Ireland: A land of breathtaking experiences

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From the rugged Atlantic coastline of Donegal and the mysterious mountains of Mayo, to the unique columns of the Giant's Causeway and the lush green meadows of Wicklow, Ireland is a land of alluring contrasts. But there's more to Ireland than remarkable scenery. The culture, the history, and the people make it an exceptional place for a holiday too. Visit a cosy pub and you'll have new friends before you know it. Ask for directions in the street and you'll be invited back for tea. You'll feel like a local from the moment you arrive, and you'll leave invigorated and fulfilled, with an Irish jig in your step.

Visit picture perfect towns and villages

What's the most beautiful town or village in Ireland? The choice is huge! The candy-coloured fishing towns of Kinsale and Cobh, in County Cork, will captivate you. And the pretty riverside town of Ennis, in County Clare, known for its dedication to traditional Irish music, will cause your heart to miss a beat. Then there's idyllic Westport, in County Mayo, and delightful Dingle, in County Kerry. And Kenmare, and Killarney, and Kilkenny … the list goes on and on.

Experience unique history

Modern-day Ireland is wrapped in layers of history. Travel far back in time to the World Heritage-listed Brú na Bóinne, in County Meath. It's dominated by three Stone Age tombs, built in a bend of the River Boyne. The most famous, Newgrange, is around 5,200 year old. This makes it older than Stonehenge. Meanwhile, in County Tipperary, you can find the Rock of Cashel. According to legend St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, converted a 5th century Irish king to Christianity here. You can discover more fascinating tales relating to Ireland's history in the world's most famous medieval manuscript, the Book of Kells. Find it at Trinity College, in the vibrant city of Dublin.

Sleep the night in an Irish castle

For an unforgettable stay, consider laying your head in a fairytale fortress. There are roughly 3,000 castles and castle ruins across Ireland, and you can be prince or a princess for the night, soaking up an atmosphere that dates back to folklored medieval times. One of the most luxurious is the 800-year-old Ashford Castle. It's set within 350 acres of ancient woodland in County Mayo. For something completely different, you can learn to fly a hawk in the castle's Falconry School. Another turreted standout is Dromoland Castle, in County Clare. It was once the royal seat of the O'Brien clan, who were descendants of the Irish King, Brian Boru. These and many more meticulously restored landmarks are also a way to immerse yourself in spectacular countryside and seek out stories from friendly locals.

Indulge in a traditional meal

Step into almost any pub, café, or one of Ireland's fabulous restaurants and you'll be met with a warm welcome – and often some traditional Irish food. Fuel up on a full Irish 'fry up' breakfast served with a chunk of soda bread. For lunch you can't go past a bowl of authentic Irish stew or a hearty hotpot traditionally made with mutton or lamb, onions and potatoes. Shellfish is a delectable choice for feasting on in the evening. Juicy oysters, clams, mussels and prawns all have their moment to shine at different times of year. Extend the dining discoveries with a visit to Galway International Oyster Seafood Festival and the Dublin Prawn Festival.

Enjoy the lively pub culture

Pull up a seat in one of Ireland's 7,000 spirited pubs and you'll soon be immersed in a world of real Irish culture and time-honoured live music. Did someone mention Guinness? Sip a pint alongside the convivial locals in one of Europe's oldest drinking establishments such as Seán's Bar, in Athlone, central Ireland. It dates back to 900AD. Have another tipple and join in a singsong at Mulligan's, a quirky Dublin pub, once frequented by Joyce and John F. Kennedy. Heading to Belfast? Don't walk past the magical Crown Liquor Saloon, a former Victorian gin palace known for its etched glass windows and eccentric columns. Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, a hotbed for both live music and cosy, intimate bars, is also a place to marvel at street art. Enjoy this cultural experience after a whiskey tasting, perhaps?

Bring to life the Game of Thrones

Why not theme your holiday by delving into a medieval fantasy world of knights and renegades, castles and kings? Many of the scenes of the famous television series, Game of Thrones, were filmed in Northern Ireland. One place of note is Castle Ward, a National Trust mansion in County Down. Its historic farmyard was the location of Winterfell, the home of the Stark family. Fans can dress up in character costumes and sharpen their skills on a replica of the Winterfell archery range. And, you can visit many of the scenic backdrops on a cycle ride with Winterfell Tours through forests, moorlands and rugged coastlines.

Make time for some sport

Sport is big in Ireland, and the traditional games of hurling and Gaelic football are played in stadiums and parks across the country. The final of All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship is held in August, and the final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is in September. Both take place in Croke Park, Dublin. The atmosphere is electric. Ireland is famous for other sports too, including rugby union, horse racing and golf. The original golf major, The 148th Open, Royal Portrush, will be held at the Royal Portrush Golf Club, in Northern Ireland, in July 2019. The Open is one of the largest golf Championships in the world and well worth purchasing tickets to. Visit TheOpen.com

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