Ireland is nothing short of fulfilling with striking landscapes and visions of natural allure. The Atlantic brings welcome, warm geothermal gusts and the rare geological wealth is astounding. The dramatic diversity of landscapes, from cities to mountains, is mesmerizing and a boon for tourism. Contrasts throughout counties are esteemed, from rugged coastlines fringing island clusters to ancient boglands alongside lily-covered meadows. Sacred associations, fiery history, and some of the most unique people in the world merge together creating a destination rich with fascinating, friendly culture perfect for the curious and adventurous traveler.
6. County Antrim
Perhaps one of the best-known Irish counties, County Antrim is Ireland’s capital and a gem of a place. Belfast is here, strongly shaped by politics and history, and home to some of the most witty and interesting people in Ireland. The treasures are never-ending: sports, dance, culture, arts, attractions, shopping, and historical landmarks play key roles in the city’s busy tourism sector. Belfast’s most famous pub, The Crown Liquor Saloon, is an old world setting and one of the most impressive pubs in the world. Victorian architecture meets vibrant tiles, hand carved oak screens, painted and stained glass, and private booths alongside the breathtaking bar. Classical Renaissance style City Hall and The Linen Hall Library packed with work from important Irish authors are also must-sees. Traveling out of Belfast, the world-famous Causeway Coastal Route and Giant’s Causeway are incredible natural wonders surrounded by castles, historic bridges, and postcard-perfect vistas.
5. County Clare
On the west side of Ireland is County Clare, filled with dreamy seascapes, cliffs, preserved landscapes, caves, and lakes. The 700-foot high Cliffs of Moher facing the wild waters of the Atlantic are part of The Burren, an ancient karst landscape spanning more than 500 square miles, appearing as an otherworldly sight the county’s northwest. The Cliffs of Moher are majestic, and run along Clare’s west coast for more than 10 kilometers with sandstone and shale ledges creating homes for myriad bird species and are a point where views of Connemara and the Mountains of Kerry come into play. Folk Park and Bunratty Castle are authentic attractions from the Middle Ages attracting tourists from around the world. Discovered in the 1940s, tours of Alwee Caves showcase underground waterfalls, deep caverns, stalactite and stalagmite formations. The caves even house the remains of now-extinct 1000-year-old brown bears.
4. County Cork
County Cork is Ireland’s largest county and another well-known destination pertinent to tourism. Lively and unique, it is Ireland’s second biggest city filled with distinct people who bestow the city its colourful character. In 650, a monastery was built on land that was eventually developed into Cork city over time. Flourishing along the River Lee banks where the water splits into two separate channels, Cork is an island connected to the mainland by 16 bridges. Unspoiled Sheepshead Peninsula is an inspiring place for cycling and walking along the very accessible and almost 90-kilometer trail winding along roads and old tracks and spotted with cliffs, rugged hills, and beautiful coastlines. Beautiful Inchydoney Beach, Fota Wildlife Park, the Healy Pass scenic drive, and Fort Camden are part of Cork’s attractive landscape and historic landmarks, and cultural treasures. Blarney Castle and Gardens, nearby Kinsale (the gourmet capital of Cork), are more esteemed county attractions.
3. County Donegal
County Donegal is laden with nature’s bounty, evident across white sand beaches, pristine water, tranquil boglands, and the nature reserve of Glenveagh National Park where woodlands, lakes, and mountain scenery paint the landscape beautiful. Glenveagh Castle is at the heart of it all, surrounded by natural attractions and lovely in its Victorian architectural style. Climbing, surfing, diving, and back country walks are ideal activities for Donegal’s rugged and rough terrain. Get into the thick of authentic language in the Irish-speaking district of Donegal Gaeltacht; walk lengthy dune systems overlooking the Atlantic; or take a spectacular drive to Horn Head Loop northwest off Donegal’s main road. It’s an almost cliff-hanging adventure following a short but a magnificent route with twists and turns and sweeping views of the Atlantic below. If that’s too nerve-wracking opt for peaceful walks at Lough Eske or meet in the middle and hike the Glenevin Waterfall trail.
2. County Galway
Managed and controlled by just 14 families throughout Medieval times, County Galway became known as the City of Tribes. It flourished in its advantageous position at the concourse of Galway Bay alongside the River Corrib. Today, Galway is a university city, and a flourishing one at that. It provides visitors with vibrant nightlife in a hopping pub scene and it feels as though music is at every corner’s turn, especially in the summer festival season. Escaping the city for some fresher air is as easy as heading north to the wild beauty of Connemara at the county’s western tip where you’ll be sure to hear plenty of Gaelic. Another spot filled with Gaelic speakers is the Aran Islands with Inis Moir being the biggest of the group of three. County Galway also has an incredible vibrant art scene, with scores of fascinating galleries, both conventional and unconventional.
1. County Kerry
In Ireland’s southwest is County Kerry, flanked by the River Shannon on the north, facing the Atlantic Ocean and ideal with a temperate climate that allows swimming all year. Mountains prevail here–Kerry is the most mountainous of any Irish county–adding plenty of depth to surrounding scenery and opening up a host of outdoor possibilities. Another great feature of County Kerry is the coast, and all the islands lying off of it. The Skellig Mountain range is just one of two World Heritage Sites celebrated for the cliff-side medieval monastery that appears to be taking a tumble over but has remained static for centuries. Drive the edges of Iveragh Passage and enjoy one of Kerry’s best scenic routes passing mountains, rugged coastline, and frothy ocean waves or take in all Killarney National Park offers throughout thickly wooded forests, landmarks, and moorland cut with plenty of trails for easy to moderate journeys.