Top 15 Places to Visit in Ireland
Posted on May 25, 2016 by Dawn Rainbolt
If you’re planning an Irish self drive tour or adventure tour, this list of Top 15 places to visit in Ireland should be your go-to guide.
So, you know about the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands, Galway city, Connemara National Park and the Ring of Kerry. But there are some other absolutely fantastic places to visit in Ireland. Whether you’re looking for natural beauty, cultural heritage, historical significance, or beautiful countryside, the team at Wilderness Ireland has pulled together this list of top 15 places to visit in Ireland.
To help you understand where our Top 15 Places to Visit in Ireland are located, sites are listed from north to south.
1 – Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal
Starting off our list of top 15 places to visit in Ireland in the extreme northwest, Co. Donegal is full of rugged, cool landscapes, beaches and cliffs. Tucked into the centre of the county is the enchanting 16,000-hectare Glenveagh National Park. Nestled amongst the Derryveagh Mountains, explore the fairytale-like Poisoned Glen, the shores of the glittering Lough Veagh, and the winding mountain trails circling the park. At the park’s core is the hauntingly beautiful Glenveagh Castle, reputed to be cursed due to the original landlord. See the park and possibly haunted castle for yourself on our tour, Hiking the Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal.
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2 – Slieve League Cliffs, Co. Donegal
The Slieve League cliffs are ome of Europe’s tallest cliffs – three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher. One of Ireland’s hidden gems, the cliffs reach up 601 (1,972ft) metres from the sea at their tallest point. Hike along the nearby Pilgrim’s Path, an ancient Christian pilgrimage, which has terrific panoramas of the Atlantic Ocean, the mountains of Sligo and Donegal Bay. Stand at the edge of the cliffs on our trip, Hiking the Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal.
3 – Coolera Peninsula, Co. Sligo
A little-known peninsula jutting out to the sea, the Coolera Peninsula contains several gems. It is here that the legendary warrior Queen Maeve is buried, at the top of Knocknarea mountain. The beach at Strandhill is one of Europe’s best surfing hotspots, thanks to the northwest direction of the peninsula. Inland, the Carrowmore Megalithic site contains some 40 tombs, the earliest dating to 3700 BC (significantly older than the Egyptian pyramids!) and is one of the largest and most complex sites of this era in Ireland. The views of the iconic mountain, Ben Bulben, from anywhere on the Coolera Peninsula over the iconic mountain, are spectacular. See the coolness of the Coolera Peninsula for yourselves on our Bike & Yoga Escape in Sligo or on our Intro to Hiking & Sea Kayaking in Sligo.
4 – Northwest Mayo, Co. Mayo
While this is a rather broad region, it contains some the best wilderness in Ireland. Hike through the desolate yet beautiful blanket bogs and along the banks of the Owenduff River in Ballycroy National Park, which houses of the largest expanses of peatland found in Europe. On the northern section of the region, find Downpatrick Head, a dramatic cliff jutting out into the rough seas of the Atlantic. From here, gaze out at the fascinating Dún Briste sea stack, layered with mismatched coloured rock, worn narrow by erosion from the sea.
5 – Achill Island, Co. Mayo
The largest island off Ireland’s coast, there are promontory forts and Megalithic tombs are scattered across Achill Island. Once the terminus for the railway, there’s a goosebumps-worthy story of why this is no longer the case: an old prophecy once said that ‘carts on iron wheels’ would carry the souls of dead Achill Islanders on ‘the carts’ first and last journey. In 1894, there was a terrible accident in Clew Bay and the first railway service carried the victims home to Achill. In 1937, the railway carried the victims of the tragic Kirkintilloch Fire to Achill be buried on their island, and the train service ended that day. Also eerie are the ruins of the Deserted Village (also called Slievemore) – made up of 80-100 stone houses once used for ‘booleying’ (the use of multiple grazing grounds changing with the season), but abandoned around the time of the Great Famine.
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6 – 6 – Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo
Sheep graze in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s most holy mountainThough not a particularly grilling hike, Croagh Patrick, sometimes called Ireland’s holiest mountain, is ingrained in Irish religious history, and a major pilgrimage site to this day. St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, is said to have fasted for 40 days at the summit of this mountain, commemorated by a chapel at the top. Though popular year-round by pilgrims, the last Sunday in July is known as Reek Sunday, where thousands of pilgrims flock to the mountain to climb it en masse – many of them barefoot. From the top, you’ll get wonderful views of Clew Bay and its 365 islands, and the bustling town of Westport. Want to hike Ireland’s holiest mountain? Check out our trip, hiking the mountains of Connemara & Mayo.
7 – Killary Fjord, Co. Mayo & Co. Galway
Though fjords are more commonly associated with Scandinavia, Killary is one of only three glacial fjords in Ireland. Killary Harbour fjord is perhaps the most beautiful of them. Located in the heart of the region of Connemara at the boundary of Co. Mayo and Co. Galway, the fjord gives breathtaking views over Mweelrea mountain (Connacht’s highest), as well as the quartzite peaks of the Twelve Bens to the south. Dramatic and inspiring, this is one of Ireland’s most magical corners. Hike along Killary Fjord on Hiking the Mountains of Connemara & Mayo.
8 – Glendalough National Park, Co. Wicklow
Unlike the majority of this list, Glendalough is on Ireland’s east coast, south of Dublin. Snuggled deep into the Wicklow Mountains – sometimes nicknamed the Garden of Ireland – Glendalough is renowned as an early medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin. Chosen as the site where the ‘two rivers form a confluence,’ Glendalough and the surrounding valley is one of the most beautiful pairings of man and nature. Glendalough remained an important religious, cultural and natural site in Ireland. The surrounding Wicklow Mountains are a dreamer’s paradise: a landscape engulfed by purple heather, green moss and glittering waterfalls, and is a rewarding place to hike through Irish nature. Discover the wild beauty of Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains on our new trip for 2019, Hiking the Wicklow Way.
9 – Slea Head, Co. Kerry
The Slea Head Drive, which follows the meandering contours of the Dingle Peninsula, few visitors take the time to get out of their cars and enjoy the landscapes of Dingle and, more specifically, Slea Head, Ireland’s most western point. Leaving the car behind, head out into the emerald fields, take off your shoes and enjoy the feel of the soft, green grass under your feet. Standing on Slea Head, you’ll hear the crash of waves and braying of cows in their pastures. Look out over the Blasket Islands, home to several writers, including Peig Sayers who wrote about daily life on the desolate islands. The remains of her remote village still stand on the Great Blasket (accessible via the nearby Dunquin Harbour). And when you’ve had enough of silence, head back to Dingle town where you can enjoy a pint of the local brew (Crean’s) at the South Pole Inn or any of the other pubs. Hike the whole of the Dingle Peninsula including Slea Head on our exciting point to point trip, Hiking the Dingle Way. Get out to the Blasket Islands on the Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork & Kerry trip.
10 – Carrantuohill mountain, Co. Kerry
Ireland’s highest mountain may not be Mount Everest, but it’s a wonderful place to hike. At 1,038 metres (3,406 ft) high, Carrantuohill (pronounced care-in-too-hill) is the central peak of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks range, on the Iveragh Peninsula (home to the infamous Ring of Kerry driving route). As you hike the slopes of Carrantuohill, enjoy natural gardens of wildflowers, and keep an eye out for wildlife such as birds, hares and other critters. The views from the cross marking the top overlooking the Macgillcuddy’s Reeks mountain may be a tad windy – but phenomenal! Hike Ireland’s highest mountain on our trip, Hiking the Mountains of the Ring of Kerry.
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11 – Skellig Islands, Co. Kerry
The Skellig Islands are one of Ireland’s most beloved destinations. If you’re a Star Wars fan, or simply happened to see either the 2014 film Star Wars Episode VII or the 2017 trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII, you may recognise these impressive islands. Only the larger of the two, Skellig Michael, is open to the public, accessible by boat. Monks in the 6th century looking for solitude and a connection to nature constructed an impressive monastery into the steep, rugged cliffs, much of which is still visible today. Climb this foreign, craggy island on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork & Kerry trip.
12 – Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork & Co. Kerry
The Beara Peninsula was one of the last points of native Irish resistance after the Battle of Kinsale in the early 17th century. Clinging to the edges of the peninsula is the 206 kilometre (128 miles) circular path (start/finish in Glengarriff, Co. Cork), the Beara Way, bringing hikers and cyclists to some of the peninsula’s most amazing spots. Located at the edge of the peninsula is the foodie haven of Kenmare. One of Beara’s most significant myths revolves around the legend of the Hag of Beara, born on the winter solstice and with power of the lands during winter, who was later turned to stone. Find the petrified Hag on the coastal road between Eyeries and Ardgroom. Start your epic bike ride through the Kerry Peninsulas on the Beara Peninsula!
13 – Gougane Barra, Co. Cork (st Finnbar’s Oratory)
Tucked away in the middle of West Cork is the paradisal park, Gougane Barra, named for Saint Finbarr, who’s said to have built an early, 6th century monastery on an island in the lake. The current monastery was erected around 1700, and was a popular place to celebrate forbidden mass due to its isolation. Despite its small size, Gougane Barra is one of Ireland’s most magical and picturesque regional parks – the lake and it’s monastery on the peninsula looks like a fairytale come to life!
14 – Baltimore & area, Co. Cork
Baltimore’s claim to fame dates to 1631 when a motley group of Moroccan, Algerian, Turkish and Dutch pirates attacked the town and captured between 106 to 237 people during the terrible Sack of Baltimore. Far off the beaten path, Baltimore is one of the coolest seaside towns in Ireland, and unlike the more popular but bustling Kinsale, you really have to make the effort to get there. Baltimore’s peninsula has the mildest climate in Ireland and is a great access point to nearby islands such as Sherkin and Cape Clear. The nearby (and epicly-named!) Roaring Water Bay contains some of Ireland’s most rugged coast. Don’t miss the enormous bullet-shaped statue on a nearby peninsula, the Baltimore Beacon. Explore the Baltimore region on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork & Kerry trip.
15 – Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork
‘Cléire,’ as it’s called in Irish, is a small Gaeltacht community on the isolated island, brimming with art, standing stones and a passage tomb from the Megalithic period. There is also an old promontory fort at Dún an Óir and a ruined O’Driscoll Castle, built when this region was still under the control of the Gaelic O’Driscoll chieftain. Roughly 100 people live on Cape Clear, making it the southernmost inhabited part of Ireland. One of those people is Ed Harper, a blind goat farmer who not only gives courses in goat husbandry but also makes ice cream and cheese made from his daily, hand-milked goat’s milk! Visit Cape Clear and more on our Hiking & Island Hopping in Cork & Kerry trip.
Ready to visit some of these magical, mythical and beautiful sights from our Top 15 places to visit in Ireland? See below for a few of our coolest hiking, biking and kayaking tours!
- Experience a stress-free biking escape with yoga classes tailor-made for cyclists each day
- Bike beautiful valleys and majestic coastlines idealised by Irish poet WB Yeats
- Far from major tourist routes, discover a more relaxed pace of life in the northwest of Ireland
Price: from €2,240View Trip Details
- Hike iconic Irish landscapes including UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giant's Causeway, Slieve League Cliffs & Glenveagh National Park
- Walk Ireland's most northernly peninsula and Star Wars filming location, Malin Head, where mountains meet sea.
- Hike through Donegal, voted National Geographic's Coolest Place on Earth in 2017
- Island hopping to Rathlin Island, in search of myths and puffins
Price: from €1,710View Trip Details
- Challenge yourself by summiting three of the west of Ireland's highest peaks
- Join local guides who will help you to really get under the skin of this fascinating landscape
- Follow in the steps of St Patrick as we follow ancient pilgrimage routes that date to pre-Christian times
- Explore the wildest and most sparsely populated area of Ireland
Price: from €1,710View Trip Details
- Guided gentle hikes & island hopping along the spectacular coastline and islands of southwest Ireland
- Climb Skellig Michael, UNESCO World Heritage, and now a Star Wars filming location
- Explore remote islands where the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) culture & tradition is still strong
Price: from €1,795View Trip Details
- Hike in Ireland's highest mountain range, summiting Ireland's highest peak, Carrantuohill
- Traverse Kerry's two great mountainous regions on the Dingle and Iveragh Peninsulas
- Explore the best of the Ring of Kerry while relaxing in Kerry's finest Deluxe accommodation
Price: from €1,995View Trip Details
- Traverse the 3 wild and diverse peninsulas of Kerry: Beara, Iveragh & Dingle
- Explore classic cycling routes: Molls Gap, the Gap of Dunloe & the Healy Pass
- Pedal through Ireland's highest mountain range & Killarney National Park
- Cycle to Ireland's westernmost point at Slea Head
Price: from €1,995View Trip Details
If none of these trips whet your appetite, check out other Wilderness Ireland biking trips, Wilderness Ireland hiking trips, or other Wilderness Ireland active trips. Or, learn how to create a tailor made tour just for you!
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