With everything from legendary castles to month-long music festivals, plus incredible landscapes at every turn, it can be hard to know where to start when planning your Ireland bucket list. There is so much to do on the Emerald Isle that writer Lady Gregory once said: “I feel more and more the time wasted that is not spent in Ireland.”
On a clear day, you can hike in the Wicklow mountains or tackle the big surf in County Mayo. You might even find time for a matchmaking festival or drink a pint at the oldest pub in the world. This list of 22 things to do in Ireland will inspire book lovers, film buffs, foodies, and anyone in search of a bit of "craic" (fun) to book their next trip immediately.
Legend has it that you can be blessed with the Irish gift of the gab if you simply lean over and kiss the Blarney Stone. The stone in question sits atop Blarney Castle in County Cork. Kissing it is not as simple as walking up to any old rock. Instead, you must lie down and lower your upper body over the edge of the castle’s main tower battlements. The adrenaline rush and the story that go along with it are more than worth the small risk.
Guinness may be Ireland’s most famous export, but the Dublin-brewed beer is also the most popular pint on the Emerald Isle. Many a barkeep knows that there is a real art to pulling the perfect pint of Guinness and ensuring that the head stays creamy while the stout settles. Learn how to pour the perfect glass with a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin where beer experts will walk you through the tricks (and then let you drink the beer yourself in the Gravity Bar).
It may take some practice to drive on the left, but perfecting your Irish driving skills is the best way to explore the far corners of Ireland. The ultimate road trip starts in Kinsale, County Cork, and stretches up to the tip of the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. The 1,550-mile long journey passes by some of the most incredible scenery that Ireland has to offer and there are plenty of characteristic tiny villages to stay in along the way.
The 15th-century Bunratty Castle becomes an unforgettable dinner venue by night when the stately halls become the dramatic setting for a medieval banquet. The four-course meal is always paired with entertainment by way of an outgoing Earl who shares jokes as well as the history of the castle throughout the night. If one dinner doesn’t sound like enough time to live out your royal dreams, you can also sleep like a king or queen at some amazing castle hotels across the country.
Plan a "Game of Thrones" Itinerary
The smash HBO hit may have ended but you can relive some of the "Game of Thrones" glory by visiting the filming locations in Northern Ireland that the series used as sets. The almost unreal beauty of County Antrim inspired many of the mythical places in the series, including the Kingsroad and the House of Greyjoy. Depending on how much time you budget, you can visit castles, secluded bays, and natural wonders that were all featured at some point in the series.
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the top things to see in Ireland, which means that there is often a crowd walking along the edge of the seacliffs or waiting in line for O’Brien’s Tower. Experience the dramatic scenery from a more unique vantage point by taking a boat tour to the base of the cliffs. From the rolling Atlantic, you will be able to better appreciate the soaring cliffs and admire the sea tower of An Bhreannan Mor up close. Your boat guide will even show you the sea cave that was used in filming "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Tours last close to two hours and depart from the dock in the cute town of nearby Doolin.
The undeniable natural beauty of the Giant’s Causeway naturally attracts the most visitors on County Antrim’s Causeway Coast, but thrill-seekers can find even more to do nearby. The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is definitely an Ireland bucket list item. The suspension bridge dates back 350 years and was used by fishermen to reach the salmon fishery that lies on the rocky island 66 feet off the coast. The old bridge has been reinforced but the pure rush of crossing 100 feet above the wild waves of the Atlantic never gets old.
Take the Cable Car to Dursey Island
Ireland is surrounded by water and has some amazing islands just off the coast. Some, like Achill Island, are so close you can reach it by a bridge, but the most unique way to arrive on an Irish island has to be the old cable car that carries you to Dursey Island in County Cork. The aerial tram is the only cable car in Ireland and is one of the few cable cars that crosses a sea anywhere in the world. To be fair, the sea in question is a narrow strip of water known as the Dursey Sound, and the trip only takes about 10 minutes, but pack a picnic and make a day trip out of it while exploring the Beara Peninsula.
Music is a major part of the culture in Ireland and you can regularly find live sessions taking place at pubs large and small all over the country. However, the once-a-year music event for true traditional music lovers is the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. The fleadh (pronounced “flah”) moves around Ireland each year, selecting a new town or village to host the annual festivities. The program includes large concerts as well as numerous singsongs and trad sessions hosted in local pubs. If you play an instrument, go ahead and bring it along.
Visit the Place Where the Titanic Was Built
Everyone knows how the story of the Titanic ends, but few know that the doomed ship first got its start in Belfast. The capital of Northern Ireland once had a thriving shipyard, and the historic vessel was crafted along these docks. Now the old shipyard has been converted into a Titanic-themed destination, with a state of the art museum and a hotel standing where the fateful ship first took shape.
Pub culture is a major part of socializing in Ireland, and you’ll find lively pubs from Dublin to Galway and everywhere in between. While each pub has its own personality and quirks, there’s something to be said for raising a glass to history at Ireland’s oldest pub. That title goes to Sean’s Bar in Athlone, which was established in 900 AD. More than 1,000 years of nights out have been held inside its hallowed walls, and there are records to prove it.
Marvel at the Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript that is so precious that only one of its pages is displayed at any given time to ensure that the book is protected from light damage. Created in the ninth century by monks, it's a book of the Gospels written in Latin, but aside from the stunning calligraphy, it is the gilt gold and delicate illustrations that make this a true artistic treasure. Hailing from the town of Kells, the glorious book now resides inside Trinity College in Dublin.
Guinness isn’t the only tipple that is made in Ireland—there is also plenty of Irish whiskeys to contend with. Whether you want to visit a major distillery like Bushmills in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, or are looking for a pour to enjoy on the rocks in a quiet pub, raise a glass and enjoy. "Sláinte" (cheers)!
Play a Round of Golf
The green grass of Ireland is the backbone of the sheep and dairy industry, but it also lends itself perfectly to golf. In fact, the country is home to some of the top golf courses in the world and has the ideal landscape for natural links courses. From Ballybunion to Royal Portrush, you can’t go wrong with an Irish tee time.
Fish for Irish Salmon
True to its island roots, Ireland is a fantastic place to eat seafood. For the king of the Atlantic, book a fishing expedition for salmon. There are plenty of locations that are ideal for sport angling, and the salmon season can last from January to September. Fishing in Ireland has excellent expert information on permits, boat rentals, and guides to take you out on the water.
Catch a Hurling Match at Croke Park
Ireland goes crazy for sports and regularly competes in international soccer and rugby matches. The most beloved games, however, are the traditional Gaelic sports of hurling and Gaelic football. All of the players are amateur and play for county pride, which actually adds a level of excitement to every match. If you happen to be in Ireland during a summer weekend, pick up tickets for a match at Croke Park, where you can also visit the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Museum.
Indulge in a Full Irish
There are lots of traditional foods to try on your trip to Ireland, including local cheeses, garden-fresh produce, seafood, and grass-fed meat. However, the best way to start your day is with a fry up, also known as a full Irish. Most bed-and-breakfasts include this dish as breakfast, though you can also find it if you plan to eat out. The hearty plate comes loaded with Irish sausages, a thick cut of bacon known as a rasher, fried eggs, black pudding, beans, and grilled tomato, with toast on the side.
The tradition of matchmaking is alive and well in the tiny town of Lisdoonvarna on Ireland’s west coast. The village is famous for its yearly festival that pairs up singles from all over the Emerald Isle. Meet with a professional matchmaker or set out on your own to dance it up in the pubs where those looking to mingle gather starting at 11 a.m. each day. The spectacle is great fun but it can also lead to a lifetime of love.
Place a Bet
Betting is legal in the Republic of Ireland and events like horse races become major social outings. Most of the wagering is all in good fun so stop by a betting shop and try your luck by placing a small sum on a game, race, or even on the outcome of a beauty pageant.
Hike in the Wicklow Mountains
Ireland is a hill walker's paradise, and one of the best places to go for a walk anywhere on the Emerald Isle is in the Wicklow Mountains. For a true challenge, tackle the Wicklow Way. The 81-mile trail starts outside of Dublin and winds its way through windswept bogs, idyllic mountain passes, and untouched forests.
Surf at Mullaghmore
The chilly Atlantic Waters of Ireland’s rugged coastline might not be the first surf spots that spring to mind, but the water sport is gaining ground across the Emerald Isle. Don a thick wetsuit, and paddle out at Mullaghmore in County Sligo. The Head is where you’ll find the island’s main big-wave surfing.
Follow in the Footsteps of James Joyce
From museums to castles, there is plenty to do in Dublin, but for a true Dubliner experience spend the day retracing the footsteps of Leopold Bloom. Bloom is the main character in "Ulysses," the celebrated literary masterpiece by Irish writer James Joyce. You can stop in a pub for a gorgonzola sandwich with burgundy wine, and explore the neighborhood of Sandy Cove, for starters. Book lovers walking tours are also a great way to learn about how Dublin shaped Joyce’s life and his life’s work.