Among the romantic preconceptions visitors bring to Ireland, it is their expectations of the landscape that are most likely to be fulfilled. An uncommon geological richness and the warming effect of the Atlantic produce an astonishing diversity of terrain on this small island, which is splashed throughout with lakes and primeval bogland. In the east, the crumpled granite of the Wicklow Hills sits in utter contrast to the horse-grazing plain of the Curragh just a few kilometres away, and in Connemara on the west coast, you can walk from beach to mountain to fen, from seaweed-strewn inlet to lily-covered lough, in a matter of hours. Coupled with the unhurried nature of rural living, this scenic array encourages leisurely investigation.
The scenery surrounding the county town of Sligo is extraordinarily beautiful, especially the coastline. The Knocknarea Mountain dominates the landscape and here you will find a 40 foot high stone cairn which is the mythical burial place of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connaught. Make sure you include a visit to Carrowmore – the largest stone age cemetery in Ireland and the village of Drumcliff which is the final resting places of the famous poet W.B.Yeats. Sligo is also a great area to try out some surfing – the Irish way!
If you visit County Antrim in Northern Ireland you cannot miss Giants Causeway – 40,000 natural basalt columns formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. The site was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and also a National Nature Reserve. An area surrounded by mythical tales, the most enduring is the legend of Finn McCool. The Irish giant Finn is said to have created the Causeway after an argument with the Scottish giant Fingal. Other attractions in the area include a steam train which takes a journey to the Old Bushmills Distillery where you can sample some traditional Irish whiskey.
Kilkenny is popular tourist city and its numerous pubs have hosted many Stag and Hen events over the years. If you are fond of a pint or two, try taking a tour of Smithwick’s brewery – it’s an interesting visit in a town famous for its beer production. In the centre of Kilkenny you’ll find the large stone castle which has been a focal point of the City for over 800 years. The city is also regarded for its vibrant cultural scene and the annual summer Arts Festival consisting of theatre, dance, literature, music and visual arts shouldn’t be missed.
Located in a glacial valley beside tranquil lakes, Glendalough is truly beautiful and very photogenic. If you appreciate history or architecture then visit the ancient two round towers of St Kevin’s Church and a ruined cathedral. Nature lovers can also simply enjoy the walks along the trails and around the lakes. There are various trails on offer – shorter ones for those looking for a gentle stroll or 10 mile hikes across mountains for more serious walkers.
The Aran Islands are a collection of three islands which are nestled at the mouth of Galway Bay. The beautiful and isolated islands have attracted and inspired many Irish artists and poets over the years (including the leading artists Seán Keating and Liam O’Flaherty). Aside from the unique weather-battered landscapes other notable attractions include several Iron Age forts and Teampull Bheanáin which is considered to be the smallest church in the world.
Brú na Boinne
Located on the banks of the Boyne, Brú na Boinne is World Heritage Site and one of the largest and most important prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe. The collection of chamber tombs, standing stones, and henges predate the Egyptian pyramids and go by the names of Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange. The latter two can only be visited by a tour where if you want to take your time can last up to half a day each.
Cork is the southernmost and largest county and like its rival Kerry is also in Munster. The area is known as “The Rebel County” after the role Cork played in the Irish War of Independence. Ilnacullin (Garinish Island) is a very popular tourist attraction which is known for its natural beauty and scenery. Here you will find wonderful tropical plants, beautiful Italian gardens and the distinctive Martello Tower. Animal lovers should also visit ‘Fota Wildlife Park’, the 70 acre site is not like a normal zoo – all the animals roam freely.
Galway is a medieval town on the west coast of Ireland which sits on the River Corrib between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Ireland. Once voted one of the world’s sexiest cities, Galway is known for its ancient architecture and also for its vibrant art and cultural scene. One of the best ways to explore the area is by boat. Try the ‘Corrib Princess’ which departs from Woodquay for a relaxing 90 minute cruise with an added commentary. Just outside the city of Galway is the Connemara National Park where you’ll find scenic mountains, vast expanses of bogs, heaths, woodlands and Connemara ponies.
Donegal is an exceptional county filled with friendly communities and breathtaking views. Many visitors mention Donegal as their favourite area in Ireland and people travel from all over Ireland to explore the naturally beautiful surroundings. One of the county treasures is Glenveagh National Park which is perfect for outdoor activities such as walking and salmon & trout fishing. Here you will find rugged mountainous landscapes, sandy beaches, clear lakes and the late Victorian folly, Glenveagh Castle.