Ireland — Attractions
The historic city of Dublin with its Georgian and earlier architecture, museums and remnants of past glories is a hub for sightseeing to get acquainted with the culture and heritage of the land. Fanning out to the republic’s secondary cities reveals even more attractions, and exploring the southern countryside of Ireland brings great houses, castles, prehistoric monuments and places of superb, natural beauty.
Dubliners are incredibly proud of their city and its huge number of heritage sites. Dublin Castle, constructed in the 13th century, has splendid viceregal apartments and a fine Gothic chapel. The interior of the 12th century St Patrick’s Cathedral displays a vast nave and vaulted ceilings. The magnificent 18th century Customs House sits on the banks of the Liffey and the beautiful exterior of the General Post Office is one of the Irish Republic’s architectural gems. For a glimpse into Dublin’s revolutionary past, a visit to Glasnevin Cemetery showcases the graves of partisan heroes such as Daniel O’Connell, Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.
Address: Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Book of Kells
One of Christianity’s most glorious manuscripts, the superbly-illuminated and calligraphy Book of Kells contains the four Gospels and was created circa 800 AD by Celtic monks. Its calf-vellum pages, believed to be the work of three scribes, were kept for centuries at the Abbey of Kells and bound into four volumes in 1953. Its present home is the great library at Trinity College in Dublin, itself a masterpiece of Georgian design set atop landscaped grounds.
Address: College Green, Dublin
This old grain storehouse is part of the St James’ Gate Brewery, home to the bitter, black stout beloved by generations of Irish drinkers across the world. Dublin’s most iconic landmark, the Guinness Factory is shaped like a seven-story pint glass and holds a stunning atrium inside. The Gravity Bar at its top gives stunning views across the city from what’s been described as a beer-lover’s Disneyland. Interactive displays take visitors through the entire brewing process, topped off with a pint of the black gold at the end of the tour.
Address: St James’ Gate Brewery, Dublin
For those with an interest in the history of Ireland, this grim, grey building is a must-see for its role in every agonizing step to independence by the nationalist heroes. Built in the late 18th century and closed in 1924 after independence was won, its inmates over the centuries were the leaders of five uprisings between 1798 and 1916. The gaol’s worst moment was the execution of 14 of the 15 patriots who led the 1916 Easter Uprising, and prisoners taken during the 1922 Civil War were also held in its eerie cells. A thought-provoking tour is provided, ending in the yard where the executions were held.
Address: Inchicore Road, Dublin
At first glance, this green, grassy knoll looks like nothing special, but Newgrange is one of Europe’s most important prehistoric grave sites, predating the Egyptian pyramids by 600 years and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a Stone Age Passage Tomb dating from 3200 BC, with its exact purpose lost in the mysteries of time, but it has an oddly fascinating alignment with the winter solstice sun. Celtic myths surround the tomb, including its reputation as the place of the conception and birth of the legendary hero Cuchulain. Incredibly ancient stone carvings are on the two curbstones, and 12 great standing stones are the final remnants of a circle surrounding the chamber.
Address: Donore, County Meath
National Museum of Ireland
The Decorative Art and History section of the National Museum of Ireland is set in a beautiful mansion commissioned by Queen Anne as a military barracks in 1704. Based around a colonnaded central square, the museum holds a treasure-trove of fascinating exhibits highlighting the history and culture of the land over the past 1,000 years. Irish silver, folk art, ceramics, glassware, period and country furniture, scientific instruments and more are set in well-designed displays.
Address: Benburb Street, Dublin
Home to the Irish Parliament, Leinster House was constructed in 1745 in the Palladian style and is a forerunner of fashion for Dublin’s high society in Georgian style mansions. The building’s façade along Kildare Street resembles a town house and even inspired the design for the US White House, while its Merrion Square frontage could well be that of a great country mansion. For a view of politicians at play, tickets are available for the observation galleries in both the upper and lower houses.
Address: Kildare Street, Dublin
Oscar Wilde House
Famous Irish playwright, the eccentric Oscar Wilde was brought to this house by his parents when he was just one year old. There’s no doubt his unique genius was nurtured by his attendance at his mother’s famous literary salon. The family lived here until young Oscar received his degree from Trinity College and went on to become one of Ireland’s most famous and controversial literary giants. The house has been restored courtesy of Dublin’s American College, and visitors can see how the family lived on a guided tour. Opposite the house is a flamboyant, bronze statue of Wilde studded with semi-precious stones representing his colorful character.
Address: I, North Merrion Square, Dublin
Dublinia and the Viking World
Perfect for a family visit, the old Synod Hall is set adjacent to the stunning Christchurch Cathedral in Ireland. The exhibit has two sections, the first, Medieval Dublin, a fascinating interactive display of streetscapes. The second is a recording of the Viking invaders from Scandinavia who arrived in the 9th and 19th centuries. Nearby St Michael’s Tower is well worth climbing for its fine views across to the Dublin Hills.
Address: St Michael’s Hill, Dublin
Ring of Kerry
The ever-popular Ring of Kerry route around the stunning Iveragh Peninsula is a road tour that includes rugged coastline, lakes, medieval ruins, pristine beaches, offshore islands, mountains and supreme, natural beauty. By car, the drive lasts about a day along the winding secondary roads, while cyclists can spend three days taking in the best of Ireland. The peninsula’s mountainous interior gives spectacular views, and Kenmare town on Kenmare Bay is the perfect resting spot.
Address: Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry
Set in Donegal town overlooking the River Eske, this castle was built in 1474 for the powerful O’Donnell chieftains, and remained their stronghold until 1507 when the English gained supremacy, resulting in the infamous Flight of the Irish Earls to the safety of France. Rebuilt in 1623 along with its adjacent Jacobean, three-story house, the castle is wonderfully atmospheric and has rooms furnished in period style with Persian rugs and French tapestries.
Address: Castle Street, Donegal
Glenveagh National Park
Nestling in the valleys of the rugged Derryveagh Mountains in County Donegal, the park is a wilderness of pristine lakes, gleaming quartzite hills and the Lough Barra bog lands. A perfect place for birders and nature-lovers, the remote Irish landscape is home to golden eagles, golden plovers, meadow pipits, wood warblers, ravens and peregrine falcons, along with arctic mountain hares, badgers and foxes. Red deer roam the boggy areas, feeding on the sedges and grasses, and salmon swarm the lakes and rivers.
Address: County Donegal, Irish Republic
Set in the wild Atlantic 30 miles from the Galway coastline, the three Aran Islands are Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer. Easily accessible by ferry, the isles are home to a wealth of ancient forts, castles and prehistoric sites. The tiny population is bilingual in English and Gaelic, and little Inisheer’s rocky shores and soaring cliffs are a haven for birdlife and indigenous flora and fauna. Traditional cottages, dry-stone walls and the simple, communal lifestyle make for a unique getaway from mainland Ireland.
Address: Offshore, County Galway
Rock of Cashel
Set in County Tipperary on a massive limestone outcrop, the Rock of Cashel is the famous stronghold of the 10th century High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. Its dramatic buildings include a 13th century Gothic cathedral, Cormel’s Chapel, a 15th century castle, an ancient round tower and the nearby picture-perfect Hore Abbey, a Cistercian monastery dating back to the 13th century.
Address: St Patrick’s Rock, Cashel, County Tipperary