As the world celebrates the spirit of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day today, we’re marking the occasion with a visual tour around 10 of Ireland’s most iconic spots. Scroll below to read about the beauty of Ireland, and click through the image galleries (curated by a blogger who just so happens to be a Dublin native) to see for yourself!
1. The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare are often listed among the top places to see in Ireland, and if you’re lucky enough to visit, it’s easy to understand why. At their highest point, the cliffs stand 702 feet (214 metres) above sea level and stretch along the crashing waves of the Atlantic for 5 miles (8 kilometers). Over the years, the spectacular views have formed the backdrop for scenes in numerous movies, including The Princess Bride (1987), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), and Leap Year (2010).
2. Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery set on the grounds of Kylemore Castle in Connemara, County Galway. It was founded in 1920 by a group of Benedictine nuns who fled their abbey in Ypres, Belgium after it was bombed during World War I. Settling at Kylemore, the nuns opened a boarding school for girls and carefully restored the abbey, Gothic church, and victorian walled garden to their former glory. Nowadays, the Benedictine community welcomes visitors who come to experience the peacefulness of the estate and the beautiful surrounding scenery.
3. The Burren
The Burren of County Clare covers an area of 100 square meters, and is like no other place in Ireland. Likened to walking on the moon, the striking limestone terrain was formed by acid erosion over thousands of years. The rocky landscape is home to a surprisingly large variety of rare plants and insects and is also filled with evidence of Stone Age inhabitants. As visitors explore the area, they’re likely to stumble across massive dolmens, ancient wedge tombs, and giant stone forts.
Newgrange is a Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley of County Meath. It was built as a place of spiritual worship more than 5,000 years ago (around 3200 BC), which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. It’s best known for the illumination of its passage by the winter solstice sun. At dawn on December 21 each year, a narrow beam of sunlight enters through a small roof box and dramatically illuminates the entire inner chamber. To the Neolithic culture of the time, the event marked the beginning of a new year and may have served as a powerful symbol of the inevitable victory of life over death.
5. The Aran Islands
The Aran Islands (Islands of Saints and Scholars) are a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. The islands are rich in cultural heritage, with ancient forts, churches, and monuments spread across the rugged landscape and perching on the steep, windswept cliffs. The islands are an official Gaeltacht region, where locals speak the Irish Gaelic language among themselves — but happily speak English for their visitors.
6. The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt coastal cliffs in Antrim, Northern Ireland. The striking landscape is made up of more than 40,000 massive hexagonal basalt columns, which evolved from a volcanic eruption that happened 50 million years ago.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) after he was challenged to a fight by Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway to Scotland to allow the two giants to meet.
7. The Dingle Peninsula
County Kerry’s beautiful Dingle Peninsula is full of scenic mountain roads, sandy beaches, and small fishing village scenes. Running 40 miles from Tralee to Slea Head, it’s scattered with monuments that remind visitors of Bronze Age communities, Dark Age monks, English landlords, and, most recently, Hollywood directors (Ryan’s Daughter and Far and Away). The village of Dingle itself is full of small winding streets lined with gift shops, cafes, old-fashioned pubs, and seafood restaurants serving the latest catch.
Glendalough (the valley of the two lakes) is an ancient glacial valley located in County Wicklow, on the east coast of the country. Glendalough is home to an early Medieval monastic site, founded by hermit monk St. Kevin in the 6th century. The combination of beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, and the fascinating monastic history makes it one of the most popular visitor destinations in Ireland.
9. The Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland’s most well-known archaeological sites, located in Cashel of County Tipperary. It includes a spectacular group of Medieval buildings, perched on top of a green hilltop on an outcrop of limestone. Here you can immerse yourself in the history of a 12th-century round tower, a high cross and Romanesque chapel, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral, a 12th-century Romanesque chapel, and a 15th-century castle.
10. Dublin City
Finally, no tour of Ireland would be complete without making a stop in the capital city. Dublin is the largest city in Ireland and is home to more than a third of the nation’s population. Originally founded as a Viking settlement, the metropolitan city is now a wonderful combination of old and new. Here you can revel in the incredible architecture of cathedrals like Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, sample a pint in the Guinness Storehouse, wander through art galleries and museums, or get soaked up in the history of places like Dublin Castle, Trinity College, and Kilmainham Gaol.
Do you have other favorite Irish places? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
In the meantime, you can continue exploring by browsing our Ireland lightbox »
Top Image: Monastery Glendalough by nevio