Ireland Travel Guide
- Lush greenery -- rolling hills, thick woodlands, and mossy cliffs -- that have earned Ireland the nickname the "Emerald Isle
- Stunning coastal scenery, from Giant's Causeway to the Cliffs of Moher to the Ring of Kerry
- Mystical Celtic past: beehive huts, Druid stone circles, and prehistoric stone forts
- Lively craic in local pubs
- Hearty comfort food such as fish and chips and Guinness stews
- Beautiful historic buildings such as Muckross House and Kylemore Abbey
- Scenic, 111-mile Ring of Kerry drive
- Wild, unspoiled beauty in Connemara
- Glimpse of traditional rural life on the Aran Islands
- Nightmarish driving conditions: narrow-two-lane roads and endless roundabouts
- The economic difficulties during the recession mean some hotels are struggling
What It's Like
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 island 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 Northern Ireland between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists; echoes of the conflict can still be felt, particularly in cities such as Derry and Belfast. And it's important to remember that the island itself is also divided into two separate countries: Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.) and the Republic of Ireland, meaning visitors to both will need to use two different currencies.
Though the island 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.
Where to Stay
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.