Last Updated on November 9, 2023
Visiting Ireland for the first time?
If you’re wondering where to go in Ireland for a first trip, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve just returned from a fabulous vacation in Ireland, road-tripping around the beautiful Emerald Isle. I’ll share with you some of the most popular places that are must-visits as well as some hidden gems worth checking out.
While you can visit Ireland with a blend of public transportation and tours (or hitchhiking), I recommend renting a car, especially if you’re limited on time.
To see all the highlights, I’d recommend planning a 10-day trip but you can also do a shorter trip and focus on just one area. Ireland is a relatively small country and most places worth seeing are within a few hours’ drive from Dublin.
Listed below, discover all the best places to visit in Ireland and the must-sees during a first trip to this beautiful country, as well as useful travel tips, and a sample itinerary so you can start planning your trip!
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
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Most Popular Sights in Ireland You Must Visit on Your First Time There
1 – Cliffs of Moher
If you like hiking you can start from Doolin or Hag’s Head and walk from one to another or up to the visitor center and back. If you’re doing that, pack plenty of food and water and be ready for rain and sun.
For something more relaxed start at the visitor center, from there, it’s just a short walk to the cliffs and you can choose to wander off a bit or stay there.
An even more laid-back option is to take a cruise and see the cliffs from below. It’s also a great option if you suffer from vertigo.
If you don’t have a car, an easy way to get there is to book a tour from Dublin or this one from Galway City. Alternatively, there are daily buses from Galway and Ennis stopping by the visitor center, you can check the schedule here.
From March to November, you can also take the ferry from Doolin to the beautiful Aran Islands. The archipelago is made up of three islands, the ferry can take you to all three but it’s better to just pick one. The bigger one, Inishmore, features several ruins of ancient castles and religious buildings.
2 – Ring Of Kerry
One of the best places to visit in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is a fun road trip (part of the Wild Atlantic Way) to go on with beautiful vistas and rich cultural activities.
You can drive the loop in a day but it’s better to count 2 days to truly enjoy the sights. The itinerary is pretty straightforward, follow the coast, and you can pick where you want to stop based on your interests. Booking a private tour is also an option, check out this private one with perfect reviews.
I personally recommend visiting the Kerry Bog Village Museum to see how people used to live, then head to Cahergall Stone Fort, next to it you can also visit Leacanabuaile Ring Fort and enjoy the view at the Top of the Rock Viewing Platform – as well as spend some time on Cuas Crom Beach is the weather is nice.
Next, head to Valencia Island where you can see the lighthouse and the Tetrapod Footprints while enjoying the laid-back vibes of this tiny Island. You can stop for the night there or head over to Portmagee, enjoying a hearty dinner with views over the ocean.
The next day, keep going and drop by the spectacular Kerry Cliffs before heading to Ballinskelligs to visit the small castle and abbey (both in ruins). Derrynane House is also a must-visit to learn more about Ireland’s past – the house used to be the home of Irish politician Daniel O’Connell.
If stone forts are your thing, Staigue Fort is another well-preserved notable fort that can easily be visited from the main road. Next, make your way to Kenmare where you can stroll around town and enjoy a meal.
If you enjoy hiking, you can also hike part or all of the Kerry Way – the entire route takes at least 9 days to complete.
3 – Killarney National Park
If you’re going to drive the Ring of Kerry then a stop at Killarney National Park is a must when going to Ireland for the first time. You can see the highlight within a day but if you like hiking you can plan to stay for a couple of days.
The national park is probably the most popular park in the country and it’s not for nothing. My favorite part was the drive through the park, with gorgeous views and jaw-dropping scenery.
You can stop along the way for short hikes and to scenic viewpoints. Make sure to make your way to Muckross House and Ross Castle (also known as Killarney Castle) – both are worth visiting. You can drive through the park, around the lakes, passing by the famous Gap of Dunloe.
If you have extra time you can spend the night in Killarney town and plan a longer hike or several short ones.
Additionally, there are boat tours offered on the lake and kayak rentals (and tours) available.
If you don’t want to drive, you can base yourself in Killarney and visit from there. You can also book a tour taking you through the park and along the Ring of Kerry.
4 – Kylemore Abbey & Garden
No first time to Ireland would be complete without visiting one of its more popular sights: Kylemore Abbey and Garden.
Located in County Galway, the abbey was founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle. It makes a fantastic stop if you’re planning to drive around the Connemara Peninsula. You can also book a tour from Galway or Dublin if you don’t want to drive.
Once there, you can take a guided tour of the building and stroll around the beautiful garden on your own. It’s a sight to behold that you should definitely visit.
5 – Connemara National Park
If you’re planning on visiting Kylemore and like hiking, then plan to hike in Connemara National Park. It’s located within a few minutes’ drive from the abbey, you can even see the abbey from above on the main hiking trail. It’s one of the best places to visit in Ireland for outdoors lovers.
There are basically 2 loops you can do, the lower one which continues onto the upper one. I recommend doing the longer one for the best views. It takes around 3 hours with breaks and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the peninsula.
During the warmer months, try to start as early as possible (you can go even if the visitor center is not open yet), and bonus, you’ll get to avoid the crowds as well.
6 – Glendalough
Surrounded by the Wicklow mountains, Glendalough is a popular spot among Irish people looking for a place to hike during a quick half-day trip from Dublin or to spend a weekend away from the city. It’s a beautiful destination, mainly known to be home to the ruins of an ancient monastic city.
Today, only a few ruins remain but the scenery there and the hiking opportunities make it a great destination.
Spend some time strolling through the ruins, have a coffee while enjoying the views, and when you’re ready for some adventure, hike around the 2 lakes. It takes around 3-4 hours to complete the loop and it’s a pretty strenuous hike as you go up the mountains.
You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the lakes surrounded by the mountains. In the summer, there’s a sandy beach area in between the 2 lakes where you can swim and grab a snack.
There are several other hikes you can do, some easier and shorter than others depending on your fitness level. You can even head to the nearby Wicklow Mountains National Park for more options.
Make sure to book your accommodation ahead especially on weekends, as it gets pretty crowded and accommodations are limited in the area.
7 – Powerscourt House & Gardens
Another beautiful estate that should be on your itinerary, Powerscourt was built in the 18th century and voted one of the top ten houses worldwide by Lonely Planet. Located in County Wicklow, it can easily be visited as a day trip from Dublin (you can combine it with a hike in Glendalough).
There, you can enjoy lunch or drinks at their restaurant, shop for local products, and explore the carefully manicured grounds. Many locals go there to enjoy the garden, have a picnic, and just lay on the grass.
There’s also a waterfall you can go to, the highest one in the country actually. It’s part of the estate but it’s too far to walk, you’ll have to drive there or hire a cab.
8 – Kinsale
A first-time visit to Ireland should include at least one full day in Kinsale. This beautiful seaside town is full of charm, cute cafes, and colorful houses.
The best thing to do there is to stroll around town, stopping by a few shops to pick up a handcrafted souvenir or gift, and people-watching from a café. You can tour the Kinsale Museum, set in a building dating back to the 1590s, to learn more about the town’s history.
If you want, you can go on a guided walking tour with a local to make sure to see all the best spots or, sample some local treats during a food tour.
Kinsale has been known as the culinary capital of Ireland for a while now. With over 50 restaurants, the small town offers options for all taste buds and budgets. Popular places include Fishy Fishy, Man Friday, and The Bulman. If you want to treat yourself to a Michelin-starred restaurant, head to Bastion.
9 – Dublin
No visit to Ireland would be complete without visiting its capital. Dublin is a fun town offering plenty of things to do for a day or two.
Start with a guided walking tour to get a feel of the city and its history before touring some of the city’s top sights. Among the must-visits check out Trinity College, home to the famous Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, Christ Church and St Patrick Cathedrals, and the National Gallery.
There are several more museums and historic homes you can visit depending on what you’re into. To learn more about Irish History, head to Kilmainham Gaol, a historic prison offering tours of the facility.
For something fun, make sure to visit the iconic Guinness Storehouse and go pub hopping in the Temple Bar neighborhood.
Dublin is also a great base to explore the country if you don’t have a car. A lot of day trips depart from there to some of the top sights in the country. You can check out the excursions offered on Viator.
10 – Rock of Cashel
One of the country’s most spectacular historic sites, Rock of Cashel features some of the best-preserved medieval buildings in Southeastern Ireland, such as the stunning Cormac’s Chapel from the 12th century, the Round Tower, and the Gothic Cathedral from the 13th century.
The castle was inhabited for over 1000 years, first by kings and then by priests. It was an important center of power for centuries.
Today, you can take a self-guided tour of the castle or book a guided tour once you get there. Note that Cormac’s Chapel can only be accessed with a guide and closes earlier than the rest of the castle. You can check the schedule here.
If you don’t have a car, you can get there by bus to Cashel Town. If you’re short on time you can book this tour from Dublin including a visit to Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle (don’t miss kissing the Blarney Stone!), and Cork.
Additional Places to Visit in Ireland for the First Time
11 – Burren National Park
Located in County Clare, the Burren features otherwordly landscapes and is a must-visit during a first-time trip to Ireland, especially if you enjoy hiking. The scenery is just unique and quite breathtaking. It probably was the highlight of my trip to Ireland.
You can choose to hike in the national park (which I recommend) or go for a leisurely walk in the region.
All the hikes within the national park start at the same point, type “Gortlecka Crossroads” on Google Maps. There, you’ll find the parking lot and the starting point for the hikes.
There are 2 easy trails you can do if you have limited mobility or are traveling with young children. Otherwise, I recommend doing the blue trail, the one I did. It’s a strenuous hike but there’s plenty of space to take breaks. The trail is a 4.7-mile loop and it takes around 3 hours with breaks to enjoy the view.
You can download to trails’ map here>>
If you’re visiting during summer, try to start early to avoid the heat, and bonus, you might be all by yourself. At other times of the year, bring layers and be equipped for rain year-round – the weather can turn quickly there.
If you don’t have a car, there’s a shuttle during the summer from the visitor center in Corrofin to the trailheads. All trails start at the same place and most are loops.
Outside of the park, you can hike the portion of the Black Head Loop that’s on the coast – from Ballyvaughan to the Black Head Lighthouse or from Fanore to the lighthouse.
In the area, the Poulnabrone Dolmen is a popular sight. If you’re passing by you can stop to have a look but I wouldn’t recommend doing a detour just to see it. You can also take a guided tour of Aillwee Cave.
12 – Dingle Peninsula
Another great thing to do in Ireland is to drive the less-known Dingle Peninsula. Allow 2 days to enjoy the peninsula fully and all it has to offer. Make sure to drive the Slea Head Drive and pass by Conor Pass.
You can start by visiting the cute town of Tralee and its downtown area before starting your drive along the coast.
There are plenty of places to stop at to enjoy the views or have a coffee. Here are some must-do stops:
- Glanteenassig Forest Park: a beautiful forest with a lake you can walk around.
- Fahamore Beach and Fermoyle Strand
- Brandon Point
- Conor Pass Waterfall
- Cill Maoilchéadair (ruins of a church)
- Gallarus Oratory (a 1000-year-old church)
- Clogher Strand
- Dunmore Head
- Cashel Murphy
13 – Beara Peninsula
The Beara Peninsula is another driving loop you should do if you have the time. It’s as beautiful as the Ring of Kerry but without the crowds and a more “wilderness” feel.
Start in the charming village of Glengarriff, making your way to Adrigole, the starting point of the Healy Pass Road, a breathtaking road offering stunning scenery taking through County Cork to County Kerry. Keep driving west, passing three quaint villages, Allihies, Eyeries, and Ardgroom, all the way to the tip of the peninsula.
From there you can take the cable car to Dursey Island, from which you can often see the famous Skellig Islands where part of Star Wars was filmed. Skellig Michael is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ireland.
If the weather is nice, you can stop by Ballydonegan Beach for a swim.
Other must-sees of the Beara Peninsula include the ruins of Dunboy Castle in Castletownbere, Kenmare Bay, and Turners Rock and the Caha Pass on the road from Kenmare to Glengarriff.
14 – Gougane Barra National Park
Gougane Barra offers a unique landscape and is an ideal destination for a quick hike. There are several trails to choose from for all levels. What I liked most about it was the peacefulness and that there was close to no one there.
I would recommend doing an easy hike through the forest and then a harder one up the mountain to get nice views of the area. You can plan to spend half a day there.
Right before the forest, there’s a hotel and restaurant with a shop if you need to buy water or snacks.
First-Time Ireland Itinerary
Your itinerary for the Emerald Isle will depend on how long you’re staying there and what you want to see. I managed to see all the places listed above and more in 10 days starting from Dublin.
What I would suggest is:
- Day 1 + 2: Road trip in the Connemara: driving along the coast, visiting the abbey, and hiking in the National Park
- Day 3: Hiking in the Burren and visiting the Cliffs of Moher
- Day 4: Driving the Dingle Peninsula and starting the Ring of Kerry
- Day 5: Finish the Ring of Kerry and hiking in Killarney
- Day 6: Beara Peninsula and Gougane Barra
- Day 7: Kinsale, Cork City, Blarney Castle
- Day 8: Rock of Cashel and Kilkenny (stroll around town and visit Kilkenny Castle)
- Day 9: Morning hike in Glendalough, tour Powerscourt, and end the day in Dublin
- Day 10: Dublin
Check out my 7-day Southern Ireland itinerary here>>
Tips for Traveling to Ireland for the First Time
I really recommend renting a car so you have the freedom to explore wherever and you don’t waste time in public transportation. You can also join a group tour if you don’t want to drive. I recommend checking out Tour Radar for group tours, you can filter by size of the group, age range, duration… they work with carefully picked travel agencies and a majority of tours have enough reviews to get a good idea of the quality of the tour.
If choosing to drive, know that people drive on the left, expect to drive through narrow roads, and keep an eye out for ships – so be extra mindful when driving there.
Be prepared for the weather to turn quickly so pack accordingly and always have at least a raincoat with you. If you’re going to hike, pack sturdy shoes.
If you’re on a budget try to book your accommodation as early as possible. Otherwise, I recommend booking last minute so you have more flexibility, especially when driving, you might go further than expected for that day or want to spend more time at one place.
Budget-travelers can shop at Aldi or Liddl, buying things to make sandwiches for lunch will allow you to keep the costs down.
Make sure you go to at least one traditional pub with live music to fully enjoy the Irish experience.
Make sure you have travel insurance – this goes for every country you visit. It will cover things such as medical expenses, stolen luggage, repatriation… (make sure to read the fine print to see what’s included or not.)
Instead of changing currency at the airport, get euros at the ATM – fees will vary from one bank to another so you can check a couple to find the cheapest one.
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