Top 10 Irish Attractions EnchantingIreland.com's top picks for sites to see in Ireland
We are always asked about our top picks for sites and attractions and it's very difficult to narrow that down because we want our clients to create itineraries that work for them - not creating them based on what WE like to do. But we've relented, put our minds together and created a top 10 list of sites and attractions for those travelling around Ireland.
Keep in mind that this list was created based upon our own experiences, what we've enjoyed and recommend to others. Ranking is based upon how often we go back to these sites as well as the time we spent there on our own or showing new friends.
#10 - Manning's Emporium
Manning's Emporium is a quaint little cheese and wine shop which has evolved over the years to include a larger menu now that the shop has been taken over from Val Manning (whom we first met) by his niece and nephew.
Located in the little village of Ballylickey, County Cork, you'll likely pass through without even knowing it if you're heading down the N71 along the coast... well, you'll see Manning's Emporium and likely have to turn around to stop in.
We originally met Val and visited Manning's Emporium after making friends across the street and we would stop over for cheeses for dinner as well as some for the road so we could have a snack on some remote road overlooking amazing views. Each year we spent a little more time getting to know Val, experiencing the Irish cheeses and enjoying the wines. Val is a character and his charm is typical Irish - he becomes a friend instantly.
But that wasn't enough to make our list ... what did it was the fact that we always stop in or make an excuse to visit Cork so we can see him and sample his food. His niece and nephew have since taken over and introduce quite a menu which you can take away and enjoy on the road or sit outside and enjoy the weather. We will say that the service was a bit lacking but we were accustomed to Val sitting and drinking wine with us for an hour or two in the off-season...
#9 - Inis Mor
The Aran Islands are on the radar for many and Inis Mor is the likely choice due to ability to get there from Doolin in the summer and Rossaveal, Galway throughout the year.
It made our list for a few reasons: boat ride; cliffs; cemeteries; hiking; day trip.
Who doesn't love a boat ride? Take small boats from Doolin and the larger, enclosed ferries from Rossaveal when the weather isn't the best. Get out and enjoy the water a bit since you are on an island, albeit large. Dun Aengus is the remains of a stone fort with great cliffs and satisfies those looking for a bit of history. You can tour the island by bus or horse-drawn cart and see some small churches and cemeteries which offers some great photos. Get out of the bus and hike the island (or bike it!) when the weather is great, get your cardio in. You can do this all in one day!
#8 - Gap of Dunloe'
The Gap of Dunloe is in County Kerry and it's the road through the two mountains, the gap, which you can take a jaunting cart ride through (peak season) or, if you dare, drive through in the low season.
While our photo doesn't do this site justice, the views are absolutely stunning and the uniqueness of the journey is what put it on our list. Not many folks will do this nor have they heard of it so if you do and you do it right, it will be an experience you do not forget.
We have been there several times but only completed the entire journey once in the off season, taking our car through the gap and stopping often throughout to take photos despite the weather. The road is extremely narrow which explains why no cars during the peak season, with jaunting carts coming and going in both directions. At the peak of the gap we actually got nervous, wondering if the car would bottom-out going over it and we would be left teetering at the top... but we did it. Down the other side, in the middle of nowhere and remembering our journey for a lifetime (so far!)
#7 - Mizen Head
Mizen Head is the south-westerly most part of Ireland and it took us a few years before we got to see it and it makes our list not just for the lighthouse but due to the bridge you need to cross to get there.
Basing ourselves in Cork for a few nights, we decided on a day trip to Mizen Head since it is off-the-beaten-path and we had plenty of time for a leisurely visit. The weather was very overcast when we got up but we had nothing else planned and visiting a lighthouse in the rain on vacation ... better than a sunny day back at work! We arrived around 11am and it was very foggy, so much so that the woman at the visitor center told us that the path down wasn't open due to the fog. The soup was warm so we opted to have a quick bite and a spot of tea as we waited a bit longer to see if it would open. Within 45 minutes we were told we could head down and that is when we realized it was a walking path to the white bridge and then on to the lighthouse. The bridge kind of freaked us out in the fog, listening to waves crash below but unable to see them.
When we arrived at the lighthouse, we could watch the fog roll off the ocean, up the rocks and onto the shore -- just the opposite of what we expected. Within 30 minutes the sun was shining and views were spectacular!
Our visit almost didn't happen due to weather and made the experience even more special, as though it was meant to be.
#6 - Ring of Beara
We prefer the Ring of Beara over the Ring of Kerry due to the remoteness and unspoiled nature. Tour buses still can't get down the Ring of Beara while the Ring of Kerry has larger roads to accommodate them.
If you're looking for pristine water views, great rocky outcrops, sheep on the road and a relaxing drive where you can stop off often to walk around and explore by foot.
The Ring of Kerry has had many roadworks over the years, enlarging the roads and ensuring buses and cars don't have to compete to pass as much as they did when we first started visiting Ireland... Ring of Beara is still small but no buses! It's just more relaxing and less-touristy with the same gorgeous views.
#5 - Slieve League
Another set of cliffs which are actually taller than the Cliffs of Moher, the Slieve League makes our list of Ireland Sites and Attractions for a few reasons. The Slieve League is actually taller than the Cliffs of Moher however they're not a sheer drop as the Cliffs of Moher and therefore they don't seem as dramatic. They are more remote and off-the-beaten-path than the Cliffs which is why we like them. And, until recently, the experience was unreal ... open the metal gate, drive through, close the gate and drive slowly on the edge of the cliffs to get to the parking lot -- this is what the "real" Ireland was before the upgraded visitor centers, larger, safer roads and parking lots.
This was the only place I've been nervous driving, passing another car while on the edge of a cliff -- nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time.
Now, the views are gorgeous but put on those wellies (or good waterproof hiking boots) and start heading up to get amazing views that most won't venture up for.
#4 - Skellig Michael
It took years, more than 10, for us to visit Skellig Michael and not because trips were cancelled, simply because we were never in the right place at the right time due to visiting folks or touring friends around. It's not a typical first-visit attraction and you have to plan things just right to get to Skellig Michael.
We made arrangements with our boat driver in advance, stayed in Waterville the night before so we didn't have to drive more than 15 minutes to Portmagee. We were on time and if you're not, they can sell your seat to someone else. The weather was perfect, with 4-foot swells but rolling and not choppy. Any higher and they could cancel trips because boats are small and the cement dock on Skellig Michael isn't very forgiving with large swells crashing against the dock. In fact I almost fell in jumping from the boat to the dock as the water fell... it would have been a cold mess, not to mention dangerous as the boat would have crushed me against the dock.
The views are absolutely incredible and the photographs are unparalleled. Add to the magic that very few get to see Skellig Michael and this is a site you will never forget.
#3 - Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park has come under fire by many folks on social media as being "touristy" and many sites and attractions throughout Ireland can be classified as such ... but you are a tourist! As are we, even after multiple visits!
It made it so high on our list because of it's convenience to Shannon Airport, offerings and being kid-friendly.
Just 10 minutes from Shannon Airport makes it a perfect first or last stop on vacation. If you're flying in, it is typically open by the time you get out of the airport and on the road. You need to waste a little time before checking in to your accommodations and Buratty can help you with a few hours of that! Conversely, it's a great last day before checking in to your accommodations for your flight home the next day.
Aside from convenience, the Folk Park is more than just Bunratty Castle. It offers homes over time and region which helps you see how folks actually lived in Ireland along with their social status or wealth. Peat fires are smouldering throughout, giving you a sense of life in times gone by. Animals are great for the kids and the expansion over the years include tea rooms and restaurants which you can enjoy for a little down time.
We stand by our recommendation of Bunratty Castle & Folk Park ... even if it is built for tourism!
#2 - Doolin Village
Doolin is not a site, per se, but a way of life for those who have been to Ireland several times. It's on our stops regardless of whether we are spending the night or not. Over the 20+ years we've travelled Ireland, Doolin has changed a bit but not like other villages. A few holiday homes here or there, new hotel in the center of town but still quaint and small ... with music to be found, even in the off season.
Doolin is a great first night due to it's location to the airport(45 minutes), the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands -- there is so much to do in the region, we actually planted ourselves in Doolin for a week and never got bored!
#1 - Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are our #1 pick of sites to visit in Ireland and we've only missed it one time in 20+ years travelling to Ireland... and it hurt!
We've visited the Cliffs of Moher since 1994, when you could walk up to the edge and jump (if you so wished); spawning stories and folklore of people who did just that. In the beginning we did it, have photos to prove it ... and will never do it again which is good considering it's now closed off.
Speaking of which, we actually mourned the new Visitor Center when it was being built, having lost part of the charm of walking to the edge, sitting there and breathing in the views. Now that it's a few years in, we have adjusted and learned to love the new viewing platform and paths that were created. The wagons with souvenirs are replaced by stores built into the hill which we also learned to like.
The Cliffs were our first memory of Ireland and will remain our #1 site that we recommend folks to see... and don't forget, stay in Doolin and you can take a boat trip to view them from the water!