Rick Steves Ireland


By Rick Steves

By Patrick O’Connor

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Now more than ever, you can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling through Ireland. From rustic towns and emerald valleys to lively cities and moss-draped ruins, experience it all with Rick Steves! Inside Rick Steves Ireland you'll find:
  • Fully updated, comprehensive coverage for planning a multi-week trip through Ireland
  • Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the Rock of Cashel and the Ring of Kerry to distilleries making whiskey with hundred-year-old recipes
  • How to connect with local culture: Hoist a pint at the corner pub, enjoy traditional fiddle music, and jump into conversations buzzing with brogue
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a Guinness
  • Self-guided walking tours of atmospheric neighborhoods and awe-inspiring sights
  • Trip-planning tools, like how to link destinations, build your itinerary, and get from place to place
  • Detailed maps, including a fold-out map for exploring on the go
  • Coverage of Dublin, Kilkenny, Waterford, County Wexford, Kinsale, Cobh, Kenmare, The Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, County Clare, the Burren, Galway, the Aran Islands, Connemara, County Mayo, Belfast, Portrush, the Antrim Coast, Derry, County Donegal, and much more
  • Covid-related travel info and resources for a smooth trip
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Ireland.

Planning a one- to two-week trip? Check out Rick Steves Best of Ireland.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

Written with my talented co-author, Pat O’Connor, this book covers the highlights of the entire island of Ireland, offering a balanced mix of exciting cities and great-to-be-alive-in small towns. And it’s selective—there are plenty of manor-house gardens, but we recommend only the best ones. Our self-guided museum tours and city walks give insight into the country’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit Ireland to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging by the positive feedback we receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.

Have a grand holiday! Happy travels!


Ireland’s Top Destinations

Map: Ireland’s Top Destinations



Planning Your Trip



Travel Smart

Flung onto the foggy fringe of the Atlantic pond like a mossy millstone, Ireland drips with mystery, drawing you in for a closer look. You may not find the proverbial pot of gold, but you’ll treasure your encounters with the engaging, feisty Irish people. The Irish culture—with its intricate art and mesmerizing music—is as intoxicating as the famous Irish brew, Guinness.

The Irish revere their past and love their proverbs, such as “When God made time, he made a lot of it.” Ireland is dusted with prehistoric stone circles, burial mounds, and standing stones...some older than the pyramids, and all speckled with moss. While much of Europe has buried older cultures under new, Ireland still reveals its cultural bedrock. It’s a place to connect with your Neolithic roots, even if you’re not Irish.

The 300-mile-long island (about the size of Maine) is ringed with some of Europe’s most scenic coastal cliffs. It’s only 150 miles across at its widest point. No matter where you go in Ireland, you’re never more than 75 miles from the sea. Despite being as far north as Newfoundland, Ireland has a mild maritime climate, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Rainfall ranges from more than 100 inches a year in soggy, boggy Connemara to about 30 inches a year in Dublin. Any time of year, bring rain gear. As Ireland’s own Oscar Wilde once quipped, “There is no bad weather...only inappropriate clothing.”

Faces of Ireland now and then (at Dublin Castle and the Giant’s Causeway)

Though a small island, Ireland has had a large impact on the rest of the world. Geographically isolated in the damp attic of Dark Age Europe, Christian Irish monks tended the flickering flame of literacy, then bravely reintroduced it to the barbaric Continent. Ireland later turned out some of modern literature’s greatest authors, including W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Oscar Wilde. In the 1800s, great waves of Irish emigrants fled famine and colonial oppression, seeking new opportunities abroad and making their mark in the US and beyond. (Every Irish family seems to have a relative in America; about 50 million people claim Irish descent in North America alone.) And although peace now prevails in Northern Ireland, the religious and political conflict there long held the world’s attention.

Northern Ireland (with 1.8 million people) is a province of the United Kingdom (like Scotland and Wales), while the Republic (with 5 million people and 80 percent of the land) is an independent nation. No visit to Ireland is complete without a look at both.

The Republic of Ireland boasts more sights, from the famous Book of Kells manuscript, prehistoric ruins, Celtic artifacts, and evocative monastic settlements to Iron Age ring forts. The country is bordered by green hilly peninsulas, craggy islands, and sheer cliffs rising up from the crashing waves of the Atlantic.

The people of the Republic of Ireland are known for the legendary “gift of gab,” which has its roots in the ancient Celtic culture. With no written language (until the arrival of Christianity), the ancient Celts passed their history, laws, and folklore verbally from generation to generation. Even today, most transactions come with an ample side-helping of friendly banter. As an Irishman once joked, “How can I know what I think until I hear what I say?”

Listening to the thick Irish brogue, you’ll get the fun sensation you’re understanding a foreign language. But if you can’t understand a thing, you’re probably hearing Irish Gaelic, spoken in a Gaeltacht. These government-subsidized cultural preserves are found mostly in far western coastal regions (where English works, too).

The shamrock—used by St. Patrick to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity—is the most recognizable symbol of the Republic of Ireland. Another national symbol you’ll see during your visit is the harp (on the back of Irish euro coins and reversed on every pint of Guinness). The Irish seem born with a love of music. Live music is a weekly (if not nightly) draw at any town pub worth its salt.

Northern Ireland is an underrated and often overlooked region that surprises visitors with its striking scenery and friendly people. Its coast boasts the alligator-skin volcanic geology of the Giant’s Causeway and the lush Glens of Antrim, while its interior is dominated by rolling hills of pastoral serenity and Lough Neagh, the UK’s biggest lake.

Prepared for rain; an Irish Gaelic sign for Dunquin reads “Míle Fáilte” (a thousand welcomes)

The serene, green Antrim Coast;raise a glass in Belfast’s historic Crown Liquor Saloon

An interesting hybrid of Irish and Scottish cultures, Northern Ireland is only 17 miles from Scotland at its closest point. The accents you’ll hear in the North are distinctly different from their counterparts south of the border. With a population just a bit larger than that of Phoenix, it’s small enough to have one phone book for the entire province, yet is twice as densely populated as the Republic to the south.

The people of the North generally fall into two categories: those who feel they’re British (Unionists) and those who feel they’re Irish (Nationalists). Those born in the North can choose which of the two passports they want. The turmoil of the Troubles—the decades-long conflict between Unionists and Nationalists, starting in the 1960s—has essentially ended, and Northern Ireland is now statistically one of the safer places in the Western world.

Today’s Ireland is vibrant and cosmopolitan, yet warm and down to earth. Want to really get to know Ireland? Belly up to the bar in a neighborhood pub and engage a local in conversation. The Irish people have a worldwide reputation as witty, musical, moody romantics with a quick laugh and a ready smile. Come join them.

Ireland’s Top Destinations

There’s so much to see in Ireland and so little time. This overview breaks the country’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.


The island’s top three destinations are Dublin, the capital city of the Republic of Ireland, on the east coast; the lush Dingle Peninsula on the west coast; and the rocky Aran Islands to the north, just off the coast of Galway. Each stop has a distinctly different flavor: from big-city Dublin and small-town Dingle to the remote and ancient Aran Islands. If you build your trip around these destinations, you’ll get an unforgettable introduction to the best of Ireland.

▲▲▲Dublin (allow 2 days)

The bustling Irish capital offers fascinating tours (historical, musical, and literary), passionate rebel history (Kilmainham Gaol), treasured Dark Age gospels (starring the monk-illustrated Book of Kells), and intricate Celtic artifacts (National Museum of Archaeology). For evening fun, pub-hop through the rambunctious Temple Bar district, cocking your ear to seek out traditional music.

▲▲▲Dingle Peninsula (1-2 days)

My favorite fishing village, Dingle town, is a traditional Irish-music pub paradise. It’s also a launchpad for a gorgeous loop drive (or bike ride) around Slea Head (the tip of the Dingle Peninsula), awash with striking scenery and a wealth of Celtic and early Christian sites.

▲▲▲Aran Islands (1 day)

Three windswept, treeless islands in the Atlantic are ringed by cliffs, crowned by striking ruins, and home to sparse villages of hardy fisherfolk. The island of Inishmore hosts the star attraction, the 2,000-year-old Dun Aengus fort, perching precariously at the edge of a sheer cliff.

Stone church on Dingle Peninsula; celebrating Bloomsday in Dublin; Dun Aengus perch; a Dingle pub

Brú na Bóinne


You can weave any of these destinations—rated or ▲▲ — into your itinerary. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity, but some out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.

▲▲Near Dublin (1 day)

Of the varied sights near Dublin, the best is the Boyne Valley’s ancient pre-Celtic burial mounds of Brú na Bóinne, with the majestic Norman castle in Trim nearby. Other choices are the green horse-racing pastures of the Irish National Stud, the graceful Gardens of Powerscourt, and the evocative monastic ruins of Glendalough.

▲▲Kilkenny and the Rock of Cashel (1 day)

These are the best two destinations in Ireland’s interior: the medieval town of Kilkenny, with its narrow lanes, colorful facades, and stocky castle; and the Rock of Cashel, with its dramatic hilltop of church ruins, overlooking the Plain of Tipperary.

Waterford and County Wexford (1-2 days)

This gritty, historic port sparkles with the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre. There’s also a 12th-century lighthouse, the Dunbrody Famine Ship replica, the Irish National Irish Heritage park, and the Kennedy ancestral homestead.

▲▲Kinsale and Cobh (1-2 days)

County Cork has two quaint harbor towns: Kinsale, beloved by foodies, fun for strolling, and guarded by the squat Charles Fort; and the emigration hub of Cobh—the Titanic’s last stop.

Rock of Cashel ruins; colorful Kinsale; bikers at Muckross House; shepherd with border collies

Ashford Castle in Cong

▲▲Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry (1 day)

The tidy town of Kenmare is the ideal home base for side-stepping the throngs flocking to drive Ireland’s most-famous peninsula. The scenic loop route connects fairy forts and villages, with options for a boat excursion to the hermitage island of Skellig Michael.

▲▲County Clare and the Burren (1-2 days)

Ireland’s western fringe has the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, the stony prehistoric landscape of the Burren, the trad music crossroads of cozy Doolin, and the friendly town of Ennis.

Galway (1 day)

This energetic university city has a thriving pedestrian street scene and great people-watching pubs. For tourists, it’s the west coast’s best home base for reaching the Burren, Aran Islands, and Connemara region.

▲▲Westport and Connemara (1 day)

This region is a lushly green, hilly Irish outback of cottages, lakes, and holy peaks, dotted with photogenic settlements such as Cong, Kylemore Abbey, and the leafy riverside town of Westport.

Donegal and the Northwest (half-day to 1 day)

Drivers will enjoy this far-flung section of the Republic and its ruggedly beautiful landscape. The region’s main town, Donegal, has a striking castle.

Derry (half-day to 1 day)

This Northern Ireland town, which became a 17th-century British settlement encircled by stout town walls, is infamous as the powder keg that ignited Ireland’s tragic “Troubles.” Its insightful city history museum tells the tale.

▲▲Portrush and the Antrim Coast (1 day)

Portrush, an unpretentious beach resort, is the pleasant gateway to the geologic wonderland of the Giant’s Causeway, the Old Bushmills Distillery, the cliff-edge ruins of Dunluce Castle, and the exhilarating Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

▲▲Belfast (1 day)

The no-nonsense capital of Northern Ireland has a walkable city center, stirring sectarian neighborhoods (best seen with a taxi tour), and the delightful riverside Titanic Quarter. Nearby is the charming Victorian seaside retreat of Bangor.

Galway picnic; crossing Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge; Belfast’s City Hall

Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.


As you read this book and learn your options...

Choose your top destinations.

My recommended itinerary (on click here) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 21 days, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame. If you like what big cities have to offer—museums and nightlife—linger longer in Dublin. If trad music strikes a chord with you, your top stops are—in this order—Dingle, Doolin, Galway, Westport, and Dublin. Food lovers savor Kinsale.

If you’re partial to prehistory, you can go back in time in the Burren, Brú na Bóinne burial tombs, and Aran Islands. Modern historians appreciate Belfast. If you’re researching Irish roots, Cobh’s a great place to start.

Drivers like to joyride around the Dingle and Kerry peninsulas and explore sights scattered throughout County Clare, Connemara, and the Antrim Coast. Nature lovers find inspiration at the Cliffs of Moher and the surprising rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway. Photographers want to go everywhere.

Decide when to go.

Peak season (June through early Sept) is my favorite time to visit because of the longer days (with daylight from 4:30 until 22:30—Dublin is as far north as Edmonton, Canada). Note, though, that summer crowds have grown over the years, due partly to the cruise-ship industry, which affects mostly Dublin, the Cobh/Cork region, and Belfast.

Travel during “shoulder season” (mid-April through May, plus late Sept through Oct) offers fewer crowds, less competition, and all the tourist fun.

Winter travelers experience no crowds, soft room prices, colder rain, and shorter sightseeing hours (or sights open only on weekends, or even closed entirely Nov-Feb). Live music and pub crawls are limited to weekends. Winter weather can be chilly, dreary, and blustery, dampening the island’s rural charm, though city sightseeing is fine.

No matter when you go, expect rain. Just keep on traveling and take full advantage of “bright spells.” For weather specifics, see the climate chart in the appendix.

Cobh statue of Ellis Island’s first immigrant, Irish teen Annie Moore; the Dark Hedges, near Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast


  • "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
  • "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
  • “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
  • "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
  • "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
  • "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
  • "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
  • "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
  • “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
  • "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
  • "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
  • "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News

On Sale
Dec 13, 2022
Page Count
616 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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