Perched on the northwest tip of Europe, this is the one place in the world where even getting lost will be worthwhile. With ancient myths and legends to uncover, amazing landscapes to explore and locals who will be more than happy to reveal hidden gems, just go where the island of Ireland takes you. This wonderful island is packed with events all year round and even boasts stunning landscapes providing the ultimate backdrop to any occasion.
As well as being hip, vibrant and cosmopolitan, Dublin is one of Europe’s coolest capital cities. The city pulsates with energy thanks to its chic boutiques, legendary pubs, beautiful art galleries, verdant urban parks, elegant architecture, fascinating and turbulent history, plus its unique scenic location perched at the edge of the Irish Sea.
Belfast, is legendary for its excellent nightlife, that knows how to have a good time. Affectionately known as the “People’s Republic of Cork”, Cork is a free-spirited spot with a rich cultural heritage. The heritage cities of Kilkenny and Waterford are also steeped in history: With a rich medieval flavour, a world-renowned comedy festival and seriously good pubs, Kilkenny City is definitely worth the trip; while the ancient Viking city of Waterford continues to wow the world with its incredible crystal, Light Opera Festival.
Galway city is not only one of the prettiest in Ireland, it’s also one of the most social. With a laid-back boho vibe, and an utterly unique atmosphere, this urban beauty wins out with its combination of wonderful pubs, fabulous scenery, excellent festivals and fabulous seafood restaurants. The Vikings also had a hand in the heritage of Limerick. As well as the city’s atmospheric medieval quarter, Limerick is also famous for the excellent Hunt Museum, home to Ireland’s largest private collection of art and antiquities.
You just have to take a trip to wonderful Londonderry and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the only completely walled city to understand its enduring appeal. For the scenic views across the River Foyle, Londonderry is simply breathtaking. Armagh is the ancient capital with heritage sites reflecting over 6,500 years of the island’s history. But the real joy of this city is how easy it is to work your way from urban delights to exhilarating outdoor activities nestled on the doorstep of the city limits. Lisburn, a picturesque city, has a natural beauty thanks in no small way to the meandering Lagan Valley and its elegant heritage sights.
The Irish culture has taken thousands of years to develop. The Irish love traditions. So much so, in fact, that the country is full of them – from eating colcannon (a mixture of cabbage and mashed potatoes) on Halloween. Two of the most enduring and internationally famed, however, are traditional music and Irish dancing. Traditional music can be heard all over the country from city centre pubs to rural festivals. The bodhrán, which is like a hand-held drum, is one of the most popular instruments in Irish music, along with the fiddle and the tin whistle. Irish dancing is fiercely competitive and taken very seriously with provincial, national and international championships. If you want to have a go yourself, catch a céili, where everyone joins in together.
Northern Ireland also has its own unique Ulster-Scots culture, and is often expressed through music and dance. And with Ulster-Scots cultural events springing up all over the place, you can watch from the sidelines or give it a whirl yourself. From romantic tales of warriors to ancient saints to fairy lore, the Celtic myths are at the very core of Irish culture. Some of Ireland’s most famous tales centre around the Children of Lir, who were turned into swans by their stepmother.
Not just places to have a drink, in an Irish pub you can philosophise on the meaning of life, ruminate on global politics, listen to a poetry reading, tap your feet to a traditional session, feast on delicious food or just enjoy the quiet settling of a pint of Guinness in front of a crackling fire.
Whether it’s to discover a landscape drenched in myth and folklore or to visit some fantastic festivals, museums and galleries, a trip to the island of Ireland means you’ll never be short of something to do and all without spending a fortune! Miles of golden sands stretch around the country’s coastline offering opportunities for endless hours of fun. The island of Ireland’s national parks allow you to soak up their stunning scenery – the Connemara National Park alone has 2,000 hectares of beautiful countryside, rich in wildlife on the slopes of the Twelve Bens.
The National Museum of Ireland’s four branches present a wealth of ancient treasures and fascinating stories. In the city, you can lose yourself in Belfast’s Lagan Valley Regional Park, a mixture of public parks, picnic areas and wildlife sanctuaries, as well as a pre-historic monument. And throughout the year the island of Ireland plays host to a number of festivals that celebrate the very best in the country’s culture and heritage.
Ireland enjoys a spectacular coastline, surrounded by the mighty Atlantic on the west and the Irish Sea on the east. As well as towering cliffs, clear fresh waters, pristine sandy beaches, and an abundance of opportunities for the watersports enthusiast, the coastline enjoys lively fishing villages with some of the best seafood in the world. Trek across the dizzying heights of the island’s highest seacliffs at Croaghaun on Achill Island, and Slieve League in County Donegal. Both sets of cliffs are more than 600 metres high! Or follow in the footsteps of St Patrick and climb Croagh Patrick, which rises 764 metres above the village of Murrisk in County Mayo.
It’s a long, slow ascent but the views from the summit are exquisite. Following some or all of the epic Ulster Way you’ll encounter the Mourne Mountains and the Sperrins. Not forgetting the spectacular Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland you will be enthralled with its tale of giants trekking across the sea to neighbouring Scotland. Sometimes the ‘softness’ of Ireland’s climate means that spending a day in the breathtaking countryside is not an option, The Ulster Museum in Belfast reveals the history of the area, both political and natural, and is a fascinating introduction to Northern Ireland. A trip around the murals of Belfast and Londonderry also offer a unique and colourful insight into the lives of the communities in Northern Ireland. The National Museum of Ireland’s branches in Dublin and Mayo exhibit everything from dinosaur skeletons to Irish traditional dress!
St Patrick’s Festival Dublin takes place over five days around March, the centrepiece of which is the Parade featuring thousands of performers and an audience of more than 500,000 people! The Spraoi Festival held in Waterford on the first weekend in August celebrates all that is best in street performance and each year hosts a number of Irish premieres. If you have a yearning to explore Ireland’s mystical and turbulent past, you’ll find stunning heritage sites within easy distance of your base. The ancient court of the Kings of Ireland is little more than an hour’s drive from Dublin at the Hill of Tara, a settlement whose mystical power is still evident. Two miles west of the city of Armagh, Navan Fort, otherwise known as Emain Macha, was the stronghold of the Kings of Ulster from 700BC and is said to be where the Irish hero Cuchulainn spent his youth.
For more dramatic history, you could take a trip to Leap Castle in County Offaly, which is said to be haunted by a number of spectres, the most terrifying being a small hunched creature whose apparition is accompanied by a rotting stench of a decomposing corpse and the smell of sulphur. Risk a visit if you dare. From bizarre lunar landscapes and the mighty Atlantic to labyrinthine caves and crystal clear waterways, discover Ireland’s breathtaking beauty. Ireland may be known as the land that boasts 40 shades of green, but not all natural attractions shimmer a shade of emerald.
The Burren was formed around 340 million years ago at the bottom of a sea, and is an extraordinary region stretching from north Clare to south Galway. Arrestingly dramatic, the unique landscape includes miles of limestone layers cut through by meandering streams, lakes and labyrinthine caves, a phenomenally rich cultural heritage, and native flora. It is also home to more than 500 ring forts and over 80 Neolithic tombs. The bizarre lunar landscape of the Giant’s Causeway may have been caused by volcanic eruptions and cooling lava, but legend tells a different story.
The Causeway is a mesmerising collection of tightly packed basalt columns that run from the cliffs of the Antrim Plateau right down to the sea. Similar stones on the island of Straffa in the Scottish Hebrides led the ancients to believe that it was the work of giant Finn MacCool who made County Antrim’s Causeway as a pathway to Scotland, where a rival giant lived.
The River Shannon is the longest river in the British Isles and one of the finest in Europe. Winding through an area of outstanding natural beauty, this unspoilt waterway flows from the Shannon Pot on the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountains in County Cavan to Loop Head in County Clare, where it meets the Atlantic. Rich in glorious scenery, filled with prolific wildlife, and dotted with pretty villages, the Shannon Erne Waterway is the longest naviagle waterway in Europe, and is a paradise for nature lovers, boating enthusiasts and those who prefer the quiet life. Isolated and remote, Ireland’s islands resound with mythical beauty and are excellent hideaways where a more traditional ethos endures amongst the islanders.
With the history of Ireland dating back as far as 6000 BC, the past has truly paved the way for the island’s buoyant present and future. Ireland is thought to have been inhabited from around 6000 BC by people of a mid-Stone Age culture. And about 4,000 years later, tribes from Southern Europe arrived and established a high Neolithic culture.
The best-known Neolithic sites in Ireland are the megalithic passage tombs of Newgrange and Knowth in County Meath. Both were built around 3200BC, making them older than Stonehenge in England, and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. You can find Iron Age pagan idols built by the Celts on Boa Island in County Fermanagh, in the form of the mysterious and very well preserved Janus. Saint Patrick’s remains are believed to be buried in the grounds of Downpatrick Cathedral, County Down.
The Vikings first attacked Ireland in 795 AD. And in 837 AD, 60 Viking Dragon warships appeared at the mouth of the Liffey. Five years later, Dublin was taken, but the Vikings were attacked by the local Irish and fled. They returned 17 years later under Olaf the White and made a permanent settlement at Dyflinn (later to be Dublin). The King’s Palace stood on the present Dublin Castle site and part of the town’s defences can still be seen at the Undercroft in Dublin Castle.
Priding itself on its beautiful vistas, laid-back atmosphere, fascinating history, ancient monuments and a strong sense of culture and community, the Lakelands leaves you free to explore at will. Meandering around the waterways, you can’t fail to be enchanted by the charming villages dotted along vast stretches of water; mysterious islands rising out of quiet loughs; stunningly beautiful and utterly unspoiled landscapes that seem to exist in a haze of tranquility, and lively towns that are buzzing with excellent places to eat, drink, visit and stay.
Get off the beaten track and discover a deserted beach, a remote country pub, a staggering cliff face or even just enjoy the winding country roads, which cut through spectacular scenery and are frequently dotted with sheep. Then there’s the stunning Causeway Coastal Route, which weaves through exceptional glens and offers some of the country’s most dramatic views; the beautiful Sally Gap drive in County Wicklow and its breathtaking scenery; and the remarkable Burren drive, which takes you through the arresting limestone plateau of the wide craggy Burren, one of Ireland’s most outstanding natural attractions.
If you want to get away from it all, you can take to the hills or delve into a wooded glen all at your own pace!