Stunning seascapes, green pastureland, lively villages filled with music and tasty food, the dynamic and compact capital cities of Dublin and Belfast, and prehistoric sites galore – Ireland is packed with wonders. The country has bounced back from the icy winds of recession, and while the city nearly saw the end of its boom years, much of its cultural heritage has survived. A robust realism replaces the hubristic confidence of the years of the “Celtic Tiger” and the Irish, fierce survivors, remain proud of their history and identity.
Ireland’s famous capital – the fair city – bestrides the River Liffey and looks seawards to its port and the broad waters of Dublin Bay. The distinctive outline of the Wicklow Mountains forms a magnificent backdrop to the South, while suburbs stretch far Inland as well as north to the Ben of Howth and south to Dalkey Headland. Something like a third of the country’s population lives in the greater Dublin area, and the majority of the country’s business is carried out here. Georgian architectural elegance and the increasingly cosmopolitan café, restaurant and bar scene make the city an irresistible destination, not only for a weekend but longer periods of exploration.
Low-rise but high-tech, elegant and yet raucous, Dublin retains the feel of a small city while flaunting its modernity. A modern tramway will trundle you silently around city streets where the best of the old has been preserved in ancient churches, medieval street patterns, Viking remains and pretty parks.
This long, rugged coastline offers endless scenic drives (notably The Wild Atlantic Way), pit stops at quiet, empty beaches and some of Ireland’s most exciting water sports. The Burren often seems like another place altogether with its strange moonscape hills and unusual wildlife. Even more remote are the Aran Islands, beaten by the Atlantic gales, their stones heaved up to divide the barren land into small divisions.
The six counties which make up the British province of Northern Ireland – Derry, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Antrim – were once part of the historical region of Ulster but were separated from Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan by the British in 1921. The three major urban areas to visit in the province are Belfast, Derry, and Armagh, once war-torn but now in recovery.
Sligo is well known for its connection to the Yeats family. However, the long coastline of Donegal is the chief attraction, with mountain ranges offering challenging cliff walks and stunning sea views.
Belfast is a major capital city, small enough to get around on foot with a couple of bus rides thrown in. It is a little like one of the United Kingdom’s northern cities with bombastic Victorian architecture overlaid with sleek 216- lines. Its inner city has regenerated into a fascinating cultural center and its murals, once a cry of pain and anger, have become tourist attractions.
The city of Derry has also emerged from the dark years, perhaps not as well as Belfast, but it is a small and fascinating place, its city walls intact and its museum offering an objective version of the ‘Troubles.’ Armagh is the province’s ancient religious capital, its observatory and cathedral well worth a visit. Antrim and Down are the wealthiest of the counties, with small, prosperous towns and some beautiful countryside.
Fermanagh offers a unique lake-land environment and the lively small town of Enniskillen. The highlight of any visit to Northern Ireland is the coastal drive taking in the amazing Giant’s Causeway. The North is a very different prospect to the Republic. The long years of warfare are not forgotten, but visitors will find a warm welcome from gracious people.
Follow In the footsteps of the Anglo-Normans as they spread across Ireland, building great castles, churches, and abbeys, and relish one of the great sights of ancient Ireland: the holy hill of Cashel. The Republic’s second city, Cork, has its distinctive character, while the southeastern coast is renowned for its beauty. From the ferry port of Rosslare, and the Viking city of Wexford, make your way to Johnstown Castle and the Irish Agricultural Museum.
Drive through the National Heritage Park to the old towns of Enniscorthy and New Ross, past the lovely abbey ruins at Jerpoint to medieval Kilkenny, one of Ireland’s most compelling cities. The Rock of Cashel is magical. From here, head south through Caher with its castle, and Fermoy with its beautiful river.
From Cork take the road east along the coast to Cobh, overlooking the broad waters of Cork Harbour, and on via delightful old Youghal to the southeast’s other Viking city of Waterford, renowned for its street art festival and lively cultural life. A ferry crosses Waterford Harbour to the abbeys, gardens, castles, and beaches of the Hook Peninsula.