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According to Failte Ireland, Ireland’s national tourism agency, just over 1.2m American tourists, out of a total of 8m overseas visitors, came to Ireland in 2015 to experience some of the absolute must-see places to visit, of which Ireland has an abundance.
Yes, it’s very evident that with 15% of all of Ireland’s overseas visitors in 2015 made up of American citizens, there’s still something incredibly alluring and appealing about Ireland, for US citizens and people from all over the world alike who are planning a luxury tour of ireland:
Culture & heritage, museums, castles & gardens, amazing rugged natural scenery from Kerry to Donegal, Guinness and Irish Whiskey, history & genealogy, music and theatre…
Ireland offers a rich tapestry when it comes to things to do and see. But what’s more, all of its many attractions are incredibly unique and bound in Irish culture, which is perhaps the over-riding reason why this small yet incredibly vibrant and culturally rich country holds such great mystique and intrigue for US visitors; in particular those coming in search of their roots by seeking out genealogical links to Ireland, dating back to previous generations.
But there are so many different things which appeal to the senses of visitors, when it comes to Ireland. On so many different levels and in so many diverse ways, it is simply one of the most culturally rich and unique countries in the world.
It’s not surprising then that Ireland is blessed with an abundance of wonderful, unique and exciting places to visit, some paid for, others wonderful natural scenic sites which literally take the breath away and leave you with wonderful photographic memories that can take you back years after you’ve returned.
Our top 20 official best places to visit in Ireland
To give you the perfect balance of what’s good and great about Ireland, we’ve split the top 20 things to do in Ireland into two handy lists; the first one showcases the official top 10 paid for attractions in Ireland, whilst the second one highlights the top 10 free attractions in Ireland – both according to the most recent official data compiled by Failte Ireland relating to 2015:
The top 10 paid for attractions to visit in Ireland
1. Guinness Storehouse
Any trip to Ireland would simply not be complete without a trip to the iconic brewery which is the symbol of Ireland right across the world. Here at the home of the black stuff, you can learn all about the Guinness story. With 7 floors of incredible, interactive experiences, and a pint of Guinness when you reach the top, it’s little wonder this is Ireland’s top visitor attraction.
Ireland’s most visited natural attraction with up to 1m visitors per annum, the Cliffs of Moher are simply breathtaking and an unmissable experience for all visitors to Ireland. Standing over 200m (700ft) at their highest point, and stretching for 5 miles along the Atlantic Coast, there is no better vantage point from which to view the West Coast of Ireland.
3. Dublin Zoo
Every city has a zoo but located as it is in the wonderful surrounds of Dublin’s Phoenix Park, the largest park in Europe, it is one of the World’s oldest and most popular zoos. With over 1m visitors each year, it is the perfect day out for the family!
Winner of the “best leisure facility in Ireland” award in 2014 and 2015, this is one of the world’s largest indoor water centres. It is home to “Aquazone”, Ireland’s largest and most popular water park, so if it’s indoor you’re after, this is a must.
Housed in Trinity College Dublin, the world renowned Book of Kells exhibition offers visitors the unique opportunity to see one of the most famous and important books in the world. Take a walk through the wonderful, meandering cobble stones areas and stroll back in time to get a feel for what life was like in Ireland back in the 1700s, when the library which houses this book was constructed.
6. Tayto Park
You may have heard of Tayto Crisps (Chips!)? If not, suffice to say they’re iconic. You’ll see them everywhere you go in Ireland and you simply have to try them! Anyway, the most famous crisps, as they are called in Ireland, have now also built Ireland’s most famous theme park, which contains Europe’s largest wooden rollercoaster. If it’s an exhilarating experience you’re after (as well as some crisps!) this is simply not to be missed.
Ever since St Patrick first baptised Christian converts nearby over 1500 years ago, this site has been a place of spiritual wonder. Learn all about the incredible history of the city, as seen through the eyes of this incredible site, and you will learn more than you can ever imagine about Dublin, its history, and its people.
With almost half a million visitors annually, Fota Wildlife Park is a must see attraction when visiting Cork. Located on 100 acres at Fota Island, the park opened in 1983 and is now one of the most important and well known visitor attractions in Cork. A truly unique experience and an absolute must for families!
Built over 600 years ago, Blarney Castle is an iconic Irish visitor attraction and one which visitors to Cork feel they simply have to visit. Perhaps that has something to do with kissing the Blarney Stone?! Kiss it and you’ll never again be lost for words!
This is an experience that will show you everything you ever need to know about Irish culture and heritage. Comprising of a castle dating back to the 15th century, a 19th century folk park that allows you to travel back in time and experience the scents, sights and sounds of Ireland way-back-when, this is an experience that will stay with you forever.
The top 10 free places to visit in Ireland
The national gallery of Ireland is located in the heart of Dublin city and holds the national collection of European and Irish fine art. For art lovers, this is a treasure trove of wonders and something that is not to be missed on a visit to Dublin.
Located just 2 miles from Dublin, the national botanic garden offer visitors to Dublin a chance to experience beauty, peace, relaxation and tranquillity, far from the maddening crowd of the city. The gardens also contain the national herbarium as well as several wrought iron glasshouses which are of historical importance. Admission is free, so this offers the perfect relaxation experience on a busy visitor itinerary!
The IMMA is the national is the home of the national collection of modern and contemporary art, ensuring that it is accessible to everyone. Housed in the magnificent Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Ireland’s most stunning 17th century building, this is so much more than just an art museum – it’s an architectural experience that’s not to be missed. With over 400,000 visitors every year, this is an incredibly popular cultural experience for visitors to Ireland.
4. National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology
Located on Kildare Street, right in the heart of Dublin city centre, this is an incredible cultural and historic experience for visitors looking to gain a better understanding of Ireland’s heritage and culture. With an incredible array of artefacts, dating from 2000 BC right up to the 20th century, this is a museum that will leave you fascinated and enthralled.
5. Doneraile Wildlife Park, Cork
Perhaps a less well known attraction, this wildlife park in Cork is a real treat and a hidden gem amongst Ireland’s array of wonderful free to access attractions. The park comprises 166 hectares and is an outstanding example of an 18th century landscaped park. With pet farms, walking trails, wildlife and tea rooms, this is a heritage park that is really well worth exploring.
Once owned by the Guinness family, and purchased by the Irish government in 1999, this stunning Georgian house has been fully restored to its former glory. Used as the premier accommodation for visiting dignatories and guests of the Irish state, it is also a wonderful place to visit located as it is on a 78 acre site at Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
Unlike most galleries, the Science gallery does not have a permanent exhibition but it is truly a world first within its sphere; a space where science is opened up to everyone, and everyone can have their say. Opened in 2008, over 2 million visitors have now experienced 36 unique exhibitions, ranging from living art experiments to the future of the human race. If different is what you are after, this is where you need to go.
The Newbridge Silverware museum of style icons hosts numerous collections and artefacts relating to global film and screen stars including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Grace, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson….the list goes on. Suffice to say, if celebrity and fashion are your interests, you will love this place!
Described by Lonely planet as “not just the best museum in Dublin but one of the best museums in Europe”, this is simply a must on any list of things to do and places to see in Dublin. The only museum in Ireland to win the coveted “European museum of the year” award, the library holds a vast array of artistic collections from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Suffice to say, if art and culture are your interests, this is your treasure trove!
Also known as the “Dead Zoo”, the museum’s 10,000 exhibits provide a glimpse of the natural world that has enthralled visitors since it first opened its doors in 1857. With an exhibit showcasing animals native to Ireland, a collection dedicated to the mammals of the world, a discovery zone for interactive museum and many other natural history delights, put this on your to do list when coming to Dublin.
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