Ireland is a land of myths and legends. Anywhere you go in the country, there is a good chance you are not too far from a scenic landscape, a bustling pub or an ancient castle.
Unfortunately, when many people plan their first visit they only consider the physical size of the country and not the rich history and stunning scenery within its borders. However, do not be fooled; there is a lot to see and do throughout Ireland.
Let us tour the country and discover the romance and the mystery that seems to enshroud the country like its often-present fog. Along the way, we will visit five destinations that simply cannot be missed on your trip to the Emerald Isle.
The Ring of Kerry
The most popular drive in Ireland, The Ring of Kerry showcases the stunning landscape that has made Ireland famous.
The land shifts dramatically on the Ring of Kerry. One moment you are cruising through thick, dense forests and then within another everything changes into memorizing jagged coastlines or fog covered hills. This all-day adventure will take you through hundreds of miles of unspoiled landscapes with incredible views.
A thriving live music scene, a vibrant atmosphere and energetic festivals make it hard not to fall in love with Galway. This charming city located on the west coast of Ireland doesn't have a lot to offer in regards to sightseeing, but the city is packed with so much culture that it is a must see when visiting Ireland.
A few things I recommend when visiting the city: buy some Celtic jewelry, listen to live traditional music and wander aimlessly along the cobblestone streets. It’s also the ideal city to use as a home base while exploring Ireland. There are many wonderful villages, historic sites and hidden nooks and crannies waiting to be explored just outside its borders.
The Irish Countryside and Villages
While big cities like Dublin and Galway are worth a visit, do not let them consume too much of your time. I have found that the tiny villages and the landscapes surrounding them are really the major draws of the country. Everything from the beautiful Aran Islands to the breathtaking vistas in the northwest will leave you wanting more. The emerald green hillsides, colorful fields of lavender and majestic castles are just a few of the treasures that await.
Plus, the heart of the country is in the small villages and quaint little towns, many of them living up to the lovely stereotype of cozy stone cottages overlooking bright green fields. During the evenings, the pubs are packed with locals sharing a pint, playing live music and talking the night away. The Irish are well known to be great story tellers, and you will soon find yourself memorized by their wit and charm.
While there are many little towns to choose from, a few of my favorites are Doolin, Kinsale and Dingle. Speaking of Doolin, this village is a great place to experience two unforgettable sites in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands.
Cliffs of Moher
The sheer cliffs, home to thousands of birds, stand a massive 750 feet high. Standing at the top, looking over the ocean while watching numerous birds in flight is an exhilarating experience and is often captured in photos and postcards. It is not a surprise that this has become the top sightseeing attraction in the country.
The Aran Islands
These islands are incredible. As soon as you dock, you feel like you are in a place untouched by time. There are steep cliff sides, green fields filled with potato farms and attractive seaside villages. Many of the inhabitants of the Aran Islands have lived there for generations and rarely ever travel to Ireland's mainland. For history lovers, there is also the stone fort of Dun Aonghasa. This is a prehistoric structure that dates back 3,000 years. After visiting, you will see why these islands are captivating.
Wild Atlantic Way
Stretching for more than 1,500 miles along nearly the entire coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal driving route in the world and certainly one of the most interesting. I first experienced part of this massive driving route a few years ago as I explored the idyllic Dingle Peninsula in the southwestern part of the country. Grassy green cliffs that fall into the crashing sea, sprawling farmlands and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were all highlights of my short time on the Wild Atlantic Way. More recently, I drove the northwest portion of the Way, from Sligo to Letterkenny. What I love most about the Wild Atlantic Way is that you really can’t do it all on one trip, unless you have a few months to spare. That means repeat trips to undertake different portions, finding new wonders each and every time.
Ireland is a country full of amazing landscapes, castles, islands, villages and history. There is so much to see and experience that sometimes it is hard to choose. However, these are five things that you simply cannot miss. I have no doubt that as you work through this list, you will be head over heels in love with Ireland. I know each time I visit the Emerald Isle, it captures more and more of my heart.
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