For me, travel is about accumulating memories and moments, and if you don’t know what to do in Ireland to create those memorable Ireland travel experiences as a first-time visitor, I’m here to help!
I lived in Dublin for 12-months back in 2003 and explored Ireland extensively then, and most recently did an 8-day Ireland trip called Green With Envy in partnership with Globus Journeys. Our Ireland tour covered a nice mix of top cities including Dublin and Galway, smaller towns, plus history, culture, incredible scenery and the addictive pub scene.
Ireland might be a small island, but there are plenty of fun and unique things to do in Ireland. It’s a place well known for its rich history, vibrant cities and small towns, rugged coastline, historic castles, pub culture, and green rolling countryside. I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
Many of the experiences listed below I was able to do on my recent tour of Ireland, and if you’re interested in a tour with all the fun and none of the overwhelm and stress of planning your own independent trip, check out my 8-day Ireland tour with Globus, the group tour experts who make travel easy!
Indulge in a Pint of the “Black Stuff” (Guinness)
Let me start with one of my favorite things about Ireland. Few countries are as intrinsically linked to one drink as Ireland is to the black stout by the name of Guinness; it’s a big part of what makes up the culture of Ireland.
Arthur Guinness signed took a risk by singing a 9,000 YEAR lease on St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin in 1759. It certainly paid off as it’s grown from these humble beginnings to become one of the world’s most iconic beers.
While you may have sipped on Guinness in your native land (it’s brewed in 49 countries) there’s nowhere like drinking Guinness than in its home. Indulging in (at least) one pint during your Ireland vacation is one of the unmissable things to do in Ireland.
Trust me, it tastes so much better in Ireland, and I acquired the taste while living in Dublin. There’s even a study that claims to scientifically prove that Guinness does not travel well, and the freshest Guinness is the best-tasting Guinness!
This dark, creamy alcohol is now so iconic that the Guinness Storehouse is the most visited of the Ireland attractions (see more about this below).
Sipping on a pint of Guinness, in an Irish pub, paired with Fish ‘n Chips or a Beef & Guinness Stew while listening to traditional music, is as quintessential as Ireland gets.
St Patrick’s Day in Dublin
The Irish are all about having good craic (a good time), and there’s few other celebrations around the world that gather as much participation from other nationalities as Ireland’s St Patrick’s Day. St Patrick’s Day in Dublin is a fun and unique experience!
They don’t dye the river green in Dublin (like they do in Chicago), nor do they speak in limericks, but you’ll experience vibrant color, song, conversation and celebration.
One of the best ways to experience Dublin on Ireland’s national holiday is to hit the streets and soak up the atmosphere and watch the parade, as I did while living in Dublin in 2003.
The parade route is lined with families, visitors and locals in every shade of green, silly hats, and waving tricolors. And afterwards, hit up one of the local Dublin pubs to continue the party!
Walk along the Cliffs of Moher
Any tour of Ireland is not complete without a walk along the Cliffs of Moher, the second most visited destination in Ireland (behind the Guinness Storehouse).
Rising 700 ft vertically above the ocean and running along the coast of County Clare for almost 8 miles, the soft shale and sandstone cliffs offer spectacular views of the Atlantic. Formed over 320 million years ago, they are a part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark.
One of the best things to do in Ireland is walk along the paved pathways (there’s a safety fence in place) and explore different vantage points of these famous Ireland cliffs.
Tap Your Toes To Live Traditional Irish Music in a Pub
There’s no better way to enjoy good craic than listening to traditional Irish music in a local pub, preferably with a pint of Guinness in hand.
Irish traditional music can be traced back thousands of years. It embodies the spirit of the people of Ireland and their music is like a language – a non-stop celebration of sound and storytelling.
The main traditional instruments are the fiddle, Irish flute, tin whistle, Celtic harp, uilleann pipes, and the bodhrán, and I dare you to resist the urge to tap your toes and slap the table with your hands, or, better yet, leap up and dance around.
My favorite night of my Irish tour was at the iconic Quays Bar, one of the most popular pubs in Galway for live music. I’m guessing this will become one of your favorite Ireland travel memories too!
The largest traditional music festival is the annual summer event Fleadh Cheoil. Other notable places include Ennis in County Clare (with its half-dozen music pubs0, and I had an amazing time in Doolin way back in 2003 which has a cluster of famous music pubs.
Almost every Irish pub in every town will have live traditional music, and often just the locals gathering together to play a few tunes!
Taste Irish Whiskey
Aside from Guinness, Ireland is famous for that other beverage, Irish Whiskey. The word ‘whiskey’ comes from the Irish uisce beatha, meaning water of life.
Irish whiskey is typically triple-distilled, while scotch is often distilled only twice. And Irish whiskey tends to have a smoother finish as opposed to the smoky, earthy overtones common to Scotch whisky. Also, Irish whiskey is always spelled with an “e”.
Popular brands include:
- Green Spot
- Tullamore Dew
If you love whiskey, or want to get another taste of Ireland, I highly recommend you take a tour of a distillery to learn about the history and the distilling process. Check out this tour of the Jameson Distillery, the Teeling Whiskey tour, or the Irish Whiskey Museum.
Drive the Wild Atlantic Way
West Coast Ireland’s scenery is breathtaking, and the best way to take it all in is to drive part of, or all of, the Wild Atlantic Way. The Wild Atlantic Way is a coastal route that stretches 1,600 miles from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork.
It is divided into 14 stages for easier orientation and all up is one of the premier road trips in the world, and highlights include Malin Head in Donegal, Clifden in the Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher, Mizen Head in Cork, the incredible Dingle Peninsula and the famous Ring of Kerry!
Another favorite experience on my recent Ireland trip was visiting Achill Island, Ireland’s largest offshore island and one of the jewels in the crown of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Indulge in Fish n’ Chips
I wouldn’t necessarily classify Ireland as a foodie destination, except when it comes to Fish ‘n Chips. Ireland is of course an island and surrounded by water, and many critics say the best fish and chips in Europe can be found in the Emerald Isle.
So, you can’t visit Ireland without ordering, at least once on your Ireland trip, classic Fish ‘n Chips (fries). Take it from me, they’re best ordered in a cozy pub, with a side of traditional music, and washed down with a pint of the “black stuff”.
Of course, like any seafood, the best fish and chips is the freshest and comes from the coastal towns who have close access to the fresh catch each day. Some of the best seafood towns in Ireland include:
- and Galway
Popular Fish ‘n Chip shops in Ireland include:
- Leo Burdock’s in Dublin
- McDonagh’s in Galway
- Wharton’s in Kenmare
- Luigi’s in Limerick
- Harry’s Shack on the Antrim Coastline
- Superfry in Portstewart
- Beshoff Brothers in Howth
Be sure to set foot in a chipper (fish ‘n chip shop) or a local pub for one of Ireland’s favorite meals!
The Guinness Storehouse
Speaking of Guinness and the importance of freshness, it doesn’t get any fresher than the Storehouse in Dublin. There’s a reason it’s ranked number one out of all the places to visit in Ireland.
When I said there’s no better place to drink Guinness than in Ireland, the best pint of velvety black stout is probably poured at the Guinness Storehouse facility at the historic St. James’s Gate Brewery!
This 7-story museum is one of the best things to do in Dublin as it gives a fascinating insight into the history of Ireland’s favorite drink, how it is made, the 6-step ritual behind the perfect pour, and the influence it has over the world.
Explore Historic Ireland
Since the first human settlement in 6000 BC, Ireland has had some fascinating historical periods and events. The rich history and heritage have helped to shape the country. Visiting historical attractions is one of my favorite things about exploring Ireland.
Top Irish Historical Attractions
- Rock of Cashel – one of Ireland’s most historic sights and the seat of the ancient kings of Ireland. St. Patrick baptized King Aengus here in 450 AD.
- Trinity College – Ireland’s oldest and famous University. Its alumni include some of the country’s most esteemed authors and poets.
- The Book of Kells – Written in 800 AD, this is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. Currently housed at Trinity College.
- Kylemore Abbey – built in the late 1800s by a wealthy businessman, today owned and run by the Benedictine community who have been in residence since 1920. Magnificent property.
- Glendalough – founded in the early 6th century by St. Kevin, who sought an isolated place for religious reflection.
- Christ Church & St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Christ Church is the elder of Dublin city’s two mediæval cathedrals. It is officially claimed as the seat (cathedra) of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin.
- Kilmainham Gaol – built in the late 18th century. Housed many of the prominent revolutionaries involved in the 1916 Easter Rising.
- Dublin Castle – an important building in Ireland’s history. Until 1922 it was the seat of the British government’s administration in Ireland.
Explore Ireland on Foot
This country is a great road trip destination, but Ireland can be best explored on foot. Walking in Ireland can be as simple as a stroll along a canal, or hiking along spectacular sea cliffs, remote islands, or along one of its 43 waymarked long-distance trails.
All you’ll need is a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes, decent fitness, some food and water, and, inevitably, a rain jacket.
Some of the best walks in Ireland include:
- The Causeway Coast (Antrim’s north coast) – the final 10 miles from Carrick-a-Rede to the Giant’s Causeway can be done in a day and is one of the finest coastal walks in Ireland.
- Wicklow Way (near Dublin) – one of Ireland’s most popular long-distance walks for its remarkable scenery and accessible start and finish points.
- Carrauntoohil (County Kerry) – the best mountain hike and the highest summit, at 1040m (3412ft).
- Howth Summit – best short hike near Dublin.
- Muckross Lake Loop Trail (County Kerry) – akes in some of the most photogenic parts of Killarney National Park.
- Slieve Bloom Mountains (County Offaly) – great walks for families
May-September are typically the best months for hiking and when you stand the greatest chance of dry weather and less chance of midges.
Sip on an Irish Coffee
If you love coffee and whiskey like me, combine them and you’re in heaven. And if you’ve never had an Irish Coffee, why not start here, in its home of Ireland.
Invented in County Limerick in 1942, the ingredients of an Irish Coffee are whiskey, hot coffee, brown sugar, and heavy cream lightly whipped on top. If, like me, you attempt to make Irish coffees at home but can never get the cream to sit on top, just let the experts in Ireland make it for you.
You can pretty much get a good one in any pub or restaurant, but when in Dublin, head to The Brazen Head for the ultimate traditional Irish experience. Garavan’s in the heart of Galway city is also renowned for their Irish Coffee. And of course, you must try an Irish coffee in the place where it all began – Foynes in County Limerick.
Explore the Small Towns
While most travelers flock to big cities like Dublin, Galway, and Belfast, one of the country’s best features is its small towns and villages.
I don’t know if anyone does a small town much better than Ireland, and it’s here you’ll find true charm and character, history, quaint architecture, and stunning locations.
Think rows of colorful buildings, pubs with live music, quaint villages with colorful thatched-roof cottages, and some of the best food. Ireland’s small towns provide a peaceful and intimate glimpse into Irish history and hospitality.
Some of the best small towns for Ireland travel experiences include:
- Westport – picturesque malls at its heart running either side of the Carrowbeg River, and the famous peak of Croagh Patrick provides a stark backdrop.
- Kinsale – known as “the prettiest town in Ireland,” and famous for its colorful brightly painted rows of shops.
- Doolin – one of my personal favorites. Small town charm and great live music scene in some of the coziest of Irish pubs. Close by are the famous Cliffs of Moher.
- Dingle – a beautiful Irish-speaking fishing town and the quintessential Irish town in all its colorful beauty and launch point to drive the incredible Dingle Peninsula.
- Clifden – perfectly situated for exploration into the Connemara National Park.
- Clonakilty – bustling town and a hub for tourism in West Cork.
- Killarney – a charming town and the gateway to the fabulous Killarney National Park.
- Cobh – Titanic town: the final port of call for the RMS Titanic before its fateful voyage. Charming waterfront town.
- Kenmare – Harry Potter fans will know Kenmare as the home of the “Kenmare Kestrels”. Otherwise known as tranquil with colorful historic shops, quaint streets, and rolling green hills.
- Kilkenny – lots of ambience, live music, colorful shops, a winding River Nore, and Kilkenny Castle.
See a Gaelic Football Game (or Hurling)
Looking for unique things to do in Ireland? One of the best live sporting matches and cultural experiences I have ever experienced was the All-Ireland semi-final Gaelic football match between Donegal and Armagh at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin in 2003.
With a sea of brightly colored orange and green jerseys and team flags madly waving in the crowd, the atmosphere was electric with fans on the edge of their seats screaming and cheering with every play of the ball. It was non-stop thrilling action!
Gaelic Football is the most popular sport in Ireland with over 2.6 million registered players. The game is played with a small ball, similar to a handball, and was introduced to Ireland by the Scots and Irish immigrants.
Hurling is the national sport of Ireland that was played by the Celts thousands of years ago, and has been passed down from generation to generation. It is played on a pitch with a large ball and a small ball. The goal of the game is to get the small ball through the sliotar into the goals.
Step Along to Some Irish Dancing
Ireland is synonymous with Irish dancing. It has been around for centuries, but you may have first become aware of it in the 90’s due to the production of Riverdance, which brought Irish Dancing to the world stage. A visit to Ireland isn’t complete without taking in some live Irish dancing.
Away from the glamor of shows such as Riverdance and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, there remains in Ireland a deep love of traditional dance and the history and heritage it represents.
Styles have evolved over the years, but, in general, they include step dancing (characterized by the rigid upper body and intricate footwork of its performers), jig dance, sean nós dancing, céilí dance, and Irish tap dancing.
As part of my Ireland tour with Globus, we enjoyed a night of traditional Irish dancing and singing inside Ireland’s largest thatched roof pub at Taylors Three Rock. Other places in Dublin to see dancing include:
- The Irish Dance Party (Merchants Arch Bar in Temple Bar)
- Celtic Nights (Arlington Hotel)
- Hooley Show (Johnnie fox’s Pub)
- Murray’s Bar
- Belvedere Hotel
- Irish House Party
Other places around Ireland include:
Beef & Guinness Stew (or Guinness Pie)
I love beef, and by now you know I love Guinness, so this combination is a marriage made in heaven for me! It’s often the simple moments that bring me the most joy and filling up on this classic Irish comfort food in a local pub brings me lots of JOY.
And when in Dublin, you can find me enjoying a hearty Beef & Guinness stew at one of my favorite Irish pubs, The Stags Head.
In case you don’t know, Guinness is a tasty addition to stews and casseroles, as it helps tenderize the meat and adds its distinctive malty flavor to any dish. Check out this list of things you can cook up using Guinness.
Of course, the Beef & Guinness Pie version housed in a pastry is another favorite alternative, and I enjoyed this HUGE pie on the Achill Islands at Gielty’s Bar during my tour of Ireland with Globus.
Without the addition of Guinness, of course traditional Irish Stew (Lamb Chunks with root vegetables, baby potatoes and fresh herbs) is still one of the country’s most well-known dishes and comfort food.
The Pub Scene
Ireland is a country of pubs, and the pub is an essential part of the culture. When you visit Ireland it feels like there’s a pub on every street, at least in every town, and there are over 7,000 pubs in Ireland, and 700+ in Dublin alone!
Irish pubs are like second homes for locals, and they became mine too while living in Dublin. It’s within a pub’s walls where you can really feel the friendliness of the people, the place for good craic, and the history and character of the pubs just draw you in.
And as great as the beer is, you can still immerse yourself in the pub scene without drinking beer, simply pop in for a hearty pub meal and listen to traditional Irish music.
But if you do fancy a pint, here’s a quick run down of popular Irish beers:
- Guinness – Stout (Dublin)
- Murphy’s – Irish Stout (Cork)
- Smithwick’s – Red Ale
- Harp – Lager
- Galway Hooker – IPA
- Kilkenny – Cream Ale
Just a few of the top pubs in Ireland from a very long list include:
- The Temple Bar (Dublin) – lively tourist pub
- Sean’s Bar (Athlone) – oldest pub in Ireland
- Tigh Neachtain (Galway) – a favorite of local Galwegians
- The Crown Liquor Saloon (Belfast) – historic Victorian pub.
- Johnnie Fox’s – amazing traditional pub in a mountain location, great food, live music.
- Quay’s Bar (Dublin & Galway) – live music scene.
- The Brazen Head – Dublin’s oldest pub
- The Folk House (Kinsale) – epitome of a traditional Irish bar.
- The Beach Bar (Sligo) – traditional thatched pub nestled right beside the sea
- Matt Molloy’s (Mayo) – a night of craic and live music
- Murphy’s Bar (Dingle Peninsula) – views over Brandon Bay and the surrounding hills
- Kehoe’s (Dublin) – Victorian pub with a rich literary history.
- John Kavanagh, The Gravediggers (Dublin) – much loved for a local Dublin feel.
Drink in Ireland’s Oldest Pub
When you visit Ireland, don’t miss the chance to have a drink in the oldest pub, Seans, which dates back to 900 AD. Not only is it the oldest in Ireland, but Guinness Book of Records is yet to find one older anywhere in the world!
This ancient bar in Athlone features sloping floors, peat fires and lots of music. Just walking through the door into the pub with its low ceiling and low light, you can sense the history and character and instantly feel like you’re stepping back in time.
I enjoyed a morning Irish coffee here during my Green With Envy tour with Globus and look forward to returning for a Guinness or Whiskey!
Black Cab Tour of Belfast
While you might be spending most of your time in the Republic of Ireland, since this island is so small, I recommend you consider including Northern Irealnd on your trip as well.
One of my most moving and tense Ireland travel moments was doing a black cab tour of Belfast for a unique insight into Belfast’s and Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
We learned about the complex history and harrowing tales and how it has shaped the present day from a knowledgeable guide who drove us around to some of the city’s most-famous political murals, peace walls, and both sides of the divide in a London-style black cab.
If this interests you, check out this one hour black taxi tour of Belfast which has a lot of great reviews.
Kick Start Your Day with a Full-Irish Breakfast
One thing I loved about our London trip this year was my morning Full-English Breakfast, there’s nothing like a good fry-up to kick start your day, especially in the cooler months.
The same rang true for me in Ireland. But their version, a Full-Irish Breakfast, generally consists of a combination of bacon, sausages, eggs, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, white and black pudding (pork meat with oatmeal and blood sausage respectively) and baked beans.
Get fueled up for your day of exploration, and especially good as a hangover cure after a night on the Guinness. You can find these breakfasts in most hotels and restaurants.
Other Food Experiences
What would be the point of traveling to Ireland without sampling some authentic Irish cuisine?
Irish food can be best described as hearty, and almost all dishes involve potatoes, cabbage, and meat (especially lamb and pork, but with a strong emphasis on using fresh local ingredients.
Food in Ireland isn’t just about the taste; it’s about the place, the experience, and the people who created it. When visiting one of the local eateries, don’t just stick to Fish n’ Chips or Irish Stew, consider one of these other traditional dishes:
- Bacon and Cabbage
- Cockles & Mussels (immortalized in the Dublin’s unofficial anthem, ‘Molly Malone)
- Smoked salmon
- Seafood chowder
- Potato and leek soup
- bangers & Mash
- Soda bread & Irish Brown Bread
- Ulster fry (bacon, eggs, sausages and black pudding)
- Colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale)
- Boxty (Potato dumpling, potato pancake and potato bread are all descriptors)
- Black and white pudding
For more Irish food experiences, check out the English Market in Cork, the Temple Bar Food Market in Dublin and the St George’s Market in Belfast. As for food tours, check out this food walking tour in Dublin.
Temple Bar District
The happening Temple Bar District in Dublin is like no other place in Ireland. It’s where almost every visitor heads to for good craic and a few pints in one of its many lively pubs. Although it may be the center of Dublin’s nightlife, and thrives day and night, it’s not just about the beer!
This district on the south bank of the River Liffey is also one of cobbled streets, a large variety of restaurants, cafes, markets, art galleries, exhibitions, theaters, hotels and more.
But honestly, most tourists come here for the beer and the party. The best-known pub is the namesake Temple Bar, easily recognized by its red exterior, fairy lights and hanging baskets. Other popular pubs here include the Quays Bar and Oliver St. John Gogarty’s.
All of the pubs tend to get crowded, especially in the evenings, and yes it’s full of tourists and tourist prices, but if you’re looking for a vibrant atmosphere and a fun introduction to Ireland, this is the place!
Shop on Grafton Street
The principal shopping street on the southside of the River Liffey in Dublin is Grafton Street, a pedestrian street lined with boutique stores containing the creations of Ireland’s trendy designers, plus cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Located between Trinity College and St Stephen’s Green, this bustling thoroughfare is one of Europe’s busiest shopping streets, Since the 1980s has become internationally known for its street entertainment, particularly busking, with musicians, poets and mime artists commonly performing for shoppers.
There wouldn’t be many streets in Ireland as well-trodden as Grafton Street, and even if you’re not into shopping the people watching and the buskers are worth the stroll.
Marvel at the Giant’s Causeway
Another great attraction not to miss in Northern Ireland is the The Giant’s Causeway.
Here you can follow in the legendary footsteps of giants at Northern Ireland’s iconic World Heritage Site. It is truly spectacular and unique, as thousands of basalt columns tumble down into the Atlantic Ocean, with a whopping 40,000 hexagonal-shaped steppingstones formed some 60 million years ago.
The story of this site is about an Irish giant who picked a fight with Scottish big man Benandonner. Legend has it that the giants loathed each other. And so, one day Fionn built a path to use as stepping-stones to reach Scotland, which was then ripped up by Benandonner. The result was the Giant’s Causeway.
A short walk brings you down to the Causeway itself, where you can hop over the stones, explore the surrounding hills, or just sit and contemplate the puzzling geology of one of Europe’s most remarkable natural sites.
There you have it. A list of Ireland travel experiences to put on your list for a visit to the Emerald Isle. If you didn’t know what to do in Ireland, now you know! What activity or experience would you enjoy most?
And don’t forget to check out the Ireland itinerary I did with Globus if you don’t won’t to go it alone and have all the fun without the hassle!