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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Must-See Ireland Locations (Part 1)

One of my favorite things is to rent a car on vacation and drive around all over, much like I love a good road trip. As much as I enjoy walking and taking public transportation, you can cover a lot more ground in less time when you drive yourself. When we return to the UK, my hope is to road trip around Scotland, but Ireland is also a wonderful place to explore. 

Having an Ireland staycation is great, & stress-free, but nothing beats seeing a place on your own to soak in all the culture, architecture & scenery.
Photo credit to my wonderful cousin, Cassidy

Having an Ireland staycation is great, and stress-free, but nothing beats being able to see a place on your own and soak in all the culture, architecture and scenery. Plus, there are a ton of castles. So, let's take a look at some of the must-see places in the country, whether you're planning a self-drive vacation or a stay-put vacation where you might take a day trip or just stay in one of these destinations:

photo credit


The capital and largest city in Northern Ireland that often gets overshadowed by Dublin as a trip destination, but it doesn't make it any less interesting. This was the originating sailing port of the Titanic and you can visit the museum with full-scale models and interactive exhibits and rides. But that's not the only cool thing to see in Belfast. 

  • Belfast Castle - Built in 1870, the castle sits on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park. If you've ever wanted to eat at a castle, this is the place to do it. Stop in for afternoon tea or lunch, and then hit up the museum in the cellars. 
  • Belfast murals - Like other cities, Belfast has a ton of murals on walls across the city. You can take a formal tour or you can just walk around and discover them on your own, too.
  • Botanic Gardens - Established in the early 1800s, the gardens are a public park full of tropical plants, exotic trees, and plants from the southern hemisphere. 
  • Shanes Castle - These ruins are found 20 miles from Belfast, nearby Antrim. It was used as a filming site in seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones.  
  • St. George's Market - A market is always a good place to get a feel for a city and interact with locals. This market is no different and sells everything from food to handmade goods. If you're looking for souvenirs or gifts to bring back home. 
  • Ulster Folk & Transport Museum - Located around 7 miles from Belfast, this museum shows you the history of life in Northern Ireland. The transportation museum lets you explore all forms of transport from early Ireland until now.


Known as the Wild Atlantic Way, Clare is the place to visit if you love nature and the water and even enjoy a good hike. 

  • Bunratty Castle - The most complete medieval castle in Ireland sits right on the river. Built in the 1500s, but restored in 1954, it's full of authentic furniture and decor, and sits within a Folk Park that is like stepping back in time. This is the Ireland version of Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Cliffs of Moher - These cliffs overlooking the Atlantic are a popular tourist attraction, due to their sweeping and dramatic views. You can walk to the cliffs and avoid entrance fees. 
  • The Burren - This limestone plateau is home to wedge-tombs, caves, ring forts, and several castles. It's a great place to soak in the history of the land and get some amazing pictures while you're at it. 
  • Burren Smokehouse - If you're a fan of salmon, you can learn all about how it's smoked, turned into different dishes, and even taste some of the local organic salmon that is smoked here as well. 
  • Doolin Village - Located in the Burren, this little colorful fishing village is a must-visit. You can take a ferry to the Aran Islands from here, or take a boat to see the Cliffs of Moher from the sea instead.


A lot of people make the pilgrimage to Cork in order to kiss the Blarney Stone. I certainly wouldn't suggest that, as so many other people have done it, not to mention we're in a pandemic, and I hope we don't forget what germs can do, but that doesn't mean you can't touch it for a little luck of the Irish.

  • Blarney Castle - Home to the Blarney Store, but this 600 year old castle has much more to offer, and sits on a property with beautiful gardens. 
  • Blarney Woolen Mills - Originally a small cottage with a thatched roof, the mills is now the largest Irish store in the whole world. Purchase not only wool clothing and blankets, but also pottery, crystal ,and many other Irish goods. 
  • Old Midleton Whiskey Distillery - Also known as the Jameson Experience, the distillery began as a woolen mill and then turned into a military barracks before finally becoming a distillery. Here you can take a tour, explore the visitor center, restaurant, and gift shop.
  • the city itself - The second largest city in Ireland has much to see and do. The city center is actually an island set between two channels of the River Lee. Cork began as a monastic settlement until the Vikings invaded. The city was fortified with walls, and parts of the old medieval town center are still present. Many refer to Cork as the real capital. 
Photo credit - Cassidy Pappas


  • Cairncastle - If you're a fan of Game of Thrones, the surrounding areas of this quaint little town of 66 people was used for filming parts of seasons 1, 4 and 5.
  • Dunluce Castle & Carrick-a-Rede - The ruins of this castle overlook the sea and are full of historical significance. Carrick-a-Rede is a rope bridge open year-round that links the mainland to the small island of carrickarede. The island is said to be the best example of a volcanic plug in Northern Ireland, but you can also see Scotland from there.
  • Giant's Causeway - Shown above, the causeway is made up of interlocking basalt columns caused by a volcanic fissure eruption. You can walk upon the columns like stepping stones and this area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. 
  • Derry City Walls - Originally built in the early 1600s to protect the Scottish and English planters, the Irish worked with a collection of London livery companies and the city was renamed Londonderry. Now, within the walls, you will find a number of important landmarks, like St. Columb's Cathedral.

These aren't the only things to see in these cities, nor is this even a full account of places to stop on a road trip, just some of the ones with more than a handful of interesting things to see and do. In Part 2, we'll look at another list of cities/counties. 

Have you ever been to Ireland? Or is it on your wish list?

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