The Republic of Ireland is located on an island west of Great Britain and is home to around 4.7 million people. It is estimated that more than 70 million people of Irish heritage live in other parts of the world, and many want to visit the land of their ancestors. The country also has many visitors with no Irish connection who are drawn to Ireland's lush landscapes, rich history, and warm and friendly people.
With around 30,000 castles and ruins around the island, it can be hard not to visit a castle; but there are some that stand out. Lovers of ghost stories may want to visit Leap Castle, the most haunted castle in Europe. The Rock of Cashel dates back to 1200 and hosts an extensive collection of Celtic art. At Kylemore Castle, you can walk through Ireland's largest walled garden. Some castles, including Ashford, have rooms available for guests who want to spend a night like royalty.
Guinness is Ireland's own stout beer and tasting it is a truly Irish experience. At the Guinness Storehouse visitors tour the brewery, learn the history and finish with a pint at the rooftop bar. Whiskey connoisseurs may prefer to tour a distillery. Jameson's offers experiences premium tasting and whiskey blending experiences. Bushmills have been making whiskey since 1608, and The Old Bushmills Distillery is open to visitors who want to see the oldest working distillery in Ireland.
Ireland's rugged coastline has many cliffs to inspire travelers. The Cliffs of Moher are the most famous and popular. Located in County Clare, they rise to 700 feet above the sea and offer spectacular views of the Irish coastline. Other breathtaking cliffs include Mizen Head, Slieve League, and Inishmore. For people staying close to Dublin, the Bray to Greystones walk follows the coastal cliffs.
Budding politicians and storytellers may want to visit Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, as those who kiss it are said to gain the gift of eloquence. The origins of the stone are shrouded in mystery, but that doesn't stop more than 200,000 people visiting the castle annually. Pilgrims are no longer dangled headfirst over the battlements as there is an iron railing for visitors to hold as they bend backward over the parapet. For those not interested in the stone, Blarney Castle still has plenty to see, including dungeons, the Wishing Steps, and the Witch's Kitchen.
The Library of Trinity College is a must-see for visiting bibliophiles. It is home to more than 200,000 books, including the Book of Kells, an illuminated Gospel from around the year 800. Legend is the book was buried by the monks who created it to protect it from invading Vikings. It is now bound into four volumes, and two are on permanent display in the library. Other literary adventures in Ireland include a visit to Oscar Wilde's childhood home and following in the footsteps of James Joyce.
Tourists may wish to time their trip to Ireland to coincide with one of the country's many festivals. The Dublin St. Patrick's Day Parade offers Irish music, dancing, and beer for those connecting to their Irish roots. People looking for love might find it at the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, Ireland's largest singles event. People who love a good tale may want to hop on a ferry to the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival to listen to storytellers from around the world.
A visit to an authentic Irish pub is a must during a trip to Ireland. The oldest pub in Europe is Sean's Pub in Athlone. It has been in operation since the year 900 and still serves beer today. Many pubs in Ireland host music sessions where you can listen to traditional music as you enjoy a drink or bring an instrument and join in. Pubs also offer great meals, serving traditional comfort food such as Irish stew and colcannon.
Ireland is steeped in history, and visitors can see evidence of it throughout the country. Ringfort at the Irish National Heritage Park gives tourists a chance to truly experience it. Ringfort Stayovers allow people to dress in Medieval clothes, cook over an open fire, care for the farm animals, and stay in housing from 1500 years ago. The Irish National Heritage Park also offers other experiences, including archery, ax-throwing, foraging, and falconry.
Lough Hyne is a spectacular lake in County Cork and home to plants and animals not found anywhere else in Ireland. Visitors can get on the water during the day, but the night time tours offer a unique experience. Kayakers are on the lake from dusk and once the sun is down are treated to an extraordinary view of the stars. The adventurous can also try stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, and coasteering at different places around the island.
Driving around Ireland is the easiest way to see the island, and there are a number of well-worn paths that show off the country's best sights. The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal drive in the world and takes travelers past beaches, mountain, lakes, and villages. The Healy pass, from Cork to Kerry, also offers amazing views that include the Beara Peninsula. The Ring of Kerry is another popular drive, with travelers enjoying the beaches, villages, and views to the Skellig Islands.
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