14 Undiscovered Gems of Ireland
As the traditional Irish blessing goes, “Ireland, it’s the one place on earth that heaven has kissed with melody, mirth, and meadow and mist.” These off-the-beaten-path locations will help you experience the truth behind the saying.
The Wild Atlantic Way
There’s no better way to explore Ireland than by car. Hit the Wild Atlantic Way, which at 1,500 miles long from start to finish is world’s longest sign-posted coastal drive. You could try to do the entire drive on one trip, but many prefer to return time and time again to savor the sights in more bite-size travel chunks. In addition to some of Ireland’s most visited spots such as the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, you’ll also want to make time to stop off in towns along the way with the onomatopoetic names of Knock, Gong, and Dingle.
Find out all the places you need to see in 2018.
Slieve League Cliffs
The spectacular Cliffs of Moher in County Clare are justifiably among the most visited attractions in Ireland, with well over a million visitors each year. But, for fewer tourists and more elbow room, stop in County Donegal, along the upper reaches of Wild Atlantic Way to visit Slieve League Cliffs. They are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe and are about three times higher than the more famous Cliffs of Moher. Stop at the Slieve League Cultural Center before you go up to the Cliffs. Here you can have a snack, learn about the area and book guided hikes if you don’t want to go it alone. Your breath is sure to be taken away as you hike (or stroll) along the 1,998-foot drop into the swirling Atlantic below. Among the remarkable things you will encounter are the remains of an early Christian monastic site with a chapel and stone beehive huts.
The Aran Islands
These islands look like three chunks of the Cliffs of Moher broke off and drifted out to sea—and they probably did. Located just off Galway and Doolin, about midpoint on the Wild Atlantic Way, the Aran Islands and are reachable via ferries or a very quick five-minute flight. The smallest is Inis Oirr, medium is Inis Meain, and the largest is Inis Mor Island. If you’re in the area, a stop at Dún Aonghasa, an ancient fortress dating back to 1500 BC, on Inis Mor is an absolute must. On these magical isles, you can stay in truly authentic Irish places—hotels, hostels, beds and breakfasts, or spend the night glamping; dine on very tasty locally grown produce, and shop for legendary Aran Island sweaters. No matter which island you’re on, you’ll get jaw-dropping views at every turn. Here are more glamping trips to pique your interest.
In County Clare, at this restored tower house that dates back to the 15th-century, guests-of-yore were traditionally given a glass of honey-based mead upon entry. In ancient times it was believed that honey was the secret to successful conception, so newlyweds were encouraged to consume honey for the first month of marriage—from moon to moon, thus, the term ‘honeymoon’ was coined. Today, the castle serves as a backdrop to a dinner theater, where visitors can experience what life was like back then. It starts with a mead cocktail hour, followed by a dinner banquet in the main hall of the castle. During the meal, a group of local actors and musicians provide a very entertaining program of medieval music and songs.
The Burren Perfumery
Every county in Ireland has something to offer visitors, but County Clare is a particularly tantalizing pot of gold at the end of the travel rainbow. In addition to the Cliffs of Moher on its Atlantic Coast, County Clare is also home to The Burren, a 97-square mile area that includes a national park and numerous sights within its moonscape-like terrain. It’s hard to imagine that anything can grow here, but as you will discover at the Burren Perfumery, quite a lot does. There, you can sample nearly 20 types of perfumes created from local plants and flowers. The perfumery also features a wonderful tearoom that offers some of the best Irish cakes and pastries you will ever encounter. Ask for their fruitcake recipe!
The Burren Smokehouse
While you’re in the area, a visit to Burren Smokehouse, which produces a tantalizing variety of smoked and cured salmon products, is another must. Visitors are welcome to sample the wares as they learn about how these locally raised and wild treats are produced. You can buy vacuum-sealed packages of the salmon to take home or to savor during an impromptu picnic. Just down the road, do stop in at The Roadside Tavern for an Irish Coffee, or pint of beer or cider to fortify yourself as you continue on to enjoy your day.
The Ballymaloe School of Cookery
via ballymaloe.ie/keewi photography
Ballymaloe House, set on a 300-acre farm is one of the most luxe places to stay in Ireland. But guest or not, you should sign up for an afternoon cooking class at its School of Cookery, considered one of the best culinary schools in the world. Classes are taught in an amazing theater-style kitchen, by, among others, the school’s founder, Darina Allen and noted chef Rory O’Connell, who happens to be Allen’s brother. Classes range from vegetarian to Indian to everything in between. Find out more cooking school vacations that foodies will love.
The Midleton Farmer’s Market
Founded in the late 1990s with the help of Allen, who now runs the Ballymaloe School of Cookery, the Midleton Farmer’s Market was one of the first farmers’ markets in Ireland. It showcases locally grown produce, dairy products, baked goods, cheeses, and meats. At the market, you can meet the charming locals and pick up provisions for a picnic. If you need something to wash it down with, stop by the better known Jameson Distillery, for a tour of the spot where this famous whiskey is created.
If surfing in Ireland is on your bucket list then Strandhill Beach is your place: Surfers come from all over Ireland and the world to ride the waves in this neck of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s thought by some to offer some of the best surfing in all of Europe. You can paddle board, too! And, if you need the necessary equipment, there are plenty of places to rent whatever you’ll need to glide away. Note that swimming is not allowed at the beaches as the current is quite strong. These are the best spring break destinations in Europe.
If you’re the type who prefers to kick back and relax on vacation, you can still enjoy the seaside vibe while luxuriating at Voya Seaweed Baths. They have a number of treatments centered around the local seaweed, including their signature seaweed baths, facials, and body wraps. You can also purchase skincare products to take home with you as the ultimate souvenir.