Exploring the Best of Ireland - An Emerald Isle Guide to Irish Wanderlust

Advisor - Holly Virden
Curated By

Holly Virden

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  • Ireland

  • Arts & Culture

  • Group Travel

  • Family Travel

  • History

  • Outdoors

A green cliff in Ireland.
Curator’s statement

The Luck of the Irish is more than a motto for me, it actually courses through my veins having had a grandfather matriculate to America from the Emerald Isle in 1912. To this very day this island holds a place near and dear to my heart. I feel as if I am home there. I still have family in Dublin and out on the mountain that I am able to visit and keep my finger on the pulse of the island. It’s always a glorious trip where we explore our heritage, history and enjoy all the offerings. May the sun shine warm upon your face as you travel and explore this magical land.

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Where to stay in Ireland

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The Merrion Hotel Dublin

Located in the heart of the Dublin city center, The Merrion is the capital’s most luxurious five-star hotel offering exquisite comfort and elegance.

Fora Perks
  • Breakfast daily.

  • Complimentary lunch or dinner for two people.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

The Shelbourne, Autograph Collection

Iconic Dublin hotel with spectacular service, elegant dining plus rooms and accommodations for the discerning traveler.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

The River Lee Hotel

A luxurious retreat with contemporary design, offering breathtaking river views and impeccable hospitality in the charming city of Cork, Ireland.

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Advisor - Holly Virden

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Things to do in Ireland

An island with mountains and ocean view

General Tips for Exploring the Emerald Isle

Weather: Be prepared for Ireland's unpredictable weather by packing layers, a waterproof jacket and sturdy shoes.

Currency: The currency in Ireland is the Euro (€). Credit cards are widely accepted, but it's a good idea to carry some cash for smaller establishments including coins for parking meters in smaller towns.

Driving: If you plan to rent a car and drive in Ireland, keep in mind that they drive on the left side of the road. Rural roads can be narrow, so exercise caution. Buy the insurance and mind your tires.

Historical Sites: Ireland is rich in history and ancient sites. Be sure to visit sites like Newgrange, the Rock of Cashel and the Hill of Tara for a glimpse into Ireland's past.

Destination: Dublin

Dublin is a thriving city which services as the capital and is the largest city of Ireland. As such, it has something for everyone!

Things to do in Dublin:

Explore Dublin's Historic Center: Visit iconic landmarks like Dublin Castle, Trinity College and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Trinity College it’s pretty tough to ‘one-up’ a college that was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 and is one of the seven ‘ancient universities’ of Britain and Ireland. It has a gorgeous library called the Long Room with over 5 million books. So even if you don’t like to read, it’s still probably worth a visit while you are there. One of the most popular highlights is the Book of Kells which is an illuminated manuscript made by monks around 800. The Book of Dorrow also lives there as well as a 15th century wooden harp (which is basically the model for the insignia of Ireland you see everywhere.)

Guinness Storehouse: Discover the history of Ireland's famous beer and enjoy panoramic views of Dublin from the Gravity Bar. I’m gonna be honest…the beer is better on the island than here in the States.

Temple Bar: Experience Dublin's vibrant nightlife in the lively Temple Bar district, known for its pubs, live music and street performances.

Grafton Street: Shop at the city's premier shopping street, lined with a variety of stores, cafes and street musicians.

The Jameson Distillery if you’re into whiskey…look no further. This is a fun tour that teaches you the history and heritage, has a whiskey tasting session and some tours even teach the fine art of blending to create a signature whiskey of your own. For planning you will want to book ahead and be aware there are two Jameson Distillery locations. Jameson Distillery Bow St. and Jameson Distillery Midleton. The Bow St. distillery is the original location where John Jameson established the distillery in 1780, while the Midleton distillery is located in County Cork and offers a more in-depth experience.

Phoenix Park: Enjoy a relaxing stroll in one of the largest city parks in Europe, home to Dublin Zoo and the residence of the Irish President. Dublin Zoo We hit the zoo when I was a younger tourist. I fell down and tore my brand new Ziggy raincoat (yes, I am that old) so I remember it quite well. The zoo has an appealing display of animals, which is impressive given their weather challenges. But if you have the family, it’s a perfectly nice way to spend the day.

Butlers Chocolate Factory Tour - Butlers Chocolate Factory: If you’ve ever had dreams of your Lucy and Ethel Chocolate factory moment…this is your opportunity. The tour was well timed out and informational. You watch a production about the origins of chocolate complete with the history of how Butler’s Chocolates came to be. You walk through the factory from an elevated, enclosed walkway while the guides are plugging you full of creamy goodness. At the end, you see how hollowed-out chocolates are formed and try your hand at decorating your very own. We have never laughed so hard. One of our finest adventures ever. Pro tip…snag a hot chocolate in the cafe and oh and don’t plan a big dinner.

Destination: Waterford

Waterford is a city located in County Waterford, in the southeast of Ireland. It is the oldest city in Ireland and has a rich history, vibrant culture, and beautiful natural surroundings.

Things to check out in Waterford:

Waterford City Center: The heart of Waterford is a bustling urban center with a mix of historic buildings, modern architecture, shops, restaurants and lively pubs.

House of Waterford Crystal: Witness the intricate process of crystal making, explore the showroom with exquisite crystal creations and even purchase unique pieces to take home as souvenirs.

Medieval Museum: Showcasing Waterford's medieval past, the museum houses a range of artifacts and exhibits that provide insight into the city's history.

Bishop's Palace Museum: This Georgian mansion offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the city's wealthy inhabitants during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Reginald's Tower: A historic tower that dates back to Viking times, it is the oldest civic building in Ireland and now houses a museum showcasing the city's Viking heritage.

The Waterford Greenway is a scenic 46-kilometer cycling and walking trail that follows the route of a former railway line. It stretches from Waterford City to Dungarvan and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, including rivers, viaducts and quaint villages. You can find more information about the Waterford Greenway on their official website.

Waterford boasts a stunning coastline with picturesque beaches and rugged cliffs. Some notable coastal areas include Tramore, Dunmore East and Clonea Strand, which offer opportunities for beach walks, water sports, and scenic drives.

In addition to the city center attractions, Waterford is surrounded by historic sites such as the 12th-century Reginald's Abbey, the ruins of Dunhill Castle, and the ancient burial site of Gaulstown Dolmen.

Cork is a vibrant city located in the southwest of Ireland and serves as the administrative and cultural center of County Cork. Known for its rich history, lively atmosphere, and proximity to stunning natural landscapes, Cork offers a diverse range of attractions and experiences. You can find more information about Cork on the official Cork City Council.

When visiting Cork, you have options for accommodations. The River Lee Hotel is located on the banks of the River Lee and offers stylish rooms, a spa and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views. You can find more information about The River Lee Hotel on their official website: The River Lee Hotel.

Another option is Hayfield Manor Hotel, which is set in a beautiful estate with lush gardens. It features luxurious rooms, a spa, fine dining and afternoon tea. You can find more information about Hayfield Manor Hotel on their official website: Hayfield Manor Hotel.

In Cork's city center, you can explore a mix of architectural styles, blending medieval, Georgian, and modern structures. St. Patrick's Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, is lined with shops, cafes and lively street performers. The English Market, a covered food market, is a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts, offering a variety of fresh produce, local delicacies and artisanal products. English Market.

Cork boasts numerous cultural and historic sites that showcase its heritage. Some notable attractions include Cork City Gaol, a former 19th-century prison that offers guided tours providing insights into the harsh conditions experienced by prisoners in the past. You can find more information about Cork City Gaol on their official website: Cork City Gaol.

Cork City Hall is a grand building with stunning architecture and occasional exhibitions. Cork City Cathedral (St. Fin Barre's Cathedral) is an impressive Gothic Revival cathedral known for its intricate stonework and beautiful stained glass windows.

The River Lee flows through Cork, adding to the city's charm. The city center is divided into two parts by the river, connected by several bridges, including the iconic St. Patrick's Bridge and the picturesque North Mall Bridge. Walking along the riverbanks provides scenic views and opportunities for relaxation.

Cork has a thriving cultural scene with numerous art galleries, theaters, and live music venues. The city is known for its vibrant music scene, hosting various music festivals throughout the year, such as the Cork Jazz Festival and Live at the Marquee. Additionally, the Cork Midsummer Festival celebrates the arts with a diverse program of performances and events.

Blarney Castle is an iconic medieval fortress built nearly 600 years ago located near Cork City in County Cork, Ireland. Blarney Castle offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into Ireland's history, as well as a chance to partake in a unique tradition by kissing the famous Blarney Stone. The combination of the castle's historic allure, beautiful gardens, and the opportunity to acquire the "gift of gab" makes it a must-visit destination for many travelers. Legend has it that those who kiss the stone will be bestowed with the "gift of gab" or eloquence. To kiss the stone, visitors must lean backward over a parapet at the top of the tower, supported by an assistant. It's an exhilarating experience and has been enjoyed by countless visitors over the years. Please note that lining up to kiss the stone can sometimes involve queues. You can find more information about Blarney Castle on their official website: Blarney Castle.

Blarney Castle is set within beautiful grounds that offer picturesque gardens and walking trails. The Rock Close, a mystical and tranquil area near the castle, is filled with ancient trees, ferns and interesting rock formations. It features various points of interest, including the Wishing Steps, the Witch's Stone, and the Druid's Circle.

Within the Blarney Castle grounds, there are several shops where visitors can purchase traditional Irish crafts, souvenirs, and, of course, Blarney woolen products. There are also cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or a snack during your visit.

Killarney is a charming town located in County Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland. It serves as the gateway to the famous Ring of Kerry, a scenic driving route that takes you through some of Ireland's most stunning landscapes.

When staying in Killarney, you have options for accommodations. The Europe Hotel & Resort is nestled on the shores of Lough Leane, providing luxurious rooms, a spa, multiple restaurants and stunning lake and mountain views. You can find more information about The Europe Hotel & Resort on their official website:

In Killarney, you can explore Killarney National Park, known for its lakes, mountains, and diverse flora and fauna. You can also drive along the scenic Ring of Kerry to witness stunning coastal views, charming villages, and ancient sites. The journey provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in Ireland's natural splendor and experience the rich heritage of County Kerry.

Scenic Driving Route: The Ring of Kerry is a circular driving route that covers approximately 179 kilometers (111 miles) around the Iveragh Peninsula. The route offers breathtaking coastal and mountain views, picturesque villages, rugged landscapes, and historic sites.

Killarney National Park: The Ring of Kerry passes through Killarney National Park, allowing you to experience its natural beauty and landmarks such as Muckross House and Torc Waterfall.

Coastal Villages: Along the route, you'll encounter charming coastal villages like Glenbeigh, Cahersiveen, Waterville, and Sneem. These villages offer opportunities to explore local culture, enjoy fresh seafood and soak up the coastal atmosphere.

Skellig Islands: While not directly on the Ring of Kerry, a detour from Portmagee can take you to the Skellig Islands (Skellig Michael and Little Skellig). These UNESCO World Heritage Sites are known for their striking beauty, unique wildlife and ancient monastic settlement.

Glenbeigh to Cahersiveen: This section of the route offers stunning coastal scenery, with highlights such as Rossbeigh Beach, Cahersiveen Marina and the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle.

Muckross House: Visit this Victorian mansion set in Killarney National Park, showcasing period furnishings and beautiful gardens.

Gap of Dunloe: Take a traditional jaunting car or hike through this scenic mountain pass for incredible views.

Dingle Peninsula: Venture off the Ring of Kerry to explore the rugged beauty of the Dingle Peninsula, known for its stunning coastal landscapes and Gaelic heritage.

Destination: Galway

Galway is a city located on the west coast of Ireland. It is the county town of County Galway and the fifth largest city in Ireland. It is known for its long and fascinating history dating back to the medieval period. Starting as a small fishing village in the 13th century, Galway grew and prospered as a trading port, particularly during the Middle Ages. Many of the city's historic buildings and landmarks reflect this era. It’s also renowned as the Cultural Heart of Ireland with a vibrant arts scene. Traditional Irish music come alive in the Latin Quarter streets and pubs nightly to celebrate this heritage.

What to see in Galway

Galway City: Explore the colorful streets of Galway, known for its bohemian atmosphere, lively pubs, and traditional music scene.

Cliffs of Moher: Visiting the Cliffs of Moher offers an unforgettable experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the stunning natural beauty of Ireland's rugged coastline. The combination of dramatic landscapes, wildlife sightings, and the sheer magnitude of the cliffs make it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Aran Islands: Embark on a ferry journey to the Aran Islands and experience Irish culture and stunning landscapes.

Connemara National Park: Discover the rugged beauty of Connemara, with its mountains, lakes, and hiking trails.

Destination: Belfast

Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. It is a vibrant and historic city that offers a rich blend of culture, history and modern attractions.

What to see in Belfast

City Center: Belfast's city center is compact and easy to navigate, offering a mix of Victorian and modern architecture, bustling streets, and a lively atmosphere. The city center is home to notable landmarks such as City Hall, a beautiful Edwardian building, and St. Anne's Cathedral, an impressive cathedral with stunning architecture.

Belfast Murals: Belfast is well-known for its political murals, which reflect the city's history and the divisions that have characterized Northern Ireland. These murals emerged during the period of the Troubles and continue to serve as powerful visual reminders of the conflicts and struggles experienced in the city's troubled past and political divide.

Titanic Belfast: The Belfast shipyard was the home to Titanic which has now defined the city of Belfast for more than a century. 100 years after its tragic sinking (2012), the city of Belfast opened an interactive museum to tell the story and continue the legacy. Note: I did not see Leonardo or Kate, but it's still worthwhile to make a stop here to learn more about the Titanic's ill-fated voyage as this interactive museum is located on the shipyard where it was built.

Belfast City Hall: Take a guided tour of the elegant City Hall, admiring its stunning architecture and exhibitions.

Crumlin Road Gaol: Explore the historic Victorian-era prison on a guided tour to learn about its intriguing history.

Giant's Causeway: Journey to Northern Ireland's Antrim Coast to witness the unique hexagonal basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. The Giant's Causeway is famous for its unique hexagonal basalt columns that resemble stepping stones. According to Irish folklore, the Giant's Causeway was the handiwork of a legendary giant named Finn McCool. The story goes that Finn McCool built the causeway to confront his Scottish rival, Benandonner.

Useful Tips for Visiting the Giant's Causeway:

It can be super windy and chilly-be sure to dress appropriately! Visitor Center: Start your visit at the visitor center, which provides information about the site's geology, folklore, and history. It also offers facilities such as a café, gift shop, and restrooms. If you are driving yourself, parking is limited so you will want to prebook that on their website. Walking Trails: The Giant's Causeway features several walking trails that allow visitors to explore the area. The most popular is the Main Trail, which takes you directly to the basalt columns and offers stunning views of the coastline. It’s just shy of a mile. But there are also longer trails, such as the Cliff Trail and the Red Trail, which provide more extensive hikes and panoramic vistas. Catch a trolley: If you aren’t much of a walker (it is fairly steep), there is a Causeway Coaster shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes. It was only a few Euro for either one-way or round-trip options.

In summary, traveling to Ireland is worthwhile for a multitude of reasons. Here's a summary highlighting the key aspects that make it a fantastic destination:

Stunning Landscapes: Ireland's landscapes are renowned for their breathtaking beauty. From the dramatic cliffs of Moher to the serene lakes of Killarney, the rolling green hills of the countryside, and the rugged landscapes of the Connemara region, Ireland offers a diverse and picturesque natural environment that is truly captivating.

Rich History and Heritage: Ireland has a rich history that spans thousands of years, and evidence of its ancient past can be found throughout the country. From prehistoric sites like Newgrange to medieval castles and monastic ruins, Ireland's historical sites provide a glimpse into its fascinating heritage.

Vibrant Cities and Towns: Ireland's cities and towns are vibrant and full of character. Dublin, the capital, offers a cosmopolitan atmosphere with a thriving arts and music scene, while cities like Galway, Cork, and Limerick provide a blend of history, culture, and modern charm. The smaller towns and villages, with their colorful facades and friendly locals, offer a more intimate and traditional experience.

Warm Hospitality: The Irish people are known for their warm hospitality and friendliness. Visitors often feel welcome and at ease in Ireland, whether it's engaging in lively conversations with locals in a cozy pub or receiving helpful recommendations from a friendly passerby. The welcoming nature of the Irish adds to the overall charm of the country.

Traditional Music and Culture: Irish music, dance and cultural traditions are celebrated throughout the country. Traditional Irish music sessions can be found in pubs, where talented musicians gather to create a lively and authentic atmosphere. Festivals and events showcasing Irish culture, such as St. Patrick's Day parades and the Galway International Arts Festival, provide an opportunity to immerse oneself in the vibrant traditions of the country.

Literary Legacy: Ireland has a rich literary heritage, with renowned writers like James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde hailing from the country. Literary enthusiasts can explore Dublin's literary landmarks, such as the Trinity College Library and the Dublin Writers Museum and trace the footsteps of their favorite authors.

Whiskey and Guinness: Ireland is famous for its whiskey and Guinness beer. Visitors can tour distilleries and breweries, learn about the brewing and distilling processes, and sample these iconic Irish beverages. Tastings provide an opportunity to savor the unique flavors and craftsmanship that have made Irish whiskey and Guinness internationally acclaimed.

Outdoor Activities: Ireland offers a wide range of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. From hiking along scenic trails and exploring national parks to golfing on world-class courses and engaging in water sports along the stunning coastline, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

These are just a few highlights of what makes traveling to Ireland worthwhile. The country's natural beauty, rich history, welcoming locals, vibrant culture, and diverse experiences combine to create an unforgettable and rewarding journey for travelers. It always proves to be a memorable adventure.

I hope you love it as much as I do.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Brittany Merryman's guide, 10-Day Road Trip in Ireland, from Dublin to Killarney.

Advisor - Holly Virden

Travel Advisor

Holly Virden

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Ireland.