The Republic of Ireland occupies most of the island of Ireland, off the coast of England and Wales. Its capital, Dublin, is the birthplace of writers like Oscar Wilde, and home of Guinness beer. Few countries have an image so plagued by cliché. From shamrocks and shillelaghs (Irish fighting sticks) to leprechauns and lovable rogues, there are a plethora of platitudes to wade through before you reach the real Ireland.
The Irish might be known for St Patrick’s Day, four-leaf clover, and Guinness - but also for its almost mythical natural beauty; for the string of deep-blue Lakes of Killarney, for the serene Connemara Mountains, and for the mystic beauty of the limestone desert called the Burren, for the wildly dramatic Giant’s Causeway and the many hues of green in the Glens of Antrim.
Ireland has been called the `Emerald Isle’- and with good reason too. Immortalized in poetry and prose, in painting and in tourist literature too, Ireland with its historic cities and the legendary warmth and hospitality of its people is an attractive destination as more and more visitors find out year after year!
For details on Northern Ireland please see the United-Kingdom page.
However, we have included Northern Ireland sights on this page.
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IRELAND QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Dublin
- Currency: euro (€)
- Area: 84,421 km²
- Population: 4,904 million (2019)
- Language: Irish (national and official) English (official)
- Religion: Catholic 78%, Church of Ireland (incl. Protestant) 4.2%, Muslim 1.3%, Other Religion 6.4%, None 9.8%
- Electricity: 230V, 50Hz - Type G plug (UK plug)
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IRELAND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 17 March, St. Patrick’s Day*
- 1st Monday in May, Bank Holiday
- 1st Monday in June, Bank Holiday
- 1st Monday in August, Bank Holiday
- Last Monday in October, Summer Bank Holiday
- 26 December, St. Stephen’s Day
*St. Patrick’s Day is moved to the Monday following if it falls on a Sunday.
Bank holidays in Ireland are public holidays. Also, Good Friday and Easter Monday.
FESTIVALS IN IRELAND
Galway International Arts Festival - A two-week extravaganza of theatre, music, art, and comedy in mid-July.
Féile An Phobail - Said to be the largest community festival in Ireland, the Féile takes place in West Belfast over 10 days during early August. Events include an opening carnival parade, street parties, theatre performances, concerts, and historical tours of the City and Milltown cemeteries.
Kilkenny Arts Festival - During August the city comes alive with theatre, cinema, music, literature, visual arts, children's events, and street spectacles for 10 action-packed days.
Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival - Going strong for over 60 years, the world's oldest oyster festival draws thousands of visitors in late September.
Belfast International Arts Festival - The UK's second-largest arts festival stretches over two weeks in late October and features theatre, music, dance, and talks.
BEST TIME TO VISIT IRELAND
Whenever you visit Ireland, it’s wise to come prepared for wet and/or windy conditions, especially along the west coast which faces the Atlantic and the source of much of Ireland and Britain’s weather. On average, it rains on around 150 days a year along the east and southeast coasts, and up to as many as 225 days a year in parts of the west and southwest.
Late March - Spring flowers everywhere, the landscape is greening, St Patrick's Day festivities beckon.
June - Best chance of dry weather, long summer evenings, Bloomsday in Dublin.
September & October - Summer crowds thin, autumn colours reign, surf's up on the west coast.
April is the driest time, while December and January are the wettest. Whatever the case, the weather is very changeable and you’ll often find a soggy morning rapidly replaced by brilliant sunshine in the afternoon. Most years also see long periods of gorgeous weather, though predicting their occurrence is often well nigh impossible. Generally, the sunniest months are April, May, and June, while July and August are the warmest. Overall, the southeast gets the best of the sunshine.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN IRELAND
The snow sports season in Ireland can start as early as September and last until April, but is most consistent from December to March.
HIKING & CYCLING IN IRELAND
No matter what time of the year you visit Ireland, you may well experience 4 seasons in one day! The mildest weather for outdoor activities is usually between June and September although this is also peak tourist season.
BEACH OPTIONS IN IRELAND
Ireland has some stunning beaches along its coastline. The beach season stretches from June to September, but just don't expect it to ever be very hot!
SURFING IN IRELAND
The surfing season in Ireland runs from September through to May, with September to November considered the best months. There is a huge variety of quality and uncrowded surf spots, but the water is seriously cold!
KITESURF IN IRELAND
The wind is suitable for kitesurfing and windsurfing in Ireland from April to October. Although conditions can be amazing, it can also be rather extreme and cold.
IRELAND TRAVEL COSTS
The cost of travel in Ireland like much of Europe depends on the strength of the Euro at the time you visit. It has fluctuated over the years of its existence and Ireland briefly became quite a bit cheaper than the UK for example. Dublin, in particular, is known for being an expensive city to visit with the cost of main attractions regularly around 20 Euros. The city’s famous pubs are by no means cheap either so if you are someone who likes a drink then you might struggle to stick to our suggested Ireland backpacking budget of €50 EUR.
IRELAND TRAVEL TIPS
Although nothing in Ireland will really cost a ton of money, it’s definitely far from being a cheap destination and you do need to watch your spending, especially on all those pints you’ll probably drink whilst there. Here are some tips to help you save money in Ireland:
Drink less – Ireland’s pub culture will hit your wallet hard. Visit during happy hours, drink at home, or just skip drinks altogether.
Eat pub food – Eat at the pubs for good value, hearty local Irish food.
Eat early – Many restaurants have budget dinner options if you eat early (usually before 6 pm).
Get an OPW Heritage Card – If it's your thing to tour heritage sites, you should definitely pick up one of these. It provides for free access to main attractions, including most of the castles throughout the country.
Collect your VAT – Almost everything you purchase in Ireland will have a VAT (value-added tax) of around 20%. If you’re a tourist, you’re entitled to collect that back when you leave. It can be a hassle, but if you’re in the country for a while and spending a lot of money, it might just be worth it.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF IRELAND
Dublin - Meander through the museums, pubs, and literary haunts of the Irish capital.
Galway - Hangout in bohemian Galway, with its hip cafes and live-music venues.
Giant's Causeway - Hike along the Causeway Coast and clamber across the Giant's Causeway.
Skellig Michael - Take a boat trip to the 6th-century monastery perched atop the wild rocky islet of Skellig Michael.
Irish Pubs - Sip a pint of Guinness while tapping your toes to a live music session in one of Dublin's traditional Irish pubs.
Gap of Dunloe - Cycle through the spectacular lake and mountain scenery of the Gap of Dunloe.
Titanic Belfast - Discover the industrial history of the city that built the world's most famous ocean liner at Titanic Belfast.
Aran Islands - Wander the wild, limestone shores of the remote and craggy Aran Islands.
A couple of days in Dublin will see you ambling through the excellent national museums, whilst gorging yourself on Guinness and good company in Temple Bar. Get your medieval on in Kilkenny before heading to Cork and discover why they call it 'The Real Capital'. Head west for a day or two exploring the scenic Ring of Kerry and enchanting Killarney.
To follow up the one-week itinerary, make your way north from Killarney to bohemian Galway. Use Galway as your base and explore the alluring Aran Islands and the hills of Connemara. Finally, head north to see the Giant's Causeway and experience the optimistic vibe in fast-changing Belfast.
The halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger (the Irish economic boom of the late 1990s, when cash cascaded like a free-flowing waterfall), might have long since disappeared, but Dubliners still know how to enjoy life. They do so through their music, art and literature – things though often take for granted but, once reminded, generate immense pride. Dublin offers world-class museums, superb restaurants and the best range of entertainment available anywhere in Ireland – and that's not including the pub, the ubiquitous centre of the city's social life and an absolute must for any visitor. Should you wish to get away from it all, the city has a handful of seaside towns at its edges that make for wonderful day trips. If you’re planning some heavy-duty sightseeing, you’ll save a packet by investing in the Dublin Pass which provides free entry to more than 30 attractions, including the Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainham Gaol - as well as free transfer to and from the airport on the Aircoach.
Dublin is not a cheap city, but luckily there are plenty of attractions that won’t break your budget.
Trinity College - Wander the grounds at Dublin’s oldest and most beautiful university. (Free)
National Museum of Archaeology - Discover the world’s finest collection of prehistoric gold artefacts. (Free)
Chester Beatty Library - Explore the library with its collection of oriental and religious art. (Free)
National Gallery - Gaze at Irish and European paintings. (Free)
St Stephen’s Green - Laze at the city’s most picturesque public park.
Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh) is the Ireland of most visitors to Ireland's imaginations. Its majestic riverside castle, a tangle of 17th-century passageways, rows of colourful, old-fashioned shopfronts and centuries-old pubs with traditional live music all have a timeless appeal, as does its splendid medieval cathedral. But Kilkenny is also famed for its contemporary restaurants and rich cultural life.
Rising above the River Nore, Kilkenny Castle is one of Ireland's most visited heritage sites. Stronghold of the powerful Butler family, it has a history dating back to the 12th century, though much of its present look dates from Victorian times.
Ireland's second city is first in every important respect, at least according to the locals, who cheerfully refer to it as the 'real capital of Ireland'. The compact city centre is surrounded by interesting waterways and is chock full of great restaurants fed by arguably the best foodie scene in the country. It's a liberal, youthful and cosmopolitan place that was badly hit by economic recession but is now busily reinventing itself with spruced-up streets, revitalised stretches of waterfront, and – seemingly – an artisan coffee bar on every corner. There's a bit of a hipster scene, but the best of the city is still happily traditional – snug pubs with live-music sessions, restaurants dishing up top-quality local produce, and a genuinely proud welcome from the locals.
Killarney is a well-oiled tourism machine set in a sublime landscape of lakes, forests and 1000m peaks. Its manufactured prowess is renowned, the streets filled with tour-bus visitors shopping for soft-toy shamrocks and countless placards pointing to trad-music sessions. However, it has many charms beyond its proximity to lakes, waterfalls and woodland spreading beneath a skyline of 1000m-plus peaks. In a town that's been practising the tourism game for more than 250 years, competition keeps standards high, and visitors on all budgets can expect to find superb restaurants, great pubs and good accommodation.
The Ring of Kerry, a 179km circuit around the dramatic coastal scenery of the Iveragh Peninsula (pronounced eev-raa), is one of Ireland’s premier tourist attractions. Most travellers tackle the Ring by bus on guided day trips from Killarney, but you could spend days wandering here.
Arty and bohemian, Galway is legendary around the world for its entertainment scene. Students make up a quarter of the city's population and brightly painted pubs heave with live music on any given night. Here, street life is more important than sightseeing – cafes spill out onto cobblestone streets filled with a frenzy of fiddles, banjos, guitars and bodhráns (hand-held goatskin drums), while jugglers, painters, puppeteers and magicians in outlandish masks enchant passers-by.
Star of a million tourist brochures, the Cliffs of Moher is one of the most popular sights in Ireland. But like many an ageing star, you have to look beyond the famous facade to appreciate its inherent attributes. In summer the site is overrun with day-trippers, but there are good rewards if you're willing to walk along the clifftops for 10 minutes to escape the crowds. The landscaped Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre has exhibitions about the cliffs and their natural history. A number of bus tours leave Galway every morning for the Cliffs of Moher, including Burren Wild Tours.
The windswept Aran Islands are one of western Ireland's major attractions. As well as their rugged beauty – they are an extension of The Burren's limestone plateau – the Irish-speaking islands have some of the country's oldest Christian and pre-Christian ruins.
There are three main islands in the group, all inhabited year-round. Most visitors head for the long and narrow (14.5km by a maximum 4km) Inishmór (or Inishmore). The land slopes up from the relatively sheltered northern shores and plummets on the southern side into the raging Atlantic. Inishmaan and Inisheer are much smaller and receive far fewer visitors.
Dragged down for decades by the violence and uncertainty of the Troubles, Northern Ireland today is a nation rejuvenated. Belfast has become a happening place with a famously vibey nightlife and the stunning Causeway Coast gets more and more visitors each year.
Once part of a list of cities to avoid at all costs, Belfast has pulled off a remarkable transformation from bombs-and-bullets pariah to hip-hotels-and-hedonism party town. The city centre is compact with the imposing City Hall in Donegall Sq the central landmark. The old shipyards on the Lagan continue to give way to the luxury apartments of the Titanic Quarter, whose centrepiece is the stunning, star-shaped Titanic Belfast centre, the city's number-one tourist draw. The Belfast Visitor Pass (1, 3 or 3 day) allows unlimited travel on bus and train services in Belfast and around, and discounts on admission to Titanic Belfast and other attractions.
Ireland isn't short of scenic coastlines, but the Causeway Coast between Portstewart and Ballycastle (and the Antrim Coast between Ballycastle and Belfast), are as magnificent as they come. The spectacular Giant's Causeway rock formation – Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site – is one of Ireland's most impressive and atmospheric landscape features, a vast expanse of regular, closely packed, hexagonal stone columns looking for all the world like the handiwork of giants.
DERRY / LONDONDERRY
Northern Ireland’s second city will come as a pleasant surprise to many visitors. Not only was the city centre given a handsome makeover pre-2013 - now sporting the new Peace Bridge, Ebrington Square, a redevelopment of the Waterfront and Guildhall area making the most of the city’s riverside setting - the city’s lively pubs are home to a burgeoning live-music scene. But perhaps the biggest attraction is the people themselves: warm, witty and welcoming.
WHAT TO EAT IN IRELAND
Ireland's recently acquired reputation as a gourmet destination is thoroughly deserved, with a host of chefs and producers leading a foodie revolution that has made it easy to eat well on all budgets.
Champ - Northern Irish dish of mashed potatoes with spring onions (scallions).
Colcannon - Potatoes mashed with milk, cabbage, and fried onion.
Farl - Triangular flatbread in Northern Ireland and Donegal.
Irish stew - Lamb stew with potatoes, onions, and thyme.
Irish whiskey - Around 100 different types are produced by only four distilleries: Jameson, Bushmills, Cooley, and recently reopened Kilbeggan.
LGBTQ IN IRELAND
Attitudes in Ireland towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are regarded as among the most liberal in the world. Government recognition of LGBT rights in Ireland has expanded greatly over the past two decades. In May 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage on a national level by popular vote, making same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland legal since 16 November 2015.
Ireland is notable for its transformation from a country holding overwhelmingly conservative attitudes toward LGBT issues to one holding overwhelmingly liberal ones in the space of a generation. The first large scale LGBTQ protest took place in Dublin in March 1983 and today they hold a popular annual Dublin Pride Parade.