Dublin is known for its medieval architecture, nightlife, and recent growth as one of Europe’s most accessible destinations. Once you’ve explored its 13th-century castle, examined the Book of Kells at Trinity College, strolled along along the River Liffey, and sipped a freshly poured Guinness from St. James’s Gate Brewery, you’ll still have barely tasted what this city has to offer.
Wicklow Mountains National Park
At nearly 80 square miles, this national park (one of six in Ireland) is well known for its rare species of plants and animals, nature trails for walking and hiking, and water so fresh it’s considered a key ingredient in the centuries-old recipe for Guinness. For sensational scenery, try the R756 road from Dublin, which passes through the Wicklow Gap—one of only two routes crossing the Wicklow Mountains from east to west—or take the R115 along the spine of the mountains, which passes from north to south. Either way, you’ll drive by Glendalough, a picturesque glacial valley known for its sixth century monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin.
Turning toward the country’s center, postcard-worthy scenes of sheep grazing on verdant hillsides serve as indicators that you’re heading into the heart of Ireland. In Kildare Town, take in the view from the 105-foot high, round tower at the 13th century Cathedral Church of St. Brigid. Next, grab a pint from Silken Thomas, one of Ireland’s best pubs, before heading out toward the Irish National Stud, the country’s prestigious thoroughbred breeding facility, which also plays host to some of the most elegant Japanese gardens in Europe.
Many travelers who skip the Midlands miss one of the country’s best-preserved heritage towns, Birr. Its main attraction, Birr Castle Demesne, dates to 1620 and remains a private home. Tour the 50-hectare castle grounds and gardens, where you’re free to wander among more than 1,000 species of plants and flowers; get up close to a collection of astronomical instruments, cameras, and photographs from the 1800s now housed in converted stables; scramble through Ireland’s largest treehouse; and check out the Great Telescope built by the third Earl Rosse in the early 1840s, which the castle touts as the largest historic scientific instrument still working today.
Head cross-country toward the sea port village of Kinvara, which sits at the southeast corner of Galway Bay. A quaint, traditional Irish town perfectly suited for casual explorations, Kinvara hosts a farmers’ market with live music every Friday in its town square; stock up on freshly-baked organic bread, award-winning Irish farmhouse cheeses and local fruit, and take your picnic outside of town (a whole 900 feet) to the scenic 16th-century Dunguaire Castle, which sits on a rocky outcrop. Kinvara’s annual Gathering of the Boats (August) and the Cuckoo Music Festival (May) are some of the region’s most popular celebrations.
Meaning “great rock” in Irish, the Burren is precisely that: nearly 100 square miles of karst, a landscape formed from the erosion and dissolution of sedimentary rock. The Burren has limestone that formed 350 million years ago in tropical seas, rare species of Irish plants and animals, and a network of sea cliffs popular with rock climbers. Descend into the Pollnagollum cave, the longest in Ireland, or take a free, guided walking tour through the National Park to learn about its plants and geology.
Coastal Doolin may have a population of only 500 and a tourism cooperative run by local volunteers, but the small, unassuming town is one of the best spots in the country to hear traditional Irish music. Stop by McGann’s or Gus O’Connor’s pub and tuck into a bowl of Guinness stew while tapping your feet to local musicians playing the harp, banjo, tin whistle, flute, and Uilleann pipes. The annual Doolin Craft Beer Festival (August), Folk Festival (June), and Writers’ Weekend (March) also draw large crowds, so time your visit if you want to join in—rooms at the Hotel Doolin fill up quickly.
Cliffs of Moher
Stretching for five miles along the Atlantic coast, the Cliffs of Moher are one of the country’s most extraordinary vistas. Bring your walking shoes; there are a variety of easy pathways or, for more serious hikers, a 12-mile Coastal Trail accessed from the cliffs. From O’Brien’s Tower, built in 1835, take in the views of the Aran Islands to the west and see if you can spot the mountains of Kerry on the island’s southern tip. For those with sea legs, daily boat tours (from $17 per person) navigate the base of the cliffs and prove an excellent way to get a rare view of the soaring rock exposures from below.
Written by: Katherine LaGrave. Source from: CONDE NAST Traveler.