Last Updated on October 3, 2023
As a lover of all things Irish, I can tell you there are many, many best places to visit in Ireland...
Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
Updated for 2023 / 2024
By Jim Ferri
For many of us, whether of Irish descent or not, there’s no other place like Ireland.
I love it, although I should confess that I’m half Irish. (You need only to look at my name to guess which half.) I always enjoy my trips to the “ould sod” since I always discover new things every time I visit. Each trip is another great adventure.
Here are a dozen of the best places to visit in Ireland that I greatly enjoy. They are on the “island of Ireland,” meaning the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Some are well-known; a few are spots even well-traveled Irish aficionados may not have yet explored.
They all have in common, though, that each provides a unique Irish experience. In fact, some so much that I’ve returned to them several times.
Ireland’s Beautiful Capital: Dublin
Almost every traveler in Ireland becomes acquainted with Dublin, one of Europe’s oldest cities and a top city in Ireland. With a medieval and Georgian heritage, Dublin is bursting with cafes, restaurants, and traditional pubs, most providing typical Irish merriment. You’ll definitely find the capital to be one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
Dublin also has plenty of fantastic green spaces like St Stephen’s Green. It also has wonderful Georgian areas, including the famous Merion Square with its 18th-century townhouses.
Join the legion of travelers who head to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells. Also, see the fantastic National Gallery and National Museum of Ireland collections. Unfortunately, the Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square has been closed indefinitely.
Then, head towards Grafton Street for shopping, street entertainers, and a spot for lunch. Later, walk along O’Connell Street, the busiest thoroughfare in the city, where you’ll see the Monument of Light Spire.
In the evening, wander in and out of the pubs, tiny cafes, and art galleries in the Temple Bar quarter. Of course, no trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to the Gravity Bar in the city’s famous Guinness Storehouse.
If you enjoy walking tours, an exceptionally popular Dublin walking tour is the combo Book of Kells Icon Tour and Skip the Line at the Guinness Storehouse from Viator, which also includes free cancellation.
A shorter tour is its 90 Minute Dublin Walking Tour and Sightseeing Tips.
How to Get to Dublin
The most direct way of visiting Dublin from another country is by flying into Dublin Airport. It’s the international airport serving all of Ireland.
For many travelers, the best and least expensive way to go from the airport to downtown is via Aircoach. The fare is €7–14.50 one way and €10.00–20 roundtrip, depending on your drop-off point in the city. See Aircoach for fares and schedules.
Taxi fares are €25-30 from the airport to the city center, higher for hotels not in the center. Be aware that prices may increase depending on traffic congestion, the number of passengers, and the pick-up time and day. (For tipping taxi drivers, it’s customary to round your fare up to the nearest €5 or €10).
See also: Things To Do in Dublin
Must-See Ireland: The Beautiful Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula is Ireland’s westernmost tip, jutting into the Atlantic. It has an abundance of wild and beautiful scenery, some of the most dramatic in the country.
It was that dramatic scenery that drew Hollywood producers here years ago. They filmed the epic 1970 movie Ryan’s Daughter on the peninsula, capturing the beauty of the area for a worldwide audience. It subsequently propelled both the Dingle Peninsula and Ireland to international prominence, forever changing the fortune of Ireland, and making Dingle one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
Still though, the town of Dingle is not very well known among travelers, although that’s changing as more tourists become aware of the peninsula’s rugged beauty.
The town is a colorful fishing port where restaurants and pubs offer an abundance of fresh seafood. Try the local scallops or Glenbeigh Oysters at the restaurant Ashes, maybe while sitting under the photo of the late actor Gregory Peck dining there years ago.
I enjoyed joining the crowd for traditional Irish music in O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub and visiting Foxy John’s pub. Foxy John’s is a combination of pub and hardware store, one of the few remaining in Ireland.
There are several good tours on which you can enjoy the beauty of the peninsula including Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head Drive Group Tour, Private Tour: Dingle Peninsula from Dingle, and the Dingle Peninsula Four Hour Private Tour. All have free cancellation.
How to Get to Dingle
There are a variety of ways to get to Dingle. The drive from Dublin (on the M7 and N21) takes approximately four hours by car (with tolls) and about six hours by bus (a fare of €35-46 for the latter).
The town is also a pleasant one-hour drive from Killarney or a two-hour drive from Shannon. Dingle is also reachable by train from Dublin, but the trip can be convoluted, involving a combination of train, bus, and sometimes a taxi.
Killarney and The Ring of Kerry: Irish Treasures
Killarney is known as “the place that launched a billion postcards.” While I can’t vouch for that Irish hyperbole, I can vouch for the fact that the town of Killarney, Killarney National Park, and the Ring of Kerry are spectacular and renowned Irish treasures. Taken together, they make Killarney one of Ireland’s best places to visit.
Even before the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861, Killarney had already earned its stripes as a tourist hub. Victoria gave six years’ notice of her visit and then arrived with her bed and a 100-person entourage.
Take a jaunting car ride through the beautiful National Park and see Carrauntoohil Mountain, Ireland’s tallest. You’ll see spellbinding lakes and forests and the beautiful Muckross House, the mansion where Victoria stayed.
Then, set off for a drive about the Ring of Kerry, a 100+ mile loop about the Iveragh Peninsula. It’s one of Ireland’s great (and most popular) drives. If you’d rather leave everything to someone else, you may enjoy the Ring of Kerry Day Tour from Killarney (Including Killarney National Park).
How to Get to Killarney
Killarney is reached by car (via the M7 or M8, both toll roads) or train from Dublin (€28-39) in about 4 hours. The four-hour trip via bus is approximately €23-33. There is also a bus service from Shannon via Limerick.
Beautiful 18th Century Powerscourt
In County Wicklow, only a 30-minute drive south of Dublin, you’ll find 18th-century Powerscourt. It’s a vast 75-acre estate with possibly the finest formal gardens in Ireland. It’s great for a half-day trip, and you won’t find crowds of tourists.
When you enter the estate, it takes several minutes to drive up to the mansion and gardens, and you pass horses and sheep grazing along the way, all part of the panorama of the beautiful Wicklow countryside.
It’s an incredibly grand estate with a golf course and a five-star hotel that, thankfully, has been tucked away out of sight.
Built on the site of a 13th-century castle, the mansion, unfortunately, was gutted by fire years ago. It has, however, been partially restored, and two of its rooms appear as they did in the 18th century. The house isn’t open to visitors, but you can visit a café and some shops selling quality Irish goods.
You can visit the estate on a Small-Group Wicklow, Powerscourt, and Glendalough day tour from Dublin. You can also enjoy a private half-day tour, four people maximum, to Wicklow, Powersourt and Glenalough.
How to Get to Powerscourt
The best way to visit Powerscourt from Dublin is by car via the R117 or M50. Alternatively, a taxi will cost €33-43. The one-hour ride on the Line-44 bus will cost €3-4, although you’ll have to walk a half-hour from the bus stop. Admission to the Powerscourt Garden is €12.50 per adult / €9.50 for 65+ / €9 for students / and €5 for children under 16 years.
See also: Four Wonderful Gardens in Ireland
Wild and Austere Connemara, Another Irish Must-See
Ireland’s Connemara Peninsula is a dramatic, nearly treeless land jutting into the Atlantic. A place of rock, peat bogs, moors, and little streams, it’s a desolate and wild Ireland.
Here, you’ll find isolated farms and the wild land of Connemara National Park, punctuated by the peaks of the Twelve Bens. Beyond are Kylemore Lough and the beautiful Kylemore Abbey with a Victorian walled garden.
It’s an incredible 19th-century building set at the base of a near-vertical mountain. A former Benedictine abbey, it’s now a girl’s boarding school.
The small town of Clifden, which anchors it to the rest of the country, is an good place to stop to eat or overnight if you’re traveling through the area.
How to Get to Connemara
The town of Clifden is a 3½-hour drive from Dublin on the M6 and N59. It’s also an easy one-hour drive from Galway through the National Park. A 1½ hour bus ride from Galway to Clifden will cost you $11-17, although you will still need a car to explore the Connemara countryside. If you don’t have a car you’ll likely find the Guided tour of Connemara from Galway of interest. It’s also well priced and has free cancellation.
Galway, a Great City to Visit
With its youthful population and bohemian spirit, Galway is one of the liveliest places to enjoy local culture in all of Ireland. It’s an almost magical place for me, made so by its music and pubs.
Walk into a pub nearly any evening, and you’ll find a lively place reverberating with the sounds of fiddles, banjos, guitars, flutes, and assorted other instruments. It may be the most Irish city in Ireland and is definitely one of my best places to visit in Ireland.
The city also has a reputation for artistic creativity, played yearly in a full calendar of events ranging from music and theater to horse racing and the famous Galway International Oyster Festival. And Instead of going out to lunch one of the days you’re in Galway, you may want to opt for this Galway food walking tour.
You’ll find its charms best enjoyed by simply strolling the city’s lanes and soaking up the atmosphere since plenty keeps you occupied. I love it.
How to Get to Galway
There is also an hourly bus service between Shannon Airport and Galway on Bus Eireann. The fare is €12-19 one way.
One of the Unique Places to Visit in Ireland; The Aran Islands
If you’re visiting Galway and want to taste what Ireland was like in years past, go to the Aran Islands.
Weathered and rugged with about 1,100 residents scattered across three islands, the Islands are windswept spits of landscape covered with grass, where ribbons of road dart here and there and stone walls run in every direction across barren hillsides. They are one of the most unique places to visit in Ireland.
They’re almost other-worldly places where you can get away from the rest of the world, which is why travelers come here. I love them. Many travelers come on day trips, but you’ll find it much more enjoyable to spend a night or two in a B&B instead. However, if your time is limited you my want to join an Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher Cruise from Galway, which will show you two of the most famous places in Ireland.
Although you can reach the Arans by air, most opt for the less costly ferry. But it isn’t always a smooth sail. Even when I crossed in September on a calm sea, the ferry rolled back and forth several times. “About 20 days every winter, it’s so rough you can’t get on or off the island by boat,” an island mini-bus driver told me. “And for another 20, you wish you had.”
How to Get to the Aran Islands
You can reach the Aran Islands via the Aran Island Ferries. The roundtrip fare is €30 adults / €25 age 65+ and students / €15 children). Children under 5 years travel free but must be pre-booked. Fares are from Rossaveel, which is an hour west of Galway. Cars are not allowed.
The ferry runs year-round, and the trip to Inis Mor is about 40 minutes. There is a shuttle bus to Rossaveal from Galway.
You can also reach the Arans (Inishmore, Inisheer, and Inishmaan) by ferry from Doolin in County Clare. Fares from Doolin to Inis Mór are €28 for adults, €22 for seniors/students, and €15 for children. However, this ferry sails only from March through October, and its schedule depends on the tides. The sail is 35 minutes. You can also combine your trip with a cruise to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast in Northern Ireland is one of the best places to visit on the island of Ireland. It is a city recently reborn, thanks in significant part to the Titanic Belfast, one of the most engaging museums you’ll find anywhere.
Ensure you see it even if you’re only in Belfast for a day. It’s also an easy and comfortable day trip by train from Dublin. It’s one of the best places to visit in Ireland and Northern Ireland. To make good use of your time on a day trip to Belfast, consider the Belfast Day Tour From Dublin: Including Titanic Experience.
I highly recommend that you hire one of the city’s famous black taxis for a 1½-hour tour of Belfast. Among other places, the driver will also take you to the famous Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. It was ground zero for the “troubles” of past decades, and political murals still cover many walls.
On your own you can also visit the Cathedral Quarter, the Queen’s Quarter (to visit historic Queen’s University, the Ulster Museum, and the Botanic Gardens). Also, visit St Anne’s Cathedral, known as Belfast Cathedral, a beautiful church with a 130-foot stainless steel spire lofting skyward through a glass platform above the altar.
Across the street is the small Writer’s Square, paying tribute to 27 Northern Ireland authors. Leave a few minutes to pop into the renowned Crown Liquor Saloon. With its centuries-old interior, it’s one of the most ornate pubs in Belfast.
While in Belfast also leave a day or two to enjoy tours to other famous areas outside Belfast. A sampling: Giant’s Causeway Tour Including Game of Thrones Locations, Luxury Private Hire Tour for 2- 6 people around Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway and Whisky Distillery tasting tour from Belfast, and more.
How to Get to Belfast
Belfast is easily reached from Dublin. The 100-mile drive takes approximately two hours from Dublin via the M1 and A1. It is also about two hours by train (€15-23) or bus (€25-38). Both fares are for one-way travel. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, there are no border formalities when traveling from the Republic of Ireland.
The Incredible Burren
You won’t find many travelers who seek out The Burren, a vast, treeless limestone plateau in County Clare where a moonscape-like austerity gives it a unique beauty. (It’s a unique botanical environment of Alpine and Mediterranean plants).
This difference alone – it looks so different from the rest of the country – makes it one of Ireland’s best places to visit.
Those who do seek it out usually come to see the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb dating from 3200 – 3800 BC. Excavated in 1986, it’s the most famous of the 170+ portal tombs scattered about Ireland.
An analysis of the remains of 22 bodies and various artifacts found in the tomb has provided insight into the lives of Irish Neolithic people. Signs along the walkway leading to the tomb explain it well.
If you don’t have a car, a good way to get see the Burren is the air-conditioned coach day tour Dublin: Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Wild Atlantic and Galway Tour. This 12½- hour tour is five-star and has won TripAdvisor’s “Traveler’s Choice Award” and the “Best of the Best.” All cancellations are free.
How to Get to The Burren
The best way to reach The Burren is via car from Galway, a distance of approximately 35 miles. It is a one-hour drive from Limerick and a 2½- hour drive from Dublin.
Beautiful, Charming Westport
Up in County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast, the town of Westport is quite attractive with tree-lined streets, eye-catching shops, and many restaurants and pubs, especially along charming Bridge Street.
The most famous of the pubs is Matt Molloy’s, a pub named for, and owned by, the flutist of the Grammy-Award winning musical group The Chieftains. If you’ve never seen a Grammy before here’s your chance – it’s right there behind the bar. In fact, you may pass Matt Molloy’s on a Walking Tour of Beautiful Westport.
Westport was once voted “the best place to live in Ireland,” and its setting reaffirms it. But go further afield and visit the town’s surrounding area, including Clew Bay, west of the city. There, you’ll find an 18th-century Westport House mansion, built on the site of a castle of pirate Grace O’Malley. If you enjoy horseback riding you can see Clew Bay, and other areas on a guided Beach and Countryside Horse Riding outing.
How to Get to Westport
Westport is approximately a 1½-hour drive by car or bus (€11-15) north from Galway. There is a train from Galway, but the ride is much longer and more expensive than that by bus. If you’re coming from Dublin, plan for a three-hour trip by car or train (€23-33) or a five-hour bus ride (€27-41).
A Great Part of Ireland: The Southeast
Ireland’s Southeast differs significantly from its rugged Atlantic coast. You’ll find low-rolling hills and lush valleys here, especially in Waterford, Kilkenny, and Wexford counties.
Waterford is Ireland’s oldest city, thanks to the arrival of the Vikings in 914. Today it’s famous because of Waterford crystal, and the beauty of its countryside. You can enjoy both Kilkenny and Waterford on the Waterford Crystal and Kilkenny Rail Tour from Dublin.
Visit the city of Kilkenny, one of Ireland’s most historic towns (see Kilkenny Castle and grab a pint and a bite to eat at Kyteler’s Inn, a medieval coaching inn), and the Hook Peninsula in Wexford and Waterford. I found the drive along the coast of Wexford beautiful.
How to Get to Kilkenny and Wexford
Kilkenny is easily reached by car (via the M9), bus (€10-18) or train (€14-20) from Dublin. They all take a bit less than 2 hours. Wexford on the southeast coast is a two-hour drive (on the N11 and M11) from Dublin or approximately 2½ hours by train (€15-22) or bus (€15-48).
See also: Day Trips from Dublin
Another of the Best Places to Visit: Beautiful Donegal
The County of Donegal doesn’t attract much attention in the northwest corner of Ireland. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much – it’s beautiful and green and without the crowds. It’s a wonderful place to visit if you’re willing to take the drive.
The city of Donegal is a vest-pocket little town with a castle right in the middle of it. Just blocks away, steep hills coddle the city, a pleasant Irish town to walk about.
There’s not a lot to see in Donegal town. In fact, many travelers mainly use it as a base for exploring the surrounding Donegal countryside.
East of town is the dramatic Slieve League, the highest cliff face in Europe. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride to get to, but it is pretty beautiful. Continue where the road turns inland, and you’ll come to the interesting Folk Village Museum outside the small town of Glencolumbkille.
How to Get to Donegal
It’s 140 miles from Dublin to Donegal, a drive that will take approximately three hours on the N3. Add another hour if you’re traveling by bus (€21-33). From Galway, the trip to Donegal is approximately 2½ hours by car and three hours by bus (€19-27).
If You Go:
Irish Tourist Board
345 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10154
Tel. (800) 223-6470