There is so much to do and see in Ireland, but AAA has compiled our member’s Top 10 choices!
1. Stay in a Real Castle
AAA recommends Dromoland Castle, once home to an Irish king and built in the 16th century, featuring priceless antiques, amazing accommodations and a breathtaking resort atmosphere unlike any that you’ve experienced. You might glimpse the resident hound pack following their master on his steed; try your hand at archery; get in a round of golf; or indulge at the spa. Even if you stay just one night, you’ll feel like royalty and this will be a most memorable part of your vacation.
2. Take a Guided Walking Tour of Dublin
With so much to see in this bustling city, a walking tour with a professional local guide allows you to get up close and examine the historical sites and fabulous Georgian architecture that defines Dublin. Walk along the River LIffey, cross the Ha’penny Bridge, meander through the gardens of St. Stephen’s Green, and visit the pedestrian shopping and dining areas that define the Fair City. Not a walker? You can still see all the city highlights on the Hop On, Hop Off sightseeing bus, with 24 stops including historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Kilmainham Gaol, as well as family-friendly attractions like the Dublin Zoo and Dublinia, an interactive living history exhibit featuring Vikings and Medieval Dublin.
3. Experience an Authentic Irish Pub
Ask for a recommendation at the front desk for a nearby authentic pub that offers traditional music. Walk in and find a comfortable spot, then order a pint of Guinness (make sure you let it settle two minutes before drinking it, like the locals do, to allow for the creamy foam to rise to the surface). Soon you’ll find yourself part of the conversation. Ask questions or tell your story; or just sit back and observe the “trad and craic” (music and good times). You can find the experience in the trendy Temple Bar area, or take it from us: AAA recommends O’Donoughue’s on Merrion Row. Meeting locals is what the art of travel is all about. To your health – Sláinte!
4. Visit the Cobh Heritage Center
This maritime and cultural museum is located at the former port of Queenstown, departure point for most Irish emigrants to the U.S., and tells the often tragic story in an interactive way. Notably, this was the final port of call for the Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage and the point of refuge for survivors of the Lusitania, which sank off the Irish coast after being struck by a German torpedo in 1915. The colorful, picturesque town still looks like it did at the peak of emigration in the early 1900s.
5. Ride in a Jaunting Cart at Killarney National Park
The first national park established in Ireland spans more than 25,000 scenic wooded acres encompassing the Lakes of Killarney and surrounded by the Purple Mountains. Hike the short path to breathtaking Torc Waterfall then take a jaunting cart (a two-wheeled, horse-drawn wagon) to Muckross House, a Tudor-style mansion Queen Victoria visited in 1861. Wander through the fabulous gardens or enjoy a picnic on the lawn overlooking the lake, as many local families do on the weekends.
6. Drink a Guinness from the Source
There is an art to pouring a Guinness and you can learn to do it from the masters at the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s #1 tourist attractions hosting more than one million visitors last year. This is more than a brewery tour – along with memorabilia, retro advertising, and a great onsite restaurant, the historic seven-story building houses the original 9,000-year lease signed by founder Arthur Guinness in 1759. The tour ends with a lesson on crafting the perfect pint (you’ll get a certificate, too) and a stop in The Gravity Bar, with one of the best views in Dublin.
7. Visit Trinity College and the Book of Kells
Trinity College was founded more than 400 years ago by Queen Elizabeth 1. The “Old Library” is home to more than 5 million printed volumes, including one copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland since 1801. The most famous book here is the Book of Kells, a 9th century gospel manuscript with lavishly drawn pages created by monks and protected for centuries in a monastery at the village of Kells. Only a few pages are open for viewing at any one time, but the exhibit also features other ancient manuscripts for reflection. The visit ends in the library’s amazing barrelvaulted ceiling “Long Room,” which houses 200,000 of the college’s oldest books in two open stories of oak bookshelves; a collection of centuries-old marble busts and hand-drawn maps; an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic; and a well-preserved 15th century harp, the model for the emblem of Ireland.
8. See the Cliffs of Moher from Land and the Sea
Along five miles of coastline in the west, the Cliffs of Moher rise 700 feet out of the Atlantic, making for a breathtaking sight. A new visitors center built underground offers interactive and virtual reality displays including cliff-nesting birds and the geological influences that created the cliffs. Take in the scenery from the vantage point of O’Brien’s Tower, built more than 175 years ago as a tourist platform, demonstrating the long-standing interest in this fabulous natural sight. Then, drive 30 minutes down to Doolin and catch the one-hour cruise to view the cliffs from the vantage point of the sea. You’ll get a glimpse of rock formations, caves, sea life, and thousands of birds.
9. Kiss the Blarney Stone
Climb ancient spiral stone steps 13 stories to the top of 600-year-old Blarney Castle where you’ll be held as you lean backwards and kiss the stone upside down. Shortcut: if you want the gift of gab but don’t want to do the work, just kiss someone who has kissed the stone. Sure, it works! The grounds of Blarney Castle are worth the walk, with more than 60 acres of gardens, arboretums and waterways.
10. Shop in Galway
Galway provides a unique shopping experience within an easily walk-able distance, featuring cobblestone streets and pedestrian promenades near the wide bay. Interesting gifts and local handiwork can be found here. Explore the “Latin Quarter” – so named for the many arches that lead from the area to the water – full of pastel colored shops, lively pubs, outdoor cafés, and street entertainment. If you’re in town on a Saturday, visit the famous market that has been trading near historic St. Nicholas’ Church for centuries.