1. Blarney Castle in County Cork is famous for the Blarney Stone – kiss it for the gift of eternal eloquence, legend says. Visitors literally bend over backwards to smooch this fabled rock set into the castle’s wall. The 15th-century castle also offers gardens, caves and battlement views.
2. The Guinness Storehouse at the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin welcomes over a million visitors each year to the on-site stout-producing plant. The Guinness Storehouse gives a behind the scenes look into the brewing process – over three million pints are brewed here daily. At the end of the brewery tour, visitors can relax with a pint while taking in the stunning 360-degree views of Dublin from the Gravity Bar.
3. Brú na Bóinne in County Meath is a Neolithic site of henges, standing stones and burial chambers, built about 3200 BCE. Immensely popular year round, Brú na Bóinne gets extra attention during winter solstice when, for a few dawns in late December, a beam of sunlight pierces a mysterious opening in one passage tomb, Newgrange, illuminating its chamber for a few minutes. So great is the demand to see the winter solstice sunrise at Newgrange that an annual lottery is held for chamber access.
4. The Rock of Cashel (or St Patrick’s Rock) in County Tipperary dates to the 12th and 13th centuries. The formidable fortress boasts a round tower, cathedral and chapel with priceless Celtic art and medieval architecture. In the fifth century, legend has it that St Patrick converted Aengus, the King of Munster, to Christianity at this very spot.
5. Experience the Festivals From St Patrick’s Day to Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland has hundreds of cultural celebrations every year. The most anticipated is St Patrick’s Festival (around St Patrick’s Day, March 17), when parades and a carnival atmosphere will leave you spellbound.
6. Visit Dublin The capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin buzzes with lively pubs, beautiful architecture and fine museums. A Dublin Pass will gain you entry to more than 30 top Dublin attractions, plus discounts for restaurants, shops, theatre, tours and transportation (and a free guidebook).
7. Revel in Irish Folklore The World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway on the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland was, legend says, built by a giant, Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool), to keep his feet dry while walking to Scotland. Geologists suggest volcanic activity 60 million years ago created the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that amaze visitors today.
8. Dine on Irish Cuisine Traditional dishes such as Irish stew, soda bread, farmhouse cheese, and colcannon (cabbage/kale and potatoes) are still on the menu, but the new wave of Irish cooking focuses on fresh local ingredients and the catch of the day. Seafood options include wild Atlantic salmon, oysters, scallops and lobster, Dublin Bay prawns, chargrilled swordfish and grilled sole. The Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival celebrates this bounty every September.