With its lush, vibrant green hills crossed with stone fences, soaring cliffs that touch down to idyllic beaches edged by a cobalt sea, grand castles, charming villages and friendly people, Ireland is one of the world’s top travel destinations.
One of the first things to consider when planning a trip to the Emerald Isle is where to go, and it can be almost overwhelming unless you have a lifetime to enjoy it. There are plenty of famous places to consider that nearly everyone knows about by now, like the Cliffs of Moher and the Dingle Peninsula, but what about beautiful destinations in Ireland that aren’t on everyone else’s itinerary?
Located just off the northwest coast in County Mayo, Achill Island is linked to the mainland by bridge, renowned for its spectacular landscapes that include towering mountains and countless nearly untouched beaches. You might have caught a glimpse in the Academy Award-nominated film “The Banshees of Inisherin” as it served as a filming location, with Colm’s cottage at Keem Bay. One of the best ways to explore the island is to drive around it, with the 25-mile Atlantic Drive often named among Europe’s best road trips.
Most people head straight to Glendalough in Wicklow National Park, missing one of the most stunning areas, Sally Gap. It’s tucked between the granite walls of high mountains with a swathe of purple mountain heather, waterfalls, and ancient woodlands. The sapphire waters of Guinness Lake (officially Lough Tay) and a white sandy beach were used as a prominent film setting in the History Channel series “Vikings.” Those who want to get out and explore can hike from Lough Tay to Lough Dan, although you’ll get quite a scenic panorama along Sally Gap Drive that starts from the village of Roundwood and leads to the Lough Tay Viewing Point.
Inisheer, officially Inis Oírr, is the smallest of the three Aran Islands off the Galway coast, easily reached by ferry from Rossaveel. The two-square-mile island may be small, but it’s jam-packed with breathtaking landscapes and boasts multiple attractions yet crowds are rarely seen, other than the day trippers that arrive by ferry. Spend the night and you can enjoy its enchanting atmosphere all to yourself. After disembarking the ferry, you’ll see a beach that looks like it should be in the Caribbean where the “resident” dolphin Sandy is often seen. A picturesque walk among the maze of stone walls will bring you to everything from a famous shipwreck to a lighthouse while the moss-covered ruins of the early 15th-century O’Brien’s Castle can be reached with a short stroll from the ferry dock overlooking the sea.
Slieve League Cliffs
The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s top attractions with countless tourists here on any given day, yet the Slieve League Cliffs are some of Europe’s highest sea cliffs and offer magnificent views that can be enjoyed with few others around. Located along the northwest coast in Donegal, a nearly sheer 2,000-foot drop separates the highest point from the sea. On a clear daym you’ll be able to see the Ben Bulben Mountains in Sligo and Leitrim.
While most people head to the west coast for beaches, the east coast is home to one of Ireland’s most impressive beaches. Brittas Bay in Wicklow boasts over three miles of white sands and dunes located alongside turquoise water that’s ideal for swimming during the warmer months. It’s a great place to watch for wildlife with the dunes offering rich habitats that draw lots of birds along with red foxes, rabbits, and badgers. Watch for the bright pink orchids that grow among the dunes.
Portmagee is a short detour from the Ring of Kerry along the southwest coast with a tiny population and brightly painted homes and buildings clustered along the waterfront. A wide range of attractions can be enjoyed from here, from boat tours to Skellig Michael with its well-preserved 6th-century monastic settlements to a chocolate factory and millions of years old tetrapod tracks on Valentia Island, linked by bridge. Spend the night to enjoy fantastic live music with a perfectly poured Guinness at the Bridge Bar.
Adare is often named among the prettiest villages in all of Ireland with a main street that’s lined with thatched cottages dating back to the 1820s, many of which now house restaurants, boutiques, and arts and crafts shops. It’s a perfect stop for lunch between the Kerry coast and Galway with the Blue Door Restaurant particularly renowned, but you can simply stretch your legs to take advantage of the many photo ops.