It’s worth taking every guide on the best things to do in Ireland with a fat pinch of salt.
Yep, even this one! What’s considered ‘best’ is very subjective, so what one person regards as a must do in Ireland, another might think is shi…. you get the picture!
In this guide, I’m going to take you around what I think are the best things to do in Ireland, based on 33 years of living here. Dive on in!
1. The Ring of Kerry
The mighty Ring of Kerry starts and finishes in the buzzy town of Killarney on the Wild Atlantic Way. You drive it anti-clockwise to avoid getting stuck behind tour buses and you’ll need at least a day to tackle it.
Over the course of the drive (or cycle!), you’ll pass through the towns of Kenmare, Waterville, Sneem and more while taking in some magnificent scenery.
One of the reasons that this is one of the more popular things to do in Ireland is the sheer volume of natural attractions you encounter along the way, like Killarney National Park, Torc Waterfall, Moll’s Gap, Derrynane Beach and Ladies View.
2. The Inishowen Peninsula
If you’re wondering what to do in Ireland that’ll take you away for the crowds, make a beeline for the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal.
This is remote, unspoiled beauty at its finest and the peninsula is home a clatter of things to see and do.
Arguably the best way to explore it is on the Inishowen 100 – a scenic driving route that takes you to the likes of Malin Head, Mamore Gap, Five Finger Strand and heaps of breath-taking beaches.
3. Sligo’s outdoor delights
Although Sligo is one of the key points along the Wild Atlantic Way, it tends to get overlooked by many exploring the west coast of Ireland.
However, if you like to explore on foot, it can’t be missed. Some of my favourite rambles here are Knocknarea, the Benbulben Forest Walk and the Gleniff Horseshoe.
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Ireland, carve out some time to see the Caves of Keash (these are an ancient passage tomb cluster that are said to predate the Pyramids of Egypt by a whopping 500-800 years) and the Devil’s Chimney (one of Ireland’s highest waterfalls).
4. The Causeway Coastal Route
There’s more to the Antrim Coast than the Giant’s Causeway and you’ll discover the best it has to offer on the Causeway Coastal Route drive!
The route begins in either Belfast or Derry City and follows the coast through the nine Glens of Antrim for 313km.
Over the course of the spin you’ll see everywhere from the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge and the Old Bushmills Distillery to Glenariff Forest Park, Torr Head and plenty more.
This route is regarded as one of the top things to do in Ireland by visiting tourists as there’s endless places to visit all within close proximity to each other.
5. West Cork wonders
We’re back to the Wild Atlantic Way again and off to West Cork. I’ve spent many holidays here over the years, and its scenery never gets old.
Arguably the most notable attraction in the area is Mizen Head – Ireland’s most Southwesterly Point. However, there’s plenty more to discover.
Gougane Barra, Cape Clear Island, Glengarriff Nature Reserve, Dursey Island and the many beaches in West Cork are a tiny bit of what awaits. There’s a good reason that a visit to this corner of Ireland is widely regarded as one of the best things to do in Ireland.
6. Coumshingaun Lough
If you’re wondering what to do in Ireland that’ll get heart-rate boppin’, carve out some time to tackle one of the many hikes in Ireland,
One of my favourites is Coumshingaun Lough (you need good hiking experience for this one) in Waterford, and the photos above should give you an idea as to why!
Some other challenging hikes in Ireland are Carrauntoohil (County Kerry) and Croagh Patrick (County Mayo).
If you fancy a slightly easier hike, Diamond Hill (County Galway), Ballinastoe Woods (County Wicklow), the Stairway to Heaven (Fermanagh) and the various walks in Glendalough are well worth considering!
7. Achill Island
A day spent on Achill Island is another one of the best things to do in Ireland, in my opinion.
Now, one of the beauties of this island is that you can drive onto it and follow the Atlantic Drive or you can cycle onto it via the brilliant Great Western Greenway.
When you arrive, you’ve everywhere from Keem Bay and the highest sea cliffs in Ireland (Croaghaun – 2,257 feet/687 meters) to Minaun Heights, Keel Beach and plenty more to see.
8. Wicklow Mountains National Park
The Wicklow Mountains are another of the more popular things to see in Ireland and you can easily explore them on a day trip from Dublin.
There’s plenty to see and do here, from the various walks in Glendalough and the brilliant Sally Gap Drive to Lough Ouler, Djouce Mountain, Guinness Lake and Glendalough Monastic City.
Keep in mind that if you’re renting a car in Ireland and driving to Wicklow to tackle one of the walks, arrive early as many car parks fill up on fine mornings.
8. The Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula really is hard to beat and there’s a few ways of exploring it. If you have time, you can stay in Dingle Town and explore around you over a few days.
If you don’t, your best bet is to head for the town (make sure to check out Conor Pass on the way!) and then join the brilliant Slea Head Drive.
Over the course of the route you’ll see the Blasket Islands, Dunquin Pier, Coumeenoole Beach, the Skellig Islands in the distance and much, much more.
A visit to the Dingle Peninsula is regarded as one of the best things to do in Ireland by visiting tourists as it combines charming towns and villages, spectacular scenery and Irish history into one relatively small area.
10. The Doolough Valley
The Doolough Valley is situated between the villages of Louisburgh (County Mayo) and Leenaun (County Galway) and it’s one of my favourite drives on the Wild Atlantic Way.
If you drive this route outside of the busy summer months, it often feels like you’re the last person left in the world – the landscape is barren and beautiful and it has an almost other-worldly feel to it.
You’ll find an overview of what to expect from it in our guide to the Leenaun to Louisburgh Drive. It’s a great little gateway to Connemara if you’re in County Mayo and an hour spent here will live happily in your memory forever more.
11. The Ring of Beara
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Ireland, slap the Beara Peninsula on your to-visit list and head off on your merry way (see our Ring of Beara drive guide for the route).
This places boasts bucket-loads of scenery around every (often narrow!) twist and turn and some gorgeous towns and villages, like Eyeries and Allihies.
The peninsula is also home to some of the more unique things to do in Ireland, like Dursey Island, Bull Rock, Priest’s Leap (beware!) and the Healy Pass.
12. Valentia Island
There’s some gorgeous Irish islands and the spectacular Valentia Island in County Kerry is one of the more popular ones to visit.
When you arrive on the island, head for the Geokaun Mountain and Cliffs side of the island. You’ll arrive at the viewing point above.
If you’re in search of things to see in Ireland that’ll paint themselves upon your mind for a long aul time, get yourself here for sunset. You can park right up at a viewing point that overlooks mountains, Valentia Lighthouse and the wild Atlantic.
The Connemara region in Galway is arguably best known for Kylemore Abbey, but there’s plenty more to see and do here.
Spend a sunny morning exploring Connemara National Park on foot or saunter along one of the many beaches in Connemara, like Dog’s Bay.
Or you can kick-back in Clifden, spin along the Sky Road or set-off on one of the many hikes in Connemara.
14. Towns and villages
You’ll find gorgeous little towns and villages scattered right the way across Ireland and, while some are the run-of-the-mill places you’ll find in many countries in Europe, others have character and charm that you won’t find anywhere else.
If you’re looking to stay on the tourist track, the likes of Doolin, Cong, Westport and Kinsale are likely already on your radar.
If you fancy checking out some of the smaller villages and towns in Ireland, aim for Union Hall (County Cork), Killaloe (County Clare) or Dunmore East (County Waterford).
15. Cliffs of Moher and overlooked cliffs
A visit to the Cliffs of Moher is one of the top things to do in Ireland. Millions of people (a whopping 1,580,010 in 2018) visit each and every year.
And, while they’re worth visiting (especially on the Liscannor to Doolin walk), there are plenty more cliffs in Ireland worth checking out.
The often-missed Kerry Cliffs near Portmagee pack a punch while the Fair Head Cliffs in Antrim are particularly impressive.
If you’re in County Clare, the Kilkee Cliffs are well-worth seeing as are the outstanding Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal and the ones hidden away on Arranmore island.
16. The Burren National Park
The Burren National Park in County Clare covers an area of around 1,500 hectares while the wider Burren region boasts 200 sq km and includes everywhere from the Aran Islands to the Cliffs of Moher.
Although it’s one of the more popular things to see in Ireland, many people visit and leave underwhelmed, as they visit without a good plan of action.
If you follow the Burren Drive, you’ll visit everywhere from Doonagore Castle and Father Ted’s House to Doolin Cave, Poulnabrone Dolmen and the Aillwee Caves.
17. The Dublin Mountains
Although there are plenty of walks in Dublin, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the best of the bunch are the Howth Cliff Walk and Killiney Hill.
There’s a clatter of rambles in the capital that fail to make it on the radar of first-time visitors. See our Dublin Mountains walks guide for a mix of easy and tough walks to head off on!
Or, if you fancy staying on the tourist track, head to Trinity College, see the Book of Kells, visit Kilmainham Gaol and drop into the various museums in Dublin.
18. The Aran Islands
If you read our guide to the Aran Islands, you’ll know that it’s possible to road trip around them… by ferry.
While this isn’t a traditional road trip, it’s easy to follow and it packs a sizeable punch, as the islands are home to an almost endless number of things to see and do.
You’ll start your journey with a trip to Inis Mor (from Doolin pier in County Clare) before moving on to Inis Meain and then, finally, to the brilliant Inis Oirr.
Over the course of your trip, you’ll see many a fort, sea cliff and historic site (you’ll also find a handful of cosy pubs for post-adventure pints).
19. Castles galore
Some of the best things to do in Ireland involve taking a little step back in time, and where better to sample a chunk of the past than at one of the many castles in Ireland.
From tourist favourites like Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle and the Rock of Cashel to less-visited castles like Kinbane Castle and Swords Castle, there’s plenty to choose from.
Or, if you fancy a very unique experience, there’s a handful of castle hotels in Ireland that you can book into!
20. A bounty of beaches
If you’re wondering what to do in Ireland on one of those often rare sunny days, point your nose in the direction of the coast.
There’s some outstanding beaches in Ireland and many of the best fail to make it onto the pages of shiny tourist guidebooks.
Some of my favourites are Curracloe Beach in Wexford, Silver Strand in Donegal and Strandhill Beach in Sligo.
21. Traditional Irish pubs
There’s thousands of pubs in Ireland but not all are equal. If you can, aim to visit a traditional Irish pub during your visit.
We’ve a heap of guides to trad pubs in the various towns and villages in Ireland on this website (just search for the town you’re visiting in the search section).
Some of the more notable pubs are Sean’s Bar in Athlone (Ireland’s oldest) and the Brazen Head in Dublin.
In many old-school pubs you’ll get to chance to soak up some traditional Irish music while sampling Irish whiskey and/or Irish beer.
22. The Boyne Valley
One of the more overlooked things to do in Ireland is to properly explore the Boyne Valley.
Yes, many people visit Brú na Bóinne to see Newgrange and Knowth, but the Boyne Valley encompasses some of the best that County Meath and County Louth has to offer.
Some of the other highlights are Trim Castle, Slane Castle, the Hill of Tara, Loughcrew Cairns and the Cooley Peninsula.
23. The Hook Peninsula
The chances are you’ll have heard of Hook Lighthouse – the current structure has been marking the entrance to Wexford Harbour for at least 800 years, yet its history goes back a whole lot further.
But have you heard of the Ring of Hook?! This route takes you right the way around the Hook Peninsula where you’ll see Tintern Abbey, Duncannon Fort and some of the best beaches in Wexford.
If you’re wondering what to do in Ireland that’ll take you off the beaten path, Hook is well worth considering!
24. The Mourne Mountains
A day spent exploring the Mourne Mountains in County Down is another of the more frequently missed things to do in Ireland.
There’s plenty of hikes to get stuck into here, from Slieve Donard to Slieve Binnian, Slieve Doan, Slieve Bearnagh, Slieve Meelbeg and Meelmore and plenty more.
25. The Ballyhoura region
The Ballyhoura region spans multiple counties including southeast Limerick, north-east Cork and west Tipperary and is home to some outstanding scenery.
There’s loads of great walks in Ballyhoura to get stuck into, with a trail to suit most levels of fitness. Two of my favourites are the Clare Glens Loop and the Canon Sheehan Loop.
26. The Copper Coast
Waterford is home to some of the best coastline in Ireland and it’s a great place to explore by foot or on bike.
The Copper Coast is named after the massive mines that operated here in the 19th Century and it’s home to countless beautiful beaches.
If you fancy a long walk/cycle, the brilliant Waterford Greenway is well worth tackling! Although the Greenway is Ireland’s longest off-road trail, you can complete it in a couple of hours by bike.
27. Unique places to stay
If you’re wondering what to do in Ireland to mark a special occasion, give one of the many unique places to stay in Ireland a bash.
Castle hotels aside, there’s some excellent 5 star hotels in Ireland that are worth considering and there’s endless spa hotels in Ireland, too. Here’s some other guides with suggestions for you:
28. Buzz around Belfast
Belfast gets a bad rep from some. Usually those that have never visited the city and base their opinion on hearsay.
The fact is that there’s plenty to see and do here, from the Cave Hill Walk and the Cathedral Quarter to the Black Cab Tours, Black Mountain and plenty more.
It also makes a good base to explore Northern Ireland from, as there’s plenty of day trips from Belfast that require very little driving.
29. Spike Island and cobh
A visit to Cobh is another of the best things to do in Ireland if you like to go off handbooks. I don’t, personally, but I’d have to agree.
Now, don’t get fooled into think that the Deck of Cards are all that Cobh has to offer – this is far from a one horse town.
You’ll find Spike Island, a 103-acre island that’s been used as a place of worship, defense, confinement, and punishment a short ferry ride from the village of Cobh in County Cork.
There’s also St Coleman’s Cathedral, Fota Wildlife Park, the Titanic Experience and much more.
30. Step off the beaten-path
One of the best things to do in Ireland, in my opinion, is to step off the beaten track and experience a bit of ‘hidden’ Ireland.
If you fancy seeing places like Doon Fort (pictured above) or other ‘hidden’ tourist attractions in Ireland, like the secret waterfall in Donegal, you’re in for a treat, as Ireland’s home to plenty of them.
In our guide to the best ‘hidden’ places to visit in Ireland, you’ll find 35 very unique things to do in Ireland, some of which you hopefully won’t have seen before.
31. The North Mayo coast
The North Mayo coastline is home to some magnificent cliffs, breath-taking beaches and, most of all, peace and quiet.
This corner of the island is well off the beaten path, which means that many who visit Ireland never make it out this far.
However, if you can, try and etch out some time to have a nosey around. You’ll find the towering Dun Briste sea stack, the Ceide Fields, the Mullet Peninsula and much more.
32. Tourist favourites
So, as I mentioned in the intro, this guide is packed with what I think are the best things to do in Ireland. However, as you’ll probably have noticed, many of the more popular tourist attractions in Ireland are missing.
If you’re visiting Dublin, the likes of the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Zoo, Temple Bar and Dublin Castle are all popular spots.
Other notable omissions that are often considered must do in Ireland are Kilkenny Castle, Dún Aonghasa, Muckross House, Blarney Castle and Bunratty Castle.
Regardless of who you ask about what to do in Ireland, the answer tends to change, which is why it’s always worth taking any recommendations on the best things to see in Ireland with a pinch of salt!
FAQs about what to do in Ireland
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are good things to see in Ireland with kids?’ to ‘What are some fun things to do in Ireland for couples?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What are the best things to do in Ireland?
This is completely subjective, but some of my favourite tourist attractions in Ireland are the Ring of Kerry, the various walks in Sligo and the Inishowen Peninsula.
What are some unique things to see in Ireland?
If you’re wondering what to do in Ireland that’s a little different, see the Caves of Keash, visit Bull Rock, drive the Doolough Valley and see Spike Island.
What is Ireland’s number 1 tourist attraction?
If you go off visitor numbers, the Guinness Storehouse (with over 1.7 million visits in 2018) is one of the best things to do in Ireland.
I’m wondering what to do in Ireland on a first visit?
The first thing is to be realistic – don’t try and squeeze in too much. Make a list of the various things to see in Ireland and priortise them. Then choose a base to stay that’s within reasonable distance/located close to organised tours.