Ireland: lush scenery and good times await
Ireland is a tiny island, but its historical importance and stunning beauty are enormous. At just over 32,000 square miles, it's roughly 174 miles at its widest and is comparable in size to the state of Indiana. Dublin, the capital, is the only city in the country with more than a million inhabitants.
It's a relatively quick flight from the New York area, just six or seven hours. Ireland's cozy size and proximity make it an ideal vacation spot for New Yorkers, and add to that the fact that we know the language (only they speak it far more charmingly than we do!) and the Irish are lovely, warm and welcoming to travelers.
In 2013, Ireland experienced a huge boost in tourism due to The Gathering, a massive initiative that reached out to global citizens with an Irish heritage, inviting them to come home and celebrate Irish culture with a series of events and festivals across the country. You might say it put Ireland back on the map as a world class destination for vacations again, with travel from the United States up 20% from previous years.
What to do and see
Depending on your interests, Ireland has something for everyone.
The scenery and natural landscape no doubt attract a plenitude of visitors. Visit Connemara for beautiful lakes and mountains; Dun Aengus in County Galway to see a prehistoric fort literally on the edge of a cliff; County Donegal's Horn Head for spectacular views and hiking and the Giant's Causeway on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, where a volcanic eruption millions of years ago resulted in thousands of basalt (lava) columns.
The Cliffs of Moher in western Ireland are five miles long and provide a stunning view hundreds of feet above the crashing waves of Galway Bay. The Blarney Castle (home to the Blarney Stone -- kiss it for the gift of gab!) in County Cork is one of the oldest castles in the country. The Ring of Kerry is a drive that features incredible views of the mountains and the Kerry coast.
And if you like to take in scenery in the form of ruins or old structures, Ireland has that to offer, too. It's a Catholic country and is dotted with gorgeous, ancient Cathedrals and Abbeys that date back centuries. Most are open to the public.
There's also plenty of high-end shopping on Dublin's Grafton Street, which is studded with luxury stores like Burberry, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Brown Thomas and Tiffany & Co.
Is crystal your thing? The city of Waterford is located on the River Suir and is home to the world-famous brand Waterford Crystal. Tours of the factory are available as well as tax-free shopping on the premises.
Ireland is known for its green scenery, but also for it's greens: it's heaven for golfers. Golf resorts are rampant throughout the Emerald Isle and Ireland takes its golf seriously. Adare Manor near Limerick and Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny are three of the most spectacular resort destinations for golf.
Good food, music and craic (the Gaelic word for fun) can be had at many Irish pubs and taverns, including The Pavilian Bar in Cork, O'Donoghue's in Dublin and Tí Joe Watty's in Kilronan. There are also a wealth of whiskey distilleries or breweries to visit if you want to see exactly how the elixirs are made. There's the Jameson Old Whiskey Distillery in Cork, and the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, to name just two.
From comfy family-run B&B's to hostels to camping sites to five-star resorts, there are options. We recommend the luxurious Merrion in Dublin and The Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara. But for the ultimate local experience, some pubs also offer accommodations.