Ireland is a land of old-time charm, bucolic vistas and sheep--lots of sheep. It's a wonderful country of beautiful natural areas, quaint towns and pubs filled with joyful, friendly locals and delicious food. In order to get the most out of your visit, though, it's best to know what you need to see and what you can skip.
Here are five adventures you shouldn't miss when you travel to Ireland:
Explore Temple Bar in Dublin
Temple Bar is--confusingly--a neighborhood, not a "bar" in the American sense. That said, you won't have a hard time finding a drink: the district is a hot spot for art, people watching and pub hopping. Located on the south bank of the River Liffey, Temple Bar is best known as Dublin's cultural quarter where locals and tourists go for nightlife and fun. Begin your adventure with a stop by the Temple Bar Pub, one of the most famous and oldest pubs in Ireland, which dates back to 1599, when Sir William Temple, a renowned teacher and philosopher, built his house and gardens on the newly reclaimed land.
After enjoying a proper Irish libation (Tip: Try Murphy's if you want to taste the locals' version of Guinness), take a walk over to Temple Bar Square for some first-rate entertainment. It's here where many pub patrons' paths converge and local musicians vie for attention. Make sure you keep your eye out for artwork en route, as the neighborhood is full of some of the city's best murals. Once you've had your fill of frivolity, make a quick left towards the Ha'penny Bridge to enjoy a quiet moment soaking in views of the river.
Take a Trip Down South to Cork
Cork, a growing metropolis located in southwestern Ireland, is a must-see for those traveling through Ireland, especially via bike! Take a spin down St. Patrick's Street, Cork's main drag. Here you'll find the city's largest shopping thoroughfare as well as some of Cork's most beautiful architecture.
After a long day's ride, head to the English Market, a quaint indoor farmer's market-style dining hall that has housed vendors selling fresh fish, organic produce and artisan products (including handmade soap and tea) since the 18th century. Stretch your legs after your midday meal with a spin along the River Lee or, if you'd rather digest in a more relaxed posture, head to nearby Bishop Lucey Park for a nap. This park is also the place to exercise your mind by talking some politics with the locals (Tip: Head for the red People's Republic of Cork sign located in front of the southeastern corner of the park to meet the best politicos).
Make Pub Friends in Kenmare
Pubs are at the heart of Irish culture. They serve as gathering places where entire towns catch up, relay important gossip and celebrate life. Among the best is Crowley's Bar in the small town of Kenmare. The pub's rustic charm and welcoming locals are truly delightful no matter the time of year. Not to mention that Crowley's serves one of the best pints of Guinness in town!
If you're in a more musical mood, head around the corner to PF McCarthy's, one of Kenmare's oldest and most-loved bars and restaurants. Over the years, PFs has earned a reputation as one of the town's best music venues. On any given night, you can find a mixture of musicians from around the area and beyond who offer a variety of styles ranging from traditional Irish sessions (aka "Trad" music) to contemporary rock to original compositions. Whatever you fancy, grab a pint, make yourself comfortable and enjoy!
Eat Tide-to-Table in Kinsale
Most don't think of Ireland as a culinary hub. While this may have once been true, the times of lackluster meat and potato dishes are far in the past, as modern-day Irish chefs are bringing new flair to their cuisine using the bountiful resources of the nearby sea.
In Kinsale, a hub of aquaculture, you can clearly see the effects of this new "tide-to-table" movement, as numerous mussel farms float in bays throughout the region. Meanwhile, the cultivation of scallops and oysters, as well as fishing for cod, bass and flounder, have become main features of Ireland's economy. Suffice it to say, get your bib on and bring your appetite if you're a fish'n'chips fan!
Soak Up Some Greenery
If the urban hustle and bustle isn't your cup of tea, head north and west to the Galway area for some dramatic natural vistas. Up there you'll find the famous Cliffs of Moher. Now officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these impressive cliffs rise more than 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and are the signature point of the Wild Atlantic Way tourist trail.
If you're more of a sporting lad, take to one of the amazing golf links in the area. Connemara Golf Club and Galway Bay Golf Club are two classic courses, both of which are well worth the price of admission. Or if you prefer to hike through the highlands without clubs in hand, head to Connemara National Park, one of only six national parks in the Republic of Ireland. This beautiful park features a combination of craggy mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and forests. Just remember to pack a rain jacket any time of year!
Itching to get over to the Emerald Isle? Say no more! Backroads has four trips to Ireland, with plenty of room to customize. Check them out here!