With another summer drawing to a close its time to start thinking about next year’s vacations and travels. With that very much in mind, Robert Gant takes us through the top ten destinations in Ireland.
1. County Kerry
The historic port of Waterford is increasingly popular with tourists and rightly so. Founded by Vikings in 835 the town grew mainly due to its perfect location on the River Suir near the South-East coast of Ireland. The bulk of the town’s hotels and food outlets sit close to the river on the south bank. Full of history, Waterford proudly boasts some of the oldest city walls in Europe and the striking Reginald’s Tower is an absolute must see. Standing at the end of the Quay, close to the waterfront the tower dates back to the Viking era and has stood tall ever since. In modern times Waterford boomed in the 1800s when the glass industry was at its peak. This has given the Munster town a Georgian feel, especially around the Mall and Parnell Street where grand Georgian houses line the streets. Waterford is also renowned for being home to some of the finest hotels and restaurants in Ireland from the luxury Granville hotel to the cheaper, centrally located Anchorage hotel. T and H Doolans is one of the oldest pubs in Ireland and is a must visit offering traditional Irish music all year round and one of the best, affordable menus in the area.
Crosshaven is a small coastal town on the south coast of Ireland approximately 15 miles away from Cork. The beautiful location of Crosshaven secures the towns position in the Young Academic’s top ten Irish destinations for next year. Surrounded by rolling, woody hills on one side and the striking waters of Atlantic Ocean on the other Crosshaven is also famous for yachting and the sight of thousands of small boats and yachts moored along its waterfront can be breath-taking on a fine spring morning. With Cork, Kinsale, Blarney Castle and the Old Head of Kinsale all within half an hour’s drive of Crosshaven it makes the town an ideal place to set up camp and explore this must-visit corner of Ireland.
Galway is arguably the most Gaelic out of all of Ireland’s major cities and its culture and history is proudly on display for the many tourists that visit the western city. Located on the north-eastern tip of the famous Galway Bay the city is a vibrant place with a unique atmosphere. The city has a modern feel due to the areas young population (over 50% of its residents are aged between 15 and 45) yet the history of the city is exciting and in true Irish fashion bloody at times.
Must sees include the relatively new Cathedral of St Nicholas completed in 1965, which is located on the western bank of the River Corrib. The historic Spanish Arch, built in 1594 to protect Spanish merchants from Irish looting is always well worth visiting and is situated by Wolfe Tone bridge across from the picturesque Claddagh habour. It is also well known that a visit to Galway wouldn’t be complete without popping into one of the cities many tradition Irish pubs, with the Kings Head open since the 1600s being a popular choice with tourists and locals alike.
Ireland’s smallest and arguably most beautiful city, Kilkenny, often known as the ‘marble city’ is a small inland city that has fantastic architecture covered in finely polished Kilkenny county limestone that looks just like marble at first glance. A place full of charm, Kilkenny sits happily on the River Nore overlooked by the striking castle, built in Norman times and still impeccably maintained today. While other historic and religious buildings such as the striking St Canice’s Cathedral and the popular Black Abbey offer tourists some extremely interesting sights; it is the city’s winding lanes, back alleys and tiny tradition Irish pubs that give the place it’s distinct cultural feel. A must visit for those interested in history, art and museums, Kilkenny has a reputation as a cultural hotspot and attracts many weekend visitors from the big local cities like Dublin and Waterford for that very reason. A great place to wine and dine, Zuni stands out with an interesting and unique menu, cheery service and reasonable prices.
One of the most unique cities in the world, let alone in Ireland, Belfast offers an hundred experiences wrapped up into the one city. With so much to do and see, the diversity Belfast offers warrants a travel guide all of its own. The city centre is a hub for tourists, with designer shops, swanky cafes and restaurants everywhere in a city that is now being allowed to blossom following 30 years of political violence and city centre bombings. Bus tours starting a various points in the city centre give you a full insight of the true unique feeling that the city has, taking in the University quarter, the Cathedral quarter, the Lagan river front and the various new and exciting developments along the river. These tours also take in west Belfast and the paramilitary murals of both sides and many other sights and sounds the city has to offer.
Belfast castle and Belfast zoo which are perched high on the hills above north-east Belfast are both well worth visits and offer great views of the city and the River Lagan flowing into the Irish Sea. If you’re wanting to base yourself in luxury while you explore Belfast and the Antrim area the modern Hilton hotel is a great call or why not try the most bombed hotel in the world, the Europa situated next to the Grand Opera House on Great Victoria Street.
To explore some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland the monastic settlement of Glendalough in county Wicklow is the perfect spot to set up camp. Located deep in the Wicklow Mountains it really is like taking a step back in time when you visit the sixth century settlement founded by the legendary St Kevin. Nestled in a beautiful valley with two spectacular lakes, many a winding stream and fabulous forested hills on either side of the lakes, Glendalough is a place where time stood still. Other than the visitor centre and two hotels the area is an ancient part of Ireland which has huge religious significance, remaining a place of national pilgrimage up until the 1800s. Not only is Glendalough charming, beautiful and inspiringly historic, it is also a great base in which to discover the treats the Wicklow Mountains National Park has to offer. Within comfortable driving distance of Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare it is hardly surprising that visits to the area are drastically increasing and Glendalough has to be on the to do list for anyone travelling to the Emerald Isle.
The subject of many famous Irish ballads, County Donegal offers variety and arguably holds every key part of Irish culture inside it’s county borders. Loughs, mountain ranges, spectacular coastal cliffs, beautiful beaches and enough traditional Irish bars to keep a small country stocked up with Guinness for a century, Donegal really does have it all. The two main population centres are the towns of Letterkenny and Donegal both of which are heaving with culture and charisma. Rossan Point, Arranmore, Malin Head and Killybegs offer simply stunning coastal views, huge waves for surfing and according to legend the freshest air you’ll ever breathe in Ireland. In terms of where to stay in County Donegal both Donegal and Letterkenny are located at the heads of deep sea loughs and bays, with both having lots to offer. In terms of travelling to see the rest of the county Letterkenny is more ideally located and is undoubtedly better connected by road and train to other areas of the north-western county.
The area known as Connemara lies to the north of Galway bay and is home to some of the harshest yet ruggedly attractive and at times extremely striking landscapes in Ireland. With very few urban areas Connemara is one of the most rural and natural areas to found, which make it an ideal place for hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, surfers, mountain bikers and kayak and canoe enthusiasts to visit. Its western coastline is intricate and convoluted but can be followed by a windy country road which offers tremendous views of rocky cliffs, excellent beaches and oodles of small offshore islands. Further inland towards south Connemara are the famous Irish bogs and literally thousands of lakes which offer beautiful if not at times treacherous hiking and biking routes. Further north the Twelve Pins and the Maumturk Mountains offer some of the best scenery in the province of Connaught. Bed and breakfast’s and small hotels in the many small towns and villages throughout the area are the best bet for accommodation and also give you a chance to intermingle with a friendly and deeply cultural population, with some areas still using Gaelic as their first language. Equally Galway is a good staging point for adventures in the wilds of Connemara.
The capital of Ireland is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, flourishing into a global metropolis while still holding on tight to tradition and remembering the cities long history. Whatever your interests Dublin as a city can satisfy them. The city is split in two by the River Liffey and in the city centre modern walkways along the side of the river give the city centre and the Liffey a great connection. On the north side of the river is where the majority of the city centre shopping lies in the Jervis and Ilac shopping centres. In fact it is no overstatement to suggest that Dublin offers some of the best shopping in Western Europe.
Culturally Dublin has as much if not more to offer than any other city in the world. Tours of Dublin by bus and private hire taxi are often the best way to really see and experience what the city has to offer. South of the river is a real tourist hotspot. In the south east of Dublin clustered together just off Kildare Street you’ll find the National Library, National Gallery, National Museum and Leinster House. Near by is one of Dublin’s largest and possibly most famous parks, St Stevens Green. Closer to the Liffey by the Grattan Bridge is Dublins historic castle, which now serves many functions including an art gallery and a police headquarters. St Patricks cathedral and the Guinness Brewery are to be regarded as musts on the tourist trail while Kilmainham Gaol should be regarded as a must for anyone with even a remote interest in Irish history. O’Connell Street is perhaps the most famed landmark on the north side of the river. The street is one of the widest in Europe and its central reservation boasts statues of Irish patriots such as Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell as well as other famous Irishmen such as Father Matthew and writer James Joyce.
The nightlife in Dublin needs no introduction but the Temple Bar area of the city is a real entertainment hub with restaurants, pubs, studios and small shops all squeezed into the bustling cobbled streets and alleyways of this quarter of town. A warning to visitors would be to bring your wallet, as Dublin is extremely expensive. In terms of accommodation the Arlington Hotel on banks of the Liffey on Bachelors Walk is a top tip. Not only popular for the great accommodation but also for the free traditional Irish dancing and music performed there every single night.
County Kerry is one of the biggest counties in Ireland and not many people would argue with the fact that it is by far the most beautiful of Irelands 32 counties. Killarney, the main town in the county has been a popular tourist destination since as early as 1750, when wealthy English lords would visit the town in order to hunt in the surrounding area. As a result the town has a vibrant, fun loving feel and the locals are extremely friendly. Hotels and pubs line the busy town streets and there is plenty to do in the town itself. Outside of the town it is imperative to explore the outstanding countryside that surrounds the town, particularly to the south east where lakes and mountains stretch right the way across the Iveragh peninsula. Much of this area falls into Killarney National Park, 25,000 acres to be precise. Some of Ireland’s finest walks as well as some of its rarest wildlife can be found in the national park. For history and culture lovers Knockreer House and Ross Castle are both located in picturesque spots within the national park. Muckross House, a Victorian villa and one of the most splendid stately homes in Ireland also falls within Killarney National Park.
One of the most spectacular attractions County Kerry has to offer comes in the form of a road. Not just any road though, the road is known more commonly as the Ring of Kerry. The natural beauty this drive offers is unsurpassed by any other road in Ireland. Starting out and finishing in Killarney the round trip takes around 6 hours depending on how many stop offs at various beauty spots and attractions you make. The route passes through the stunning national park running alongside the Lower Lake, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake in its early stages. Ladies View, named after Queen Victoria and her ladies in waiting who stopped to admire the views from this point, offers unique views across large swathes of the county. Further on through Kenmare, County Kerry’s second largest town, the road really opens up running next to Kenmare River giving great views of the Beara Peninsula. The road then cuts off in a north-eastern direction giving off some coastal views you’d be lucky to match anywhere in the world. Passing north through the village of Cahersiveen, the birth place of Irish patriot and politician Daniel O’Connell, the views are truly breath taking. Heading back in an eastward direction the Ring of Kerry runs up alongside Dingle Bay giving even more incredible views, this time the of Dingle Peninsula and the mountains that rise from it.
Anyone looking for Irish history, out of this world views and great ‘craic’ with the locals and other tourists alike shouldn’t consider anywhere else this next year until they have looked into visiting County Kerry.
With all this to offer and cheap flights from the UK to Ireland’s major airports, our neighbour across the Irish Sea is a highly recommended destination for your travels in 2011.