12 Best Places to Visit in Ireland: Things to Do in Ireland
Ireland is on most traveler’s bucket lists, and for good reason. Everything you’ve probably heard about it is true – it’s breathtaking. The landscapes not only include its world-famous coastal scenery where vibrant green hills spill down to golden beaches thrashed by azure Atlantic waves, but dramatic mountain ranges with sparkling lakes and streams, everywhere from Connemara to Killarney, not to mention its island gems. There are castles dotted throughout, from crumbling ruins to grand castle hotels along with the occasional medieval structures where ghosts are still said to roam. While its decidedly modern, there are plenty of places to discover the old traditions, where residents still speak Irish Gaelic, at least to each other, along with pubs where families gather to play games, listen to music, or play their own.
No matter what you’re hoping to get out of your trip, be sure to put some of the best places to visit in Ireland on your itinerary to ensure an unforgettable trip.
List of Top 12 Places in Ireland
- The Cliffs of Moher
- Killarney National Park and Muckross House & Gardens
- Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
- The Ring of Kerry
- Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
- Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow
- The Rock of Cashel
- Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
- Kinsale, Co. Cork
- The Dingle Peninsula
- Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
- The Aran Islands
1. The Cliffs of Moher
Popular Activities in The Cliffs of Moher
- Cliff walk
- Stunning sea, island, and mountain views
- Songs of the Celtic harp
Best Time To Visit The Cliffs of Moher
In the late spring and summer.
About The Cliffs of Moher
One of the most iconic tourist attractions in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher tower more than 700 feet over the Atlantic, along the County Clare coast. In the late spring and summer, the beauty is even more dramatic with colorful wildflowers, and you’re more likely to enjoy pleasant weather. As this is one of the busiest times of year, a more tranquil experience can be had by visiting earlier in the morning, before 10 a.m., or after 4 p.m. If you’re here at dusk, you’ll be able to enjoy it all with an especially colorful backdrop as the sun sinks down below the Atlantic. That includes one of the world’s most spectacular cliff walks which delivers exceptional views of the Aran Islands and the Twelve Pins Mountain Range in Connemara.
If you’re here during the peak summer season, listen for the sounds of the Celtic harp, often played at the edge of the cliffs. Film buffs might be interested to know that these stunning crags were used in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and doubled as the Cliffs of Insanity in “The Princess Bride.”
2. Killarney National Park and Muckross House & Gardens
Popular Activities in Killarney National Park and Muckross House & Gardens
- Waterfall and lake views
- Kayaking and canoeing
- Estate and garden tour
Best Time To Visit Killarney National Park and Muckross House & Gardens
While many will tell you that summer is the best time to visit, rain is possible in any season. Spring and autumn bring glorious colors and fewer crowds.
About Killarney National Park and Muckross House & Gardens
An incredibly enchanting destination along the famous Ring of Kerry, home to sparkling lakes, dramatic mountains, waterfalls, dense forest, and even a castle. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of outdoor adventures from kayaking and canoeing to biking and hiking, including the short walk to Torc Waterfall which cascades 66 feet, surrounded by lush greenery. Just across the road from the waterfall parking lot you’ll often seen a horse-and-carriage stopped, waiting to take passengers on a tour of the park, or to visit Muckross House, one of the top sites in Ireland, which includes a number of historic buildings and formal gardens. The estate dates back to the 17th-century, with the house and gardens open daily for the public to explore.
You’ll also find a walking path that begins and ends at Muckross, providing many outstanding photo-ops. While many will tell you that summer is the best time to visit, rain is possible in any season. Spring and autumn bring glorious colors and fewer crowds.
3. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Popular Activities in The Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
- Guided tour
Best Time To Visit The Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Aim to visit in the morning as the line for tickets can be long in the afternoon, especially during the summer months.
About The Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
While visiting a jail might not sound all that enjoyable, the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, is one of the most interesting Ireland attractions having held some of the most famous political and military leaders in Irish history. That includes Irish president Eamon de Valera, Robert Emmett who was the leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1803, and the leader of the Irish nationalist movement from 1880 through 1882, Charles Stewart Parnell. A visit will provide insight into what it might have been like to be locked up here in this forbidding bastion of punishment that was open for nearly 130 years, between 1796 and 1924.
Visitors can take a guided tour and explore the museum which reveals a very gruesome part of the country’s history. Not surprisingly, this hauntingly eerie old prison is also filled with ghost stories that include everything from unexplained noises and strange cold spots to sightings of apparitions dressed in period clothing.
4. The Ring of Kerry
Popular Activities in The Ring of Kerry
- Scenic drive
- Outdoor activities: hiking, golfing, horseback riding
- Boat trip to Skellig Michael
Best Time To Visit The Ring of Kerry
Aim to travel the route in March or April, or between August and October.
About The Ring of Kerry
A circular drive that travels about 111 miles around southwest Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry is one of the must do things in Ireland, traversing through deep forest to golden beaches framed by the crashing waves of the Atlantic. It passes through Killarney National Park and endless magnificent landscapes with rushing rivers, waterfalls, and towering mountains where wild deer roam until reaching the coast, winding right alongside the ocean, hugging vibrant green hills crossed with stone fences. Kenmare, with its stone cottages and gardens is one of the most popular towns along the way, a haven of tranquility where you’ll find opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, and golfing, along with top-notch pubs and eateries.
By venturing slightly off the main route to the tiny village of Portmagee, you can hop on a boat to Skellig Michael. The largest of the Skellig Islands, it not only offers jaw-dropping views, but you’ll be able to walk in the footsteps of the monks who lived here between the 6th and 8th centuries in an ancient monastery. It’s become one of the top things to see in Ireland, thanks in part to its appearance in the final scene of 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” To avoid traffic, aim to travel the route in March or April, or between August and October. You won’t have the roads to yourself but there will be far fewer people visiting and a decent chance for sunshine.
5. Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Popular Activities in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
- Ancient history
- Fall foliage
Best Time To Visit Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Usually from mid-October through mid-November.
About Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Almost always on lists of the Ireland top 10 things to do, Glendalough means “Valley of the Two Lakes.” Located in Wicklow Mountains National Park, it’s renowned for its ancient heritage and breathtaking views as the home of a former monastic settlement that was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th-century. This was once a thriving city, considered one of the great ecclesiastical centers in Ireland, with a cathedral, farm, homes, and other buildings.
Today, Glendalough’s round tower is one of the most popular subjects for photographs and there are multiple scenic walking trails that will bring you to the lakes, into the mountains and to the natural caves known as St. Kevin’s Bed and St. Kevin’s Cave, which sit on a steep cliff face. You’ll get some of the most impressive photos when the colors of autumn arrive, usually from mid-October through mid-November.
6. Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow
Popular Activities in Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow
- Beautiful garden walks
- Shops selling artisan crafted items
Best Time To Visit Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow
Visit in the spring or early summer.
About Powerscourt House and Gardens, Co. Wicklow
A must for anyone who wants to fill their Instagram feed, Powerscourt House and Gardens is nestled in the Wicklow Mountains. When wondering what to do in Ireland when you’re only here for a short time, this is one of the best to visit as it’s just a 35-minute drive from Dublin Airport. The Palladian villa was built in the 18th-century and sits upon 47 acres of stunningly lush parkland with ponds, ornamental lakes, waterfalls, statuary, colorful flowers and plants, and secret hollows that looks as if they could be home to a few Irish fairies. There are walking paths that wind through the landscapes and cascading terraces which are all framed by a backdrop of the mountains. To see the garden in bloom, visit in the spring or early summer.
The house itself is worth a visit, hosting the Avoca Terrace Café which has a menu of home-cooked Irish dishes, along with a variety of shops selling artisan crafted items with a focus on Irish design.
7. The Rock of Cashel
Popular Activities in The Rock of Cashel
- Medieval architecture
- Celtic art
- Ancient Irish history
Best Time To Visit The Rock of Cashel
The Rock is open year-round and best visited in the morning, late afternoon, and evening.
About The Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel dates all the way back to the 4th-century AD, with the Eoghanachta clan ruling from the stronghold for hundreds of years, losing possession to Brian Boru. Crowned here in the 10th-century, he became the most famous king, unifying the entire island of Ireland under one ruler. Located in the town of Cashel in County Tipperary, it towers above the surrounding countryside on an outcrop of limestone. It includes a 12th-century round tower, a 13th-century Gothic-style cathedral, a Romanesque chapel, and 15th-century castle. It’s one of Europe’s impressive collections of medieval architecture and Celtic art, not to mention one of the must places to see in Ireland for Irish history enthusiasts.
The Rock is open year-round and best visited in the morning, late afternoon, and evening when you’ll be able to capture photos without hordes or tourists in the way.
8. Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
Popular Activities in The Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
- Kiss the Blarney Stone
- A castle with a dungeon, underground passages and chambers
- Stroll through gardens
Best Time To Visit The Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
It’s enjoyable to visit Blarney Castle anytime of year.
About The Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
While it may be a tourist thing to do, you don’t want to leave Ireland without having kissed the Blarney Stone. Plus, you’ll be able to explore the castle that it sits atop. Blarney Castle was built more than 600 years ago and is a sight to behold. Avoid indulging in too much Guinness or Irish whiskey the night before because it requires climbing numerous sets of steep winding stairs before being dangled over a crevice to give the rock a smooch. Underneath the castle is a maze of underground passages and chambers that date from various periods in its history, including Blarney’s prison and dungeon.
There’s plenty to see in the gorgeous grounds that surrounded it too, with more than 60 acres of vast park and that include waterways, gardens, and arboretums. Look out for the Witch’s Kitchen, a rock with the unmistakable shape of a witch’s profile. According to legend, the witch has been trapped in the rock since the dawn of time. It’s enjoyable to visit Blarney Castle anytime of year, but as it’s one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, you can expect plenty of tour busses and big crowds. Aim to arrive when it opens at 9 a.m. to avoid them.
9. Kinsale, Co. Cork
Popular Activities in Kinsale, Co. Cork
- Castle museum
- Dolphin and whale watching
- Ring fort
Best Time To Visit Kinsale, Co. Cork
August and September are the best months to visit.
About Kinsale, Co. Cork
The historic fishing village of Kinsale sits along the River Bandon and is incredibly atmospheric with its narrow streets lined with vibrantly painted homes and centuries-old buildings like the 12th-century St. Multose Church and Desmond Castle which dates back to 1500 AD. The castle was once a custom house and a naval prison, but today it serves as a museum focused on the village’s roots in the wine trade that tells the story of Irish wine-trading families, including Hennessy of brandy fame. Visitors can pop into galleries, independent shops, and lively pubs to enjoy a pint with the locals and perhaps some traditional Irish tunes as well. There’s also a ring fort to climb and take in magnificent views of the town and the harbor.
If you plan on taking a whale watching trip, August and September are the best months to visit as you’ll have the opportunity to spot fin whales, minke whales, and humpbacks along with harbour porpoises and dolphins that are here year-round.
10. The Dingle Peninsula
Popular Activities in The Dingle Peninsula
- Ancient ruins
- Spectacular mountain and ocean scenery
- Live traditional Irish tunes
Best Time To Visit The Dingle Peninsula
This is a surfer’s paradise with major swells starting in mid-September onwards, bringing the most consistent waves in autumn.
About The Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula is the northernmost of County Kerry’s major peninsulas. Unlike the Ring of Kerry where the cliffs dominate, here the Atlantic steals the show. It’s where you’ll find that quintessential Ireland scenery with lush emerald hills and golden sands framed by cobalt blue waters. In the backdrop are the Slieve Mish Mountains, including Mount Brandon, the second-highest peak in the country. This is a surfer’s paradise with major swells starting in mid-September onwards, bringing the most consistent waves in autumn. There are many ancient ruins to explore as well, including a high concentration of ringforts.
The town of Dingle itself makes a great base for enjoying it all, with countless pubs hosting live traditional music on any given day of the week.
11. Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Popular Activities in Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
- Impressive 15th-century castle
- Medieval banquets
- Recreated historic buildings
Best Time To Visit Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
It’s open year-round, with spring and autumn good times to visit to avoid the crowds.
About Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Bunratty Castle was built in 1425 on the site of a 10th-century Viking trading camp, open to the public for self-guided tours with rooms filled with period furnishings. The highlight is the dungeon. In the castle’s early days, prisoners were blindfolded and told to walk 13 steps but as there were only 12, when taking that 13th step, they would plunge 10 feet into the darkness at the bottom. The castle also hosts medieval banquets with musicians in period costumes, complete with mead and fine wine, enjoyed at long, candlelit oak tables.
The folk park is just outside the castle and includes a number of recreated historical buildings and cottages that can be explored, along with a few gift and craft shops. It’s open year-round, with spring and autumn good times to visit to avoid the crowds. Be aware that it’s one of the top sites in Ireland, with frequent stops made in the summer by tour buses. Winter is the quietest time and can be especially enjoyable as the frequent grey skies make it even more atmospheric as well as providing excellent photo-ops.
12. The Aran Islands
Popular Activities in The Aran Islands
- Ancient ruins
- Tranquil walks
- Authentic ‘Old-World’ Ireland
- Dolphin watching
Best Time To Visit The Aran Islands
The best time to visit the islands is “off season” in May-June and September-October.
About The Aran Islands
Located off Ireland’s Galway coast, easily reached by ferry or plan, the Aran Islands are made up of three rocky islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer. Known for their Old-World feel, this is where you’ll find the Ireland of yesteryear, where locals speak Irish Gaelic and English is their second language. The entire population is only a collective 1,200, with more sheep than humans living here. You’ll discover dreamy landscapes that include a maze of stone walls and fishermen wearing wool sweaters who still haul the day’s catch in traditional currach boats. Inishmore has the largest population, home to Aonghasa Fort which sits at the edge of a precipitous 300-foot-high cliff spanning its entire western section. One of the most remarkable in Europe, it’s believed to date to the late Bronze Age and includes three concentric semicircle stone walls that are massive in height and thickness.
Inisheer is the smallest of the three and the most tranquil, but there are a couple of local pubs where you can enjoy a meal and occasional live music. But this is a place to simply wander, enjoying peaceful walks across the two-square-mile island, perhaps to the famous shipwreck Plassy or the Inisheer Lighthouse to soak up the views that look out to the Cliffs of Moher. There’s even a white sandy beach that looks as if it was stolen from the Caribbean with its clear turquoise waters frequently visited by the local dolphin residents call Sandy.
No matter where you go in the Emerald Isle, if you’re hoping to discover the “real Ireland,” don’t rush. The highlights of a trip often come in the least expected moments, like a rainy afternoon when the clouds suddenly part and a rainbow appears – you might just start to believe that there really is treasure on the other side.