Northern Ireland versus The Republic of Ireland ... what's the difference? Technically, they are different countries, and Northern Ireland is still under British rule.
Because of the lengthy conflict in Northern Ireland, the country has been off the radar of travellers for a number of decades, however has only recently started experiencing the renaissance of its tourism trade. Thankfully Northern Ireland is enjoying the longest period of peace in its history.
The six counties of Northern Ireland contain some of the most unspoilt scenery you could ever hope to find - the granite Mountains of Mourne, the Giant's Causeway and more than 320km of coastline with beaches, hidden coves, and leaf-sheltered lakes.
Poblacht na hÉireann (Republic of Ireland) or simply Éire, is one of the friendliest countries in the world, as well as one of the most beautiful. This lyrical land will captivate you with its warmth, colour and astonishingly diverse cultural landscape. There is no better place on earth to have a craic!
This is a country that has everything a traveller could want: rustic villages, stately homes, delectable traditional cuisine, adventure sports, a rich literary culture, and of course, the breathtaking landscape that gave it the name: the Emerald Isle.
The natural beauty of Ireland is the stuff of legends itself, with shorelines trimmed in golden sands and rocky outcrops, surrounding tranquil lakelands and rural idylls, and the cities are trendy urban centres bursting with history and tradition. With its 40 shades of green and age-old monuments scattered from coast to coast, the magic of Ireland’s landscape, the depth of its history and the graciousness of its people will steal your heart.
History & Culture
Historians estimate that Ireland was first settled by humans at a relatively late stage in European terms – about 10,000 years ago. Around 300BC, Iron Age warriors known as the Celts came to Ireland from mainland Europe. The Celts had a huge influence on Ireland. Many famous Irish myths stem from stories about Celtic warriors.
Historic points of interest are everywhere you look, from burial mounds and stone circles dating back 2500-3000 bc, medieval fortresses, castles and a Cistercian Abbey to a strong Christian heritage, with pilgrimage sites at Lough Derg and St Finbarr's, and Knock Shrine, which was the site of the Knock Apparition in 1879.
The Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin has a collection of over 100,000 tales, myths and legends – the largest compendium of its kind in the world. From romantic tales of warriors, like Cu Chulainn; to one of the greatest Celtic heroes, Finn McCool; with such a proud literary tradition and history dating back to 6000 BC, there’s little wonder the Irish have accumulated such a hoard of mythology.
Some of Ireland's top historical sites are:
1. Rock of Cashel - not actually a rock, but a formidable stronghold that dates back to the 12th century.
2. Skellig Michael - located off the coast of Kerry, monks occupied this rocky island from the 7th century for 600 years. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and only accessible by boat. And yes, Star Wars lovers, this was the place where Luke and Rey's meeting was filmed.
3. Knowth - built around 3200 BC, this site is said to contain more prehistoric art than any other site in Ireland
4. Glendalough - the monastery located at this site stood for more than 900 years before being dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, however many of its buildings still remain
5. Blarney Castle - a castle that dates back to 1446, but probably best known for the Blarney Stone - give it a kiss and you'll receive the 'gift of the gab', meaning clever, flattering or coaxing talk.
6. The Giant's Causeway (Northern Ireland) - a mass of 37,000 hexagonal pillars of volcanic basalt, clustered like a giant honeycomb that extends meters into the sea.
7. Armagh (Northern Ireland) - the spiritual capital of Ireland for 5000 years and the seat of both Protestant and Catholic archbishops, Armagh is the most venerated of Irish cities.
From dramatic rock formations built by a giant (if you believe the legend), to the highest sea cliffs in Europe, there’s plenty of natural wonders in Ireland to get your camera snapping and your heart racing.
The Ring of Kerry is world-famous for its wonderful scenery, and places like Connemara and the Dingle Peninsula come close in terms of both fame and beauty. But there are jaw-dropping views to be had elsewhere too, in less well-known spots such as the Mourne Mountains, Slieve League and Skellig Island.
Imagine driving up a steep hillside ... and suddenly facing a sheer drop of a few hundred feet down into the ocean. Not an uncommon occurrence in the Irish west. The awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher, stretching 8 miles along the western Atlantic Coast near the town of Dongal, aren’t for the faint of heart; there’s no fence between you and the 650-foot drop to the sea below. If the 650-foot isn’t enough, try the straight 985-foot drop from Slieve League into the crashing Atlantic below. Now that is sure to get your heart racing.
Stretching northwards into the sea from the Antrim coast, the regular basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway seem almost man-made. That's why their creation was attributed to legendary giant Finn McCool, wanting to cross over to Scotland. But the Giant's Causeway is all natural.
The county of Fermanagh boasts some of the most spectacular natural scenery, and is blessed with a plethora of lakes, which offer plenty of walking trails to explore.
What's the Craic?
Most Irish folk, if asked what they miss most about Ireland when they're away, will say "the craic". Music and merriment are not simply recreation in Ireland, they are part of the very fabric of the nation's identity. Around the world, the Irish are known for The Craic or crack, a bit of a catch-all terms used to describe anything from fun, partying, raucous music, news, gossip, and lively conversation.
Wherever you go, you'll find every town buzzes with its own blend of styles and sound. 'Trad' music is an impromptu affair, usually beginning with a guitar or fiddle, then joined by a flute, whistle, pipes, concertina and bodhran drums.
A check of the local event guides will turn up a wealth of live entertainment. On some nights, Dublin, with more than 120 different clubs and music pubs to choose from, almost becomes one giant traditional-music jam session.
Ireland may look like a small country but the list of sights to visit is long. So long, in fact, that it would take weeks to see all of them. Here is our list of favourite experiences in Ireland, a good starting point for having the best holiday here.
The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most iconic sights. This dramatic stretch of coastline draws thousands of visitors every year, making it one of Ireland’s most visited destinations. On a quick visit, you can view the cliffs from the visitors centre. For a more memorable experience, considering walk part - or all - of the 14km cliff trail.
Dublin is Ireland’s capital city. Most people visiting Ireland will arrive and/or depart from here. There is a lot of history here as well as a great nightlife scene, making Dublin worth at least 24 hours of your time. It's here you can get swept up in a traditional Irish pub (make sure you enjoy a Guinness or three!) with fabulous live music. Speaking of Guinness, take a tour of the brewery, which is walking distance from the centre of town. If Guinness isn't to your tasting, the Irish Whiskey Experience right by Trinity College is a great way to learn about all the different whiskey varieties in Ireland.
The Ring of Kerry is the most popular scenic drive in Ireland. This drive takes a full day. On the loop you get to see dramatic coastline, Killarney National Park, views out to Skellig Michael, and of course, more cute Irish towns. Because of its popularity, it is very crowded during peak season. However, if you have limited time, skip the Ring of Kerry. The Dingle Peninsula is just as dramatic with far fewer people.
In Northern Ireland, walk the Derry walls. Iconic to the Derry skyline, the walls are some of the most intact ancient walls in all of Europe. the Enniskillen Castle Museums are also a must-see. Build 600 years ago on the banks of the Erne River, the castle is now home to the Fermanagh County Museum and the Inniskillings Museum.
Points of Interest
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|Whats the Craic?||Can be a greeting (like a hello) or a 'How are you doing?'|
|Sure it'll be grand||Don't worry everything will be alright|
|He's a gas fella||He is a funny person|
|Do you wanna go on the lash?||Do you wanna go and drink and invariably get drunk|
|That fella is a Feckin Eejit||That guy is an idiot|
|Is it my round?||If someone buys you a drink one would be expected in return. 2 Irish people can't go for 1 drink!!|
|She is only chancing her arm||She doesn't know what she is doing but having a go at it|
|Conas a ta tu?||How are you?|
|Dia is Mhuire Duit||Hello reply|
Best Time to Visit
|General Sightseeing||May to October|
|Gardens & Flowers||April & May|
|Gaelic Sports||February to September|
|Visiting the Pub||Anytime|
Getting around in Ireland is easy, it's a small country with a wide variety of transport options. There are cars, buses, trains, boats and planes; however as it's so small you probably won't need to get on a plane ... imagine all that beautiful emerald countryside you'd miss, not to mention the craic!
Car hire is the recommended way to get around. It's worthy to note that most lead-in hire cars are manual in Europe, you'll need to pay for an upgrade if you want to hire an automatic. The narrow roads with sometimes hard to see shoulders makes driving in rural Ireland one for confident drivers.
- Ireland has a plethora of fine restaurants ranging from expensive to cheap. Traditional Irish to world cuisine are represented in the cities and towns. Irish cuisine doesn't just consist of potatoes, although the consumption of potatoes is higher in Ireland than most of the world.
Some famous traditional Irish dishes are Irish stew, soda bread, corned beef with cabbage and champ. On holidays you might get to sample Colcannon, Barm Brack or Irish Christmas cake. Irish cuisine uses basically no spices except salt and pepper, but the ingredients are typically fresh and abundant.
If you've had your fill of traditional Irish cuisine, western European standards are available everywhere and the international foodie scene is well represented in the major cities.
If you've been bitten by the shopping bug, there will be plenty to tempt you around Ireland.
In Dublin, Grafton Street is the country's foremost shopping street, and is a pedestrian-only zone line with dozens of retails and restaurants, along with Dublin's most distinguished department store, Brown Thomas. In Cork, head to St Patricks Street for the big-name stores, along with a number of locally-owned stores. Victoria Square occupies an eight-block site in central Belfast, and has four levels of shopping heaven.
If you're after local wares to take home to family - or keep for yourself - look out for the following:
• Jewellery - the Claddagh ring is a traditional ring that represents love, loyalty and friendship. Celtic-inspired pendants and rings are also popular.
• Knitwear - look out for local woollen mills for blankets, rugs, capes, throws, scarves, jackets and extensive knitwear ranges. The Aran Sweater Market offers authentic Aran Sweaters. You can visit their store on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, or there is a store in Dublin.
• Crystal - the obvious one here is The House of Waterford Crystal, in Waterford. You can do a tour of the factory - you will need to buy a ticket - or you can visit the retail store free of charge. Galway Irish Crystal, in Galway city, has a fine selection of Galway Irish Crystal, Donegal China, Belleek Pottery and Aynsley China.
• Markets - St George's Market in Belfast is one of Belfast's oldest. Their Friday Variety Market has around 248 stalls selling a variety of products including antiques, books, clothes and fish. In Dublin, the Designer Mart at Cow's Lane in Temple Bar offers a range of wares, including photography, paintings, ceramics, furniture, jewellery, hand-bags, children’s clothing and glass sculpture.
For Australian visitors, keep your receipts for your purchases, as you may be able to get your VAT tax refunded, either in-store or at the airport on departure. Ask when you make your purchases. Some stores may even arrange shipping back home ... if you buy too much!
What to Pack
Although not a land of extremes, it's always hard to predict the exact weather for your trip to Ireland. If you are travelling in the summer months, pack shorts and summer dresses, but make sure you include jeans and a jumper for those cooler days or nights, and if you are travelling in winter, be sure to pack gloves, scarves, a beanie and a good coat. Spring and autumn are variable and you are probably best to pack for all seasons!