Holly Cave suggests attractions worth visiting in Northern Ireland & the Republic of Ireland.

The Republic Of Ireland

Celtic heritage is alive and well in this beautiful part of the British Isles. With a holiday here, you can expect plenty of laughs, toe-tapping tunes and some awe-inspiring sights.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle dates back to 1240AD.

DUBLIN

It’s the quintessential destination for many of the seven million people visiting Ireland every year. Although a relatively compact city, the country’s capital is the largest urban area and is packed full of attractions, great eating and drinking options, and an often raucous nightlife scene. Start with a stroll along the River Liffey, where numerous low bridges dot the banks.

Cross the famous Victorian Ha’penny Bridge and wander down the cobbled lanes of Temple Bar, lined with drinking dens, street performers and musicians. Take one of the many walking or bus tours available in the city to find out more about its history, from Viking raids to its tricky emergence from British occupation. Enjoy a picnic in leafy Phoenix Park in the warmer months, credited as one of the biggest inner city parks in the world. Must-see spots include Dublin Castle, which dates from 1204 AD. Rebuilt nearly every century since, the buildings here are still very much in use with the State Apartments, Undercroft, Chapel Royal, Craft Shop, Heritage Centre and Restaurant open to the public. Groups must book in advance and can select from a range of guided tours.

A short walk eastwards will bring you to Trinity College. This working university allows visitors inside for tours to explore the Old Library where the Book of Kells is held – famous for pulling Europe out of the Dark Ages. Groups of more than 10 can receive discounted entry, though the site does not take advance bookings. There is also a guided tour.

ROCK OF CASHEL

This fairy tale-like collection of medieval buildings can be spotted from a distance when gazing out across the Plain of Tipperary from their limestone plateau. The unique, ecclesiastical centre thrived during the time of Saint Patrick and features a 12th century round tower, High Cross and Romanesque Chapel, 13th century Gothic cathedral, 15th century castle and the restored Hall of the Vicars Choral. Guided tours are available upon request and groups must pre-book.

CORK & KINSALE

The charming town of Cork – situated towards the south of the country – makes for a picturesque and interesting tour stop. Book a visit to Blarney Castle to accompany the millions of pilgrims who have travelled here to kiss the Blarney Stone, which is alleged to endow the kisser with great eloquence. Groups are advised to get in touch with the attraction in advance.

RockofCashel

The Rock of Cashel can be spotted from a distance.

A 30-minute drive away is the smaller township of Kinsale, known as Ireland’s gastronomic capital. Set on the Bandon Estuary, the seafood served here is fresh and delicious. In milder weather, water sports such as sailing, boat trips to scout for whales and dolphins and to admire the cliff scenery, are very popular. The historic Charles Fort overlooks the pretty harbour. It’s star-shaped grounds can be explored in a one hour guided tour for groups of up to 40.

DINGLE & KILLARNEY

Tucked away in the southwest of Ireland, the wild beauty of this region is entrancing and steeped in Gaelic culture. The lakes and forests of Killarney National Park are popular for outdoor pursuits, such as dancershiking and biking. A short walk from the Killarney brings you to the pretty Torc Waterfall and surrounding footpaths.

On the Dingle Peninsula, head to Slea Head and Inch Beach for some of the area’s best panoramic views. Slea Head Drive is widely regarded as one of the most picturesque roads in the country. The village of Dingle is a great place to enjoy impromptu traditional music performances and some genuine Irish ‘craic.’

At the tip of the peninsula is the Great Blasket Centre – a heritage attraction that offers an intimate look at the language, literature and daily life of a traditional Gaelic Blasket community. The evocative site details the remote community’s struggle for existence until it was sadly abandoned in 1953.

CLIFFS OF MOHER

County Clare coastline is another highlight of the Irish wilderness. Standing more than 200-metres high, the cliffs stand against the Atlantic Ocean’s crashing waves, reaching more than eight kilometres. There are three main viewing platforms, one of which is also the location of O’Brien’s Tower. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Galway Bay and the Aran Islands. From the south platform, visitors can spy on the resident puffins and other seabirds that call the cliffs their home. Smaller groups of 15 or fewer can pre-book a guided nature walk.

Northern Ireland

Many visitors to the Emerald Isle still stick to the Republic, underestimating the appeal of Northern Ireland. But tourism here is on the up and visitors might find themselves surprised by the beauty, culture and attractions featured in this part of the United Kingdom.

BELFAST

A very different city to Dublin, Belfast lies a two hour drive away. The small city of Newry makes the perfect stop between the two. It is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the Mountains of Mourne, a magical landscape said to have inspired C. S. Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia. Stylish shopping abounds beneath Belfast’s Victoria Square, CastleCourt and the House of Fraser. The entertainment and nightlife scene is great fun, with lots of live music venues, trendy bars and plenty of great hotels available. It was in these Belfast dockyards that the Titanic was designed and built, a piece of history recounted in the recognisable Titanic Belfast exhibition.

TitanicQuarter CreditTimFields

Northern Ireland’s Titanic Quarter is home to Titanic Belfast exhibition. TIM FIELDS

The distinctive, modernist building opened on March 31, 2012, just in time for the centenary of the ship’s construction, and is part of a massive regeneration project of the area – turning it into the Titanic Quarter. The museum’s huge structure encloses nine galleries of interactive exhibition space, including the underwater exploration theatre, recreations of the ship’s cabins, temporary exhibitions and a special effects ride to explore how the shipyards would once have looked. Reserved groups of 15 or more receive discounted entrance prices, meet-and-greet on arrival and fast-tracked entry into the exhibition.

DERRY

Derry is Northern Ireland’s second largest city, boasting its own fair share of charms. Many visitors are intrigued by the turbulent history of this place. Walking tours often focus on 1972’s infamous Bloody Sunday, visiting the political murals of Shankill and Falls Road before leading groups along the historic 17th century walls, which offer the best views of the city. The Tower Museum is a popular calling point within the walls. Permanent exhibition – The Story of Derry – recounts the city’s history from Monastic times to the present day, examining the Plantation of Londonderry, the Siege of Derry, through to the growth of the city during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. A drop off and pick-up point for coaches is located a two-minute walk away.

ANTRIM COAST

From Derry, the Causeway Coastal Route traces the most photogenic sights of the Antrim coastline. The area is home to the natural sight of the Giant’s Causeway, consisting of 40,000 basalt columns edging into the sea, left by volcanic eruptions occurring over 60 million years ago. Northern Ireland’s only World Heritage Site has a fantastic Visitor Centre, with coastal walks and bird watching on offer. Special rates apply for groups of more than 15. It’s worth spending around two to three hours here. An audio guide is included in the entrance fee, but guided tours can be booked at extra cost. The Old Bushmills Distillery in the small village of Bushmills is predictably popular. Whisky has been brewed here since 1784, making it the oldest working distillery in Ireland.

Causeway CreditJenniferMorrow

Causeway Coastal Route traces some photogenic sights of Northern Ireland. JENNIFER MORROW

Fascinating guided tours take visitors through the active whisky-making process. Groups of 15 or more can book in advance and qualify for special rates. Knock back some Irish courage and teeter your way across the scenic rope bridge to Carrick-a-Rede Island.

ARMAGH

With its acclaimed Christian heritage, it’s also considered to be the spiritual capital, acting as the seat of both the Church of Ireland and Catholic Archbishops. Ireland’s patron saint – St. Patrick – is said to be buried in the nearby town of Downpatrick, with the cathedrals and churches in Armagh honouring him. St. Patrick founded the church on the Hill of Armagh, where the modest Church of Ireland Cathedral now stands. Two large marble archbishops gaze out across the town from the opposite hillside. They guard the much more dramatic, twin-spired Catholic Cathedral.

TRANSPORT//SHANNONFERRY

ShannonFerry transport visitors across the frequently calm waters of the Shannon Estuary, with regular crossings available throughout the year. Equating to 20 minutes each way, ShannonFerry links the top tourist destinations of Clare and Kerry, offering a further two car ferry services via Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Large vehicles such as coaches and minibuses can travel for as little as €21.25, with foot passengers travelling from €4.25 (reduced rate when booked online). For groups travelling by air, ShannonFerry is conveniently located a short distance from the majority of key airports. To book call +353 65 9053124 or email enquiries@shannonferries.com. For more information visit www.shannonferries.com