The cobbled streets of Dublin, kissing the Blarney Stone, Giant’s Causeway: the island of Ireland’s most popular attractions are justly celebrated.
But there’s so much more to the island of Ireland than you initially expect. Romantic castles, prehistoric caves, sumptuous food and wonderful whiskey: we’ve crossed the country to find its most unexpected treasures. Here’s where to head.
Walk on the wild side
Feeling intrepid? The Gobbins Cliff Path will thrill you. A two and a half hour clamber along the Causeway Costal Route in County Antrim, it is one of the most dramatic cliff walks on earth. Navigate narrow paths, steep staircases carved into the cliff face, hidden tunnels that delve below sea-level, and striking suspension bridges.
While you walk, you will hear-tell of smugglers and privateers that used to dwell within the caves along the cliff face. The native sea birds are a twitcher’s delight, and lucky hikers might spy dolphins in the Irish Sea.
Book online at thegobbinscliffpath.com
A breakfast you’ll never forget
A walk along that extraordinary coastline will leave you aching to head out to sea, and the Catch and Sea Experience offers the best way to venture out – and feed on the freshest, finest fish possible!
Sailing out from Portrush Harbour just before daybreak, you’ll be given rods, bait and expert guidance from the folks of Causeway Coast Foodie Tours. You’ll catch, clean, and learn about your own fish, before it is served with delectable local produce for your breakfast.
The trip is worth it to watch the sunrise over Mull of Kintyre alone.
Book online at causewaycoastfoodietours.com/catch-and-sea
Take in 400 years of history
Derry-Londonderry hums with life, vibrantly contemporary, yet the history of the city is fascinating, and the best way to get a feel for it is to walk the famed city walls. Completed in 1619, the city walls tower eight metres high and nine metres thick, and are fully intact, making Derry-Londonderry the only completely walled city on the island of Ireland.
As this year marks 400 years since the walls’ completion, the city is hosting a series of events until March 2020, to celebrate the rich heritage of the walls. Events will include music, dance, audio, plays, historical exhibitions, symposiums, living archaeology demonstrations, and more.
To learn more about the programme of events, visit walledcity400.com
Then head back to a land before our time
Less than two hours’ drive south from Derry-Londonderry is another historical (well, prehistoric) wonder, this time geological: the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, a series of natural limestone caves situated near Florence Court, County Fermanagh.
Discovered in 1895, visitors these days will experience one of the finest show caves in Europe: an underworld network of rivers, winding passages, and lofty chambers. Book online at marblearchcavesgeopark.com
Connemara, County Galway
Love and loss in a neogothic setting
Swooning romantic? You’ll fall deeply in love with the sumptuous Kylemore Abbey. Built as a gesture of love by a newly married financier in the 1800s, the opulent castle provided a captivating backdrop to a story of love and tragedy.
Now repurposed as a Benedictine nunnery, a visit to the Abbey promises an experience as moving as it is breath-taking, as the newly opened visitor experience allows you to discover what went on within its fine walls.
Book online at kylemoreabbey.com
Sup on a fine Irish tipple
If you’re setting Dublin as your base while in Ireland, it’s worth taking a quick spin 45 minutes north, to the Slane Irish Whiskey Distillery at Slane Castle. Take a tour of the working distillery and learn how their Irish whiskey is made, from grain to maturation.
Of course, the tour concludes with a taste of their signature Triple Casked Slane Irish Whiskey – sláinte! The castle is a handsomely appointed 18th century home, seat of the Conyngham family, and well worth investigating.
Book online for both at slanecastle.ie/tours
Cobh, County Cork
Uncover the Titanic story in Cobh, its last port of call
The Titanic Experience at Cobh is as close as you can get to stepping aboard the doomed ocean liner. Situated at the original White Star Line Ticket Office, where local passengers departed from on Thursday, April 11, 1912, the experience puts you in the place of one of the 123 souls: your ‘boarding card’ will have the details of an individual passenger.
Learn about the cabins, the conditions aboard, and experience the chill of the sinking through a unique cinematographic experience.
Book online at titanicexperiencecobh.ie
Hook Peninsula, County Wexford
“The great granddaddy of the lighthouses”
Lighthouses are always the focus of curiosity, none more so than the Hook Lighthouse, the second oldest functional lighthouse in the world at 847 years old.
Take a tour, climbing the 115 spiral steps to observe the upper chamber, and learn of the dedicated keepers who spent their lives preserving the safety of those at sea. Saints and knights have stood guard in Hook Lighthouse over time – to visit is to immerse yourself in a truly lyrical history.
Book online at hookheritage.ie
For holiday inspiration visit Ireland.com