Ireland is full of fantastic tourist attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry. But we also have plenty of hidden gems which are well worth seeking out. Check out our selection of some of Ireland’s lesser known tourist attractions.
The Fairytale Glen of Knocknarea
In 1903 a journalist described this Co. Sligo spot as “one of the queerest, wildest and most beautiful of glens…. a wondrously romantic freak of nature planted there in a cleft in the rock and walled off from the world.” Close to popular hiking trails, and the supposed grave of Queen Maeve herself, it’s not easy to find but definitely worth the effort. Travel along Glen Road on the southern slope of Knocknarea Mountain, past the turn-off for the Queen Maeve’s Grave car park. Keep your eyes peeled for an old well on the right a little further down the road. Opposite the well is an overgrown steel gate – the entrance to paradise.
Ballycroy National Park & Dark Sky Park
Covering 42 square miles of unspoilt blanket bog and stunning scenery, this wilderness is located between the Nephin Beg Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean in Co. Mayo. The park is an important habitat for lots of different plants, animals and insects. It also provides sanctuary to many species of migrating birds.
This region is also home to the Dark Sky Park, an area of about 100 square miles which borders Ballycroy National Park and the Wild Nephin. Here, you can see thousands of stars along with some of our neighbouring planets and even meteor showers. It’s a visit you won’t forget.
The Aughrus Peninsula, nestled between the villages of Cleggan and Claddaghduff in northwest Connemara, is a paradise of beautiful, deserted beaches and scenic coastal walks. For the perfect desert island scene, try Anchor Beach – if you get lucky with the weather of course. You can even walk (or drive) across Omey Strand at low tide to visit Omey Island – just don’t get stuck there when the tide comes in.
St. Brigit’s Garden
We know St Brigit as one of the patron saints of Ireland, but in a previous incantation Brigit was a Celtic goddess. It is this Celtic Brigit who’s celebrated in these wonderful gardens near Moycullen in Co. Galway. You can walk through the four seasons of the ancient Celtic calendar with the Samhain winter garden, the Imbolc spring garden, the Bealtaine summer garden and the Lughnasa autumn garden. There’s loads more to discover within the 11 acres of woodlands and wildflower meadows, including Ireland’s largest sundial which not only tells the time, but also the date.
The Father Ted Shipwreck
A little further down the coast lie the Aran Islands, well worth a visit in their own right. Our favourite spot on the islands can be found on the smallest of the three, Inisheer. The Plassey shipwreck will be familiar fans of Father Ted, but its sheer size and position on the beach make it fascinating to behold in real life.
Although the Aran Islands are part of Galway, the easiest way to get there is from Doolin in Co. Clare. Doolin Ferries run daily trips to all three islands, plus you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the Cliffs of Moher while you’re at it. Once there, you can hire a bike or take a pony and trap to get you to the shipwreck.
Imprinted in the rocks on Co. Kerry’s Valentia Island are footprints left by an animal who lived 350 million years ago. This amazing piece of history represents a turning point in evolution, when animals began to make the transition from sea to land. Ok, we’ll admit this might not be everyone’s cup of tea so if you’re not big on dinosaurs, or standing around looking at rocks, console yourself with the beautiful surroundings of Valentia Island, one of Ireland’s most westerly points and home to the Skellig Michael Experience.
Sky Garden, Co. Cork
This is one of those things that’s difficult to put into words. You just have to experience it. Created by the artist, James Turrell, this crater in the ground gives a unique view of the world. Simply lie back and let the clouds float past – obviously hoping it doesn’t rain! As the sky garden is set within the grounds of Lissard Estate, you can treat yourself to an overnight in an Irish country manor while you’re there.
Dursey Island Cable Car
Bet you didn’t know you could ride in a cable car in Ireland. The Dursey Island cable car, fifty years old this year, is the most popular means of transport across the Dursey Sound. For a paltry €10 you can enjoy the views from the only cable car in Europe that crosses open sea. While you’re there, spend the day in one of Ireland’s lesser visited islands – you might even spot whales or dolphins swimming in the surrounding waters.
Thanks to our rich heritage, Ireland is full of castles but few are as well preserved as the medieval Cahir Castle in Co. Tipperary. It’s situated on a rocky island in the middle of the River Suir in picturesque Cahir town. You could easily spend a few fascinating hours touring the castle grounds and immersing yourself in the history of the time. While you’re there, make sure to visit the very quirky Inch Field Sculpture Trail next door.
This corner of Wexford is far removed from the crowds who travel to the more accessible parts of the county – and it’s packed with interesting things to do. Our favourites are the Hook Head Lighthouse and Ireland’s most haunted house, the very creepy looking Loftus Hall. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy the finest weather Ireland has to offer in the sunny south-east.
Hook Head Lighthouse is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. Climb to the balcony for spectacular views and hear about its 800 years of history while you’re at it. If you’re brave enough, spend the night at the nearby Loftus Hall afterwards for a creepy paranormal experience.
Victor’s Way Indian Sculpture Park
This fascinating park is intended as a quiet space for contemplation and meditation – so best avoid if you’re looking for somewhere to let the kids run wild. But if it’s quirky surroundings and space to breathe that you’re after, this spot will likely appeal to you. Over 22 acres you can view 14 statues, including regular Hindu deities like Ganesh and Shiva, plus some more leftfield sculptures, like the skeleton Buddha.
The Hell Fire Club
Well known to locals for its legends of satanic worship and its spectacular views of Dublin City, this 18th Century hunting lodge on Montpelier Hill in Co. Dublin is a bit of a climb, but you’ll be rewarded when you get there. Stories of an appearance by the devil make the dark and run-down house seem all the more spooky. It’s surrounded by forests so why not bring a picnic and make a day of it.
Little Museum of Dublin
This unusual museum, located on St. Stephen’s Green in the centre of Dublin City, tells the story of the Irish capital. Launched in 2011 with a public appeal for historic objects that generated a huge response from the Irish public, it has over 5,000 items on display. Be warned though, it really is a little museum and during busy periods, you might be disappointed. You can avoid this by buying your tickets online.
Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island is definitely worth a visit. It’s location at one of the most Northerly points in Ireland has ensured a rich cultural heritage. There’s also a wide range of wildlife – including puffins, who come there to breed. Dolphins and seals also visit the island. For a relaxed holiday set against a background of dramatic coastal scenery, take the ferry from Ballycastle and stay in one of the island’s guesthouses.
Sliabh Liag Cliffs
These cliffs are more majestic and imposing than the Cliffs of Moher, but their location makes them a lesser visited poorer cousin. However, other people’s loss can be your gain. They’re located west of Killybegs, Co. Donegal, in an area that’s visited by dolphins and sea eagles. Thanks to a strategic development project, works have been ongoing in recent years to improve parking facilities, build a visitors’ centre and protect the surrounding area from increasing numbers of visitors. Go soon before it gets too crowded!
Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark
There’s two incredible finds in one handy location at this unique park in Co. Fermanagh. Under the mountain, the caves, which are among the finest in Europe, offer a glimpse of an underground world. Rivers and waterfalls flow through huge chambers of stunning beauty. Above ground, you can climb to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain by way of a boardwalk, specially constructed to protect the underlying blanket bog. The final ascent is not for the faint-hearted but the viewing platform offers amazing views for those who dare.
We hope you can make time to visit some of these wonderful places in Ireland. If you have any hidden gems to share with us, please let us know in the comments below. We’re always looking for new and interesting sights.