Lay of the Land
While small in size, Ireland is a country of diverse landscapes and cultures, and the more one can pack into a single trip, the better. Larger hotels provide a range of activities from archery, clay shooting, fly-fishing and falconry to guided hikes, walks and bike rides. Smaller properties woo guests with top-notch service and charming owners, in addition to a host of activities. After being marketed incorrectly for years, Ireland has reemerged as an outdoorsman’s playground and a foodie’s heaven.
Located on the west coast, County Galway is best known for its namesake city. Full of quintessential Irish culture, it is widely regarded as the most Irish city in the country. Inhabited for over 7000 years, Galway is home to the world’s largest Gaeltacht Irish–speaking population as well as the National University of Ireland, which creates a dynamic collision of cultures both new and old. The downtown area is teeming with pubs, cafes and a thriving music scene.
Northwest of the city, the Connemara Peninsula (meaning Inlets of the Sea) is best known for its lakes (Lough Corrib is the largest in the country) and mountains (Twelve Bens is the highest). Many outdoor enthusiasts base themselves in this area, and some even partake in coasteering (jumping from rocks into the ocean and allowing the currents to move you along the coast).
- Points of Interest: Galway City, Connemara Peninsula, the Aran Islands
Best known for the iconic Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, located in the mid-west of the country, boasts some of the most beautiful coastline in Ireland. The Burren National Park is famous for its moonlike landscape, which features miles of limestone ridges. The newly completed Wild Atlantic way (a tourism route which stretches all the way from County Donegal in the North to County Cork in the East) snakes along Clare’s picturesque coast. The area is also home to some of the best links courses in all of Ireland, making it a good home base for avid golfers.
- Points of Interest: Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Wild Atlantic Way, Shannon Airport
Perhaps the most popular county to visit, County Kerry is located in the southwest and is one of Ireland’s most mountainous regions. While the Ring of Kerry (a 111-mile circular tourist route) is the most well known attraction, the lesser trafficked Dingle Peninsula and Cork’s Beara Peninsula provide a more authentic experience as tour buses are too large for the smaller routes. Kenmare is the most sensible base for visitors, as it boasts the divine Park Hotel Kenmare and is in close proximity to the peninsulas, Killarney National Park and various islands.
- Points of Interest: Killarney and the Killarney National Park, Kenmare, Dingle Peninsula, Skellig Michael, the Ring of Kerry
With hundreds of tiny inlets, coves, and beaches, the southwest of Ireland is great for those who are interested in learning to sail, surf, dive or whale watching. The region, where County Cork is located, is known for its peninsulas, the most beautiful—yet least visited—of which is the Beara. The region also has one of the strongest food cultures in the country with a variety of outstanding restaurants in Cork (like Les Gourmandises) and the world-renowned Ballymaloe House and Cooking School in Shanagarry. In addition, the English Market in Cork city, which has been in operation since 1786, is a gourmet destination for local products.
- Points of Interest: Cork city and the English Market, Cobh, Kinsale, Midleton, the Beara Peninsula, Shanagarry
The east coast of Ireland offers visitors beautiful countryside properties and quaint coastal towns. This region is perfect for rounding out a trip before heading home or to Dublin.
- Points of Interest: Ardmore (County Waterford), Gorey (County Wexford)
Driving in Ireland—on the left side of the road—can be a bit complicated thanks to narrow winding roads and cliffside highways. In addition, tour buses often complicate matters by clogging the already small roads. Intrepid travelers may find renting a car an adventurous way to explore, while those who like to relax should hire a car and driver.
- Shannon Airport to Galway: 1 hr and 15 minutes
- Galway to the Cliffs of Moher: 1 hr and 40 minutes
- Cliffs of Moher to Kenmare: 3 hours
- Kenmare to Cork: 1 hr and 30 minutes
- Cork to Dublin: 2 hrs and 50 minutes
- Ardmore to Dublin: 2 hrs and 40 minutes
- Gorey to Dublin: 1 hr and 20 minutes