There’s way more to Ireland than a pint of Guinness in Dublin and a quick trip to the Cliffs of Moher. If you’re planning a trip to the Emerald Isle, you can’t miss these often overlooked (but never underwhelming) destinations. From remote islands to pirate strongholds, these hidden gems are sure to take your Irish vacation to the next level.
1. Travel like sheep in County Cork
Getting to Dursey Island is, how can we put this, a little unconventional. Once you arrive in Ballaghboy in County Cork, you’ll inch your way to the island via a creaking cable car that’s suspended some 100 feet (30 meters) above Dursey Sound. Don’t worry — it’s a whole lot safer than it seems. If you’re wondering what that smell is inside the cabin, it’s the sheep. Yes, these fluffy fellows also use Ireland’s only cable car. Once you set foot off the world’s slowest white-knuckle ride, start exploring. The island is practically made for hikers and bird watchers. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot dolphins, whales — and maybe even some sharks!
2. Feel the force in County Kerry
The force is strong with Skellig Michael, a craggy island that played host to Luke Skywalker in the Last Jedi. Skywalker may have gotten by in a robe and sandals, but you’ll want to wear your comfiest hiking shoes to explore this remote outpost off the coast of County Kerry. It’ll take around 40 minutes to arrive at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. What’s more, boat trips are only available in the summer from the mainland towns of Portmagee, Ballinskelligs, and Caherdaniel. Once you arrive, climb the cliff-hugging stairs and explore the island’s ancient monastery. This climb isn’t for the faint of heart — the cliffs sit some 590 feet (180 meters) above sea level.
3. Drive along the Skellig Ring
If a trip to Skellig Michael isn’t for you, stay in County Kerry and venture along the Skellig Ring, a scenic 18 mile (29 km) coastal road that connects Portmagee and Ballinskelligs. The drive is one of the most picturesque in all of Ireland and provides spectacular views of the Kerry Cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. Surfers, divers, and chocoholics will want to stop halfway along the Skellig Ring at St. Finian’s Bay. Known locally as the Glen, the secluded bay provides ideal waves for experienced surfers as well as intriguing underwater worlds for divers. Before you head on, check out St. Finian’s award-winning chocolate factory for a tasty treat or two.
4. Meet the giants of County Donegal
The Slieve League Cliffs may well be Ireland’s most dramatic stretch of coastline. Not even the famed Cliffs of Moher, which are almost three times smaller, can compete with these towering sea cliffs that plunge some 1,968 feet (600 meters) into the Atlantic Ocean. These giants of County Donegal are best viewed from Bunglass Point, just a short drive from the cute fishing village of Teelin. Once you’ve snapped the wild waves, daring hikers can venture to what feels like the end of the world via One Man’s Pass.
5. Visit the gorgeous beaches of County Galway
Ireland’s not the first name that springs to mind when you think of pristine beaches. Yet the Emerald Isle’s rugged coastline and remote islands boast some truly stunning sandy shores. Two of the best are found back-to-back in County Galway, just a couple miles from the artsy village of Roundstone and 50 miles (80 km) west of the city of Galway. From Roundstone, it’s easy to reach the horseshoe-shaped Dog’s Bay and neighboring Gurteen Beach, both of which welcome visitors with white sand and clear blue waters.
6. Go on a pirate adventure in County Mayo
Cute coastal towns are in ample supply in Ireland, but Westport, with its leafy streets and Georgian architecture, may just be the prettiest of the lot. When you’re not hopping between the plentiful bars and restaurants, leave the town behind to explore Croagh Patrick, Clew Bay, and Clare Island. Visitors to Westport can also follow in the footsteps of Grace O’Malley, the fearsome Pirate Queen of Connacht, who called this region home in the 1500s. Her former home, Rockfleet Castle, lies 12 miles (20 km) to the north while Westport House offers a number of pirate-themed activities to keep little ones entertained.
7. Strap on your hiking boots in County Waterford
The Comeragh Mountains can’t compete with the Alps when it comes to size, but they sure hold their own in terms of spectacular scenery and hikes. Serious hikers should head to the Coumshingaun Loop. Stretching some 4.6 miles (7.5 km) over steep terrain, the loop provides a number of beautiful panoramas of County Waterford, especially from Fauscoum, the highest point in the Comeragh range. The hike’s highlight is the view of Coumshingaun Lough, a glacial lake lined with 1,148 foot (350 m) cliffs. After you’ve completed the loop, head to the nearby Mahon Falls, a 262 foot (80 m) waterfall that provides the perfect backdrop for a well-deserved picnic.