Whatever your preconceived ideas of Ireland are, cast them aside and be prepared to be amazed
Things To Do
Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin to learn more about one of Ireland’s most famous brands. Discover the history, and enjoy a drink at the glass-housed Gravity Bar close to the top of the St James’s Gate Brewery, the original home of Guinness.
Experience traditional Irish music at a local pub to hear some toe-tapping tunes. Music nights feature heavily in most Irish pubs, but big centres for traditional music are at Doolin on the west coast, Tralee, Killarney and, also, Dublin.
Watch how the finest crystal glass is made on a factory tour of Waterford Crystal, considered some of the most prestigious crystal glass in the world. Now in the very heart of Waterford City, the company has traditions that date back to 1783. You’ll find other crystal glass manufacturers elsewhere in the city, often former employees of Waterford Crystal.
Step out on to the geological wonder that is The Burren, a vast limestone plateau in north west County Clare. The exposed layers of rock, sweeping down to the sea in parts, is a wondrous sight, especially when summer flora creep up through the cracks and crevices.
If you visit Southern Ireland your trip will not be complete without kissing the Blarney Stone, high on a wall below the battlements of Blarney Castle, just outside Cork (County Cork). It’s a feat of gravity – held by the legs, you must be suspended beneath the parapet to kiss the stone backwards!
When To Visit
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are lots of things to do in Dublin, the city seeing the largest number of big, annual events taking place, including the Six Nations rugby tournaments between February and April at Lansdowne Road, the Dublin Writers Festival in May, Ireland’s premier literary event attracting the finest writers in the world, and also Taste of Dublin in June, a massive foodie fair. And the new kid on the block is NYF Dublin, a three-day music and arts festival taking place, it’s hoped, annually, over New Year.
Elsewhere, The Gathering Traditional Festival held every February in Killarney (County Kerry) is the highlight of the Irish cultural calendar for traditional musicians and dancers, the Guineas Spring Racing Festival at Curragh (County Kildare) in March is the highlight for horse racing punters (though just one of many horse racing events throughout the year), while the Galway Food Festival in April rivals Dublin’s food fairs for size and spectacle. Watch out too for Cork’s Midsummer Festival in June. It is, however, just one of 23 festivals taking place in the city each year!
Of course the whole of Ireland goes crazy for St Patrick’s Day on 17 March, with week-long festivals and events nationwide. National Heritage Week at the end of August is also celebrated nationwide.
Stena Line has sailings between Fishguard and Rosslare, Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire, and Holyhead and Dublin. Irish Ferries operates between Holyhead and Dublin, and Pembroke and Rosslare. P&O Ferries sail between Liverpool and Dublin.
Travel to north west Ireland may be easier via ferry sailings to Northern Ireland. Stena Line operates between Cairnryan and Belfast and Liverpool (Birkenhead) and Belfast. P&O Ferries sail to Larne from Cairnryan and Troon.
The M1 tunnel from Dublin Port to access the M50 ring road operates a toll (currently €3 off-peak – peak time 4pm-7pm Monday-Friday) but is worth every penny to otherwise sit in traffic through the centre of Dublin and negotiate the mine of streets out of the port.
There is also a barrier-free toll on a section of the M50 (Dublin ring road) between junctions 6 and 7 (junction 6 required for the M3 to north west Ireland, junction 7 needed for the M4 to Galway). The toll, currently €3, can either be prepaid online or otherwise must be paid by 8pm the following day of travel at a retail outlet displaying the Payzone brand, nationwide.
Other short toll sections of motorway, paid at source, include the M6, the M7/8 interchange and a short stretch of the M8 north east of Cork.
Ireland was once notorious for poor road surfaces and desperately slow journeys. The upgraded motorways, radiating out from Dublin, have vastly improved the island’s network with generally quiet routes that make journey times across Ireland quick, smooth and efficient. Expect to find some rural country lanes to be in need of resurfacing, though.