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Exploring the Beauty of Ireland: 21 Must-Visit Places

CEO Tinh Phung
From the dramatic cliffs, remote islands, and atmospheric towns of the Wild Atlantic Way to the fairytale castles, craggy mountains, and placid lakes of the Ancient East, Ireland is a land where beauty is matched...

From the dramatic cliffs, remote islands, and atmospheric towns of the Wild Atlantic Way to the fairytale castles, craggy mountains, and placid lakes of the Ancient East, Ireland is a land where beauty is matched by variety. In the words of Johnny Cash, the Emerald Isle is rendered in "40 shades of green," contrasting with a similar spread of blues and grays. The weather changes frequently here, making even the same landscape look different from one minute to the other. The only guarantee is that you will be constantly reaching for your camera. These are some of our scenic highlights.

1. The Old Library, Trinity College Library, Dublin

Most people make the pilgrimage to this bibliophile's heaven to see the intricately illuminated Book of Kells, which is a manuscript edition of the New Testament thought to have been created around AD800. However, the Long Room, which was built in the early 18th century, is a thing of beauty in itself. It houses 200,000 of the oldest books in impressive floor-to-ceiling shelves that climb up to the vaulted ceiling. The rows are lined with marble busts; it's a cathedral in which to worship the written word.

The Old Library, Trinity College Library, Dublin The Old Library, Trinity College Library, Dublin (Image: AirSwing Media)

2. Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

You can't fail to be humbled by the enormity of these sandstone, siltstone, and sedimentary cliffs that rise more than 700ft and stretch for five miles along the Atlantic coast. Stand and look out at the fiercely breaking waves, and you'll feel as though the wind is eroding your cheeks in the way it has the rocks. The safe viewing platforms relieve some of the vertigo you may feel when looking down.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare Cliffs of Moher, County Clare (Image: AirSwing Media)

3. Kinsale, County Cork

One of the most colorful of Ireland's small towns, Kinsale sits on the seafront just south of Cork, with its brightly painted houses as vibrant as a seaside windbreak. Here you can watch fishermen unloading their catch, wander the narrow medieval streets, and listen to traditional music in the local bars.

Kinsale, County Cork Kinsale, County Cork (Image: Tourism Ireland)

4. Achill Island, County Mayo

The largest island off the west coast of Ireland, Achill is a blend of peat bogs and mountains that slip down to sandy beaches or craggy coves. The author Graham Greene visited several times in the 1940s and wrote parts of the novels "The Heart of the Matter" and "The Fallen Idol" in the village of Dooagh, near Keem Bay on the south coast. Rent a bike to explore the Western Greenway, a 26-mile trail that circumnavigates the island.

Achill Island, County Mayo Achill Island, County Mayo (Image: Tourism Ireland)

5. Skellig Michael, County Kerry

This is the most westerly sacred site in Europe. A monastic settlement has been on the rocky outcrop of Skellig Michael since the 6th century. This twin-pinnacled crag in the Atlantic, off the Iveragh peninsula of County Kerry, marks the end of the Apollo/St Michael axis, a line of ancient pilgrimage sites running from Ireland to Palestine. Bird lovers visit for sightings of the puffins and razor bills that make this wild island their home.

Skellig Michael, County Kerry Skellig Michael, County Kerry (Image: Tourism Ireland)

6. Galway, County Galway

This colorful harbor city on Ireland's west coast is alive with Irish tradition. Gaelic is in daily use, and you'll see bilingual road signs and shop names. The beauty is in the brightly painted houses, cobbled streets, and the celebration of Irish music, song, and dancing in the bars and pubs. Don't miss the Salthill promenade, a walk that stretches from the Latin quarter in the city along 3km of coastline to the Blackrock diving tower (tradition has it you should kick the wall here at the end of your walk).

Galway, County Galway Galway, County Galway (Image: Tourism Ireland)

7. Killarney National Park, County Kerry

In the heart of County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland, Killarney National Park is sultry and majestic. At the base of the McGillycuddy's Reeks, Ireland's largest mountain range, 26,000 acres of woodlands and lakes spread out in shades of greens, browns, indigos, and blues, making up this Unesco biosphere reserve. Brave the icy water for a swim at the bottom of Torc waterfall or learn about traditional farming techniques at Muckross House.

Killarney National Park, County Kerry Killarney National Park, County Kerry (Image: Tourism Ireland)

8. Aran Islands

These three islands off the coast of Galway are rich in Celtic and Christian history. The largest, Inis Mór, has a deep rectangular natural swimming pool known as the "wormhole" as well as more than 50 monuments of Christian or Celtic importance. The middle island, Inis Meáin, is the least visited of the trio and was once the retreat of Irish playwright JM Synge. The smallest, Inis Oírr, has a fishing-village feel and dramatic views of the Cliffs of Moher.

Aran Islands Aran Islands (Image: Chris Hill/Tourism Ireland)

9. Waterford Greenway, County Waterford

Starting at the city that made its name producing crystal glassware, this walking and cycling route follows 46km of disused railway line from Waterford to the seaside town of Dungarvan. The entire route is car-free, and you get spectacular sea views once you hit the coast. If you are not up to doing the full trail, the stretch between Kilmacthomas and Dungarvan is the most scenic.

Waterford Greenway, County Waterford Waterford Greenway, County Waterford (Image: Tourism Ireland)

10. The Burren, County Clare

This is Ireland's 250 sq km rock garden. The great hunks of exposed limestone that make up the Burren National Park are home to a large variety of wildflowers, including 22 different types of orchid. This part of the Emerald Isle was once the seabed but has lain exposed to the elements since the Ice Age, creating a lunar-like landscape made up of caves and crevices, fossils, and flowers.

The Burren, County Clare The Burren, County Clare (Image: Fiddle + Bow)

11. Kylemore Abbey, County Galway

The serenity of this turreted neo-Gothic Victorian castle, which seems to be slipping into the water at the base of a hill in Connemara, is enough to make you want to join the Benedictine nuns who have made this their home since the 1920s. The walled garden here was the largest to be built in Ireland during the Victorian era and today is a heritage garden that only contains plants that were available pre-1901. Marvel at little-seen Victorian vegetables such as cardoon and scorzonera.

Kylemore Abbey, County Galway Kylemore Abbey, County Galway (Image: Tourism Ireland)

These are just a taste of the breathtaking beauty that Ireland has to offer. From stunning landscapes to historic sites and vibrant cities, Ireland is a destination that captures the heart and soul of all who visit. So grab your camera and get ready to explore the enchanting beauty of the Emerald Isle.