When you think of a holiday in Ireland, what comes to mind? Witnessing the lush, green landscape? Visiting historical and religious sights, and seeing remains from medieval times? Or perhaps it’s visiting farms or savouring authentic Irish food.

Whatever image or experience may spring to mind, you’d be pleased to know that all of this and more await visitors to the Emerald Isle. While only small in size, there is a lot that can be packed into a trip around Ireland. To experience the best on offer, these are the six cities (and some highlights) that you need to include on your Ireland itinerary.

Dublin

temple-bar-dublin
Pic by @munitedgirl

Of course, no trip to Ireland would be complete without visiting Dublin; one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Originally, the Irish capital was a Viking settlement that grew into the island’s largest city. Today, however, Dublin is an engaging hub of culture, history and atmosphere, as exemplified by statue-lined O’Connell Street, one of the widest streets in Europe.

The list of must-see attractions is long and includes Trinity College with its ancient Book of Kells, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral and of course, the famed Guinness Storehouse. Also, no visit to Dublin is really complete without time in Temple Bar, with its narrow cobblestone streets, quirky shops and high concentration of excellent pubs (which have earned the city the reputation as the “party capital of Europe”.

If you have time to stop between Dublin and Ballina, both Kildare and Strokestown House are ideal locations for a stretch of the legs. In Kildare, drive across the Curragh to the Irish National Stud, whose thoroughbreds command respect on the racecourse of the world. Then, continue north towards Longford and embark on a guided tour of the Strokestown House, the 1740s mansion with its fine gardens.

Ballina

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Pic by @seancalve

Famous for its hospitality and internationally renowned for its exceptional salmon fishing in the Moy River is Ballina; the largest town in County Mayo, located in the country’s West.

There is plenty to be seen around Ballina, with favourites including the Monasteries of the Moy Greenway, St. Muredach’s Cathedral, Downpatrick Head, Belleek Castle, the Moy valley and Nephin Mountain.

As you drive from Ballina to Galway, be sure to make a pitstop at Kylemore Abbey, a massive yet graceful castle that was acquired by Benedictine nuns as a precious heirloom for Ireland.

Galway

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Pic by @deemaher

Known in Ireland as the “City of Festivals”, Galway is filled with history, culture and locals who love a good cup of tea …. And perhaps a pint of something stronger in the evenings. A cosmopolitan city, Galway has a real international feel, thanks in part to the 17, 000 student population.

On any night of the week, you can expect to find buskers and street artists performing on the cobblestoned streets and live music heaving from the brightly coloured pubs. Every July, Galway hosts the Art Festival, where 500 artists perform in more than 29 venues and see 165, 000 people visit. Although no matter when you arrive, you’re sure to find a festival or cultural event going on – it’s what attracts culture lovers to the small city and is a nice, refreshing alternative to Dublin.

As you travel between Galway and Limerick, you have to stop and admire the Cliffs of Moher. Rising 204 metres above the Atlantic Ocean, you can savour the breathtaking panorama of the Clare Coast.

Limerick

limerick-ireland
Pic by @annainpyjamas

While the word “Limerick” first conjures thoughts of a man from Nantucket, for the Irish, it’s a beloved “Midwest” city that began with the Vikings in the 10th Century.

Delightful Georgian architecture and gardens, charming O’Connell Street shops, and the landmark Tait Clock beckon. Along the way, you’ll discover Limerick’s wonderful medieval district, dominated by the 13th Century King John’s Castle. Climb atop the battlements for magnificent views of the city and Shannon River. Check out the Treaty Stone, where the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, ending the Siege of Limerick; 850-year old St. Mary’s Cathedral (Limerick Cathedral), one of the oldest churches in the country; or even the historic Milk Market, one of Ireland’s oldest markets selling local food and products.

Tralee

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Pic by @cogwheelmedia

County Kerry’s capital and largest town, Tralee is the main shopping and business destination for North and West Kerry. While most travellers to the town use Tralee as a base for exploring the surrounds, there are still plenty of sites to be seen within the town itself, including a great museum and wetlands centre.

Outside of the main township, there are plenty of short drives that are worth exploring. Enjoy wonderful views during the Slea Head drive on the Dingle Peninsula, then stroll through quaint Dingle, and maybe catch a glimpse of Fungi, the resident dolphin. At Killorglin, join the famous Ring of Kerry for a 160-kilometre panoramic drive around the island’s southwestern tip. There’s plenty to focus your camera on here; sparkling seascapes, mountains dotted with brightly coloured farmhouses, winding lanes bordered with subtropical vegetation and the breathtaking panorama of the Lakes of Killarney from Ladies View. Be sure to stop in the popular resort town of Killarney and treat yourself to a fun-filled horse-drawn jaunting car ride through the national park with glorious vistas of the Lakes of Killarney at the ancient Ross Castle.

As you travel between Tralee and Waterford, across the Kerry Mountains, drive into County Cork for a visit to Blarney, the area renowned for its castle and magical Kissing Stone.

Waterford

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Pic by @the_globalglutton

The largest town in the Southeast and Ireland’s oldest city (it celebrated its 1100th anniversary in 2014), Waterford has a history that dates back to Viking times. A busy port city, it is famous as the home of Waterford Crystal.

It goes without saying; when visiting Waterford, you need to go to the House of Waterford Crystal. Here you can witness craftsmen make crystal stemware, giftware and masterpieces right before your eyes!

In order to lengthen your stay in Ireland, there are a few more pitstops that can be made between Waterford and Dublin. First stop: Avoca, where you can visit Enniscorthy, the site of the final battle of the Great Rebellion of 1798; Ireland’s oldest handweaving mill. Final stop: Glendalough, the early Christian monastic site, which was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century.

Ready to experience the best of Ireland aka the Emerald Isle? Check out our tour here!

One Comment

  1. Robert K Sprott

    My Wife & I visited Ireland for the first time in 2013 & we visited all of these wonderful places, except Ballina, as we travelled around Ireland & Northern Ireland in our Hertz Hire Car.. I can fully recommend a similar “self-drive” visit, as it is such a easy country drive around in. Seeing that photo of The Temple Bar, brings back fond memories. We were out for dinner, then ended up at The Temple Bar, full of people having a wonderful time. It is a MUST to visit & enjoy. Wish we could have a “return visit”.

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