Whether you are from Ireland, are living here temporarily or are just visiting, here are 50 unmissable things to do in the Emerald Isle. Sure, some are popular tourist spots, but they are popular for a reason.
Others are places way off the beaten track, that only locals may know about, and might give you a more authentic taste of Ireland.
From staying in castles (check out this post about the Irish castle listed on Airbnb!) and visiting remote islands off the West coast, to night kayaking in West Cork, stargazing and searching for the Northern Lights in Northern Ireland, here are my top 50 unique things to do in Ireland.
50. Spend a night in a castle
With so many beautiful castles, no visit to Ireland would be complete without staying at least one night. If money is not an issue, and you want the best of the best, check yourself into Ashford Castle in County Mayo which was voted ‘Best Hotel in the World’ earlier this year. If you’re on a budget you can put on a brave face, pack your sleeping bag, and pitch your tent at any of Ireland’s abandoned castles such as Castlefreak in Co Cork…which also happens to be one of the most haunted places in Ireland.
49. Watch big wave surfers ride Mullaghmore
Known to be one of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world, watching big wave surfers like Andrew Cotton ride into the cliffs on this monster of a wave is a sight you will never forget. Located just a few miles south of Bundoran, in Co. Donegal, Mullaghmore is a must-see on your Irish bucket list.
48. Cycle the Mayo Greenway from Westport to Achill
The Mayo Greenway is an incredible 42km long cycling path in the West of Ireland which connects Westport on the mainland with Achill Island. It passes by many picturesque villages and mountains and will allow for breathtaking views of the coast including Clew bay and its many islands.
47. Go night kayaking on Lough Hyne
This is one of the most unique things to do in Ireland and is well worth the drive down to West Cork. The night kayaking sessions take place on Lough Hyne, which is a marine both a marine lake and Marine Nature Reserve, home to an enormous variety of plants and animals which are not found anywhere else in Ireland. If you are lucky, every time you move your paddle the water below you will light up with bio luminescent Plankton, an unforgettable experience.
46. Roll your car uphill on a magic road
Imagine driving down to the bottom of a hill, turning off the car without putting the handbrake on and then watching in disbelief as your car slowly rolls back up the hill? Of course it’s just an optical illusion but an amazing one to witness. There are actually a few strange places in Ireland where you can witness that, which are detailed on this site.
45. Go whale watching in West Cork
West Cork is a fantastic location for Whale Watching, as this photo taken by Simon Duggan shows. The best time to go is after the summer months, from September to November when you have the best chance of seeing whales and if you are very lucky you might ever see a whale breaching, something you will surely never forget. Boat trips leave from both Baltimore and Union Hall and last for around four hours.
44. Watch the sunrise over Lough Tay
If even just for one day, get yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn and make your way down to the Wicklow Mountains. If driving from Dublin, you can make it in about 35 minutes and will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunrises over Lough Tay in Glendalough National park. It’s easy to do and it’s free, so this should definitely be on the top of your list of things to do in Ireland!
43. Star gazing at Blackrock Observatory
If you live in Cork or will be visiting during your trip to Ireland, be sure to stop by the Blackrock Observatory where you can star gaze with the experts. Located in a 16th century castle just outside Cork city, Blackrock Observatory is an attraction unique to Ireland and includes and interactive storytelling experience in the castle grounds. Open 7 days a week!
42. Pay a visit to Father Ted’s House in Clare
For any fans of Father Ted, a visit to Father Ted’s House in County Clare is a must for your Irish Bucket List. The house is known locally as Glanquin House, and is situated in a beautiful valley with Slieve na Glasha to the north and Mullagh Mor and its National Park to the south. Open year round but you must book in advance. And don’t forget to get your classic ‘kicking Bishop Brennan up the ass’ photo.
41. Find love at the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival
Ireland’s oldest traditional festival, The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is certainly one of the more unique things to do in Ireland! It is also probably the longest festival in Ireland…lasting the whole month of September and includes midweek specials, dancing and a mini country music festival. You’ll meet Willie Daly, Ireland’s most famous matchmaker, and if you’re lucky you might even meet your future husband or wife!
40. Get muddy at an Irish Music Festival
Thanks to the shocking Irish summer, and downpours at random moments throughout the day / week /year, you are almost guaranteed mud at any Irish music festival. Slane, Longitude, Oxygen or even Electric Picnic are all wash outs, at least at some stage. As the saying goes “If you can’t beat them, join them”, so be prepared to get absolutely covered in mud and slide down hills and dive into mud pits with your new muddy, drunk friends. Sounds horrible but it’s a once in a lifetime sort of experience, only to be found in rainy Ireland!
39. Wave farewell to a Cruise Ship in Cobh
Cobh, then called Queenstown, was the last stop The Titanic made before heading off across the Atlantic. You can visit a small Titanic museum there as well as memorial statues to people who died on famine ships that also set sail from here many years ago. The picturesque town just East of Cork city still welcomes large cruise ships and the harbor is known to be one of the deepest in the world. Be sure to check out St Colman’s cathedral and the row of rainbow houses, known as The Deck of Cards, which make for great photo!
38. Drive the Healy Pass in Cork
Ireland as you always imagined it, dreamed it or saw glimpses of in the movies. The winding road that connects Cork with Kerry is known as the Healy pass and is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It is a popular cycle route, but only if your feeling fit as there are some killer hills to test even the fittest of souls. If you take on the challenge, however, you will be rewarded with scenic views of mountains, lakes and the Beara peninsula.
37. Tell a tale at the Cape Clear Story Telling Festival
The Cape Clear Storytelling festival is one of the most authentically Irish events of the calendar year. It’s pretty well known, and attracts a nice crowd, but is still remote enough that it remains a tight knit community of story tellers. To get there you will have to make your way to Baltimore then take a ferry for about 45 minutes, as the festival takes place on Cape Clear island, which is 14km off the Irish mainland. This years festival takes place form the 4th to the 6th of September.
36. Walk along the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal
To many people, Slieve League is the older, more rugged brother to the Cliffs of Moher. They are certainly less tamed, with no fences, no visitor centre and no tour guides. They are also, in my opinion, a lot more spectacular, when the weather is crap and this sea mist creeps in over the cliffs hiding the sheer drop below. They are also the highest sea cliffs in Europe and and when you get there you will see that Slieve League is more of a mountain by the sea than simply cliffs. Well worth the trek to Donegal.
35. Dress up for a day at the races
Be in the Galway Races during the summer, Punchestown in the Spring or Leoparstown after Christmas, a day in the races is a brilliant day out for anyone living or visiting Ireland. Apart from trying your hand at betting, and hopefully winning, it also gives you a chance to put on your best suit or dress and parade around sipping Champagne, as if you’re at the Queens annual Garden Party.
34. Take a ride on Ireland’s only cable car
Did you know that Ireland has a cable car? Just the one, but a very cool one in a very random location it must be said. The cable car on Dursey Island transports up to 6 people at a time across the Dursey sound, where you can often see dolphins jumping through the water below. It is the only cable car in Europe that transports people across open sea water – yet another reason to put it on your Irish bucket list!
33. Watch the sunset at the Baltimore Beacon
Baltimore is one of my favourite places in Ireland and once you go there you will see why. It is unlike anywhere else, and on a sunny day, you sometimes feel like you are in another world. Watching the sunset behind Sherkin Island, Cape Clear and Schull in the background is an unforgettable site. The whole sky turns orange and the sunset is reflected in the harbour below as fishing boats and ferries back there way back to the mainland,
32. Go mountain biking in the Ballyhoura Mountains
The Ballyhoura mountains on the Cork Limerick border are one of the best places to go mountain biking in Ireland…so good, in fact, that Kanye West brought Kim Kardashian here on their last visit to Ireland. Turns out they are semi normal people after all! The Ballyhooura Mountain Bike Trails are 92km long in total but there are trails of varying length depending on your skill and fitness level. A great day out!
31. Go kayaking with The Vikings
Did you know the part of The Vikings TV series was filmed on location in County Wicklow, just South of Blessington? Sometimes when there you can see they in costume sailing around Blessington lake in Vikings ships! Blessington also happens to be an amazing kayaking spot, so why not head down for a day trip and rent kayaks for as little as 15 euro.
30. Jump off the pier at Salthill
On those rare hot, sunny days in April, August and even late September, the Salthill Promenade in Galway is jam packed with keen swimmers and wannabe cliff jumpers waiting for their turn to show off their back flip skills. Even in Winter, you will find a few brave souls swimming here come rain or shine. A great Irish experience and another one for your bucket list!
29. Cycle or drive the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is one of the most popular, and most spectacular, drives in Ireland if not the world. Often making into onto Top Road Trip Lists by travel journalist around the world, when you drive or cycle around this intensely green, mountainous region you will quickly see why. With lakes, mountains, V shaped valleys and even the stunning Dingle Peninsula, a drive here offers a compact taste of beautiful Ireland.
28. Scream your lungs out at Tayto Park
Since opening some new rides earlier this summer, including Europe’s biggest wooden rollercoaster, Tayto Park has become a popular choice for people looking for a little fun just outside of Dublin. A full day is probably needed if you want to do as many rides as possible and get a free tour of the Tayto factory where you will be offered endless free bags of crisps to take home with you. You can either drive there or take one of the buses from Dublin, which leave in the morning and return late afternoon.
27. Devour a Tayto crisp sandwich
A Tatyo crips sandwich is an institution in Ireland and no trip here would be complete without making one for yourself. All you need is 2 slices of bread, some butter and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. Some call it ‘survival food’, I call it heaven.
26. Watch in awe at the Cliff Diving Championships
While this competiton is not unique to Ireland, the location where it takes place in Ireland is unlike anywhere else in the world. The Red Bull Cliff Diving championships takes place on Inis Mor island, off the West Coast. Professional divers dive off the top of the cliffs, from dizzying heights, into a saltwater swimming pool below known as ‘the Serpents Lair. It will scare and excite you in equal measures.
25. Visit Fota Wildlife Park
Ireland’s only wildlife park, Fota Wildlife Park is a very special place. Many animals such as the Kangaroos roam freely within the grounds while larger African wildlife such as Giraffes and Zebras are given such huge enclosures to wander around that they too almost look like they are roaming freely. This really is an amazing thing to do in Ireland, and everyone should go at least once. If you are looking to stay nearby, check out the magnificent Fota Island House and Spa.
26. Walk from Bray to Greystones
If living in Dublin, or just visiting, the Bray to Greystones walks is one the things to do at the weekend or whenever you have a day off. It is a stunning coastal path along the cliffs, and follows the railway line which connects Dublin with Wicklow and Waterford. Easily accessible form Dublin by hopping on the DART at Connolly station, and a pleasant day out in both Summer and winter! Just wrap up warm!
25. Drive the Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way is without a doubt the most spectacular driving route in Ireland. It has been named the longest defined coastal driving route in the world, and stretches the whole way from Donegal in the very North to Cork in the very South. It passes some of Ireland’s most stunning beaches, surf breaks, lakes, waterfalls, mountains and tiny coastal villages. Don’t rush it though…be sure to give your self a few days or even a week to see as much of this region as possible. Ireland may be small, but thanks to our small winding roads, it takes A LOT longer to get places than you might think.
24. People Watch outside Grogans Pub
One of Dublin’s most authentic pubs, Grogans is an institution in Dublin. Situated on South William Street, and serving the best pints and toasties for miles, it is the perfect place to pull up a chair outside, sit back and watch as the world passes you by. This pub gets especially busy during the summer, during 12 Pubs of Christmas and often during the Dublin Web Summit when techies from around the world descend on Dublin and want s lice of Irish charm.
23. Dance to 90’s pop music in Copper Face Jacks
Ahhh Coopers. We hate to love it and we love to hate it, but you can’y live in Dublin and not go along at least once. It’s a great old spot really, a sprawling nightclub full of Gardai and Nurses and Farmers up from the country. It plays cheesy 90’s pop as well as Irish rebel songs, and gets the crowd dancing til the early morning. I actually know of 2 people who met their future husband and wife in Coppers, so it may not be that bad after all.
22. Swim with Fungi the Dolphin
Fungi the Dolphin is Ireland’s favourite dolphin, and in a way our pride and joy. He lives on Dingle harbour and is one of the most friendly dolphins you will find anywhere in the world. Take a boat trip out with the locals and be treated to an acrobatics display by Fungi and his friends, just watch out as he sometimes comes VERY close and might scare the living daylights out of you! Wear your waterproofs and protect your camera from all the splashing!
21. Join a ‘Hooley Night’ at Johnnie Foxes Pub
Johnnie Foxes pub claims to be the ‘Highest Pub in ireland’ and is a seriously fun place to spend any night of the week. open 7 days, they have live music, Irish dancing and entertainment every night, as well as delicious traditional Irish food on offer. You could spend hours just wandering around this pub up in the Dublin mountains, checking out all the old collectables and looking at photographs of all the famous people who have had a pint here, from movie stars to world Presidents,
20. Go Blo Karting in Bundoran
While Bundoran is known as the surfing capital of Ireland, it also has a wide range of other adventure activities on offer from coasteering to kayaking, SUPing to Blo Karting on the beach. Blo Karting is a very unique adventure sport, involving sitting in a beach buggy with a sail and flying down the wide open beaches of Donegal. Try it out at the TurfnSurf hostel and surf school where you spend the night and wake up to a lovely breakfast overlooking the ocean.
19. Ride a jaunting car through Killarney
Killarney National Park is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions, but it is also loved by locals. It is such a beautiful place to spend the dat,whether doing a tour of Muckross House, a boat trip on the lake or hiking to Torc waterfall. One fun way to get around is by taking a Jaunting Car with the locals who are sure to entertain with their funny stories and folklore.
18. Sip on a pint at Reidys Sweet shop
Also found in beautiful Killarney, Reidys Sweet shop and bar is certainly not for tourists, but you would be welcome should you come across it. The bar looks lime an old-fashioned grocery and sweet shop from the front,, but if you walk through the shop to the back rooms (which looks kind of like someones private living room) you will find a small bar with locals sitting on high stools or on a bench sipping on pints or cans of beer from the fridge. A unique experience!
17. Photograph the Puffins on Skellig Michael
If you can go here at the right time of year, in time to catch the Puffins at their best, and on a gloriously sunny day, the experience you will have is one you will remember forever. Skellig Michael is a rocky island outcrop, a few miles off the coast of Kerry. It is very remote, which makes it difficult to get there and stops most people from ever trying. It is home to a 6th century monastery and was home to some very devout monks for 1000’s of years. It is totally unique to Ireland, and is one of the most incredible things to do on your trip to Ireland.
16. Watch the sunset at the Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most photographed pieces of land in Ireland and once you arrive here you will soon understand why. On a clear day you can see for miles, while on a misty day you make the long trip here and may see nothing. That’s all part of the charm, the wickedness of nature and the ever-changing Irish weather. If you do make it here, try and stick around for the sunset, it is one of the most beautiful sights in Ireland and is honestly a photographers dream. Just be careful not to get too near the edge!
15. Scoff a bag of Fish and chips in Howth
Howth is an easy day trip from Dublin, less than 30 minutes on the DART, and is home to Dublin’s best fish and chip shop, Beshoffs. Do the Howth cliff walk which has spectacular views of Dublin bay and over to Dun Laoghaire, then finish up back in Howth village and treat yourself to a fish and chips and maybe an ice-cream. A perfect day out that won’t break the bank.
14. Visit the wild deer in Phoenix Park
Did you know Phoenix Park is the biggest city park in Europe? So big, in fact, that it is home to Dublin Zoo, a cafe / tea shop, the house of the President and 100’s of wild deer which roam freely throughout the park. You can get real close to them, and they are best photographed at dawn or at sunset.
13. Spend an afternoon at Powerscourt Estate
Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, is another beautiful place to visit that is easily accessible from Dublin. If you are not driving, there is an open top tour bus that stops here throughout the day. Featuring expansive gardens, water features, beautiful pathways, a walled garden and two championship golf courses, Powerscourt is known to be home to the most beautiful gardens in Ireland and one of the most exclusive hotels in the country.
12. Explore the food haven that is the English Market
The English Market in Cork is one of a kind. Selling locally made produce from fish, to poultry to fruit and veg and Flynns famous sausages, a trip here is a treat for the senses. When the Queen visited Ireland a few years back, she even took a small detour into the English Market to chat to the local producers. There is also a lovely cafe called Farmgate, which is one of the best places to eat lunch in Cork city.
11. Take part in the 12 Pubs of Christmas
If you are living in Ireland, or you will be visiting in December, you would be forgiven for becoming overwhelmed by the amount of large drunken groups walking around wearing crappy Christmas Jumpers. It’s a tradition that must be nearly a decade old at this stage, and involves groups of friends getting together before Christmas to do the ’12 Pubs of Christmas’, a festive themed pub crawl involving costumes, rules and way too many drinks.
10. Swim at the Forty Foot
Another Irish festive tradition is the Christmas Day swim. While not unique to Ireland, it is growing in popularity each year and hundreds if not thousands of people can be seen jumping off piers and rocks or running into the cold water on beaches around Ireland every Christmas day. The best place to join the crowd is at the Forty Foot, a popular Dublin bathing spot just South of Dun Laoghaire.
9. Watch a Hurling match at Croke Park
Hurling is the fastest ball sport in the world is very unique to Ireland. If you get the chance, scoring s ticket to al All-Ireland final in Croke Park is the most exciting, enthralling and uniquely Irish experience you will have throughout your entire stay. Just be careful which team you decide to support!
8. Join a live music session in Doolin
Doolin in County Clare is the best place in Ireland to watch traditional Irish music sessions. Unlike Temple Bar, where they simply play for the tourists, these music sessions are very real and the music you hear will be miles different from any live music you listen to in Dublin. Just head along to any of the village pubs and feel free to bring your own instrument or just clap and sing along.
7. Watch a Rugby match at Thomond Park
Besides our National sports of Hurling and Football, Rugby is the sport us Irish are most proud of. For such a small nation, we have an incredible National Rugby team and on a smaller level 4 amazing teams that re[resent each of Ireland’s four provinces. The Munster supporters, the Red Army, are known to be some of the loudest, most excitable, loyal and fun to be around which makes watching a match in their home stadium Thomond Park and unforgettable Irish experience. (The fact I myself am from Munster has had no influence on this article what-so-ever. Ahem.)
6. Climb Croagh Patrick
One of the most rewarding things to do in Ireland is to climb any of our tallest peaks. One such mountain, Croagh Patrick, named after our Patron Saint, allows for spectacular views over Clew Bay in County Mayo and out over Clare Island. You can either join the annual pilgrimage up the mountain on the last Sunday in July, or go at your own pace any other time of the year. Be warned that conditions can change quickly and it is no easy climb, with loose shale and rocks making the last few hundred meters quite the challenge.
5. Get lost in Connemara
Connemara in County Galway is one of the most beautiful regions of Ireland. It is also quite special as it is one of the last remaining Gealtacht (Irish speaking) areas of Ireland.Spend a day drive through here and you will be rewarded with lakes that reflect the surrounding countryside like a mirror, small seaside villages, deserted beaches and harbours and the remote Maam Valley. This is one the most unspoiled regions in all of Europe.
4. Soak in a seaweed bath in Strandhill
Nothing helps you recover faster from a tough days surfing, hiking or sight seeing that soaking in a hot bath full of freshly harvested seaweed. Your skin and hair will feel unbelievably soft and you will leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I loved the Voya Seaweed Baths on my last visit to Strandhill and would totally recommend their one hour Seaweed bath and steam room package.
3. Go SUPing on Lake Isle, Innisfree
Want to get back to nature? Try hopping on a Stand Up Paddle Board with SUPFORALL and slowly paddling your way around Lake Isle in County Sligo, also known as the ‘Adventure Capital of Ireland’. So confident are they here that they can teach you how to SUP (and not fall into the lake!), that you can leave your clothes on and paddle out onto the lake without having to put on a horrible wetsuit! Kids, adults and even dogs are welcome here year round for one of the best outdoor experiences in Ireland.
2. Treat yourself to Teddy’s in Dun Laoghaire
Some people might wonder why ‘having an ice-cream’ can be classified as ‘something to do in Ireland’ but when you head out to Teddy’s in Dun Laoghaire, you’ll realise what makes it so special. Join the ever-long queue, then spend an hour strolling around the pier and watching both small sailing boats and larger cruise lines heading our across the harbour. The perfect way to spend an afternoon.
1. Catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights
Keeping the best for last. Over the past few years, something quite incredible has started happening in Ireland. Photographers have started to capture the Northern Lights dancing in the sky in the Northern parts of the country. There is even a website called Donegal Skies, which has a breathtaking collection of photos taken by Astrophotographer Brendan Alexander of the Northern lighting up the Irish sky. For updates on when the Aurora will next be visible, sign up to Astronomy Ireland.