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10 Alternatives to Avoid Tourism Crowds in Ireland

By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
More by Dawn

Sometimes you just have to see that iconic place – but was it worth it?

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 waiting to buy expensive tickets while getting jostled in the crowd, and standing on tiptoe to look over the heads of other tourists just to see it. You manage a quick, blurred photo after waiting a half hour for everyone else to take their selfie first.

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? Ask a local!

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, try visiting Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, instead of the Cliffs of Moher

Slieve League Cliffs Donegal hiking

Hiking the spectacular and little-known Slieve League Cliffs.

 

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 to behold. But as magnificent as they may be, the narrow cliffside path is often bottlenecked with people jostling for the same view, which takes a bit of the magic out of the experience!

A great alternative instead to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland are the dramatic Slieve League Cliffs in 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.

2. For cosmopolitan flavour, try visiting Belfast instead of Dublin

Belfast Northern Ireland black cab - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

If you’re looking for cosmopolitan charm that means you can avoid tourism crowds in Ireland, look no further than Belfast!

 

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, try visiting Malin Head, Co Donegal instead of Skellig Michael

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

Welcome to Malin Head, 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. 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 required. You don’t have to pay, 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 universe 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, try visiting Cape Clear Island in Cork, instead of the Aran Islands

Hiking Cape Clear Island Cork -

Bird’s eye view of Cape Clear Island, off the coast of south 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, the Cape Clear sees some of the best weather in Ireland, and the island is easy to access from the ports at Schull or Baltimore. As the last glimmer of Europe for most boats headed to America, it’ll seem like the end of the world! As for traditions, the islanders mix modern with old here. Learn about herding goats from a blind goatherd – and then taste some of his goat’s milk ice cream! And you can even go glamping in a yurt while you’re at it. For an added bonus, come during the first weekend of September for the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival.

5. For whiskey, try visiting 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!

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

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

The Skellig Islands framed by a sunset, as seen from Kerry

 

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 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 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. 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. Take Ireland’s only cable car across to Dursey Island at the tip of the peninsula!

7. For mountain hiking, try hiking in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, instead of the Wicklow Mountains

Mourne Wall, Mourne Mountains - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Forlorn Mourne Wall wandering through the distant Mourne Mountains, a short distance to Belfast

Due to their closeness with the bustling capital city 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 Wicklows really are a garden.

If you’re looking for somewhere a bit quieter to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland, 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 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

Dusk settles over the luxurious Adare Manor in Co Limerick

 

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, 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 is re-opening in 2018 after major refurbishment. Previous customers won’t even recognise it!

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

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

Glenveagh Castle sits primly on the quiet shores of Lough Veagh in Glenveagh National Park

 

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.

If you’re looking for 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, go hiking in the Burren instead of the Giant's Causeway

Burren National Park hiking - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Hiking the lunar landscape of Burren National Park’s strange geology to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway.

 

It’s true that there’s no replacing the strange geology Giant’s Causeway, whose only 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). 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 the strange geological phenomenon of the island, head south to the Burren, 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 the Arctic 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!

Related Departures

Trip Date Price Availability Book
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 14th Mar - 20th Mar 2020 €1,7108 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping - Ireland's West Coast 25th Apr - 1st May 2020 €1,8708 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 9th May - 15th May 2020 €1,7951 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping - Ireland's West Coast 16th May - 22nd May 2020 €1,8704 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 13th Jun - 19th Jun 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 18th Jul - 24th Jul 2020 €1,7956 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 18th Jul - 24th Jul 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping - Ireland's West Coast 25th Jul - 31st Jul 2020 €1,8703 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 1st Aug - 7th Aug 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 8th Aug - 14th Aug 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking and Island Hopping - Ireland's West Coast 15th Aug - 21st Aug 2020 €1,8703 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 29th Aug - 4th Sep 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now
Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal 12th Sep - 18th Sep 2020 €1,7958 place(s) leftBook Now
Bike Tour - Donegal From Cliffs to Coast 12th Sep - 18th Sep 2020 €2,1008 place(s) leftBook Now

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 profileMore by Dawn

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