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When visiting Ireland, Dublin is an easy and obvious choice — but there are so many other incredible destinations on the Emerald Isle. Here’s a look at some of our favorite places to see outside Dublin, whether you’re in the mood for a quiet village, cliffside beaches, cool castles or delightful foodie spots.
And while these destinations aren’t necessarily off the beaten path, we won’t be including the usual tourist traps — no Blarney Stone here.
Table of Contents
1. The Aran Islands
These three islands — less than an hour’s boat ride from Galway — are truly traditional Gaelic havens, where the locals still speak Irish and bask in the mild climate and lush agriculture. The Aran Islands are home to many forts and castles dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages, so if history is your forte, they won’t disappoint.
The largest island, Inishmore, is home to the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa, perched on top of a high cliff. Nearby is the Worm Hole, a rectangular natural pool where you can swim — if you’re willing to brave the cold water!
A mere 15 miles south of Cork, this fishing town is the gourmet capital of Ireland, which is enough reason to immediately head there and start eating. It’s awash with amazing seafood restaurants and bars and there is an annual food festival, which takes place every October. Even if you don’t visit during the festival, you can still enjoy the fantastic cafes, pubs and pop-up eateries, as well as the yacht-filled harbor, charming narrow streets and a variety of boutiques and art galleries.
3. Galway City
While you may first get a modern vibe from this colorful, vibrant city where the streets are lined with boho-chic bookshops, vintage boutiques and lively pubs, there’s a lengthy history in its old buildings and many castles.
The city was once inhabited by 14 tribes who helped it flourish and grow into the artsy, contemporary community it is today. Don’t miss St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, one of the largest medieval churches in Ireland — it dates back to 1320 and is still in use today. Galway City is also the perfect place to hear traditional Irish music, with many venues offering concerts and workshops where beginners can learn the basics.
4. Connemara National Park
Covering about 12 square miles, Connemara National Park boasts a variety of landscapes, including mountains, bogs, grasslands and woodlands. It’s also home to a graveyard, 4,000-year-old court tombs and Kylemore Abbey, a stunning monastery located inside Kylemore Castle (pictured at the very top of this post). Don’t be surprised to see sheep, rabbits, foxes, shrews, bats and Connemara ponies running around. A visit to Connemara would be a perfect day trip from Galway City, as it’s only about a 90-minute drive.
5. The Cliffs of Moher
Rising 400 to 700 feet above the Atlantic, the Cliffs of Moher, which run for about five miles, are a natural wonder on Ireland’s west coast that shouldn’t be missed. If you’re not convinced by the photo below, perhaps some Hollywood glitz will win you over. The cliffs have been used as a backdrop in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, “The Princess Bride”, “Ryan’s Daughter” and “The Guns of Navarone”.
More than 30,000 birds from about 20 different species live on the cliffs, making it an ideal spot for nature lovers and birdwatching enthusiasts. The visitors’ fee of $7 covers parking, access to the visitors’ center and, most importantly, is used to help conserve the cliffs.
If you want that charming Irish small-town experience, Clifden’s your spot. The village, nestled along the Atlantic coast in County Galway with an expansive green countryside, often has live music, a great food and pub scene and a ton of outdoor excursions like fishing, horse riding and cycling.
Explore the rolling hills behind the village that lead up to Clifden Castle, a ruined manor house that dates back to 1818. You can also drive along the Sky Road that rises 500 feet above sea level and offers stunning views of the ocean, castle and the Irish countryside. It’s also close to Connemara National Park, so you can easily visit both spots in one trip.
7. The Skellig Islands
Another area known for its birdwatching opportunities, the Skellig Islands are made up of two rocky isles — Skellig Michael and Little Skellig — that jut up above the Atlantic a few miles off the coast of southwest Ireland. Skellig Michael, also known as Great Skellig, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for a 6th-century monastery that teeters on a cliff about 1,500 feet above the ocean.
Visitors can hike up to see the remains (it’s a steep climb, so be prepared), where monks used to go when they hoped to worship in isolation. If this scene seems mildly familiar — it was the secret hiding place of Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. Thanks to inclement weather and rough seas, access to the islands are usually limited to May through September, so plan your trip accordingly if you wish to visit.
8. Killarney National Park
A UNESCO biosphere reserve, Killarney National Park is one of the most protected parks in the country, thanks to its almost 26,000 acres of diverse flora and fauna. Home to massive natural wonders like the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range (the highest in Ireland) and the Lakes of Killarney, the park also has some of the largest oak forests in all of Europe. Torc Waterfall is a sight worth seeing, and don’t miss Ross Castle, a 15th-century edifice located at the edge of the park that’s closer to town.
It’s definitely worth doing a bit of extra research when visiting Ireland to make sure all its magical spots beside Dublin don’t get overlooked. Ireland is a fairly compact country, too, so getting around isn’t too difficult. But we would certainly recommend renting a car as public transport, especially in rural areas, can be a bit hit or miss. Slainte!
Featured photo of Kylemore Abbey courtesy of AGF/Getty Images
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