Leprechauns and pots of gold aside, Ireland is a magical place to visit. From the spectacular colors of the landscapes to the cozy interior of a country pub to the friendliness of the people you encounter, you're sure to find yourself quickly falling in love with the country. If you're headed to the Emerald Isle, make sure you get out and explore as much as you can: each part of the country offers a different take on the stunning landscapes and warm hospitality. In no particular order, here are the top five places that you have to see:
Of course, no visit to Ireland would be complete without a trip to the country's administrative and cultural capital. There's plenty to be seen here—Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral, the National Museum of Ireland, Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, and so much more. Make sure to catch a folk music show, or trad session, at a pub—Temple Bar is a popular and lively place. Don't worry about looking up the best places ahead of time, though: just follow your ears around town and you're sure to find a great place.
History and culture buffs will also want to take a day-trip up to Glendalough, a 6th-century monastic site known for its round tower. Outdoor enthusiasts will love hiking in the nearby Wicklow Mountains, which can be accessed from Glendalough.
Dublin may be the capital city, but Galway certainly rivals it in terms of charm. It's got a quaint pedestrian area and plenty of history as well, but it's got more of a small-town feel than Dublin or Cork. You'll find more of the lively trad sessions that Ireland is famous for, plus some delectable fish and chips. If you know the song “Galway Girl”, you've probably heard of the Salthill Promenade: it's a good place to take a walk and people-watch with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.
Best of all, the city makes a great base for exploring the beautiful Connemara region, the impressive Cliffs of Moher, and the traditional Aran Islands. Don't worry if you don't plan to rent a car; there are plenty of tours available for you to choose from. These are some of the loveliest places in Ireland, so you'll definitely want to make a point to see them!
Cork is the second-largest city in Ireland, and it's markedly different from Dublin. It's got an easily-walkable city center, and it often feels somewhere between a big city and a town. For trad, check out An Spailpin Fanach, or check out the Bailey on Sunday nights (other nights, it's more like a club). Make sure you head up to the Elizabeth Fort for the best views over the city, and don't forget to ring the bells in Shandon Steeple. Those interested in history should head up to University College Cork (UCC) to see the historic Ogham Stones.
Of course, visitors to Cork should also head over to nearby Blarney to see the castle there and kiss the Blarney Stone, rumored to give one the “gift of gab”. Kissing it involves hanging upside-down over the battlements on top of the castle so it's a bit of a hair-raising experience!
4. The Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is hands-down one of the most scenic drives (or walks) in Ireland. Start in Killarney, where you can do some hiking in the national park, check out the view over the lake from Ross Castle, and visit the 15th-century Muckross Abbey. Then begin your tour through the beautiful coastal scenery.
If you have time and the weather's decent, take a trip out to Skellig Michael from Portmagee. In the 6th century, some monks built a monastery atop an impressive stone staircase on this bit of rock floating out in the ocean. They had very little contact with the mainland due to the rough seas between the island and the coast and thus subsisted mostly off seabirds and seafood. If you see the Book of Kells when you visit Dublin's Trinity College, know that this is the monastery where the manuscript is said to have come from.
5. County Donegal
County Donegal is located in the far north of Ireland (but although most of its border lies along Northern Ireland, it's still part of the Republic of Ireland!). It's a very picturesque county of sweeping coastal vistas, harbors, and quaint seaside villages. There's some great hiking through the Derryveagh and Bluestack mountain ranges, and the Slieve League Cliffs are the highest coastal cliffs in all of Europe. If you're really looking for a challenging outdoor vacation, cycling through the hills of Donegal makes for a scenic and rewarding trip.
Looking to get away from it all? Head out to Arranmore—it's less popular with tourists than the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway, so you'll really get a feel for that cozy, rural Irish life of the past.
If Ireland isn't already on your bucket list, it 100% should be! There's little to complain about in a country full of charming cities and towns, amazing and varied scenery, and hospitable people. Get out and explore, catch some trad sessions, and—if you're lucky—chase a rainbow or two: you're sure to find gold at the end, even if it's just the golden tint of a great pint of Guinness.