Nobody can let you in on the secret spots of Ireland quite like a local.
From new museums and ancient castles to stunning walks and one-of-a-kind activities, follow these local tips to make your visit to Ireland extra special.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace
The works and words of Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney are treasured by people all across the island of Ireland - so much so that in 2015, a poll by RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, announced a Heaney poem, “When All the Others Were Away at Mass,” as Ireland’s favorite poem of the past 100 years.
After Heaney’s death in 2013, plans were set in motion to create a fitting tribute to the iconic poet, a place where people could continue to connect with his creative vision. The Seamus Heaney HomePlace opened in 2016, in his home village of Bellaghy, County Derry-Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, just a short drive from the Walled City of Derry. There you will find exhibitions on Heaney’s life, a replica of the study where he crafted some of his finest works, memories from friends and fellow luminaries, and a packed schedule of readings, talks, and performances.
Mussel harvesting in Killary Harbour
Killary Harbour, also known as Killary Fjord, is one of the most beautiful natural sites in Connemara. The fjord - one of Ireland’s only - spans a length of nearly 10 miles along the border between Galway and Mayo. At Killary, you can get some insight into the local fishing and seafood industry by taking a tour with Killary Fjord Shellfish.
The family-owned business run by Simon Kennedy and Kate O’Connor Kennedy for over three decades got its start shipping mussels to food distributors in Ireland and abroad, and they have since become one of the foremost fresh shellfish suppliers to restaurants along the Wild Atlantic Way. See what a day-in-the-life is like by going on a tour. You’ll head out on the boat and be there as the mussels are hauled aboard, harvested, graded, and cleaned. Once back on land, you can have a go at shucking your own oysters and enjoy some delicious shellfish options.
Where can you walk among relics that span the centuries? On Devenish Island, in Northern Ireland’s gorgeous Lough Erne. In the 6th century, St. Molaise founded a monastic site here. It was raided by Vikings in the year 837, burned to the ground in 1157, and then rose from the ashes as St. Mary’s Augustine Priory in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Today, you can still see what remains of the round tower and St. Molaise’s house from the 12th century; Teampull Mór, a 13th-century church; St. Mary’s priory; and its adjoining graveyard, which includes the intricately carved Devenish Cross, from the 15th century. All of this on one island that takes up less than one square mile in total. To get there, take the ferry from Trory Point, and be sure to leave time to explore the lovely town of Enniskillen on the mainland.
Powerscourt House and Gardens
Did you know that one of the most beautiful gardens in the world is located just 12 miles (20 km) outside of Dublin’s city center? Powerscourt House and Gardens in County Wicklow makes for one of the loveliest day trips from Dublin you could imagine. The 18th-century estate features 47 acres of gardens and formal walks that were laid out over the course of 150 years, in addition to natural wonders like Ireland's highest waterfall.
The Palladian mansion originally dates from the 13th century and has at least 68 rooms. Outside the house, the main attractions on the grounds include the Tower Valley, the Japanese gardens, winged horse statues, Triton Lake, a pet cemetery, Dolphin Pond, a walled garden, the Bamberg Gate and the Italian Garden. The gardens’ design was inspired by the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna, and Schwetzingen Castle near Heidelberg. On the estate, you’ll also find a golf course, a hotel, and an Avoca Handweavers location for hand-knit designs and delicious food.
Whale and dolphin watching in Baltimore
No, not the Baltimore in Maryland! We mean the charming coastal town of Baltimore in County Cork. A popular summer destination for locals, Baltimore is part of the southernmost parish in all of Ireland and the perfect place to see some majestic sea creatures like dolphins and whales. Head out to sea with a local tour provider like Aquaventures, Whale Watch West Cork, Baltimore Yacht Charters, or Baltimore Sea Safari. Lough Hyne, Ireland’s first maritime nature preserve, is just 3.1 miles (5 km) outside of town.
Make sure to go on a coastal stroll to see the unique Baltimore Beacon. Baltimore is also the perfect jumping-off point for exploring Cape Clear Island, Sherkin Island, and Carberry’s Hundred Islands.
Museum of Literature Ireland
Ireland’s newest museum (it just opened on September 20, 2019) is a celebration of our rich literary history and legacy. The Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI for short), is picturesquely located on the south side of St. Stephen’s Green in one of Dublin’s finest historic houses. The name itself draws inspiration from the work of Ireland’s most famous writer, James Joyce, and his best-known female character Molly Bloom.
A fitting tribute to the world’s greatest storytellers, MoLI features a host of literary treasures from Ireland’s National Library collections including the very first copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, handwritten notebooks for Ulysses, and fascinating letters, including one from Joyce to WB Yeats. Immersive exhibitions trace the history of Irish literary craft, while the changing features include an opening exhibition on literary activist and writer Kate O’Brien, and a look at the connections between Irish literature and international cities, beginning with Paris. MoLI’s beautiful gardens and cafe also offer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Dublin’s city center.
King John's Castle, Limerick
For a destination that’s just as fun for both adults and kids, check out King John’s Castle on King’s Island in Limerick, one of the finest surviving examples of a Norman castle in all of Europe. The castle provides stunning views of the River Shannon and chronicles 800 years of local Limerick history.
Since a massive redevelopment in 2013, King John’s Castle now offers many interactive experiences, giving visitors a sense of what life was like in Norman-era Limerick. Meet the personalities who lived and worked in the castle or try on some chainmail or 18th-century dresses for yourself. In the bustling courtyard, visit an authentic recreation of a blacksmith’s shop or view the remains of the castle’s Great Hall, built in 1280. Children will especially love the animated features and projections, and the Education Room and Activity Room will make sure it’s an intellectually stimulating experience, too.
Gobbins Cliff Path
This is one of the best adventure treks on the whole island of Ireland. Located on the Islandmagee peninsula, 20 miles from Belfast, the Gobbins Experience is an exhilarating journey along the narrow path that hugs the Gobbins Cliffs, over bridges that span the crashing waves of the Irish Sea, and into sea caves where pirates and smugglers once hid their treasure.
The path is accessible via a guided hard-hat tour that lasts between two and a half and three hours, with some steep climbs and descents and a look at local wildlife like Northern Ireland’s only inland puffin colony. A visitor center tells the story of The Gobbins’ rise as a tourist attraction in the early 1900s and its recent renovation to reclaim its glory.
Ireland has an abundance of historic castles and world-famous whiskey distilleries, but there’s only one place you can find two in one: Slane Distillery. Located in the original historic 18th-century stable block buildings of Slane Castle in County Meath, the distillery uses local ingredients like water from the River Boyne and barley grown on the castle’s estate. Here, Slane Irish Whiskey is produced in a partnership between the Conyngham family of Slane Castle and the Kentucky based Brown-Forman Corporation, owners of the Jack Daniels brand.
Visitors can choose from a number of different tour options - including a full distillery tour, a combined distillery, and castle tour, an expert-guided tour, or a “signed and sealed” tour which allows you to pour and seal your very own bottle of Slane Irish Whiskey.
The Waterford Greenway, known to locals as the Déise Greenway, is Ireland’s longest greenway cycling and hiking trail, spanning 28.6 miles (46 km) between Waterford City and Dungarvan. It opened in March 2017, along the old Mallow/Waterford railway line.
Traveling the Waterford Greenway, you’ll pass through the towns of Mount Congreve, Kilmeaden, Kilmacthomas; travel across 11 bridges, three viaducts, and inside one 400 meter tunnel; and along the gorgeous Copper Coast and the banks of the River Suir.
Uncover more of Ireland’s hidden gems on Ireland.com
* Originally published in Oct 2019.