These famous Irish landmarks and beautiful historical sites and villages make up the best places to visit in Ireland.
Everyone has their own variation on the 'top sites in Ireland' and 'the best places to visit if you’re making your first trip.' With plenty of internationally famous places and landmarks, it’s easy to see why Ireland just keeps attracting more and more people as the world flocks to see our beautiful isle.
If you’re not sure where to start on your first trip or you’re looking to make a whirlwind adventure through all the top sites, we’d highly recommend including these Best Places to Visit in Ireland on your itinerary.
Top landmarks in Ireland:
Cliffs of Moher
Come rain or shine, the Cliffs of Moher are truly magnificent and always one of the best places to visit in Ireland! As one of the country’s most visited natural attractions, these Co. Clare cliffs rise 700 ft above the Atlantic Ocean and run from near the village of Doolin to Hags Head five miles further north along the coastline.
These magnificent cliffs are believed to have been carved out by a river delta some 320 million years ago and offer up spectacular views, including glimpses of Galway Bay, the distant Twelve Pins mountain range, and the northern Maum Turk Mountains.
More info: www.cliffsofmoher.ie
As legend has it, the Giant’s Causeway is the ruined remains of a pathway to Scotland built by Irish mythological hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill (sounds like Finn MacCool) so he could fight Scottish giant Benandonner. The other side of the pathway was said to finish at Fingal's Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, where the same natural phenomenon appears.
In reality, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a unique landscape of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns and cliffs, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The columns are believed to have been created around 50 to 60 million years ago.
More info: www.giantscausewayofficialguide.com
Another Co. Clare favorite, the karst landscape of the Burren is the closest you’ll get to feeling as if you’re walking on the surface of another planet while you’re in Ireland. With over 700 different species of plants and insects making a home for themselves on this stark, rocky terrain, the Burren is a place of great natural beauty, with various marked trails guiding you through the park and helping you explore many fascinating and beautiful habitats, such as calcareous grasslands, woodlands and limestone pavement.
The jigsaw-like land surface of limestone has been slowly developed through thousands of years of acid erosion, providing an inspiring landscape that is sure to win your heart.
More info: www.burrennationalpark.ie
Top historical sites in Ireland:
Newgrange and the Boyne Valley
No trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to Newgrange and the surrounding Boyne Valley. The majestic burial chamber is older than the pyramids and holds the key to the country’s ancient history.
Newgrange is a 5,200-year-old passage tomb built by Stone Age farmers, making it older than England's Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The monument is an incredible feat of architecture and engineering. It is perfectly aligned with the rising of the sun on the morning of the Winter Solstice (around Dec 21), allowing sunlight to flood the passageway and light up the chamber at its end. The large circular mound is 250' in diameter and 40' high and is ringed by 97 large kerbstones, some of which are engraved with symbols called megalithic art.
Newgrange is in Meath, one of the original five provinces of Ireland. Meath fared well in ancient Ireland with thanks to the rich and easily-farmed lands of the Boyne Valley. Newgrange and its sister mounds at Knowth and Dowth are proof of the rich lifestyle of the ancient Co. Meath farmers. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the three mounds are magical to behold, given the depth of the history behind them and how long they have survived in a land greatly changed since their construction.
Access to Newgrange is only available via a guided tour but a full tour of the whole Boyne Valley region is highly recommended.
More information: www.newgrange.com
Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin
The Book of Kells with its elaborate decorations illuminating the texts of the four gospels is Ireland’s most renowned historic manuscript. Depicted within the 340 folios of calf vellum, now bound in four separate volumes, are full-page illustrations dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Evangelists as well as many other smaller decorative illustrations spread throughout the gospels.
The book is believed to have been created in 800 AD somewhere in Britain or Ireland in a Columban monastery, but its exact origins are the topic of much debate. The book takes its name from the Abbey of Kells which had been its home for centuries before moving to the Dublin library.
A major tourist attraction, the manuscript has been housed in the Old Library in Trinity since 1953.
More info: www.tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells
The beautiful Glendalough was the site of the renowned early medieval monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin. It is located in a stunning valley in the Wicklow mountains. St. Kevin’s Trail follows in the saint’s steps through the peaceful countryside, taking in the Wicklow Gap and the Glendasan River, and explores the monastery where Kevin spent most of his life in prayer.
Glendalough, meaning “Valley of Two Lakes,” is nestled in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains National Park making it a perfect day trip from Dublin after you’ve visited the Book of Kells. Co. Wicklow, the “Garden of Ireland,” offers up a stunning backdrop to this momentous historical site with its peaceful meadows, vast lakes, and hills boasting blankets of beautiful purple heather.
More info: www.glendalough.ie
Most beautiful places to visit in Ireland:
Ring of Kerry
For the outstanding views of Ireland that you’d only previously imagined in your dreams, the kingdom of Kerry is the best places to visit in Ireland. From the rugged Beara Peninsula to the Kerry Way – Ireland’s longest and oldest walking route – every bend in the road will take your breath away with its beauty as you travel the 120 miles of Ireland’s most jaw-dropping landscape.
Whether you’re renting a car or traveling as part of a bus tour, make sure to stop off at Killarney National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage biosphere reserve that is home not just to Ross Castle but to a herd of wild red deer.
An area of astounding natural beauty, the whole route around the Ring of Kerry is estimated to take around three hours in a car, but we'd hazard a guess that nobody has managed to complete the round in that time, what with all the incredible views demanding you stop and take pictures.
The area is also a great choice if you're an outdoors kind of person, offering golf, watersports, cycling, walking, horse-riding, and terrific freshwater fishing and deep-sea angling, as well as plenty of forts and monasteries for those of you who prefer brushing up on your history.
More info: www.theringofkerry.com
The three Aran islands – Inishmore, Inishmaan, and the smallest, Inisheer – are a wild, windy, and utterly unique landscape, accessible by ferry from the mainland. With just a few thousand inhabitants, the islands are part of the Irish-speaking areas of the country and will offer you an experience like no other.
Famous, of course, for their traditional knitted Aran sweaters, you’ll also find the world famous site Dún Aonghasa, a great stone fort perched high on a cliff above the crashing waves of the Atlantic and the most famous of the prehistoric hill forts that lie on the Aran Islands.
It is not known exactly when the structure was built, but it is thought to have been at some point in the Bronze Age or Iron Age. Not only is the popular tourist spot an archaeological site of great significance, but it also offers some of the most spectacular views to be seen in the whole of Ireland (and that’s really saying something).
More info: www.aranislands.ie
Glenveagh National Park
We travel north from here to Co. Donegal, the county voted the coolest destination in the world by National Geographic Traveller for 2017. Its largest tourist attraction, Glenveagh National Park, is the second largest national park in the country, providing 14,000 acres to hikers and fishermen alike.
With Ireland’s largest herd of red deer, the park is also home to Glenveagh Castle where you can enjoy a nice cup of tea after a day well spent on the trails.
TripAdvisor described this place as “heaven on Earth” and is there really any higher praise than that?
Located among the native oak woodlands that wash over the Derryveagh Mountains in the northwest of the county, the park's center is Lough Veagh, carefully watched over by the castle towers at the water's edge. Originally built as a hunting lodge, the castellated mansion also boasts magnificent gardens where art and nature meet.
More info: www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie
Most famous places in Ireland:
Westport, Co. Mayo
This charismatic little town has stolen the heart of many a traveler with its brightly colored shop-fronts and energetic feel. A regular winner of awards for its upkeep, Westport is a vibrant little town, the third largest in Mayo, that offers up a foodie’s paradise as well as a haven for those who are looking to enjoy some Irish traditional music.
If you can drag yourself away from the town ... Westport positions you perfectly for day-long excursions to the Clew Bay Trail and Ballycroy National Park to explore the walking and cycling paths.
More info: www.destinationwestport.com
Although always a widely popular attraction, Skellig Michael was catapulted into global fame over the past few years thanks to its appearance in the latest edition of the "Star Wars" movie franchise, showing people what a remarkable place it is and why it should be considered one of the best places to visit in Ireland.
The mystic Skellig Michael, an uninhabited pinnacle of rock jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean, rises over 75 feet above water level. The island is 11 miles out from the small Kerry fishing town of Portmagee. With the ruins of an ancient monastery standing eerily at the island’s peak, Skellig Michael was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
The larger of the two Skellig Islands and located to the southwest of Valentia Island, Skellig Michael is not a tourist destination for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights as small steps cut into the rock by Irish monks centuries ago lead upwards towards the world-famous and incredible well-preserved early Christian monastic site.
It is more than worth the effort to reach the tip of the island but if the thought of bout of seasickness is just too much for you, viewing spots of the islands from various points along the Ring of Kerry also offer sights of the island in unforgettable settings.
More info: skelligislands.com
Always topping the lists of best things to do in Ireland, Blarney Castle is home to the famous Blarney Stone, said to give the gift of the gab to anybody who kisses it. The stone was built into a tower of the Blarney Castle in 1446 but its exact origins are unknown. Some link it to the goddess Cliodhna and Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, while others believe a witch saved from drowning revealed its powers to the McCarthys, the lords of Blarney.
Apart from the stone, kissed by hundreds/thousands every year, Blarney is always worth a visit for the history of the castle itself, as well as the immaculate gardens. A medieval castle built over 600 years ago outside of Blarney town by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac McCarthy, Blarney Castle is extremely well-preserved.
Visitors can also explore the beautiful, history-laden grounds – the magical gardens, the mystical Rock Close, the Badger’s Cave, a dungeon, the spell-binding Witches Stone and kitchen, and the Wishing Steps, as well as small streams, brooks, and a lake.
More info: www.blarneycastle.ie
What do you think are the best places to visit in Ireland? Let us know about your favorites in the comments section below.