Ireland is beloved worldwide as an enchanting land where legend and reality mingle. At one point voted by Frommers Guide readers as their favourite holiday destination in the world, it’s now your turn to discover the mystique and charm of the Emerald Isle.
1. Tour the Castles of Ireland
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Haunted, gothic, stately, or imposing, Irish castles radiate the romantic feel of this beautiful country. Cahir, Kilkenny and Dunguaire Castles all evoke magical visions of fair maidens, brave kings and frightful dungeons. Blarney Castle in County Cork (shown here) is one of the most visited castles in Ireland. Famous for the Blarney Stone-legend states that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you’ll receive the gift of eternal eloquence-visitors literally bend over backwards to plant a smooch on this fabled rock set into the castle’s wall. Amorous acrobatics aside, this 15th century castle offers battlement views, vibrant gardens and mysterious underground caves.
2. Tour the Guinness Storehouse
Raise a pint-or two-to Ireland’s favourite tipple. The Guinness Storehouse and its St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin welcomes over 1-million visitors each year to their on-site stout producing plant. Brewing over 3-million pints daily, the Guinness Storehouse gives a behind-the-scenes look into their thirst-quenching enterprise. Witness the brewing process, get hands-on experience pulling pints, and sample the final product. The hospitality extends to light refreshments and traditional Irish meals in four eating establishments. Or satisfy your cravings with a well-earned pint while taking in the stunning 360-degree views of Dublin from the relaxing environs of their Gravity bar.
3. Have an Irish Adventure
Come to Ireland and exercise your inner thrill-seeker! Experience the rugged countryside and gorgeous vistas through adventurous, heart-pounding pursuits. Get up close and personal with nature through surfing, sea kayaking, paragliding, rock climbing, caving, mountain biking and walking. Hiking along Ireland’s evergreen hills and atop its windswept cliffs comes very highly recommended-National Geographic voted Ireland’s walks as the best in the world.
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4. Discover History at Every Turn
In a country as ancient and storied as Ireland, visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to historical sites of interest. One such site, Brú na Bóinne in County Meath is older than England’s Stonehenge and Egypt’s Giza Pyramids. This Neolithic site of henges, standing stones and burial chambers was built around 3200 B.C., and is highlighted by several large passage tombs: Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange. Immensely popular year round, Brú na Bóinne gets extra attention during the winter solstice. Each December, a beam of sunlight pierces through a mysterious opening in the Newgrange mound and illuminates its chamber for a few brief minutes. So many tourists flock to Newgrange to greet the dawn each solstice that an annual lottery is now held for access inside the chamber.
5. Take In the Breathtaking Scenery
Beautiful and untouched, Ireland’s scenery is beyond compare. West Cork, Dingle, Galway, the Ring of Kerry-the list of postcard-worthy places is endless. One such picturesque site is the Rock of Cashel (also known as St. Patrick’s Rock) in County Tipperary. Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, this formidable fortress boasts a round tower, cathedral and chapel bearing priceless Celtic art and medieval architecture. Legend has it in the 5th century, St. Patrick converted Aenghus the King of Munster to Christianity at this very spot.
6. Experience the Festivals
Love a good party? So do the Irish. From St. Patrick’s Day Festivals to the Cork Sailing Festival and the Galway Arts Festival, there are over 400 celebrations on tap each year. Music, food, literary, Celtic, film and comedy festivals keep the good craic rolling. Not surprisingly, one of the most anticipated and beloved parties revolves around Ireland’s national holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. Parades, expressive costumes, street theatre and a lively carnival atmosphere will leave you spellbound.
7. Visit Dublin
Cities often get a bad rap for being cold, heartless destinations, but not Dublin. Ireland’s capital is bursting with personality and a youthful buzz. A bustling metropolis alive with entertaining cultural pursuits, fine museums, beautiful architecture and lively pubs, Dublin offers something for everyone. Purchase a Dublin Pass and gain free access to over 30 top Dublin attractions, plus discounts for restaurants, shops, theatre, tours and transportation as well as a free city guidebook.
8. Experience Pub Culture
If you fancy a pint, witty conversation and a taste of authentic Irish hospitality, look no further than the local Irish pub. Lonely Planet, the best-selling travel guide, raves about Ireland’s pub culture-and for good reason. Ireland’s pubs have a reputation for delicious stouts and lagers, and friendly patrons. Many Irish pubs feature live music-both traditional and modern-as well as hearty fare such as beef and Guinness pie. Some pubs are taking their menu offerings to new taste-tempting heights, providing customers with fine dining to accompany their beloved pints.
(Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland)
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9. Revel in Irish Folklore
A visit to Ireland isn’t complete without some traditional Irish folklore. In a land famous for fairies, merrows and leprechauns, the mysterious Giant’s Causeway-the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland-is the setting for one of the most cherished legends. According to tales, the remarkable stones were the work of an Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool). He built the Causeway to keep his feet dry while he walked to Scotland. Locals speak of the Causeway’s Chimney Stacks and Organ as proof that McCool lived here, while geologists suggest that a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago created the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that amaze Causeway visitors today.
10. Dine on Irish Cuisine
If you thought Irish cuisine was solely based on the beloved potato, think again. Foodies are discovering that Ireland is a must-dine destination. Traditional dishes such as Irish stew, soda bread, farmhouse cheese, and colcannon (cabbage/kale and potatoes) are still on the menu, but the new wave of Irish cooking focuses on fresh, locally-grown ingredients and the catch of the day. Wild Atlantic salmon, plump oysters, melt-in-your-mouth scallops and poached lobster complete for your appetite with Dublin Bay prawns, char-grilled swordfish and grilled sole. Ireland’s seafood bounty is so famous (and delicious) that it has inspired the annual Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival each September.
BY JACKIE MIDDLETON