The Emerald Isle is one of this year’s must-visit destinations. Although the country is only roughly the size of the US state of Indiana, it’s crammed full of so much to see and do that drawing up an itinerary for an Irish tour can be quite the tall order. To make things easier, here’s a list of 7 Irish cities that are worth the hype. We also include each city’s top attractions and events to whet your appetite.

DUBLIN

Dublin is a small capital with lots of heart. Here, gritty, gregarious neighbourhoods rub shoulders with gorgeous Georgian architecture in a beguiling tapestry that captures the imagination. The Dubs are a diverse and multicultural bunch and their reputation for being warm and inviting is based on absolute fact. This is a city where merriment is easy to find.

Streets of Dublin, Ireland
The streets of Dublin, Ireland

Top attractions to see in Dublin

  • Dublin Castle. Open seven days a week, this major Irish government complex is one of Ireland’s most famous medieval castles. It hosts many exhibitions and also boasts a museum collection of artworks from across the spectrum of the fine and decorative arts.
  • Guinness Storehouse. The brewery experience in Guinness Storehouse in St James’ Gate tells the tale of Ireland’s famous beer in the form of interactive tastings and more.
  • Temple Bar. This busy street in Dublin’s riverside neighborhood is known for its pedestrian lanes, crowded pubs, lively music and welcoming ambience. The pub of the same name is an iconic destination you must tick off when you visit the city. Definitely try some Irish whiskey while there. Did you know? The Irish term for whiskey is ‘uisce beatha’, which translates to ‘water of life’. It was named so by the Irish monks in the Middle Ages. The word ‘whiskey’ made its way into the English lexicon as a mispronunciation of the word ‘uisce’.

Off the beaten track in Dublin

  • Leprechaun Museum. This privately-owned museum is dedicated to Irish folklore and mythology, and opens up the world of cultural experiences in the form of storytelling that is suited to both adults and children.
  • St. Michan’s Mummies. St. Michan’s church was built in 1095 to serve the remaining ostracized Vikings who had survived the rampage of Wolf the Quarrelsome in 1014. A certain set of atmospheric circumstances has caused the crypt below it to turn out mummies without anyone really trying to. Worth a visit, no?
  • Little Museum of Dublin. This quirky, crowdsourced museum exhibits over 5,000 artifacts that have been donated or loaned by Dublin residents since 2011.
Temple Bar, Dublin
The famous Temple bar in Dublin

BELFAST

Belfast in Northern Ireland is perhaps best-known around the globe as one of the main seats of the Troubles (a period of ethno-nationalist conflict that lasted from the 1960s to 1998). It has since burgeoned into a world-class city with a bit of a hipster vibe, if you can credit that! Between the rapidly-developing foodie scene, the swanky waterfront and plenty of trendy pubs, there is an undercurrent of sophistication that cannot be denied.

Interesting to know: Northern Ireland is part of the UK (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), alongside England, Scotland and Wales. The rest of Ireland is called the Republic of Ireland. The country was split in two after a war against their British rulers in the 1920s. As such, you will use euros to pay in Ireland, and pounds to pay in Northern Ireland. The 499 km-long border between the two countries runs between Lough Foyle in the north of Ireland to Carlingford Lough in the northeast.

Top attractions to see in Belfast

  • Titanic Belfast. This monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage opened its doors in 2012. It is situated on the site of where the RMS Titanic was built, and was named the world’s leading tourist attraction in 2016 (so you know it’s good!). Foodies may also be interested in the Titanic Food Tour, which combines an exploration of the Titanic Quarter with tastings of some seriously delicious local food and drink.
  • Belfast Castle. Belfast Castle is located on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park, offering great views over the city. The estate is also the site of the Cave Hill Visitor Centre, where guests can visit archaeological sites, enjoy an ecotrail, peruse the gardens and make their way along orienteering routes.
  • Botanic Gardens. Established in 1828, the lovely public garden occupies 23 acres, featuring a historic glasshouse and countless examples of tropic plants. Walking routes are also on offer.

Off the beaten track in Belfast

  • Peace Lines. Great walls and fences of up to 25 feet in height literally divide the city where loyalist and nationalist neighborhoods meet to prevent violence between the two opposing sides. Cupar Way boasts a prominent example thereof, with striking graffiti and messages of peace covering the barrier. It’s best to visit these barriers with a group, since it’s quite a way from the city centre.
  • Black Taxi Tours. Black taxi tours provide visitors with an insider perspective of the political strive that shaped the city, including key points of interest throughout Belfast.
Titanic Belfast, Belfast
Titanic Belfast, Belfast

DERRY

Derry (officially named Londonderry) is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland, and a cultural hub with plenty of historic destinations to explore. It’s lovely riverside setting makes for some stunning scenery and the live music scene is something to get excited about. No wonder Londonderry was named the UK’s City of Culture in 2013 and enjoyed a pretty spiffy makeover in the process.

Top attractions to see in Derry

  • Peace Bridge. The Derry Peace Bridge over the River Foyle bridges a 400-year-old physical and political gap between two sides of a once bitterly divided community. It can be crosse on foot, by cycle or by track.
  • Derry City Walls. The historic stone border of the original 17th-century walled city remains intact. Visitors can walk around it to view the 7 gates and 24 restored cannons.
  • St Columb’s Cathedral. This cathedral is the oldest and most historic building in Londonderry. Constructed in 1633, it currently houses some of the city’s most valuable artifacts, which includes the Governor George Walker’s sword from the Siege of Londonderry, as well as the original padlocks and keys to the city gates.

Off the beaten track attractions in Derry

  • Museum of New Derry. This innovative museum is dedicated to the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of the Troubles in the late 1960s. It exhibits number over 25,000 items, most of which were donated by locals.
  • Bogside Murals. This captivating series of murals pay homage to the Troubles and how it influenced the people of Derry.
Peace Bridge, Derry
Peace Bridge, Derry

GALWAY

Galway City is situated in the county Galway, so remember this when you  do online searches or speak to travel providers. This arty, bohemian hub is one of Ireland’s most beguiling cities – filled to the rafters with colourful eateries, pubs and shops that have popped up in the spaces left between the remnants of erstwhile medieval town walls. A quarter of the city’s residents are students, so the vibe is energetic and creative.

If you’re into oysters and seafood, it would be good to know that Galway hosts an international Oyster and Seafood festival every year. The festival takes place on the last weekend in September to celebrate Galway’s rich annual oyster harvest, and is the most internationally recognised Irish festival after St Patrick’s Day. It draws 22 000+ visitors each year.

Top  attractions to see in Galway

  • Galway Cathedral. Also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas, this Roman Catholic place of worship is one of the largest and most impressive throughout the city.
  • Galway City Museum. Situated on the banks of the River Corrib and adjacent to the Spanish Arch, Galway City Museum explores Galway’s rich history and heritage.
  • Galway Atlantaquaria. The national aquarium of Ireland hosts over 60 exhibits and hundreds of Atlantic Sea life species.

Off the beaten track attractions in Galway

  • Brigit’s Celtic Garden. This incredible 11-acre garden is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular gardens in Ireland and takes the visitor on a journey through the cycle of the year, with each garden representing one of the Celtic festivals.
  • Dun Aonghasa. Situated on the edge of a seaside cliff, this Iron Age fort offers a glimpse into an ancient, mystical world.
Harbour in Galway, Ireland
Harbour in Galway, Ireland

LIMERICK

Limerick City is yet another Irish city that is situated within an eponymous county, so keep that in mind while you do your Irish tour research. Situated along the River Shannon, it first came into being in the 9th century as a Viking landing site. It has since been steeped in siege and warfare, handed over to the Normans at some point along the line and ultimately immortalised as the gritty backdrop to Irish novelist Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Today it’s a vibrant Irish city with plenty to see, do and enjoy.

Top attractions to see in Limerick

  • King John’s Castle. Located on Kings Island, this 13th-century castle was built on the orders of King John in 1200. It brings to life over 800 years of dramatic local history.
  • The Hunt Museum. This former custom house holds a 2000-strong collection of ancient and modern ethnographic treasures.
  • Limerick City Gallery of Art. Housed in a Romanesque Revival building, Limerick City Gallery of Art is one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Ireland and home to an important collection of Irish 18th -21st century art.

Off the beaten track attractions in Limerick

  • Terra Nova Fairy Garden. About 30 minutes drive from Limerick City, this gem of a green space has been named the Best Garden in Ireland, and offers a magical day out for families and gardeners alike.
  • Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum. Another 30-minute drive away, the Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum excitingly captures the story of how the region became one of the great aviation hubs of the world between 1937-1945.
King John's Castle is a castle located on King's Island in Limerick, Ireland,
King John’s Castle is a castle located on King’s Island in Limerick, Ireland,

KILLARNEY

Situated on the shores of Lough Leane in southwest Ireland’s County Kerry, Killarney is perhaps best-known as a stop along the famous Ring of Kerry scenic drive. Here you can expect to find oodles of history, heritage and some truly world-class hospitality.

Top attractions to see in Killarney

  • Ross Castle. Ross Castle sits majestically on the shores of the lakes of Killarney. The 15th-century tower house and keep was built by O’Donoghue Mór in the 15th century.
  • Killarney National Park. Killarney National Park was the first national park to be established in Ireland. It’s an area of great natural beauty with historical homes and gardens to explore, hiking trails to enjoy, and more.
  • St. Mary’s Cathedral. St. Mary’s Cathedral towers amongst the clouds with a backdrop of Killarney’s glorious lakes and mountains. It’s a stunning example of a 19th century Gothic Revival church.
Muckross House and gardens, Killarney National Park, Ireland
Muckross House and gardens, Killarney National Park, Ireland

KILKENNY

Kilkenny is the county town of County Kilkenny in the province of Leinster in south-east Ireland. This medieval town has profound religious roots and boasts plenty of beautifully-preserved churches and monasteries. Naturally, being an Irish stronghold, it’s also jolly to the core.

Top attractions to see in Kilkenny

  • Kilkenny Castle. Constructed in 1195 to control a fording-point of the River Nore and the junction of several routeways, Kilkenny Castle has been beautifully restored and boasts extensive gardens.
  • Rothe House & Garden. Rothe House & Garden is located in the heart of Kilkenny City and is the only remaining example of an early 17th century merchant’s townhouse in Ireland.
  • Smithwick’s Experience. Discover the history of Smithwick’s Irish Ale and get hands-on experience of this age-old craft on a brewing tour with a difference.

Off the beaten track attractions in Kilkenny

  • Tullaherin Folk Museum & Round Tower. About a 20-minute drive from Kilkenny City, the Tullaherin Folk Museum and Round Tower features a fascinating collection of housewares from recent Irish history that illustrate what rural Irish life was like decades or even a century ago. The location also boasts a well-preserved 9th-century round tower.
  • The Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint. Just outside the town of Thomastown, 20 minutes from Kilkenny, the remnants of the medieval village of Newtown Jerpoint feature the ruins of a 12th-century church that is said to be the resting place of Saint Nicholas (AKA the original Santa Claus!).
  • Kyteler’s Inn. So, it turns out the oldest pub in Kilkenny was also established by Ireland’s first convicted witch, and you can still have a pint there!
Kilkenny, Ireland
Kilkenny, Ireland

These are just a few of the cities that deserve a place of honour on your bucket list. Choose your favourites and get going! The best time to chase your travel goals is now. Take a look at our tours to Ireland here.

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