Ireland is a country that exceeds the expectations of everyone who visits. The town’s really are that colorful, the land really is that green, the landscapes that spectacular, the food that good and the people that friendly. It is a land of juxtaposition; the harsh climate and rugged coastline combine seamlessly with the sprawling farmland, gently rolling hills, and the pristine lakes leading up into the dramatic peaks. No matter where you are in Ireland though, one aspect remains constant: the people. The locals are truly some of the friendliest and welcoming people you will come across in your travels. Their prime objective is to help you fall in love with their country as they once did. They are a proud people, but joyful and happy; the locals in Ireland are what makes this country such a wonderful place to visit at any time of year!
7. Aran Islands
If you want to step back in time, to a place where the animals far outnumber the people and cars are almost non-existent, then come to the Aran Islands. Named for the cluster of three islands that makes up this archipelago, (Inishmore, Inishmaan, Inisheer) the Islands in the Atlantic Ocean are a place where locals are friendly and welcoming while the food is home cooked and delicious. The best way to see the islands is by bike; all three have rental companies with plenty of options. Inishmore is the largest and the most often visited by tourists on day trips from Galway or Dublin; if you want the whole island to yourself, plan to stay overnight – almost no one does, and you are treated like royalty by the locals if you do. Explore the historical landmarks, like the Dun Aonghasa and the Worm Hole and marvel at the Cliffs of Aran, a spectacular and dramatic 300ft coast, not unlike the Cliffs of Moher (but with fewer crowds). The beaches are beautiful, clean and uncrowded, but almost always freezing! Before you catch a ferry back, wander some of the local shops for your chance to buy some traditional Aran Wool alongside some beautiful and handmade products that make for a perfect souvenir!
In a country famous all over the world for its music, the city of Galway is probably home to some of its best. Located on the west coast of Ireland, Galway is a small and colorful seaside town overwhelmed with music and culture. You could spend all day wandering the streets and listening to the locals; most of them are looking to make a living and “be discovered”, but they all love what they do, and that joy is evident when you stop and listen to them play. The atmosphere in Galway is toxic, but in the best way; the music on the streets enters your body and warms your entire soul. If you weren’t outside walking on a busy street, you could just as easily be listening to a musician playing in their home at Christmas time – it is that special and intimate. The rest of Galway is beautiful, the food is delicious, the buildings are unique and the landscape is beautiful, but it is the music you hear that you will forever remember.
5. Dun Laoghaire
The first stop for many tourists visiting Ireland is usually Dublin; the Guinness Storehouse, the Book of Kells, pubs and the nightlife are all excellent reasons to visit. But because of its popularity, it is almost always busy and jammed with tourists. Lucky for us, we know of a secretly quiet spot. Located just 13 km southeast of Dublin is Dun Laoghaire, a beautiful seaside town with plenty of historic and scenic locations, on a much smaller and intimate scale. Because Dun Laoghaire plays host to fewer tourists each year, it seems that the locals are much more willing to open their doors and share their culture (that’s not to say the people in Dublin aren’t friendly!) One can relax and enjoy one of the many local pubs, or take an early morning stroll along one of the piers to watch the local fishermen bring in the catch of the day. Dun Laoghaire is underrated, but shouldn’t be; there are plenty of walking trails where you can take in the brightly colored houses, local history and small town Irish charm.
4. The Island of Skellig Michael
Although not an Irish town, Skellig Michael is such an important Irish landmark it had to be included on this list. Listen to a local talk about this landmark, and their faces light up – you can hear the pride in their voices. These two small islands, located 11.6km off the coast of County Kerry in the Atlantic Ocean, have captivated tourists and locals for hundreds of years. Skellig Michael, the larger of the two, is the site of a well preserved monastic outpost of the Early Christian period. In order to become closer to their God, Christian monks decided to completely remove themselves from civilization and today it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The second island, Small Skellig, is famous in its own right: it is the home to nearly 27,000 pairs of gannets (the second largest colony of gannets in the world). Step onto Skellig Michael and you can’t help but be awestruck and overwhelmed with a sense of spiritualism and beauty; with the solitude and surroundings it almost invokes a sense of magic. The islands can only be reached via ferry (most commonly from Portmagee) and the ride over is usually quite rough. But if you can stomach the ferry, as well as the near 700 jagged steps straight up to the monastery, it truly is one of the few sights that will take your breath away.
3. Glendalough, County Wicklow
Glendalough, in County Wicklow, is one of Ireland’s most beautiful visitors’ destinations and receives thousands of visitors a year. Commonly referred to as “the valley of the two lakes” this area is home to some spectacular scenery that is overflowing with unique flora and fauna and important archeology and history. The Christian monastery on site, dating back to the 6th century, is unique and not to be missed, but it is the Glendalough valley located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park that attract the tourists. Plenty of walking and hiking trails are all over the area, as well as many lakes and valleys; pack a picnic and head out for the day to be amongst what is quintessential Irish landscape – one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
2. Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale offers all the Irish charm and culture of Cork City, but on a much smaller scale. A popular resort for both Irish and overseas tourists, Kinsale is known for its water activities, especially yachting and sailing. The town is quaint and colorful, with plenty of historical buildings and interesting architecture to satisfy everyone. The food here is especially good and the locals are proud of their cuisine – the town even holds an annual “Gourmet Festival”. This small port town is distinctly Irish: from the locals who go out of their way to make you feel welcome, to the brightly colored doorways and the prominent fishing community, a visit to Kinsale will leave you with a clear feeling of happiness.
1. Dingle, County Kerry
Picture old Irish men in tweed hats walking down the cobblestone path and cute Irish women ushering you in from the cold – this is what you will find in Dingle. Quintessentially Irish, this peaceful, colorful town is a popular stop in County Kerry. As the only town on the Dingle Peninsula, is often visited by those driving along the spectacular Ring of Kerry. The beaches along the coastline are safe, beautiful and world class. If you can brave the cold, you won’t find a better place for swimming and surfing. After the beach, head back into town, where you will for sure be ushered in to a cozy room with a fireplace, and be treated with a home cooked Irish meal that will warm your soul, and your toes!