show in the former church that will help visitors understand the importance of this site. Once armed with a bit of background information, visitors will soon see why the Hill of Tara is fascinating. This site is also located in County Meath, in the Province of Leinster, a short distance from Navan. The nearest airport is Dublin Airport.
Sligo and Area, Co Sligo
The town of Sligo is not a major destination itself but the nearby treasures more than make up for it. Knocknarea boasts the grave of Queen Maeve (or so rumor has it) and offers a spectacular view as a reward for a steep climb. Carrowmore is the largest stone age cemetery in Ireland. Drumcliff sports a (truncated) round tower, a medieval high cross and the grave of W.B.Yeats right next to the spectacular table mountain of Ben Bulben. All these are located in County Sligo, in the Province of Connacht. The nearest airports are either Dublin Airport, Shannon Airport or Belfast—all of which are roughly the same distance away.
Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone, Co Cork
The Irish gift of the gab? Some believe that comes directly from the Blarney Stone. The stone in question (which legend says you must kiss upside down, hanging over a sheer dropoff) is located at Blarney Castle in County Cork. Some of the rooms in the castle, which dates back to the 15th century, can also be visited. The fortified medieval home is surrounded by lush gardens along the River Martin. The must-see sight is a short drive from Cork City, making Cork Airport the closet to fly into.
The Burren, Co Clare
Wedged between the rough beauty of the Aran Islands and the bustling university city of Galway, the near featureless desolation of this limestone plateau has often been likened to a moonscape. Ancient monuments and bizarre rock formations abound. Some spectacular sights can be taken in by driving around the Burren next to Galway Bay. The Burren can be found in County Clare, in Ireland's Province of Munster. The nearest airport is Shannon Airport.
Glendalough, Co Wicklow
In Glendalough, the valley of the two lakes, you will find one of the most important early Christian sites. History aside, the setting in the Wicklow Mountains in a valley beside tranquil lakes is simply beautiful. Visitors who do love of history and/or architecture can indulge in a massive round tower, the quaint St Kevin's Kitchen (actually a church) and a cathedral (a ruin, but still imposing enough), all in an ancient monastic setting. More into the outdoors? Nature lovers can enjoy the walks along the lakes. Glendalough is located in County Wicklow, in the Province of Leinster, a short distance from Dublin which means the nearest airport is Dublin Airport.
Bunratty Castle, Co Clare
The Bunratty tower house is one of the best castles in Ireland and is beloved by locals and visitors alike. It was built in 1467 by the O'Brien family and has been renovated with no expenses spared. A medieval banquet is offered in the evenings, complete with period entertainment. During the day, the adjoining Bunratty Folk Park allows a glimpse into Ireland's past. Bunratty can be found in County Clare, in Ireland's Province of Munster. The nearest airport is Shannon Airport, which is essentially just around the corner.
Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry
For a small country, Ireland is bursting with natural beauty but there is something particularly breathtaking about the Dingle Peninsula. From the sandy stretch of Inch Beach to the rugged cliffs along the Wild Atlantic Way which look out towards the Aran Islands and the charming port town of Dingle itself, this promontory in southwest Ireland is full of gorgeous scenery. Dingle is located in County Kerry, part of the Irish Province of Munster and the closest airport is Cork Airport.
Kylemore Abbey, Co Galway
Set on the shores of a lake an hour outside of Galway, Kylemore Abbey was built by the British Politician Mitchell Henry in the late 1800s. He hoped that his elaborate estate would serve as an example of what was possible in even the most remote corners of Ireland. In 1903, the castle and abbey were sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester who had bold plans for renovations and entertaining but soon had to let go the property in order to pay their gambling debts. In 1920, a group of Benedictine Nuns acquired the Abbey after their Belgian abbey was bombed during World War I. The estate is still owned by the nuns and was a Catholic girl’s school until 2010. In addition to the breathtaking castle, there is a walled Victorian Garden that has been restored and is well known as Ireland’s largest walled garden.
Titanic Belfast, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland
The ill-fated RMS Titanic was poorly piloted but it was certainly well built here in Northern Ireland. The Harland & Wolff shipyard where the massive ocean liner was created has now been transformed into an exceptional museum about the infamous boat. The Belfast museum has an impressive interactive exhibit that allows visitors to walk the decks and even virtually travel to the depths of the ocean. While the museum has a policy against displaying any artifacts from the wreck itself, they do have an impressive assortment of mementos (like china dishes and promotional brochures) that were created for the RMS Titanic.
Connemara National Park, Co Galway
One of the six national parks in Ireland, Connemara National Park is found in County Galway. The large natural area is best known for its mountain walks, though there are also bogs and grasslands to be explored. Visitors particularly head for cone-shaped Diamond Hill above the village of Letterfack in order to enjoy near 360-degree views of mountains and sea. The Visitor Center, which has a great audio-visual exhibit, is open daily from March to October, while the park itself is open year-round.
Skelling Michael, Co Kerry
Located eight miles out to sea off the coast of County Kerry, Skellig Michael is an isolated island destination. The island is sometimes known as Great Skellig and has a smaller neighbor which is fittingly named Little Skellig. No one lives on the Skelligs these days, but in the 6th century a group of monks felt that the rocky islands in the Atlantic made the perfect remote spot for a monastery. The ruins of this ancient monastery are now a UNESCO site and visitors brave the ocean passage between May and October for a chance to hike through the secluded archaeological site. If the monastery looks familiar that might be because it was featured as a sacred Jedi location in two Star Wars movies.
English Market, Co Cork
Ireland’s best covered market is a treat to explore in Cork City. It was named the “English Market” in the 19th century to distinguish it from Cork’s “Irish Market” that also existed at the time. The Victorian-style building was originally built in 1862, though an uncovered market has existed on the same spot since 1788. It was badly damaged by a fire in the 1980s but was carefully refurbished by the Cork City Council. It is one of the best places to shop for local foods or to stay for a meal on the second-floor café. Shoppers are in good company—Queen Elizabeth once stopped by for a bit of fish.
The Rock of Cashel, Co Tipperary
Unofficial estimates guess that Ireland has around 1,000 castles in all. It could take a lifetime to seek out all the ruins and restored tower house beauties, but one of the most impressive of all is certainly the Rock of Cashel. Built atop a hill in County Tipperary, this was once the seat of power for the High Kings of Ulster. The rulers eventually turned the stunning fortified complex over to the church, and the ruins of the medieval cathedral are one of the major draws of the sight.
Kinsale, Co Cork
Depending on which direction you decide to drive, Kinsale is either the start of the end of the famed Wild Atlantic Way—the coastal route that snakes 1,500 miles along western Ireland. The village is called after its Irish name: Ceann tSaile, which means “Head of the Sea.” Originally a medieval fishing village, the boats that still bob in the harbor make for a postcard-perfect Irish setting. Away from the waterfront, the village is filled with brightly painted shops and plenty of traditional pubs and restaurants. The nearest airport is Cork Airport, and the village is about a 25-mile drive from Cork City.
Slieve League, Co Donegal
The Cliffs of Moher may be more famous, but the stunning cliffs of Slieve League reach almost three times higher. Slieve League is a mountain (with slieve meaning mountain in the Irish language), which towers nearly 2,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean at its highest point. For those who don’t bat an eyelash at death-defying heights, there is a windswept trail that can be hiked along the cliffs. It is also possible to drive up to the main viewing area or visit the family-run Visitor’s Center. Visitors who opt to explore on foot can seek out the ruins of an early Christian monastery and beehive huts along the mountain slopes.