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17 Must-Do Activities That Deserve a Spot on Your Ireland Itinerary

A view of the water from Huntsman's Hill. There are several trees in the shot, green foliage.
A view from Huntsman's Hill in Killarney National Park.

When I set out to write this list of 17 [pick your favorite superlative adjective] things to do in Ireland, I had every intention of writing the list from 17 to 1. I wanted to save the best for last, to encourage you to at least scroll to the bottom. It’s not possible. 

If you’ve been to Ireland, you know how grand the gorgeous Emerald Isle is. It’s a land of saints, scholars, and storytellers. If you’ve been on a guided tour of a historical landmark in Ireland, chances are you’ve met a scholar and storyteller, sometimes in the same person. There is nowhere else on earth that I am more in love with hearing the quickness with which clever quips and turns of phrase trip off the lips of its inhabitants. 

Ask a bartender if a couple of seats are taken, and he’ll say, “They’re only taken when we’re bored.”

If you make a bad swing during a golf lesson, your instructor will reassure you, “Don’t worry. You’ll have more bad swings today.”

Help an octogenarian to his feet after he stumbles, and he will say, “I’m becoming young again.”

Tell the boat skipper that your sealegs are fine, but your nerves are not, and he’ll put your mind at ease by saying, “If you see me putting my life jacket on, that’s the time to worry.”

We spent three months in Ireland and then returned for one week on our way home from Portugal last summer. We’ve had the good fortune to experience every item on this list, which is not in any particular order. What’s best is a matter of taste. My favorite depends on the moment I’m asked. 

1. The Guinness Stoutie Experience at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland. Two Guinness Beers. Each one with a face printed onto its head. One is a woman's face. One is a man's face.

Yes, it’s touristy, but even if you’re not a tremendous fan of the black stuff, partake in the Guinness Stoutie Experience —it’s worth it. When you arrive, you’ll start an immersive self-guided tour through the Guinness-making process and the brand’s storied history. Then, you can partake in a brief lesson on how to taste and drink a Guinness properly. After that, so long as you signed up for the Stoutie experience, it’s time for your close-up. Your photo will be taken. Then, your head will be printed on the perfect head of your Guinness. Sit down, drink your face, and enjoy. 

Then, head up to the 7th-floor Gravity Bar and redeem your ticket for a pint of beer. No other form of payment is accepted there, so make sure you don’t misplace your ticket. You can choose from a variety of beers— they even have a cider on tap, Rockshore Apple Cider. While on the top floor of the Guinness Storehouse, you’ll have a chance to take in great views of Dublin. 

Plan to spend about two hours here. 

Chris looking over the Upper Gallery railing to the bar below in the Church Cafe in Dublin. Green, clear, and orange bottles dominate the bar's shelves.

When you dine at The Church Café Bar, you’ll be dining in the 18th-century church where Guinness founder Arthur Guinness married Olivia Whitmore in 1761. We recommend making your reservations for the upstairs gallery on a Sunday – Thursday evening at around 6:30 so you can take in a traditional Irish dance performance and live Irish music. Their menu offers an array of options from salads to steaks and oysters to vegan fried rice, so you and your travel companion(s) should all be able to find something you like. Chris and I ordered and devoured their Char-Grilled 8-ounce Irish Tender Fillet Steak served with a roasted flat cap mushroom, crispy onions, black peppercorn sauce, and fries. 

Ireland Dublin Kilmainham Gaol. The main floor where the guards stood and could see the door to every cell in the gaol.

Kilmainham Gaol was opened in 1796 by the UK government and closed as a gaol for good in 1929. On a tour, you’ll learn about those imprisoned during The Great Famine (1845-1852), and see some of the cells of Kilmainham’s political prisoners from the Easter Rising (April 24, 1916), War of Independence (1919 – 1921), and Civil War (1922 – 1923).

When you go, be sure to visit the nearby Proclamation Sculpture as well. It honors leaders of the Easter Rising and the authors of the Irish Proclamation of Independence. Each has an execution order, or verdict, carved into its base and bullet holes that represent where the firing squad hit them. It’s quite moving.

Plan to spend around 90 minutes here. 

Travel Tip: All tours here are guided and can sell out, so be sure to book ahead! 

Did Our Dublin Itinerary Disappoint Us? A Short Weekend in Dublin, Ireland! 

Dublin Ireland in a Day! 3 Places We Missed on Our First Trip. 

4. Explore Ireland’s Medieval Mile in Kilkenny

Inside St. Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Whether you drive or take a train, Kilkenny, home of Ireland’s Medieval Mile, is about an hour and a half from Dublin. Kilkenny Castle, built in the 12th century by the greatest knight that ever lived, William Marshall, is on one end of the mile. 13th-century St. Canice’s Cathedral is on the other. Between them, there are more than a dozen medieval sites to explore on (or near) the mile. If you’re a history buff, this mile is a must. Our favorite stops along the mile are Kilkenny Castle, St. Mary’s Medieval Mile Museum, Kyteler’s Inn, The Smithwick’s Experience, and St. Canice’s Cathedral

Travel Tip: St. Canice’s Cathedral is closed to visitors on Sundays. 

If you love medieval history, we recommend giving yourself at least two days to explore the Medieval Mile. 

We Try To Visit 24 Sites in 24 Hours on Ireland’s Medieval Mile! Kilkenny, Ireland 

5. Listen to Trad Music in an old-school Irish Pub

Live trad, Irish traditional music, is played in old-school pubs throughout Ireland. The Crane Bar, http://www.thecranebar.com/, in Galway, has shows every night. If you want a classic, traditional Irish music fix, this is the place. We went on a Sunday afternoon in between sessions. Musicians sat around, drinking their pints and breaking into song, one after the other. Tears rolled from my eyes. Even now, when I think of how wonderful our time there was, tears brim them: the voices, the souls, the connection. 

Kinsale Harbour shot including a sculpture of a sailboat along the shoreline.

Gourmet food, sailing, and gorgeous views make this charming harbor town an absolute romantic dream of an escape. This County Cork town with less than 6,000 inhabitants, has at least a couple dozen restaurants, cafés, and bars worth visiting. Three of its restaurants are in the Michelin Guide: Max’s is listed, Saint Francis Provisions has a Bib Gourmand, and Bastion has a star. In Kinsale, you can enjoy a multicourse meal at Rare 1874, created by Ireland’s 2023 Chef of the Year, Meeran Manzoor. In other words, there’s good reason that people call Kinsale the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. It’s a fabulous destination for foodies. 

Travel Tip: Make your restaurant reservations well ahead of time! They can book up fast.

Where to Stay in Kinsale: The Trident Hotel.

How to Spend A Perfect Weekend in Kinsale Ireland! 

Taking The Scilly Walk to Food, Brews, and History Too – Kinsale, Ireland 

Romantic Weekend Getaway in Galway Ireland Salthill Promenade

The Salthill Promenade, skirting Galway Bay, is a must if you like gorgeous views. It’s a short walk from Galway’s town center and is about 3 km long. You can take part in a local tradition by kicking the wall at the trail’s end. Bring a euro or two along to donate at the kicking wall. Proceeds go to local charities.  

While on the Salthill Promenade, look for a plaque or two of poetry from the Galway Poetry Trail. As I write this, there are 27 poems on the trail. There’s also a Whiskey Trail with a dozen bars. Galway has a path (and much more) to meet almost every traveler’s preference. 

48 Fantastic Hours of Food & Fun in Galway Ireland!

Cliffs of Moher covered with green grass overlooking the ocean. O'Brien's castle in the distance. Bright blue sky with puffy white clouds.

The Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular sight. While there, you can visit O’Brien’s Tower, check out the Visitor Center exhibition, and take the 5.6 km Coastal Walk from the Cliffs of Moher to Hags Head. The walk, which takes between ninety minutes and two hours, isn’t difficult, but make sure you heed the warning signs along the way. When we went, we ate lunch in the Visitors Center and enjoyed spectacular views.

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride or Harry Potter, you can look for spots where scenes from the movies were filmed. 

If you’ll be doing the Coastal Walk, plan on spending 3 hours here, 4 if you’ll be having a meal. 

Irish Road Trip: Kinsale to Galway

9. Attend a Hurling Match.

Hurling is the fastest sport on earth and one of the oldest – an Irish sport of Gaelic origin that’s been played for three millennia. It combines elements of lacrosse, field hockey, and baseball. UNESCO lists hurling as an element of Intangible cultural heritage. The sport is intense. You don’t have to see a professional-level match to be entertained. 

Americans Go to a Hurling Match for the First Time!

10. Picnic at Fitzgerald’s Park in Cork City.

Fitzgerald Park in Cork City, Ireland. A rainbow stretches across the sky. A blue bicycle leans against a tree in the distance.

Grab your picnic supplies from the English Market in Cork City — a popular foodie destination full of local, independent food producers and retailers. Many of its stalls are occupied by family-run businesses. If by some chance you and your travel companions don’t find anything you fancy in the market, there are plenty of food options nearby. 

Fitzgerald’s Park is about a thirty-minute walk from the English Market. Nestled near University College Cork, it offers a tranquil oasis perfect for indulging in your market finds and soaking up the beauty of nature. 

We Plan our Cork City Trip Using a Local’s Travel Tips! Cork, Ireland

Rock of Cashel, Ireland. Exterior of ruins and a large stone cross in the foreground.

According to legend, the Rock of Cashel is where St. Patrick converted King Aenghus to Christianity. When you visit, be sure to take the in-person guided tour. Audio guides are available, but I doubt they can do anywhere near as good a job as one of their docents. Our guide was as hilarious as he was informative. 

Plan to spend an hour to 90 minutes here. 

Blarney Castle in Ireland is a large tower house. A path leading up to it and a small bridge.

There’s so much more to Blarney Castle than its gift-of-the-gab-bestowing stone. While there, you can explore the castle ruins and learn more about life during medieval times. Its extensive gardens are wonderful to wander. You can visit the witch’s kitchen and walk her wish-granting stairs. There are also druid sites to see on the grounds. 

Plan to spend 3 hours here. We visited twice and spent more than that each time. 

We Kissed the Blarney Stone! [Ireland Day Trip to Blarney Castle] 

13. Drive the Ring of Kerry

Ladies View on Ireland's Ring of Kerry Drive. Rolling Hills, Mountains, Water. A cloudy overcast sky.

The Ring of Kerry is the N70, a road that circumnavigates the Iveagh Peninsula in Ireland. It is a 179-kilometer road trip that includes spectacular views and charming towns. Killarney National Park is a great starting location. Spend some time in one of the greenest places on earth, then set off to see some of the most beautiful views in the world, like Ladies View, Moll’s Gap, and Kerry Cliffs.  

Give yourself two days to complete the ring. We recommend spending a night at the Royal Valentia, located around the trip’s midpoint. 

Ireland -- Looking over a portion of the Kerry Cliffs to a section that juts out into the ocean with Skellig Michael just beyond it. The sky is full of light white clouds. Bright blue can be seen where the clouds have left a bit of space.

Some prefer Kerry Cliffs to Cliffs of Moher because they aren’t as touristy. When we went, there were far fewer people at Kerry Cliffs than at Cliffs of Moher. We enjoyed both immensely. On a clear day, you can see Skellig Michael, aka Star Wars Island, from Kerry Cliffs. While there, you can take pictures of their adorable alpacas, donkeys, and horses.

We Check Out the Ring of Kerry! — County Kerry, Ireland

Looking down at a trail on Skellig Michael in Kerry County, Ireland. The path and mountain look rocky and treacherous. It is an overcast day. You can see the horizon, but not details of the ocean.

Journey eight miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland, to Skellig Michael on one of the 15 boats that travel to the island each weather-permitting day. Then, hike up its 618 7th-century stairs, worn down by the steps of 14 centuries’ worth of pilgrims, monks, invaders, and visitors, to reach its top. Make good purchase on each uneven stair, as Bob, one of the island’s guides, advised, to prevent injury or worse. Skellig Michael is listed among the world’s most dangerous tourist attractions and as a travel destination that might actually kill you. Yet the hike only requires moderate hiking abilities and is safe so long as you heed Bob’s advice. Your rewards for taking on the adventure include Puffin sightings, visiting a 7th-century monastery, and, for Star Wars fans, taking in the setting of a Jedi hideaway location featured in episodes VII and VIII. If you’re fortunate, as we were, on the way back to the mainland, you’ll be able to get close enough to Little Skellig to see Ireland’s largest Gannet colony and maybe spot a seal or two. 

We booked our trip with Skellig Coast Adventures and traveled to Skellig Michael aboard Skellig Walker, a 38ft Cygnus Typhoon built by Murphy Marine Services on Valentia Island. There are spots to sit inside, which isn’t true of all ferries that head out to the Skelligs. 

Given nature’s variables, I would block a solid 6 hours for this trip.

Travel Tips:

  • If there’s any chance of rain in the forecast, wear proper rainproof gear — not just rain-resistant.
  • Bring clothes to change into after your hike. Leave them in the car so they stay dry. 

We Visited Ireland’s Star Wars Island [AKA: Skellig Michael] on the Worst Day!  

Skellig Michael: Ireland’s Sharp Rock in the Sea That You Can Hike

Killarney National Park, Ireland. Two trees with green leaves and luscious green foliage to the sides of and beneath them frame distant mountains.

Killarney National Park is one of the greenest places on earth. UNESCO designated it a Biosphere Reserve in 1981. Its forest represents Ireland’s last remaining swath of native woodland, and the park is home to Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohill (3,280 feet tall). Our favorite hike in the park is Huntsman’s Hill on Torc Mountain. In addition to glorious green hikes, there are historic sites to tour and see, like Ross Castle, Muckross House and Gardens, and Muckross Abbey. 

No matter your hiking ability or level of mobility, there are ways to enjoy this park. Many of the walking paths are easy. You can ride in a traditional jaunting car, a light two-wheeled carriage pulled by a single horse, take a boat trip, kayak, or canoe in Killarney National Park.  

Plan on spending an entire day here. 

Visiting One of the Greenest Places on Earth – Killarney National Park, Ireland. 

St. John's Castle, Limerick, Ireland. An imposing castle on a bleak day. It almost looks like a black and white photograph, but it's not.

Remember the villainous king in Robin Hood – King John? That’s the King John who owned this castle, though he never managed to visit it. 800 years of Limerick’s history can be uncovered while exploring the castle’s exhibits. Outside, in the courtyard, you can visit a blacksmith’s workshop and learn about the transition from iron swords, weaponry, and protective gear to steel ones. A lute player might share the history of the instrument and sing you a song in Middle English as he plays. Its courtyard is also full of medieval fair games that all ages are welcome to play. You can play hopscotch, tug of war, horshoes, and even seesaw. 

If we brought our grandchildren to Ireland, this castle would be the first on our list to bring them to. 

For more reasons to visit Limerick, Ireland, check out our post: Limerick, Ireland in 24 Hours: What to See + Where to Stay.

Limerick, Ireland in 8-Hours: Castles, Cathedrals & Cranberries

For a bit more Ireland Travel Inspiration:

Note: We created this video before taking our second trip to Ireland. 

Planning your first trip to Ireland? Check out our 7 Tips to Plan Your Best Ever Trip to Ireland

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