A Long Weekend In Ireland: 7 Places To Experience The Essence Of Ireland

With global travel tentatively dipping its toes back into the water and casting its gaze towards the skies, intrepid and timorous travellers alike are starting to consider their next adventure. 

Many are choosing to holiday a little closer to home for now, and with Ireland last month lifting most of their public health restrictions, the Emerald Isle is anticipating a major uptick in tourism as Spring begins. In fact, Ireland’s tourism board has just announced its recovery plan, ‘’doubling…investment in domestic marketing in order to encourage more short breaks around Ireland throughout the year’’. 

If that marketing campaign has enticed you to take the short, inexpensive flight from London to Dublin (right now, you can fly in an hour and fifteen minutes for just £16 return) then you’re probably wondering how best to get to grips with the essence of this wonderful country. You’ve come to the right place to do just that; here are 7 places to experience the essence of Ireland during a long weekend away.

A DRINK’S TOUR OF DUBLIN

We begin in Dublin, where every night of the week you’ll find fantastic food, flagons of foaming ale and that sometimes elusive, always appealing craic. The Irish capital simply has that x-factor, one which inspires jollity, frivolity and frolics each time you visit.

To appreciate the essence of Ireland, it’s essential to get to grips with its most beloved beverage at the Guinness Storehouse. This is the ultimate brewery experience, telling the tale of Ireland’s famous beer, with brewing tips, tastings and a rooftop bar. 

A ten minute stumble away is the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, which also offers tours and tastings, and if you’re keen to continue your deep dive into famous Irish tipples, then another 20 minute’s walk east, you’ll find the Irish Whiskey Museum,

This interactive, ultra-modern whiskey tour offers the chance to learn about (and of course taste) Ireland’s favourite liquor –  the uisce beatha, water of life, or as we know it, whiskey. Pack some precautionary paracetamol, we think.

Once you’re armed (it’s unlikely you’ll have legs by this point) with sufficient knowledge about the country’s revered beverage production, it’s time to put those smarts to good practice. You’ll be pleased to hear that our tight little saunter around the Storehouse, distillery and museum has all been focused in Dublin’s Temple Bar district. 

Described as the city’s ‘bohemian quarter’, it’s also home to Dublin’s best pubs, including the Porterhouse, Quays Bar and the Temple Bar Pub, which has one of the largest whiskey collections in Ireland. All together now; sláinte is táinte!

Photo by Matheus Câmara da Silva on Unsplash

THE CASTLES OF COUNTY TIPPERARY

Lovingly restored, lying in ruin, or standing proud against the sometimes harsh elements of the Irish countryside, the scope of castles in Ireland is astounding. A rough estimate puts the number at 30’000, some simply a pile of stones now, but some as majestic and proud as the day they were built. 

Whilst you could spend months touring the Emerald Isle checking out its castles, we promised a long weekend here, so it’s best to keep things a little more compact. Fortunately, there are various Ireland tours available that take in the very best of the country’s castles in a managed manner, and we’d recommend embracing that spirit and narrowing down your sightseeing trip to just one county. 

One county particularly blessed with majestic castles is Tipperary, a two hour’s drive southwest of Dublin, and home to at least 21 such structures. The highlight here is perhaps Cahir Castle, one of the largest and best-preserved in all of Ireland. Overlooking the River Suir, it’s an imposing, deeply moving sight to behold. 

Even more famous is the Rock of Cashel, whose history stretches back to the 12th Century. Overlooking endless green valleys (known as the Golden Vale), the castle is one of Ireland’s most spectacular archaeological and architectural sights, and a must-visit on your long weekend away in Ireland. You can reach the monument in under two hours by car from Dublin. Alternatively, the 768 bus from Dublin’s Heuston Station to Cashel takes two hours, and leaves four times day.  

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Read: 5 IDEAL castles to visit on your historic holiday to Ireland

THE HISTORY & ARCHITECTURE OF CORK

It’s not just the Irish countryside that’s blessed with incredible historic architecture; the cities, towns and villages are replete with architectural intrigue, too. The cobblestoned streets of Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city, provide some of the most visually arresting urban planning on the planet. 

The city is built on the River Lee and the centre actually sits on an island surrounded by two channels of the river; Cork’s characteristic pastel-hued houses overlook the water and the overall effect is an incredibly romantic one. 

Exploring the city centre on foot, then, is a must. History buffs should check out St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the Honan Chapel, and nearby Blarney Castle, as well as the English Market, one of the world’s oldest. 

There’s also plenty of opportunity to get to grips with the essence of Irish history and culture at the city’s famous museums, the Cork Public Museum and the Cork City Gaol, a former jail turned museum. Finally, you can’t leave the city (well, you can) without ringing the Shandon Bells at St. Anne’s Church.

Photo by Mark de Jong on Unsplash

THE CRAGGY COASTLINES OF IRELAND’S WEST COAST & THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY

The city of Cork is a wonderful place to visit in itself, but it also represents the gateway to the dramatic scenery of Ireland’s South and West Coast. Your starting point for exploration of the craggy, rugged and utterly bewitching coastline should be Mizen Head, a two hour’s drive southwest of Cork, and Ireland’s most southerly point.

If you’re looking to take a longer road trip instead of a quick weekend break away, consider exploring the entire Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal highway that stretches all the way from Kinsale in County Cork (on the south coast) to Donegal in the north, and comprises around 2’500 km of road. 

There are countless places worth stopping at, including Sligo (which was one of Yeats’ greatest inspirations), Connemara, Galway, and Kinsale. 

If you don’t have a car, fear not; there are plenty of trains in Ireland that traverse the Wild Atlantic Way. In fact, in many ways, exploring this iconic route by train is the best way to appreciate its beauty!

THE RUGGED SPLENDOUR OF KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK

Along the route known as the Wild Atlantic Way is another of Ireland’s true gems, Killarney National Park, in County Kerry. This was Ireland’s first ever national park, deemed so in 1932, and a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve since 1981. 

But more than that, Killarney National Park, and its surrounding Ring of Kerry, is perhaps the finest visual rendition of the characteristic countryside that gave Ireland its nickname, the Emerald Isle. Covering over 25’000 acres, the park includes the world famous Lakes of Killarney, as well as mountains, waterfalls, and, of course, the odd castle thrown in for good measure!

Another fantastic example of rugged Irish landscapes at their finest is also found on the Wild Atlantic Way, in the shape of Connemara National Park. Check out our guide to it here

Photo by luana niemann on Unsplash

THE FOLK MUSIC OF GALWAY

We couldn’t finish up our pursuit of the essence of Ireland without getting down to some traditional Irish folk music. Neither could we head back to London without first having visited Galway, the festival capital of Ireland and a place which wears the pursuit of good times and great music proudly on its sleeve.

Galway has several fantastic old school pubs that play host to nightly performances from local bands. Taaffes Bar and Tig Choili are two of the best of their kind in the country, featuring concerts each and every night, but in Galway, all you have to do is wander the streets and keep your ears open, particularly in the Latin Quarter, to hear buskers and bands on the fiddle, flute and whistle, accordion, and pipes. 

Ideal tip:  The Irish language is largely spoken in County Galway. In fact, it has the highest percentage of Irish speakers of all administrative counties. When you’re here, learn a little Irish and say dia duit upon greeting a person or wish them good luck with a cheerful adh mor ort!

EXPERIENCE THE ESSENCE OF IRELAND IN LONDON

Back in London, you can still experience the essence of Ireland. Rather than keep you here too long (your Guinness is losing its head), we’ll redirect you to these 6 IDEAL ways to be transported to Ireland without leaving London. Happy travels!

Always check the entry requirements of your destination before planning a holiday.

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