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    10 Alternatives to Avoid Tourism Crowds in Ireland

    By Dawn Rainbolt, PR Manager
    More by Dawn

    Iconic tourist destinations - are they worth it?

    You’ve seen the photos on Instagram, you watched the posts appear in your newsfeed, you’ve read those Must See blogs. And now you feel like you just have to see the Tour d’Eiffel, the Roman Colosseum, Buckingham Palace, the Moscow Kremlin, the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher. So you wait in line to buy expensive tickets whilst getting jostled in the crowd, and standing on tiptoe to look over the heads of other tourists just to get a peak. And finally, you manage a quick, blurred photo after waiting a half hour for everyone else to take their selfie first. Sound familiar?

    Was it worth it? Perhaps. Would you do it again? Probably not. Was there a better alternative, just as amazing but largely devoid of the crowds? Good chance.

    But…how do you find those cool local hangouts in Ireland? Why, you ask a local, of course!

    When it comes to Ireland, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. See below for our local guide to the best alternative places to visit to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland.

    1. For amazing cliffs, visit Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, instead of the Cliffs of Moher.

    Slieve League Cliffs Donegal hiking

    The 200-meter-high (700 foot tall) Cliffs of Moher on Co Clare’s coast are a towering landmark and probably Ireland’s most iconic sight. But as magnificent as they may be, the narrow cliffside path is often bottlenecked with people jostling for the same view, particularly if you are visiting in summer, which takes a bit of the magic out of the experience! (Note: expect far fewer crowds in the off-peak season).

    A great alternative to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland are the dramatic Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal, Ireland’s most northwestern (and officially its coolest!) county. And the best part? The Slieve League Cliffs are actually taller, clocking in at 600 meters (1,900 feet), making Slieve League nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher! The exceedingly dramatic sea cliffs are far less visited than the cliffs in Clare, so you can enjoy the panorama without the crowd. For an insider’s tip, hike up the Pilgrim’s Path from Teelin village to climb up the back of the cliffs.

    Read More About Slieve League

    2. For cosmopolitan vibrancy, head to Belfast over Dublin.

    Belfast Northern Ireland black cab - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    Though a city with a rich history, unfortunately Dublin is also busy, expensive, and touristy. Sometimes getting the hotel room you want in peak season can be difficult. And though it is accessible, it’s also sprawling and surrounded by suburbs. The main sights are crowded, and finding local restaurants can be a task in itself!

    By comparison, Belfast is the perfect opposite. Northern Ireland’s city is just as cosmopolitan and hip, but lacks the crowds of Dublin. Prices are reasonable, and you don’t have to worry about tourist traps. Belfast has an up-and-coming foodie scene and has seen significant revitalisation of its streets, including the new Titanic Museum. Belfast is easy to get to, and has not one but two airports within 20 minutes of city centre. Oh, and did we mention that Belfast & the Causeway Coast are the Lonely Planet’s top 2018 destination? Head to Belfast to see this city changing before your eyes!

    3. For Star Wars, go for Malin Head in Donegal instead of Skellig Michael.

    Malin Head Donegal - Star Wars - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    Welcome to Malin Head, Co Donegal, a galaxy far, far away! Star Wars fans flock to the famous Skellig Islands, off shore of Kerry’s wildly popular Iveragh Peninsula (aka the Ring of Kerry). While true that the Skellig Islands play a central role in the 2017 Star Wars film, it’s also true that most scenes you think were filmed on the Skelligs – weren’t.

    Also important to note is that because Skellig Michael is a protected place, only so many boats are licensed to land on the Skelligs, so places are extremely limited. Prices are skyrocketing, booking is first come first served, and the ocean crossing (they’re 12 km away!) can be rough – and that’s only if the weather allows the boat out at all.

    By contrast, the alien landscapes of northern Donegal’s Malin Head are easier to visit. Even though Malin Head is far away (it is Ireland’s northernmost point after all), it’s a peninsula, so no boat is required. There is no fee, and the visitors are sparse, letting you avoid tourism crowds in Ireland. As the up close Star Wars scenes were actually filmed at Malin Head (the Skelligs are too small to contain the hideaway inhabited by Rey and Luke Skywalker), you’ll still get your fill of Star Wars. While at Malin Head, explore the WWII ‘EIRE’ sign (signifying neutral Irish land) and the old tower before heading off to hike the savage, rocky coast where it’s easy to see why this desolate place was chosen to be part of an alien world.

    4. For exotic islands, sail to Cape Clear Island in Cork, instead of the Aran Islands.

    Hiking Cape Clear Island Cork -

    The Aran Islands are known as bastions of the Irish language as well as the traditions and customs of an old Ireland. However, their proximity to the ever-popular Galway and the recent uptick in day tours to the islands means that they are visited by thousands each year.

    If you’re looking for an island retreat within a lost Ireland, head south to Cork’s Cape Clear Island, officially known as Cléire. Here, there is a small but thriving Gaeltacht community (half of the islanders report that they speak Irish daily!).

    Part of Cork’s microclimate, Cape Clear enjoys some of Ireland’s best weather, and the island is easy to access from the ports at Schull or Baltimore. As the last sight of Europe for most boats emigrating to America, it might feel like like the end of the world. Learn about herding goats from a blind goatherd – and then taste some of his goat’s milk ice cream. You can even go glamping in a yurt while you’re here. For an added bonus, come during the first weekend of September for the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival.

    5. For whiskey, visit the Teeling Distillery in Dublin, instead of the Jameson Distillery.

    Most visitors to Ireland dream of visiting a distillery to see whiskey in the making – and most choose to go to Dublin’s Jameson Distillery. While the museum part of the distillery has seen a recent modernisation from the animatronic exhibits of 90’s, the Jameson Distillery is still considered by many to be overcrowded, expensive and overhyped.

    In contrast is the little-known and relatively new Teeling Distillery, which offers a fresh and modern take on whiskey touring without the crowds. Both the tour and the tour & tasting experiences are decidedly cheaper than Jameson’s similar experiences. Still centrally located in the city centre, Teeling Distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years, easily allowing you to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland!

    If you’re set on Jameson, perhaps you’d prefer to visit the lesser-known Jameson Midletown site in east Cork in the southwest.

    6. For a long-distance driving route, try the Skellig Ring or Ring of Beara instead of the Ring of Kerry.

    The Skellig Islands - Skellig Ring, Kerry - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Iveragh Peninsula’s famous Ring of Kerry to drive the ring road around the peninsula, meaning that most visitors only ever see the wilds of Kerry from the window of a car or bus. While Kerry’s beauty is undisputed, it’s no fun spending your holiday in traffic.

    For visitors who prefer to get off the beaten path, choose to explore the Skellig Ring. One of Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations in 2017, the Skellig Ring is an extension off the Iveragh Peninsula on the northwestern tip. Though a shorter route, you’ll be off the main road and away from the traffic, enjoying phenomenal views of the Skellig Islands. For those who wish to see the Skelligs up close, you can catch a boat from Portmagee (though keep in mind the increasing demand from Star Wars, and ocean conditions). To the north end of the route is Valentia Island, home to amazingly preserved prehistoric tetrapod footprints that are 350 to 370 million years old.

    Another alternative to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland is the Ring of Beara, the peninsula south of the Iveragh Peninsula. The narrow Beara Peninsula is far more rugged and wild, offering great coastal hikes. It is also well-known for artisanal cheese and other dairy product. Explore the Allihes Copper Mines, clifftop signal towers, and spectacularly-winding Healy Pass as well as lovely views over Bantry Bay, all on a backdrop of sharp mountains and blue ocean. Want to add an extra element of adventure? Take Ireland’s only cable car across to Dursey Island at the tip of the peninsula.

    Unique, Local Itineraries Designed Just for You

    Are you looking for a trip to Ireland that features unique local experiences tailor made to fit the interests and preferences of you and your group? Work with our destination experts to build a custom experience designed just for you. 

    Interactive Trip Builder

    7. For mountains to hike, try the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, instead of the Wicklow Mountains.

    Mourne Wall, Mourne Mountains - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    Due to their closeness with the bustling capital city of Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains often get called the “Garden of Ireland.” Dubliners desperate for a bit of greenery scamper off to the mountains on every sunny weekend (and many of the rainy ones too!), meaning that the Wicklow Mountains really are a garden.

    If you’re looking for mountains to hike that are a bit quieter yet still near a city, a fantastic alternative is the Mourne Mountains. Located in Northern Ireland’s County Down, the Mourne Mountains are only an hour away from the island’s other capital, Belfast. Yet, the Mourne Mountains have managed to stay virtually unknown. Here, admire dazzling views over the Irish Sea that once inspired the creation of The Chronicles of Narnia as well as a great place for hikers looking for challenging peaks. As an added token of interest, stumble through empty landscapes to follow the Mourne Wall, a long, semi-forgotten wall that encircles little more than desolate peaks and valleys.

    8. For luxury castle accommodation, try staying at Adare Manor, Co Limerick instead of Ashford Castle.

    Adare Manor sunset luxury accommodation - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    Turrets, towers, gardens, the whole lot – Ashford Castle is the stuff dreams are made from! Ah, Ashford Castle at the heart of Connemara – the epitome of luxury accommodation in Ireland, right?

    But if you’re looking for a new and exciting alternative that is still lavish and lovely, try Adare Manor. On par with Ashford Castle’s top-notch standard of pure luxury, Adare Manor gives you the opportunity to explore a whole other region of Ireland. Located outside of Limerick in the adorable fairytale village of Adare – a place where thatched roofs still top enchanting cottages – Adare Manor re-opened in 2018 after major refurbishment. Previous customers won’t even recognise it!

    9. To visit an Irish national park, try remote Glenveagh National Park instead of Killarney National Park.

    Glenveagh Castle - Glenveagh National Park - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    Ireland has six national parks, but it’s mostly all about Killarney (and Wicklow) for most visitors. Killarney National Park is handy in that it’s walking distance from Killarney town – but that also means that the landscapes are full of people, especially when the weather is fair. While a lovely place, the park loses its wilderness appeal when your view is obscured by other visitors, many of whom aren’t hikers.

    If you’re looking for adventure and wilderness, instead head up north to County Donegal’s Glenveagh National Park. Accessible from the northern city of Letterkenny (about a 30 minute drive) but still far enough away from the world to keep less adventurous crowds at bay, Glenveagh National Park offers roaming peaks, cascading valleys and forlorn lakes. The idyllic Glenveagh Castle clings to the narrow Lough Veagh, framed by eerie mountain peaks, creating a painting perhaps even more stunning than Killarney’s Ross Castle.

    10. For fascinating geology, hike in the Burren instead of the Giant's Causeway.

    Burren National Park hiking - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

    It’s true that there’s no replacing the strange geology Giant’s Causeway, whose only local relative is Fingal’s Cave on Scotland’s Isle of Staffa. And the myth of how the Giant’s Causeway was created is even more intriguing – it is said the Giant’s Causeway was built by two warring giants, but things didn’t work out according to plan (learn more about the myth here). But alas, the Giant’s Causeway is crowded and bustling, and there is a hefty charge to park your car.

    To avoid tourism crowds in Ireland while exploring Ireland’s strange geological phenomenons, head south to the Burren National Park, an exposed limestone landscape in Co Clare. Just as strange and alien, this barren landscape explodes with colour in spring and early summer with a rainbow of wildflowers native to Arctic regions down to the Mediterranean. Scattered with megalithic monuments such as the Poulnabrone Dolmen, holly wells, and the subterranean Doolin Caves, the Burren region is also known for its delicious food and unique whiskey – not to mention meandering hiking trails.

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    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

    View profile More by Dawn


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