Low misty hills, castles and abbeys, countryside barns, grazing sheep, coasts draped in bluebells, fuchsia and wild garlic; in Ireland you do see 40 shades of green. Besides quaffing a pint at an Irish pub, kissing the Blarney stone, writing a ditty in Limerick, hopping islands at Galway, literary walks in Dublin or graffiti gazing on the streets, there are lots to do in Éire. Our top picks:
1. Trinity College Dublin
Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett; many literary giants have walked the cobbled squares of Ireland’s oldest university. Spanning 47 acres, Trinity College was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. The library’s prized possession is the Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated book on vellum (calf skin) and the Brian Boru harp, one of three surviving medieval Gaelic harps; Ireland’s national symbol.
2. Ring of Kerry
Ireland’s most popular tourist trail, Ring of Kerry is a scenic 106-mile (179 km) circular trip across passes, peat bogs, stone forts, famine houses, great lakes and Ireland’s highest mountain Macgillicuddy Reeks. Admire coastal views from Lady Madonna’s Statue for Sailors Lost at Sea at Coomakista and quaint towns like Killarney, Waterville and Sneem. Be it Derros Coach tours, boat rides, horse carriage to the Gap of Dunloe or hikes along The Kerry Way and Killarney National Park, each experience is unique.
3. Titanic Belfast
Of the 3,500 ships built in Belfast, perhaps the most popular is the Titanic. At Harland & Wolff shipbuilding yard in the Titanic Quarter, visit the experiential museum shaped like the hulls of the trio of identical ships — Olympic (The Beloved), Titanic (The Damned) and Brittanic (The Forgotten). Retrace the ship-building process, records of survivors, heroic tales, costumes from James Cameron’s movie, info panels and old video footage, ending with a surreal walkthrough of relics scattered on the ocean floor.
UK City of Culture 2013, Derry or Londonderry wears many laurels. Named after a sacred oak grove, Ireland’s longest inhabited city is also one of Europe’s finest walled cities whose walls were never breached. Built between 1613-1619, its walls withstood the 105-day Siege of Derry in 1689, the longest in British history, hence its nickname Maiden City. Start at the Peace Bridge and walk past gates, cannon-lined bastions, St. Columb’s Cathedral with views of political graffiti in the Bogside. At the War Memorial, roads fan out to pubs, shops and monuments.
5. Stay in exclusive hotels
Ireland’s hotels let you relive a part of history. The Shelbourne in Dublin was a hub of military activity during World War I and, in 1922, Michael Collins drafted the Irish Constitution in Room 112. Londonderry’s Beech Hill Country House became a base for US Marines during WWII and “The Marines Tree” in the woods bears their names and initials. The Europa in Belfast, “the world’s most bombed hotel” was where Bill Clinton stayed in 1995. Winston Churchill once owned the Londonderry Arms Hotel, while the exotic Chinese Boudoir at the sprawling Carton House hosted Queen Victoria!
6. Giant’s Causeway
Tranquil bays, glacier-cut valleys, ladder farms, swooping seagulls and a scenic road weaving through wishing tunnels; the Causeway Coastal Route ranks among the world’s Top 5 Road Trips. Stop for tea n’ scones at Londonderry Arms Hotel or enjoy a meal by a peat fire at Bushmills Inn. At Giant’s Causeway, an audio tour from the Visitor Experience Centre enlivens the UNESCO World Heritage site. Irish legends deconstruct the hexagonal basalt columns and sights like the Camel and Giant’s Boot! The dizzying Carrick-e-Rede Rope Bridge and awe-inspiring Dunluce Castle on a cliff are nearby attractions.
7. Stomp and dance to Irish music
In a land that gave the world U2, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor and The Cranberries, there’s music everywhere. Catch buskers at Dublin’s Temple Bar area or visit the crowded avenue opposite St. Park’s Green where Bono found his voice. Watch Merry Ploughboys perform at a pub run by them. To catch traditional music and classics like Molly Malone, pub-hop from Ireland’s oldest pub The Brazen Head (1198) in Dublin to Belfast’s oldest tavern Whites (1630).
8. Guinness Storehouse
Discover how a brewing blunder resulted in Ireland’s most famous export. Visit Guinness Storehouse in Dublin to learn about the dark stout. At 125 ft, Ireland’s first skyscraper incorporates a giant glass in the hollow atrium that can technically hold 14.3 million pints. The centrepiece is a copy of the 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness — £45 annually for four acres! Brewery Bar showcases Irish cuisine using Guinness while Gravity Bar offers excellent views of the city.
9. Pick up classic Ireland souvenirs
From Celtic Art to Irish symbols like shamrocks, leprechauns and sheep, take home a piece of Ireland with you. Browse souvenir stores like Carroll’s for memorabilia of Dublin’s colourful doors, Irish authors, famous pubs or official merchandize of The Titanic, Guinness, Bushmills Distillery and Giant's Causeway. Or get a t-shirt with some Irish attitude: Pog Mo Thoin (Kiss my Hiney) or Craic Addict!
10. Sample Irish cuisine
Farm-fresh agro produce, diverse seafood and hearty rustic fare like soda bread, lamb stew and seafood chowder are hallmarks of Irish cuisine. Iconic restaurants dot the Emerald Isle from Dublin to Dingle Bay — Scarriff Inn promises Ireland’s best view, Belfast’s floating restaurant The Barge has seafood platters, sample smoked salmon at Bushmill’s Inn, roast stuffed Irish Quail at James South Street, crispy pork belly at Londonderry’s Custom House or steaks at Nick’s Warehouse.