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Backpacking Ireland on a Budget: 35 Highlights & Travel Tips!

View of landscape when backpacking Ireland

Ireland is an exciting country to visit and has a lot to offer – the rough coastline, they ancient castles, the green meadows, the lush forests – there’s much to do and to see on the island! Besides beautiful nature and scenery, the country is also known for its unique culture and the typical Irish pubs with delicious Guinness and friendly locals. As you can see, there are many good reasons to go on a backpacking Ireland trip – and I’m sure that you will have an amazing time!

In the following article, I’d like to share with you my best travel tips and recommendations for backpacking Ireland, as well as a list with the best place to visit, which I put together with the help of some of my fellow travel blogger friends who already travelled Ireland.

What’s a good backpacking Ireland Budget?

Ireland is not a cheap country to travel and I personally found expenses for accommodation and food higher than in Germany. A bed in a hostel will cost you around 15-30€ per night (much more on the weekends in Dublin, when prices rise) and you can save money by cooking your own meals in the hostel kitchen or by eating street food or snacks from supermarkets. Ireland’s nightlife is fun, but a few pints of guinness ever night will certainly exhaust your budget. The good thing is that most “attractions” of Ireland are the beautiful nature, for which you don’t need to pay any entrance fees (once you get there). A rental car is an additional expense, but will save you the money for day tours, which can easily cost up to 100€ per person. It’s hard to give a rough estimate, but I’d say you’ll be able to backpack Ireland on a very low budget for about 50€ per day. However, I recommend about 80-100€ per day to fully enjoy the country. Unfortunately, Ireland is not as cheap as other European backpacking destinations such as Prague, Romania or Madrid – but it’s still a lot of fun!

When to visit Ireland? How’s the weather?

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. Independent of the time of the year, you have to expect lots of rain in Ireland and chances are high that (at least parts of) your backpacking trip will be pretty rainy. Therefore, you shouldn’t forget your rain coat, water proof shoes, a cover for your backpack as well as an umbrella. Besides the rain, the “nicest” and “warmest” time to visit are the summer months, roughly from June to April. Keep in mind that this is high season, therefore you will encounter many tourists and places might get crowded and book out in advance. If you want to avoid the crowds, think about visiting in spring and fall, when less people visit and chances for some sunny days are still high. I visited Ireland in October and while I certainly had some rainy and cloudy days, I also had some sunshine and blue skies at times.

How much time should I plan for my Ireland backpacking trip?

While Ireland is not a huge country, there’s still a lot to do and to see. Many people visit the island only for a few days and spend most of their time in the capital Dublin with some occasional day trips to the Cliffs of Moher or some other iconic attractions of the country. However, if you want to explore the country in more detail, I’d recommend about 10-15 days to get a good feeling for the Emerald Island. By the way – although northern Ireland is theoretically part of the UK and therefore doesn’t belong to the country Ireland, you should certainly head up north as well and explore Belfast as well as the beautiful nature in the island’s northern tip.

How to get around the country?

Ireland is comparably small (still there’s much to see!) and you can move around the country on trains, busses or in a car. Public transport connects most places (especially the bigger cities) and is an affordable way to get around Ireland, with busses being generally cheaper than trains. Distances aren’t too big either and you will be able to explore most of the country via public transport. However, keep in mind that the beauty of Ireland lies especially in its nature and landscape and the best way to explore this is with the flexibility of a rental car. Renting a car will give you the opportunity to stop wherever you want to enjoy the scenery and to also head off the beaten track. While a rental car is not necessary needed for a backpacking Ireland trip, it certainly adds lots of freedom and flexibility and especially if you’re visiting Ireland with some friends, it makes a good opportunity for a road trip.

By the way: There are also plenty of tour operators offering day trips and tours to the famous sights which might be a bit difficult to reach with public transport, such as the Cliffs of Moher or the Giants Causeway in northern Ireland. Even if for some reason you won’t be able to have your own car, you will still be able to visit these attractions – just keep in mind that you will give up some of your freedom by joining a guided tour, and in my experience, these day trips were also a bit pricey.

Is it safe to go backpacking in Ireland?

Long story short: Yes, Ireland is a safe country and there’s not much to worry about. In my experience, all the locals were incredibly friendly and helpful and I’m sure that you will have a wonderful time on the island.

Best places to visit when backpacking Ireland

With the help of my fellow travel blogger friends, I’d like to present you all the best places and attractions to visit in Ireland.

Dublin

Sooner or later, you will spend a few days and nights in the country’s capital Dublin on your backpacking Ireland trip. I really enjoyed my visit in Dublin and there are quite a few fun things to do and nice places to visit, ranging from the stunning churches and cathedrals to the famous Trinity College, the Guiness Storehouse and the exciting Temple Bar District – the center of Dublin’s nightlife!

Glendalough Valley

Over 500 years ago, Saint Kevin escaped to the Glendalough Valley, seeking solace and self-reflection in the rolling emerald hills of the Wicklow Mountains. Other monks followed suit and soon, one of Ireland’s most important monastic sites was established, offering refuge to the monks and their precious religious texts from the invading Vikings. Despite several Viking attacks over the centuries, the monastery thrived until 1214, when it was destroyed by the Normans.

Now, one of the most important monastic sites in all of Europe, you can explore its extensive ancient ruins, dating back to 10th through 12th centuries, which are set against the breathtaking scenery of the Wicklow mountains. While you wander around the ruins of a cemetery full of Celtic crosses, see if you can single out St. Kevin’s cross- legend has it that anyone who can wrap their arms around the entire width of the cross body and close the circle by touching fingertips will have their wishes granted.

While the ruins themselves are fascinating, its location is nothing short of stunning. Glendalough is gaelic for the “Valley of two lakes”- the monastery was placed in a gorgeous glacial valley adorned by, you guessed it, two pristine lakes. Be sure to hike to see Glendalough’s Upper and Lower Lakes, set against the rising green mountains. The trail to the lakes is generally flat and easily accessible for adventurers of all abilities. Once you reach your destination, take a minute to pause, drink it all in, and feel the tranquility that St. Kevin found in Glendalough, all those years ago.

–  Jessica from Uprooted Traveler

Lake of Glendalough
Glendalough, Ireland

Kilkee, County Clare

An hours drive west of Limerick and just south of the Cliffs of Moher, sits the charming coastal town of Kilkee. A hidden gem along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Kilkee is a popular summer destination for many residents of Limerick. Since the 1820s and the expansion of rail service to the Irish coast, Kilkee’s popularity as a seaside getaway has increased. It was once considered the premier swimming spot in the UK and Ireland. Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, Kilkee’s most notable feature is its horseshoe shaped bay. The bay is protected from the rough Atlantic waves by Duggerna Reef. The reef consists of three natural rock-enclosed formations more commonly referred to as “pollock holes.” In addition to breaking down the strong waves, the pollock holes are used as natural swimming pools by local residents and visitors. Be careful though, the water is fresh from the North Atlantic and very cold. After a refreshing dip in the pollock holes, walking along Kilkee’s cliffs is a must. Stretching out along the length of Kilkee, the cliffs, while not as tall as the more famous Cliffs of Moher, are stunning. They are also virtually devoid of tourists. The Loop Head Way is an 8 km trail that begins at the pollock holes. The cliffs provide provide breathtaking views of Kilkee, the Irish countryside, and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to its natural beauty, Kilkee serves up truly authentic Irish experience at its handful of Irish pubs and restaurants. Almost entirely visited by locals, the pubs offer an opportunity to talk with locals about Kilkee and the surrounding area. It’s a welcome change from the touristy pubs found in Dublin and other major tourist destinations in Ireland.

– Amber from Food Drink Destinations

Coast and cliffs in Kilkee
Kilkee, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher

One of the most iconic images from Ireland is that if the majestic Cliffs of Moher. These sweeping limestone cliffs tower above the ocean which beats and froths at their base. One of the best things to do in the region is walk the cliffside path (just be sure to stay within the marked safety areas!) and soak up the ocean views. Many of the coach tours from Galway visit in time for sunset which is an ideal opportunity to take photos, but you can also visit at any other time of day to avoid the crowds.

While at the Cliffs of Moher, you shouldn’t miss O’Brien’s Castle which sits not far from the edge. This typical Irish turret was built in 1835 and can be seen from miles around.

While they don’t always show themselves, there’s a sizeable puffin population at the Cliffs of Moher. The area is also famed for being a filming location in the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

There are a few different ways to get to the Cliffs of Moher, the main two being hiring a car or taking an organised day trip. The latter is fairly cheap at €20 and include stops at Dunguaire Castle and Poulnabrone Tomb.

– Rose from Where goes Rose

View of cliffs of mother coastline
Cliffs of Moher

Derry

Known as being one of Ireland’s oldest cities, Derry is also known for his political division and history during the days of The Troubles. Often overlooked on the Coastal Causeway route, perched at the very top on the border with the Republic of Ireland, there’s a lot here for the explorer eye and one of the places to visit in Northern Ireland that reaches beyond a reputation of conflict.

Firstly, the old town is worth a wander since the city boasts the accolade of being the only one with a complete and intact walled city. One whose structure you can walk for spectacular elevated views. One of those views is over the famous Bogside where you can walk down and visit Free Derry Corner and the People’s Gallery peace murals in remembrance of a dark history the city is desperately trying to move on from. Kayak on the river Foyle for a waterfront perspective or take a bombarding tour that crosses neighbourhoods and historical points of interest brought together by the Friendship Bridge that’s closing the divide.

– Becki from Borders of Adventure

View of Derry on a backpacking Ireland trip
Visiting Derry

Blarney Stone / Blarney Castle

Ireland is awash in castles. From the majestic and imposing Dublin castle to the lonely ruins found on wind-swept cliffs, Ireland’s castles are legendary and worth going out of your way to explore.

Everyone has heard of Blarney Castle, probably the best-known castle in Ireland.  It is the home of the very kissable Blarney Stone, just one of the interesting quirks Ireland is famous for. It is certainly possible to visit the castle on a day trip from Dublin.  A better idea, however, if you have the time, is to schedule a visit as a stop on your way to or from Ireland’s spectacular west coast.

As the legend goes, if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will be rewarded with the gift of gab or eloquence. If you have a low tolerance for silly touristy gimmicks you may not feel compelled to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the stone. But if you’re like me, a sucker for touristy gimmicks, you will succumb, as I did, to the promise of the gift of gab and you will kiss the stone.

The castle has been in ruins for many years. The only things that remain are a few walls and a staircase leading up to the area where silly tourists (like me) wait their turn to kiss the stone and relieve themselves of one Euro dropped into the assistant’s dish. What is REALLY worthwhile are the extensive and beautifully manicured gardens on the grounds of the castle.

–  Talek from Travels with Talek

Person Kissing the blarney stone
Blarney Stone

Ring of Kerry

One of the best things to do in Ireland is go on a road trip. Ireland has so many options for scenic drives but one road trip that stands out is the Ring of Kerry. The route is popular with coach tours that complete the 179 km loop in one day, but self-driving it gives you more time and freedom to savour all the sights along the way.

The Ring of Kerry starts and ends in Killarney, in southwest Ireland, and showcases some of the island’s most beautiful scenery. The drive begins on a high note by passing through the gorgeous Killarney National Park, climbing up to Moll’s Gap, then descending to the colourful town of Kenmare. The route then meanders along a rocky coastline passing by small beaches, green fields, and distant islands. A detour onto the Skellig Ring is especially memorable thanks to the dramatic cliffs, ancient stone forts, and picturesque ruined castle.

After exploring the Ring of Kerry, it was easy to see why it’s such a popular drive. If you love wild scenery, historic sites, and vibrant small towns, then this road trip is for you!

–  Rhonda from Travel? Yes Please!

Nature and hills with blue sky
Ring of Kerry

Hill of Tara 

Visitors with an interest in the history of Ireland won’t want to miss the captivating Hill of Tara in County Meath. This 100-acre ancient site is where the High Kings of Ireland were crowned during the Iron Age, and has been a spiritual centre for centuries. One of the most legendary Celtic kings to make the Hill of Tara his base of power is Cormac mac Airt, and a grassy plateau is the site of his former home, though there is barely a trace left of the wood and wattle structure.

One of the most interesting sights is the Mound of Hostages, the oldest monument at Tara. Somewhere around four thousand years ago, this Neolithic passage tomb was built and is solar aligned, with the dark passage lighting up twice a year by the rays of the sun. At least 200 cremated bodies were discovered inside along with mysterious stone carvings, though today, visitors can only peer in through protective bars.

Another point of interest is the Stone of Destiny. Whether it’s the genuine stone or not is up for debate, but even so, the towering stone on the King’s Seat is one of the most popular things to see at Tara. Believed to have mystical powers, it was an integral part of a High King’s coronation ceremony.

–  Carol from Wandering Carol

Statue on hill of Tara
Hill of Tara

Aran Islands

The Aran Islands located off of the coast of Galway make for an excellent day trip from Galway. There are three islands to visit, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, in order of largest to smallest. Visiting the Aran Islands is a quick immersion into rural Irish life. On the islands, you’ll primarily hear the Irish language spoken, although islanders are also fluent in English.

Inishmore and Inisheer are the two most popular of the Aran Islands to visit as there is a bit more to see. Thankfully, I’ve had the pleasure to visit both Inishmore and Inisheer and believe they both would make excellent options for a day trip. It’s easy to get to these islands via ferry from Galway or Doolin. However, I recommend departing from Galway as I’ve heard of frequent cancellations from Doolin due to weather.

The best way to see each island is by bicycle. You can rent a bicycle at a shop close to the ferry for about €10. They will provide you with a map with the route and the highlights. The highlight on Inishmore is Dun Aengus (a circular stone fort high on a cliff) and on Inisheer it is the Plassey Shipwreck. But the real highlights of each of these islands is witnessing the natural beauty of the green hills marked with stone walls that sweep in the beautiful blue Atlantic sea. No matter which island you choose to visit you will be greeted with the warm Irish welcome we’ve all come to love.

–  Katie from Just Chasing Sunsets

Ship at coast
Aran Islands

Caldaragh Cemetery – Janus Head

On Boa Island which is near Belleek, you will find one of the oldest and most famous carved stones in Ireland. Called the Janus Stone it is over 2000 years old and pre-dates Christianity. The figure that stands around 3 feet high and is double faced which is where it gets the name “Janus” head from. There is a groove that runs down the centre between the double-faced head area with a zig-zag detail that is believed to separate the figures into male and female deities. These days people leave little tokens for luck in the groove from pennies to tobacco.

There is another smaller, statue believed to have come from Lusty More Island which is close by. This statue is known as The Lusty Man even though it does appear genderless. The statue is said to represent Badhbha or the Divine Hag as it only has one fully carved eye. The name Boa is an English version of her Gaelic name Caillech Bhéarra. The statue is lightly carved and the figure does seem to be holding something although the carving is so worn down by the time it is difficult to make out.

It’s easy to get to Boa island as it is joined to the mainland by a bridge. Simply follow the road through and you will see the signs pointing to the Caldaragh Cemetery. Follow the sign and there is a small parking lot at the end of the drive, you will see a cow gate with a sign for the cemetery. Simply follow the track which will lead you to this ancient burial place and you will see the stones as soon as you enter.

–  Faith from XYU and Beyond

Stone statue Janus Head
Caldaragh Janus Head

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, located in County Clare not far from Limerick City, is a must when visiting Ireland. One of the most complete medieval castles in Ireland, Bunratty castle dates back as far as the 10thcentury and stands on the site of a Viking trading camp, although the castle tower now standing is from the 15th century.

The castle has several floors to explore and is furnished with tapestries and works of art from the 15thand 16thcenturies. One of the most unique things about visiting Bunratty Castle is the fact you can experience medieval times first-hand at one of their Banquets. Medieval Banquets are held in the castle twice nightly and you can dine on medieval-inspired food and drink honey mead, all while being entertained with dance and song from medieval times. It’s a must if you are visiting the castle.

Attached to the castle is a Folk Park in which you can visit various houses and buildings, giving visitors a chance to experience 19thcentury Ireland. There are other areas to the Folk Park which means it can be a full day out and it is very family-friendly so everyone can visit and enjoy it.

–  Cath from Passports and Adventures

View of castle entrance
Bunratty Castle

Lismore Castle

One of the best castles in Ireland to visit, with or without the kids, is the beautiful Lismore Castle in County Waterford. This stunning medieval castle, dating back to the 12thcentury, was once the home of the Earls of Desmond before becoming the home of Cavendish family in 1753, whose family it remains with to this day.

Although the castle itself is not open to the public, being the family home of the Cavendish’s, it’s stunning gardens and café are, and it is for this reason that many people visit the castle.

The castle grounds are home to two landscape gardens in the form of the Lower and Upper Gardens. The lower are informal grounds housing the wooded areas of the castle grounds. You’ll find things hidden away in the woods, such as a great tree swing and a free-play area for kids to have fun. The Upper gardens are more landscaped than their lower counterparts.

The first walled garden was constructed in the 17th century and today you’ll find ornamental borders and vegetable plots as well as rose gardens. Spring and summer time are the best times of year to visit Lismore Castle, although it is still quite beautiful at other times of the year. This little-known castle is one I can recommend visiting with kids, and make sure to enjoy a cup of tea and a cake inside the café in between visiting the two sets of gardens.

–  Cath from Passports and Adventures

Road to Lismore Castle
Lismore Castle, Waterford

Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle, on the banks of the River Suir in County Tipperary is a place everyone should put on their list of places to visit in Ireland. One of Ireland’s largest and well-preserved medieval castles, it was built in the 13thcentury and was once the home of the powerful Butler family, the Earls of Osmond. In my opinion, it is one of the best castles to visit with kids around the world.

It is a large castle, with many towers and areas to explore, making a visit to Cahir Castle with kids both possible and enjoyable. From towers to the cellar, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to check out. If you want to learn about the Castle’s history and see what the area would have been like centuries ago, there is a great interactive castle display which even kids will enjoy. There is a great audio-visual display about the castle, which is probably best enjoyed without little kids who might get bored.

If the sun is shining, the castle is even more beautiful. Make sure to enjoy the view across the river from the portcullis hallway. In the Outer Ward area, you’ll find grassy areas to enjoy (weather dependant, this is Ireland after all), and it’s a great place to let the kids have some fun too.

Cahir Castle is a great place to combine with a visit to either the Rock of Cashel, less than 30 minutes away, or the Swiss Cottage, less than 10 minutes away. They’re all great places to get lost in Irish history.

–  Cath from Passports and Adventures

Window view of Cahir
Cahir Castle

Dingle Town

Dingle Town is located way out there – about 70 miles southwest of the Shannon airport and a 5-hour drive from Dublin.  You need to be aiming for it or you will likely miss ever seeing it.  Dingle Town is the most westerly town in Europe, and it was close to the top of my visit wish list for Ireland, so I factored in a lot of road time to get there. And it was well worth it!

Getting to the Dingle Peninsula routes you through scenic rugged mountains and past jagged cliffs.  At 3,130 feet, the peninsula’s Mount Brandon is Ireland’s second-tallest mountain.  The area has more sheep than residents–I’ve been told the peninsula has 10,000 residents and 500,000 sheep!  But only 1,500 people reside right in Dingle Town.  You should plan to spend at least two nights.

We stayed at The Lantern Townhouse B&B located right on Main Street. It was comfortable and inexpensive, and we were able to walk almost everywhere. Restaurants offer tasty food, and cozy pubs present traditional Irish music.  The area is home to many artists, which is reflected in the colorfully painted buildings and the creative souvenirs available in shops.

We spent most of a day driving the Ring of Dingle, which provides spectacular views as it passes many ancient sites.  When we returned to town, we indulged in one final don’t-miss–ice cream at Murphys bright little shop.  Flavors include such delights as Dingle sea salt and Guinness–all made with super-rich milk from the rare, indigenous Kerry cow.

–  Carole from Travels with Carole

Streets of Dingle Town
Dingle Town, Ireland

Dingle Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula, located on the south-west coast of Ireland, is a small area stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean. But don’t be fooled by the size, Dingle might be little, but it packs a powerful punch. Sadly, it took until my third visit to Ireland until I made it to the Dingle Peninsula, and I regretted putting it off so long as It quickly became a favorite spot for me in the country.

What makes this area of Ireland so special is that it combines all the things I love about the country in one area. The landscape is pristine and diverse.  The coast is lined with sandy beaches and steep cliffside bluffs. In stark contrast to the gorgeous beaches are the craggy mountains and hills dotted around the inland. The largest mountain is Mount Brandon which is the second highest peak in Ireland. There are also the picturesque rolling hills you expect when visiting Ireland. These mountains and hills form the backbone of this peninsula.  The beaches are perfect for swimming, and the mountains have some great hiking.  If you came to Ireland to experience the landscape, you can do no better.  The landscape of Dingle is so surreal that films, such as the latest Star Wars movies, have been shot in the area.

Perhaps the biggest reason I fell in love with this remote area is the main town itself, also called Dingle, which is bathed in old Irish culture and traditions. The locals of this area are committed to keeping the Irish language, music, and culture alive. As you travel around you will stumble on tiny towns and pubs where old locals play old tunes and sell handmade crafts. Overall Dingle holds the best of the best of Ireland.

–  Stephen from A Backpacker’s Tale

Meadow and coast at sunset
Dingle Peninsula

Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway is one of the most visited landmarks in Ireland, and it was designated a world heritage site in 1986.  It’s one of many interesting places to visit along the Antrim coastal road near the small town of Bushmills.

The unusual hexagonal columns, approximately 40,000 in total interlock in a most unique way. Over the years there have been many tales of how they were formed.  One of the most popular folk tales tells the story of how the Irish giant Finn McCool built the steps so that his girlfriend could come over from Scotland.

Today scientific research shows that the rock formation was most likely formed as a result of a volcanic eruption along a fissure some 50-60 million years ago.

The columns are made from basalt, and some stand as tall as 12 metres. The rocks can be climbed although some sections are more challenging than others. The view from the top is spectacular.

It’s worth taking a closer look at the rocks, many are tinged with red and green.  This colouring is actually Lichen, a type of slow-growing plant. You can also spot other native plants such as Scots Lovage and Bird Foot Trefoil.

The best time to visit the site is in the evening as the sun begins to set.  You can walk down to the coastline without having to enter the visitor’s centre.

The road that is on the right of the centre from the car park leads straight down to Giants Causeway.  It takes about 15 minutes to walk there, however, during the day there is a bus that takes you.

If you want to take photographs as the sun sets its best to arrive early. This is a favourite spot for local photographers and of course their tripods.

–  Fiona from Passport and Piano

Coast of Giants-Causeway
Giants Causeway, northern Ireland

Waterford

Waterford, located on Ireland’s Southern coast is often overlooked by tourist, yet there is so much this little town has to offer.

First of all, the history of Waterford. The first records mention Waterford in 914 A.D. after the Vikings came to Ireland and make it the oldest settlement in Ireland. You will stumble upon Viking Heritage all over the city and in the Viking Triangle, but I highly recommend visiting the King of Vikings Experience – a virtual reality experience that makes you feel like you are in the middle of a Viking village from the 9th century. If you have time for a day trip, I also recommend the Irish National Heritage Park in Wexford, which is a great open air museum with interesting information about the history of Waterford and the Southern Irish coast.

Another highlight and a must-see is of course Waterford Crystal. The renown crystal company is famous far beyond the Irish borders and even interesting for people who are not fans of fancy cut glassware. During the tour, you learn a lot about the process and can even try your hand at making your own crystal souvenir.

For a proper Irish meal, head to The Reg. It is the oldest pub in town and is built along the old city walls. Great food, awesome atmosphere and of course, plenty of Guiness for an authentic Irish night.

–  Maria from Europe Up Close

Museum in Waterford with table and fells
Waterford Museum

Irish Lighthouses

Ireland, being an island has dozens upon dozens of lighthouses, which is an obvious but often overlooked fact.  Irish Lights manages the majority of Ireland’s lighthouses (approximate 65 of them).  Many of the lighthouses are on land; however, many are out in the sea.  The two things that they all have in common is their purpose, which is to aid vessels with navigation and safety, and second, their rugged locations.

12 Irish lighthouses were recently featured in a documentary series by RTE called ‘Great Lighthouses of Ireland.’  The series details not only the history of the individual lighthouses but also the lives of the light keepers who maintained them.   You can visit most of the lighthouses, and you can book overnight accommodations in a few of them.

One of the more famous lighthouses is the Hook Head Lighthouse located on the Hook Head peninsula in southwestern Wexford.  The Hook Head Lighthouse is the world’s oldest operational lighthouse.

The only way to see the interior of the lighthouse is to take the guided tour.  I would recommend the tour; our guide was knowledgeable, and you’ll get a good history of the lighthouse and a sense of what life was like living in the lighthouse.  The tour culminates at the top of the lighthouse with views of the Irish Sea and the Wexford countryside.

After the tour you can grab a bite to eat from the cafe; the cafe had a nice variety of food including vegetarian and vegan options.  You can also check out the grounds and take pictures around the front of the lighthouse.  The Hook Head is an excellent place to stop on your way to Waterford (or further westward); if you do the tour and grab lunch expect to spend about 1.5-2 hours there.

– Catherine from Traveling with the Littles

Hook Head Lighthouse
Hook Head Lighthouse, Wexford

Wexford

Wexford is 2 hours southeast from the capital city and a perfect day trip from Dublin. Famous for the annual opera festival held every October and the best strawberry farms in the country. The beaches are among the most visited places in Ireland as Wexford is also the warmest region in the country. The best thing to do in Wexford is to explore the thousands of acres of parks and gardens, including the historic John F. Kennedy Memorial Park & Arboretum, Wells House and the 11th century Johnstown Castle and Gardens. There are guided tours (included with your admission) that take you through historic parts of the gardens.

Take the scenic drive to Hook Peninsula where you will find Hook Lighthouse – the world’s second oldest working lighthouse that is still operating to date and the Loftus Hall – Ireland’s most famous haunted house, a popular attraction during Halloween. Along the way stop at the Tacumshane Windmill, the only remaining windmill in Ireland from 1846 with a revolving straw thatched cap to catch the wind for its sails.

From Dublin there are daily routes from Irish Rail, Wexford Bus, and Bus Éireann.

– Lerato Bambo from Life from a Bag

Lighthouse at Wexford
Wexford, Ireland

Saltee Islands

I think the Saltee Islands in Wexford is definitely an overlooked spot for tourism in Ireland! So many tourists every year from all over the world flock mostly to the west of Ireland – which is super beautiful of course but there are a lot of lesser known spots that you might even consider more authentic these days in other parts of Ireland given that they attract far fewer crowds. And the Saltee Islands is one of those!

The Saltee Islands are beautiful untouched islands off the coast of Kilmore Quay in Wexford. In the summer season, there are frequent boats that offer day trips to the main island and then once there you can spend your day exploring or having a picnic with family or friends. The main island is quite small so spending a day there is enough to enjoy the beauty of the entire place. There is so much nature on the island and it’s the perfect place for anyone interested in birdwatching. It’s truly peaceful.

The problem with the Saltee Islands on the flip side is that although they’re incredible and worth a visit they’re not easy to get to unless you have a car! However, it is possible (although a little less convenient) to get a Bus Eireann bus to Wexford and from there take a local bus to Kilmore Quay and then take the ferry to the islands!

–  Ann Marie from Ecoconscious Traveller

Harbor with boats
Kilmore Quay, Saltee Islands

Wicklow National Park

A must visit of any Ireland itinerary, Wicklow National Park is an invaluable biodiverse space with stunning green-hued landscapes. With over 49k acres of mountains, lakes, and ridiculously pretty sites, Ireland’s largest National Park is also full of history. One of the most visited areas of the park is the Glendalough Valley with the ancient monastic site dating back to the 6th century.

For soft adventure lovers like us, the hike around the Glendalough lakes near the monastic site is the perfect way to spend a morning outdoors.

This is an easy 3.5-mile loop trail that you should start with the lakes on your left so you can reach the peak around lunch time. (And have a picnic with a view!)

If you’re an adventure junkie, you might want to try the Wicklow Way. This is an 80-mile trail that starts in Marlay Park near Dublin and goes all the way South to the village of Clonegal.

Pro tip: reserve around 7 days to follow this journey and start it in Clonegal as the landscapes become more interesting when following this direction.

Moreover, know that Wicklow is the closest National Park to Dublin, so while in the capital, there is no reason not to visit it. The striking nature and views are enchanting. You’ll love it!

–  Bruna & Frank from Maps ’N Bags

Landscape and hills of Wicklow
Wicklow, Ireland
 

Walk the Wicklow Way

The Wicklow Way is Ireland’s oldest way-marked long-distance walk! The 128 km long walk takes you through the incredible Wicklow Mountains and through County Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland!

While it’s possible to walk the entire route in seven days I’d recommend walking the last four days of it instead.  The first part of the trail from Bunclody to Glenmalure is walking on country or foresty roads. It’s OK, but by far the most scenic part of the trail is from Glenmalure to Dublin. Instead of looking at the Wicklow Mountains from a distance, you’re now hiking in Wicklow Mountains National Park.

So what makes this walk so special?  You’ll hike through Glenmalure, the longest glacial valley in Ireland!

You’ll also walk past Glendalough, a 6th-century monastic city, which is one of the most important in the country.

Some of the scenery along the route may be familiar to you such as Lough Dan and Lough Tay if you watch the TV show Vikings.

You’ll also get great views of Powerscourt Waterfall – the highest in Ireland!

Another highlight is Guinness Lakein the Wicklow Mountains. It’s named after the hidden  Guinness Estate which lies at the end of the lake.

The finale of the hike has you walking up  Two-Rock Mountain with fantastic views of the Irish Sea before your descent into Dublin. Time for a pint of Guinness. You’ve earned it.

– Laurel from Monkeys and Mountains

Wicklow mountains with lake
Wicklow Mountains

Climb Ireland’s Highest Mountain

Ireland is not the kind of country that you want to experience more than just from the roadside. The beautiful nature and scenery of Ireland are calling for you and you won’t regret following them – especially if you are in the Killarney area!

At 1,040 m Carrauntoohil is Ireland’s highest mountain. It is part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range east of the Killarney National Park and the famous Gap of Dunloe. Since it is only 30-45 minutes drive from Killarney town, it makes for a great, but challenging day hike that is at best rewarded with fantastic views over the breathtaking landscape of Kerry County.

The most popular trail up Carrauntoohil is waymarked from Cronin’s Yard car park until you reach the bottom of Devil’s Ladder. From there it is a steep climb up the gully – but despite its name, you barely need to use your hands for this section. Just make sure you take care when crossing the potentially wet and slippery rocks. From the top of the Ladder, the trail flattens out again and leads continuously up to the summit which is marked with a huge cross. Cairns – small, but recognisably piles of rocks – mark this last section of the path. The easiest way back is to return the same way you came.

Even though Carrauntoohil does not compare to challenging hikes in much higher mountain ranges, it is important that you are a confident hillwalker to attempt summiting this hill. You must wear appropriate hiking gear and if you are heading out by yourself, make sure you someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back (for example your accommodation host).

–  Kathi from Watch Me See

Person in front of lake and mountains
Carrauntoohil mountain, Ireland

Rock of Cashel

Located in County Tipperary in the southern part of Ireland’s Ancient East, the Rock of Cashel is a beloved National Monument whose oldest building dates back more than 1000 years (making it older than Ireland itself). Also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock, this historic site was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster (as southern Ireland was known then) for hundreds of years prior to the 12th century Norman invasion. In 1101, Munster King Muirchertach Ua Briain donated his fortress to the Church. The 90-foot-tall round tower is the only structure that still exists from the era of his reign, with the majority of the buildings you’ll see there today built in the 12th and 13 centuries. But the massive ruins that remain still rank among Europe’s most incredible examples of Medieval architecture. You could spend hours marveling at the vaulted ceilings and wide arches of Cormac’s Chapel (which was consecrated in 1134) and the cross-shaped Cathedral (which was built between 1235 and 1270). Even the graveyard outside the church holds an exceptional collection of Celtic art headstones, including an impressive collection of elaborate high crosses. Make sure to pull off to the side of the road on your way in or out of the Rock of Cashel to take in the stunning scenic views. 

– Bret & Mary from Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide

Rock of Cashel castle
Rock of Cashel

Foynes Flying Boat Museum (County Limerick)

At first glance, Foynes may seem like an unassuming Irish town in rural County Limerick but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Foynes has an incredibly fascinating historic past. For a short period centered around World War II, Foynes hosted the “airport” connecting Europe with North America via “flying boat”. While float planes are still used today, the flying boats of the past were behemoths the size of jets that took off and landed on water. The flying boats departing from Foynes really foreshadowed the era of commercial trans-Atlantic flights to come. The flying boat airport (boatport?) was located in Foynes because the town is situated in the far west of Ireland and Foynes to Newfoundland in North America was a feasible trip given the technology of the time.

Today, Foynes is home to the Flying Boat Museum which is housed in the former flying boat airport terminal. The museum features intriguing exhibits on the history of aviation and also claims to be the birthplace of Irish coffee! You can find out what it would have been like to be a passenger on a flying boat by exploring an example which is decorated just like passengers of the day would have experienced for their 12-20+ hour journey to North America (the flight time was heavily dependent on weather conditions). As a passenger, you were definitely in for a bumpy ride because the flying boats were not pressurized and thus could not fly above the weather. The flying boat era really only lasted a short time because of the rapid improvements in technology necessitated by WWII but it is a fascinating and romantic era for aviation and thus Foynes should be high on your list for a visit to Ireland.

– Jennifer from Sidewalk Safari

Yankee US flag boat
Boat Museum, Ireland

Belfast

Belfast is the capital of the North of Ireland and it’s a city bursting with life, amazing culture, a unique history, fantastic nightlife and so much more. Belfast is a city with a unique history. The aftermath of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland is still very much prominent in Belfast with murals on the walls, and the remains of a peace wall that separated the two nations in Northern Ireland. It’s a fascinating history waiting to be explored via tour bus or private guide.

Belfast is also home to all things Titanic (the ship was built here) and if you love Game Of Thrones then you’ll be thrilled to hear that Belfast brings you full access to Game Of Thrones tours taking you to all the best filming sights in the North of Ireland.

If you love to party, then Belfast has lots of unique bars and restaurants on offer. Cathedral Quarter is bursting with authentic Irish bars, and the Titanic Quarter offers great dining.

Belfast also offers a thriving music scene offering both Irish traditional music, local rock bands, and pop tribute acts. There is always something happening in Belfast, every single night, so you’ll be sure to find amazing things to do no matter when you visit.

– Cazzy from Dream Big, Travel Far

Belfast city hall
Backpacking Ireland: Visiting Belfast

Portstewart

I discovered Portstewart while on a Northern Ireland road trip and it quickly became one of my favourite Irish destinations. Portstewart is a seaside town in County Londonderry and has an absolutely stunning beach.  The blue Flag Portstewart Strand is protected by the National Trust, and it’s easy to see why; two miles of golden sand, great surf and stunning scenery. You can drive your car right onto the beach, making it even easier to have a seaside picnic!

Seafood fans will love Harry’s Shack, an awesome restaurant located on the beach. You’ll find some great local beers here too. Be sure to lookout for Mussenden Temple, an iconic cliff top temple built in 1785, which can be viewed from Portstewart Strand. Or take a drive up to the cliff for a closer look.

Portstewart is the start of the ‘Causeway Coast Way’, a 33 mile, two day hiking trail that includes the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – some of Northern Ireland’s most iconic destinations.

The main town of Portstewart has a lovely little harbour, promenade and great cafes and restaurants. You’ll find a good range of accommodation, including bed and breakfasts, self catering cottages and holiday parks.

If you’re planning a trip to Northern Ireland be sure to visit Portstewart!

–  Hayley Lewis from A Lovely Planet

View of the beach and coast of Portstewart
Beach of Portstewart

Causeway Coastal Route

Every visit to Northern Ireland will likely include the world-renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Giants Causeway. However the rather magnificent basalt columns that have become somewhat synonymous with this rugged coastline are only a small part of a rather fascinating road trip known as the Causeway Coastal Route. A coastline that includes stretching sand beaches, craggy cliffs, castle ruins, as well as many famed filming set locations from the Game of Thrones. As many of the scenes really do look straight from this massively popular film franchise. And to share just a handful of must-sees for the ‘Thrones Fans’ there is Pork Ballintoy which is the real-world setting for the Iron Islands, and the somewhat unworldly backdrop of the Dark Hedges which is found just further inland. However the scenery along this coastal road goes far-and-beyond the recently popular filming destination with long-time tourist attractions such as the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Bushmills Distillery. There are also many tour options to rush through the main tourist spots of the coastline, however, I will forever recommend a self-penned road trip itinerary with maybe an overnight stay by the distillery for a quick dram or two of pure Irish Whiskey.

– Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor

Beach and coastline of causeway
Causeway Coast

Dark Hedges

Dark gnarly branches intertwine above the bumpy road. The withered brown branches show their age through their many wrinkly knots. These tall wooden giants have stood on this spot for over a century. The trees on the Bregagh Road in Northern Ireland are known as the Dark Hedges. The ethereal tunnel of trees was featured on Game of Thrones, the fantasty drama, and since then they have formed an essential stop on the perfect Northern Ireland road trip.

The Dark Hedges are used as the Kings road in the HBO show Game of Thrones yet in real life, the Dark Hedges actually form the entrance to a grand estate. This grand estate belonged to the Stuart family. The Stuart family planted the rows of beech trees to impress their visitors as they approached the entrance to their mansion. Nowadays, the dark hedges are easy to reach by car or coach from Belfast. Yet due to their popularity it can be very difficult to avoid the hoards of tourists at the Dark Hedges. Yet there are a few tricks how you can avoid the crowds at the Dark Hedges! Hire your own car and get their as early as you can!

Even though the dark hedges are now very popular you should still add the Dark Hedges to your Ireland bucket list. The beautiful trees are a fascinating site and a welcome addition to your Instagram feed! Fall in love with the Dark Hedges during your trip to Northern Ireland.

– Anna from My Travel Scrapbook

Road and trees in northern ireland
Dark Hedges, northern Ireland

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge is situated on the coast of Northern Ireland. Once used primarily by fisherman as far back as the 1700s, this site is now on the tourist route. It offers impressive views and pleasant coastal trails through windswept grasslands and rocky pathways. Carrick-a-rede is a great addition for folks going to the Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle as all three are located on the north coast. Make sure you get there well before sunset as the area usually closes down at dusk.

The bridge itself is regulated for tourists but you can make your way across and get the feeling of being 100 feet over the rocky, crashing waters below. The price to walk across is currently at 9 pounds per ticket or 22.50 for a family. Spend some time taking in the views after you cross while watching for the area’s abundant marine life. You may even see a few different types of seabirds, dolphins or basking sharks.

After you cross the bridge and have taken all the pictures you need, head back along the coastal walk to indulge yourself at the Weighbridge tea-room for a hot drink and delicious cake before heading off to explore more of the beauty of Ireland.

– Nathan from Fit Living Lifestyle

View of coastline and the bridge
Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, northern Ireland

Howth

Howth is a quaint fishing village on Dublin Bay. It’s easily accessible from Dublin by car or public DART making it a great day trip from the city or a stop-over during a road trip around Ireland. The slow pace, scenic location, village charm and proximity to nature mean there’s plenty to please everyone.

A perfect day in Howth would include a walk along the Bog of Frogs Loop. The trail will lead you through forests and fields that open up to spectacular views of the surrounding cliffs as well as Lambay Island and Bailey Lighthouse.

After working up an appetite head back into town for a delicious lunch at one of the many restaurants. For a fresh seafood feast with a view of the fishing boats coming and going try Octopussy’s Seafood Tapas Bar.

Spend the rest of the day exploring the town shops and market, take a boat ride to Ireland’s Eye island or visit Howth Castle and its beautiful gardens. Whatever you do be sure to stop in one of the local pubs for a pint of Guinness or refreshing cider.

For dinner treat yourself to a very special meal with an ocean view at Aqua. Or for something more casual and lively head to The Abbey Tavern or Bloody Stream for traditional pub grub and live music.

Even just one day in Howth will give you such a good taste of life in an Irish coastal town that it will leave you wanting to return for more.”

– Sarah from Live Dream Discover

Hiking howth when backpacking Ireland
Howth, Ireland

Slieve League Cliffs

A visit to the Slieve League Cliffs feels like visiting the edge of the world. Located on the west coast of County Donegal in Ireland, the Slieve League Cliffs are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe. They are nearly 3 times higher than their more famous Irish counterparts, the Cliffs of Moher.

A short walk up the hill from the visitor’s car park takes visitors to the panoramic walkway along the edge of the cliffs. On a clear day, the views from the walkway are simply breath-taking. The raging Atlantic Ocean batters the cliffs below but from the top of the cliffs, it looks more like a calm pond. For photography lovers, the Slieve League Cliffs are one of the best spots to capture photos of Ireland.

For the more adventurous visitor, it’s possible to hike the stunning Pilgrims Path route from the town of Teelin near the cliffs. A 4 km hike leads up the back of the cliffs to a number of rocky plateaus with some of the best views Ireland has to offer. Care should be taken on this hike, however, as conditions can change quickly so it’s best to go with an experienced hiking group.

The Cliffs have recently had a €5 million euro upgrade to the visitor’s centre and an extra 2.5 km of mountain pathway has been added. These improvements allow visitors even more access to these incredible cliffs which, until now, have been a lesser visited part of Ireland.

– Elaine & David from The Whole World is a Playground

Cliffs of Ireland at coast
Slieve League Cliffs

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in Connemara region. The monastery was originally a castle when it was built by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy businessman, for his wife Margaret in 1868. When Margaret died in Egypt in 1874 because of dysentery outbreak, Mitchell brought her body back to the castle and built a mausoleum and church to honour her. When Mitchell died in the UK in 1910, his body was laid to rest beside his beloved wife. Their final resting place is one of the most interesting things to do in the ground of Kylemore Abbey.

The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester afterwards and then purchased by the Benedictine nuns in 1920. From then on, the castle became a monastery and a boarding school from 1923 to 2010. And since 1970, the estate has been opened to the public.

Aside from the great history of the Abbey, the estate is also located in one of the most scenic parts of Connemara. Nestled at the base of Druchruach Mountain and along the lake of Pollacapul, it is one of the most iconic attractions in Ireland.

– Christine from Ireland Travel Guides

Castle on water in Ireland
Kylemore Abbey

Carnfunnock Country Park

Carnfunnock Country Park is located along the Causeway Coast, just off the famous A2 Antrim Coast Road, approximately 20 miles from Belfast. We visited on route to the Giant’s Causeway. There’s lots to see and do in this 191-hectares country park. As well as panoramic views of the Antrim Coast and North Channel, there are 5 different walking trails, a maze, kilns, ice house, motte, colourful gardens and a lot of woodland to explore. Their café is a welcome sight too when visiting on a blustery day! Many areas of Carnfunnock Country Park are dog friendly, with exception of the walled garden and maze.

Worthy of particular mention is the walled garden, that includes within it a rock garden, water garden, heather garden, flower garden, scented garden, butterfly garden and time garden. In spring the flower beds are full of bulbs flowering in every colour. The ‘time garden’ is so-called as there is an array of sundials with instructions on how to use them.

Outside the Walled Garden is a cute fairy garden adjacent to a small amphitheatre for outdoor performances.

The café serves hot food and drink, alongside ice creams and cakes. There is a visitor information desk and shop too. Next to the café is a fun outdoors gym, where you are guaranteed an incredible view out to sea while you work out.

Carnfunnock Country Park has a caravan, motorhome and camping site too.

– Tracy from Pack the PJs

View of time garden carnfunnock
Ireland Highlights: Time Garden Carnfunnock

Achill Island

Ireland’s biggest island, Achill Island is one of the loveliest places in the country. This island has a sugary white sand beach called Keem Bay. The nearby cliffs create an amazing viewpoint as you approach the Keem Bay. Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher get all the attention, but did you know that the Achill Island has almost three times higher sea cliffs? This island is ideal base for those who want to experience the beauty and adventure along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. The best thing about Achill Island is the relaxed vibe and the most amazing place to experience it is a place called “Pure Magic”. Achill Island is surely the gem of County Mayo.

– Sonal from Drifter Planet

Person looking at landscape
Achill Island, Ireland
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