Ireland's best-known nickname is the Emerald Isle, and one visit there will make it abundantly clear why: Ireland's landscape is defined by rolling hills, dramatic green cliffs, and lush forests. The country is also deservedly famous for its stunning coastal scenery, and the many famous outlooks include the Causway Coast, the Cliffs of Moher, and Ballinskelligs Bay along the Ring of Kerry.
Ireland has a long, rich history, and many visitors are enchanted by its mystical Celtic past: It's still possible to see beehive huts that once housed pre-Christian settlers; Druid stone circles; and Iron Age stone forts. In more recent history, Ireland's Troubles divided the country between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists; echoes of the conflict can still be felt, particularly in Northern Ireland cities such as Derry and Belfast.
Though the country has abundant natural beauty and numerous cultural attractions, it's the everyday pleasures here that keep many visitors coming back: the roaring peat fires, Guinesses sipped in a small-town pub, traditional Irish music, hearty comfort food (from fish and chips to thick stews), and perhaps most of all, craic with the welcoming locals.
When planning an itinerary, visitors would do well to remember that driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart. Getting accustomed to driving on the left side of the road is often the least of one's problems: More frightening are the narrow two-lane roads and the endless roundabouts, often with poorly marked exits, that are used in lieu of traffic lights. A GPS device is all but a requirement, and if relaxation is a priority, it's recommended to limit the amount of driving planned per day.
First-time visitors often choose County Kerry as a home base, and it's here that two of Ireland's most famous attractions can be found: The scenic 111-mile Ring of Kerry drive, and the beautiful Killarney National Park. Small towns such as Killarney and Kenmare offer a quintessential Irish charm. County Galway is also a popular choice for the lively nightlife in Galway City, the unspoiled beauty of Connemara, and the rocky, rural setting of the Aran Islands.
June 15 - Sept. 15
Nov. - March
Euro in the Republic of Ireland; British pounds in Northern Ireland
230v, 50 hz
10-15% is appreciated for good service (and sometimes included in the bill)
Visit Ireland during the Year of the Gathering 2013