SO this series is slightly off my usual topic, I know, but I’m really stoked to bring you the second installment of my Guide to Ireland! As I mention in the first installment “Dublin”, I get asked about recommendations, tips, and pointers, for Ireland travel frequently! I hope you enjoy it, and please comment below if you have any questions, clarifications, or want to add to my suggestions!
Archaeology and historical sites worth seeing around Dublin
Newgrange: Is an incredible passage tomb that is 2000 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids. The tour guides are excellent, and you actually get to enter the tomb, which is rare and spectacular! Newgrange is just 45 minutes outside of Dublin and is (little known fact) part of a neolithic tomb complex that includes the ones below as well.
Hill of Tara: This stop is exciting, more for its historical significance and natural beauty. This is the seat of the Irish Kings, for many millennia- yes, millennia.
Knowth and Dowth: While you can not enter these passage tombs, they are exciting to see as part of the larger “Bru na Boinne” passage tomb complex. Knowth is actually the largets of the 3, with 2 interior passages. Passage tombs are so-named because of the interior passages that align directly with the rising and setting sun on the winter and summer solstices, illuminating the passageway.
Slane Castle: Made famous by the U2 concert, Slane is set in a beautiful landscape and makes for an excellent tour on a sunny day.
Limerick, Kerry, Killarney, and Dingle
Limerick is a fabulous town on the line of counties Limerick and Clare and along the River Shannon. Here, you can spend and entire day and night touring King John’s Castle and then have a spectacular and authentic medieval meal and show at Bunratty Castle. The Bunratty Manor Hotel has amazing Suites, great prices, and great food, so I highly recommend it.
Kerry is definitely in the running for most rugged and beautiful county. My favorite professor is from County Kerry, and it is known for its incredible plethora of archaeology, including many standing and carved stones, and its dark-headed Irish beauties (archaeologically speaking, this is arguably a result of some transplants from the Iberian Peninsula 10,000 years ago). This county is fabulous for driving, and will provide you all of the quintessential Irish sights you’re looking for!
Killarney is a quaint a sweet town where I stayed with my friend Veronica in 2012. We had the best spot, above a pub with traditional Irish music, close to Ross Castle. This is a great stop if you plan on seeing the Ring of Kerry or sojourning to Dingle Peninsula from Dublin!
Dingle Peninsula is the must see for the southwesterly region. It is filled with quaint “beach towns” and the winding roads and steep emerald hills that you’re dreaming of. I can smell the salt air and see the bright colors now.
Clare, Aran Islands, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal
Driving into County Clare is what I think of when I think of Ireland. I’ve made the drive to the Cliffs of Moher so many times, but every time it’s different and more beautiful. I can’t recommend this touristy cliche enough. And don’t forget to check out The Burren as you drive away! If you really love the cliffs, then you will adore The Aran Islands. Geologically, the islands are the missing puzzle piece to the Cliffs of Moher. They broke off in the last Ice Age and created quite the dramatic landscape. The island is a 45 minute ferry ride away (check ferry listings near Galway) and is VERY quite, but houses some great pubs, great island tours, and most definitely the most awe-inspiring landscape I’ve seen….possibly ever.
Galway is my favorite city in Ireland. It is the CAN’T MISS of this section. The last time I went, I stayed in Eyre Square at a hotel (NOT a hostel) and it was fabulous. Downtown Galway is completely walkable and hosts some of the most classic nightlife in Ireland. It’s a popular destination for Stag/Hen celebrations–and I guarantee you’ll see one! As a port town, the fish and chips is amazing here and I go to McDonagh’s EVERY time I’m in Galway! It’s sort of amazing that you can can pay a small fee to relax with a newspaper full of fish and chips and a bottle of wine on a picnic table overlooking downtown.
Mayo is remote and glorious. I did my fieldwork in Belderring, with the coolest locals on earth. Belderring is home to bouncy bogs, 10,000 years of archaeology, tons of B&Bs, a rugged coastline, the AMAZING site Ceide Fields.…and one pub. Where I lost REALLY badly in an intense game of snooker. It is also a famous Seamus Heaney poem, and the 40ish people who call Belderring home know him well. If you want to do something different and authentic. I 100% recommend this.
Sligo is famous for being home to WB Yeats and the incomparable Benbulben. There are some beautiful spots to stay on the water outside the city center here, with easy access to a hike up to Benbulben. The City Center of Sligo is unique and memorable. McGarrigle’s is one of the best pubs I remember in Ireland, so don’t miss it! Inishmurray is an uninhabited island 7 miles off the coast of Sligo, with some incredible and rare archaeology. A boat ride around the Sligo coastline and its islands is a must. And if you love Yeats as much as I do, then you MUST to the Yeats tour of all his favorite spots and topics of of his poetry.
Donegal is where my family is from. So I’m biased. But this place is unbiasedly recognized as the most authentic and “old-world” county in The Republic. It is situated in the North, alongside the counties of Northern Ireland, but juxtaposed against the counties of Great Britain, it retains some of the most ancient and traditional Irish character you will find. I adore the Clanree Hotel in Letterkenny, Donegal for a traditional Irish experience. Donegal is also home to the Slieve League Cliffs (pictured here), and Glenveagh National Park which is a ridiculously stunning and dynamic drive. Pick up some traditional Irish music CDs for your car if you don’t have any yet when you visit Glenveagh Castle!
To summarize this incredible region, I have some Top Picks below:
Best off-the-beaten-path location: Belderrig, Mayo
Best authentic Irish food: McDonagh’s, Galway
Most Scenic locale: Dingle Peninsula, Kerry
Can’t Miss: Night life in Galway and Aran Islands (tie)
Best Stay: Bunratty Manor, Limerick
Best Tourist Trap: Bunratty Castle Medieval Dinner Theatre, Limerick
* I’m SO sorry that I have not visited Cork for long enough to give good recommendations. It is a wonderful town, and absolutely beautiful!
Thanks for reading!