This Saturday it’s St Patrick’s Day. Bur rather than just suggest the best places to grab a Guinness this weekend – though we do have you covered there too! – we thought we’d offer up a little more culture to proceedings by offering up our favourite places to visit in Ireland for a long weekend.
The Emerald Isle offers opportunities for both urban explorers and adventurous countrymen with vibrant cities, rolling hills and a stunning coastline. We think both the Republic and Northern Ireland are criminally underused by those of us on mainland UK, so whether you’re in the mood to discover a city or get out into the wilderness, here’s the best Ireland has to offer!
If you’re looking for a social hot spot with a plethora of things to do, then a short break in Dublin will be hard to beat in Ireland. Famed for its cobbled streets and abundance of traditional pubs, Dublin has managed to gain itself big reputation despite its relatively small size.
The district of Temple Bar is where the city’s liveliest antics are practiced and is a great place to enjoy merriment and revelry, while the Guinness Storehouse still remains the city’s most popular attraction thanks to its interactive museum and 360 bar, where you can enjoy views over Dublin while tucking into the black stuff. For the culture vultures, the beautiful grounds of Trinity College are well worth a stroll, as is the Old Library (with the Book of Kells) and Dublin City Gallery.
Places to Stay: Killarney, Waterville, Portmagee
While it might not be the first place you’d think of for a weekend away, take it from us; County Kerry and its ‘Ring of Kerry’ couldn’t be more perfect if you like your drink flowing, your scenery breath-taking and your drives spectacular. Killarney is probably the best place to stay as it’s the second most popular tourist destination in Ireland. It’s famous for its close proximity to the National Park but also boats historical houses, pubs and plenty of eateries. If you’re looking for something a little more costal, you’d struggle to find somewhere more ideal than Waterville.
Both locations are ideal to see the Skellig Islands, the location for a famed sixth-century Christian monastery which is perched on the edge of the cliff 160m above sea level. Be warned, however, it’s tricky to get a boat ride to the UNESCO World Heritage Site these day as they were featured in the new Star Wars films! The Gap of Dunloe, Torc Waterfall and Ross Castle are also must-visits on any Kerry itinerary. For a more detailed look, check out our Travel Guide to the Ring of Kerry.
Though Dublin gets the headlines, we think that culture vultures visiting Northern Ireland will love Belfast as much as we do. Shunned by tourists in the past thanks to memories of sectarian violence, the city has gone through a dramatic transformation in recent years, and now boats stunning Victorian architecture, music-filled Irish pubs, and a glittering waterfront lined with a fast-expanding food scene.
We’d recommend heading to St George’s Market on a Friday arrival where you can peruse flowers, produce, meat, fish, homewares and second-hand goods at Ireland’s oldest continually operating market, and finish off the evening by heading to the National Trust’s Crown Liquor Saloon for a pint. Titanic Belfast, which was named the world’s leading tourist attraction at the 2016 World Travel Awards, is a must too.
If you’re after something a little lower on the population scale but still want the craic, County Mayo’s Westport is bright and vibrant without ever losing its heart to tourism. The Georgian town is photogenic to say the least with tree-lined streets, a riverside mall and a plenty of independent restaurants, pubs and accommodations to choose from.
When it comes to eating out, it’ll be hard to beat Sage and you should definitely head to Matt Molloy’s afterwards for a Guinness and a singalong. If you like your hiking, a climb up Croagh Patrick is an essential, but there are also more relaxing pastimes available like fishing to golf. Westport’s position on the shores of Clew Bay also means it’s a dream for water sport enthusiasts with surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing, paddle boarding and kayaking all available.
Places to Stay: Ennis, Doolin, Lehinch
County Clare is famous for its striking coastline and picturesque towns and villages. But it’s also known for its strong musical heritage. Even in the smallest settlements, you’ll find pubs with traditional music sessions on an almost nightly basis. The Wild Atlantic Way is what Clare is arguably most famous for, with the iconic Cliffs of Moher and at ends-of-the-earth Loop Head some of the most popular tourists attractions in the whole of Ireland.
Clare’s beaches mean there are numerous places to stay, particularly in summer, but our tip would be Ennis which is easily accessed from Dublin by both Irish Rail and Dublin Coach. But if you want something a little quieter, the likes of Doolin offer a great base for visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Aran Islands. The same can be said of Lehinch which also has a stunning beach if you’re lucky enough to get some good weather.
One of Ireland’s real gems, the small medieval city of Kilkenny is the ideal location for a relaxing weekend break. Known as ‘the marble city’, thanks to its dark-grey limestone buildings, Kilkenny is picturesque, easy to navigate, and packs an array of artisan craft shops and plenty of cosy pubs. The city is just a 90-minute trip from Dublin, which means you can easily do both cities in just a few days too.
Kilkenny’s main attraction is the ‘Medieval Mile’ which strung between the cathedral and Kilkenny Castle along the bank of the River Nore, and is one of Ireland’s most visited heritage sites. A visit to Smithwick’s is also an essential. Having brewed their ale here since 1710, the Smithwicks Experience offers one-hour tours where you can learn about the brewing process and the history of the brewery, as well as do some beer tasting. What’s not to like!?