If you’re planning to visit Ireland this year, keep reading for our picks of the best spots to visit in the Irish countryside
While each March we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, there is so much more to Ireland than this annual, albeit fun, celebration. With rolling hills, coursing rivers, and epic coastlines, the Irish countryside is without a doubt some of the most stunning areas of natural beauty you could ever hope to visit. There is no wondering why William Drennan dubbed Ireland the Emerald Isle in his poetry, why this description has held, and why it regularly hosts film crews bringing our favorite stories to life. With 32 beautiful counties of Ireland to explore, you’ll have your work cut out planning the perfect Irish road trip, so we’ve picked out a handful of our favorite spots to visit in the Irish countryside to give you a helping hand in planning your itinerary.
Enjoy stunning views from the Cliffs of Moher, a movie set in nature
Used in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Princess Bride, the Cliffs of Moher are one of the standout areas in County Clare, and should probably be at the top of any itinerary when planning on places to visit in the Irish countryside. With stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, you can also see the Aran Islands from the top of the cliffs. It’s free to walk along the clifftop path, and you can take your time taking in the vistas from each and every angle. As well as this, it is a great opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of a variety of birds that nest here, including Atlantic puffins, razorbills, common gulls, and choughs. If you want to make the most of your time in the area, book a night or two in a nearby glamping accommodation.
Stand on the edge of the world: take a day trip to the Aran Islands
A day trip to the Aran Islands—Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer—is one of the most unique things to do in Ireland. One of the last places where the locals speak to each other in Irish, the Aran Islands offer something to every backpacker, whether you’re into hiking and biking, history, or geology, this is an unmissable piece of the Irish countryside. You can take the ferry from Rossaveel Harbour—a port 23 miles west of Galway City center—to Inishmore, the largest island, and once there, you can hire a bike and explore the whole island. At the top of the island are the remains of an ancient fort that looks over the ocean to the endless horizon. With a sheer drop from the top of the cliffs by the fort, it feels as though you are standing on the edge of the world. If you should miss the ferry back, or one day just wasn’t enough time to explore the whole island, you can enjoy a cozy stay in these seaside cabin rentals.
Visit the Burren: cliffs, caves, fossils, and rock formations in the Irish countryside
Less than an hour from the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren is a remarkable place to visit. Covered in glaciated karst, you’ll need sturdy shoes while navigating the rocky, limestone terrain. With rock formations, caves, cliffs, and fossils abound, this is a geologist’s dream. If you’re not so concerned with geology, you’re still guaranteed an amazing visit. The views over the Burren are spectacular and in truth incomparable with anywhere else. For those 1990s comedy fans out there, you can also book a visit to Father Ted’s house for a cup of tea once you’ve finished your exploration of the Burren!
Explore the Irish countryside in Killarney National Park
When you visit somewhere like the Killarney National Park, you can start to see where the emerald in the Emerald Isle comes from. With rolling hills and lakes, you’ll think you’ve walked into a postcard of the Irish countryside. Set in County Kerry, the national park is also well known for its oak woodlands which cover about 12 square miles. The park is home to a wide array of wildlife, including red deer, birds such as herons, mallards, and kingfishers, and the lakes have natural stocks of brown trout and salmon. Make the most of your Killarney adventure when you book one of these yurts and tents for the ultimate experience in the great outdoors.
Glendalough: still waters in the Irish countryside
Set in Wicklow, the garden of Ireland, this enchanting spot in the Irish countryside is perfect for a quiet visit. Home to the substantial remains of a historic monastic site, Glendalough—derived from the Irish Gleann dá Loch, meaning ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’—is surrounded by hills and woodland. A path leads around the smaller of the two lakes for an easy walk, but you can venture further on to the larger, second lake as well. You’ll also be able to see what’s left of the Glendalough monastic site, including a 1,000-year-old round tower, a ruined cathedral, and a tiny, but still standing church known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen, named after the fifth-century founder of the monastery. After a day here surrounded by the quiet of the Irish countryside and the calm waters of the lake, you’ll see what made him pick this idyllic spot for his monastery.
Discover the full power of the force and sail out to the Skellig Islands
Most recently famed for its use as the Star Wars island in the final three installments of the Skywalker Saga, the Skellig Islands are a fascinating place to visit. If you want to visit Luke Skywalker’s hideout, then Skellig Michael is the island to head for. It’s not an easy feat to visit though, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and only 180 people are allowed to visit each day, so you’ll have to plan ahead. An hour’s boat ride from Ballinskelligs, once there, you can walk to the top of the island where you will find the remains of a monastery. Believe it or not, monks actually lived on the island, although, they weren’t actually Jedis whose temple is unfortunately still in that famed galaxy far, far away. Be that as it may, this is a unique experience not to be missed!
Head to Northern Ireland and visit the unique Giant’s Causeway
If you’re able to incorporate a trip to Northern Ireland on your Emerald Isle getaway, then you have to make the journey to Giant’s Causeway. Beyond the fact that it was used as a location for the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones, this unique natural landmark in County Antrim is a sight to behold. According to legend, the Giant’s Causeway was built by an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill after being challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. However, made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, these extraordinary rocks are actually a result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay while visiting Giant’s Causeway, these glamping pods are close to the ocean and just a short drive from this stunning bit of Irish countryside and coastline.