Most people associate Ireland with St Patrick’s Day, Guinness and outrageously drunk (but fun) locals. And you’d only be partially right. From beautiful coastlines to the music and arts scene, Ireland is a year-round destination, for so much more than just testing out your liver.
Gwen Jones, STA Travel brochure manager and ex-student of Ireland, has written down the best places to visit in Ireland each month; who better to tell us where to shove our stereotypes and take a ‘proper’ trip to Ireland than someone who lived and breathed the fresh (and slightly chilly) Irish air? No matter what time of year you’re thinking of travelling to Ireland, she’s covered it. Get ready for the real deal, guys.
Forget winter sun. Come to Dingle, freeze your nips off and see in the New Year like you mean it. This tiny town on the west coast of Ireland welcomes what feels like the whole of Ireland on December 31, and crams them all into a myriad of traditional – the uninitiated might say eccentric – pubs. Foxy Johns is part pub, part hardware store, and a pint in Dick Mack’s is served among the leftovers of what was once a shoe and leather business. Join the New Year’s Eve procession in O’Flaherty’s at around 11.30pm and follow the trad band to the town square in time for the countdown. If you get out of bed at all the next day, take a walk along the coast and keep an eye out for Fungi, Dingle’s resident dolphin.
February: Anywhere with a screen
February is never going to show Ireland at its beautiful best. But for committed egg-chasers, it does provide a passionate setting to follow the Six Nations Championship (that’s rugby, if you didn’t know). For some of the strongest emotions, head down to the province of Munster where, in 2010, an Easter fixture between rivals Leinster and Munster led to the lifting of Ireland’s longstanding Good Friday alcohol ban. Limerick became the only place in the country where alcohol could be bought in shops and bars that day – such is the power of Irish Rugby.
p.s. The ban was lifted for good in 2018 so you can now enjoy your Guinness every day of the year.
Why March? Why the heck not. Dublin is hard to beat at any time of year, and while the weather is still a little temperamental, it’s good to have more than a few sheltered spots to fall back on. The National Gallery is an obvious place to start (and the gift shop is a dream), followed by the treasures of the Chester Beatty Library, nestled in the grounds of Dublin Castle and hailed as one of the best museums in Europe. Catch a play at the iconic Abbey Theatre, or go more experimental at Project Arts Centre or Smock Alley. When Mother Nature smiles, take to the grounds of Trinity College or the parks to the south of the river.
April: West Cork
West Cork is hands down one of the most gorgeous pieces of coast we’ve ever seen. Pray for sun in April, and this could be a weekend getaway or a daytrip that will stay with you for a long time. In April 2018, we hired ourselves a car and took to the forest of Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve, an ancient oak woodland with beautiful walking trails. Admittedly, not what we went for. Rather, this was the temporary home of Bosca Beatha, a mobile sauna that makes its way across the region throughout the year. Follow the steam on their Facebook page and follow your own path.
May: Giant’s Causeway
Over the border in Northern Ireland, May is a great time to beat the crowds at one of the UK’s most visited sites. The world-famous basalt columns have given rise to many myths over the years – the name itself comes from the story that the site is the work of Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, who built the causeway out of anger by throwing chunks of the Antrim coast into the sea to go and fight his Scottish rival. The giants aren’t here anymore, but the 60-million-year-old causeway is.
June: Cork City
The real capital of Ireland according to any Corkonian worth their salt. It’s a youthful city which also happily retains its traditional charm thanks to its architecture, pubs and live music scene (October’s Jazz Festival is a riot). A typical day could see you browsing the shops, inspecting the walls of the Crawford Art Gallery (one of our favourites) and foraging for your lunch at the fantastic English Market. If you have a few days to kill, set aside a day to visit nearby Kinsale. From the cute-as-a-button town centre, take a short walk along the coast to the Bulman and enjoy a Guinness with the Kinsalers.
She isn’t called Ireland’s wild child for nothing. From the rugged mountain passes of the interior to the weather-beaten coast, the Atlantic wind breathes life to the scenic county throughout the year. Surfers should head straight to Bundoran, one of Ireland’s best surfing spots and once-host to the European Surfing Championship – prep yourself for heavy reefs and big waves. There’s also the small attraction of the Wild Atlantic Way, which starts in Derry and winds all the way down to the southern coast. Some of the best walks are found on the Inishowen Peninsula, with the added bonus – at times – of seeing the Aurora Borealis herself.
August: Wicklow Mountains
Planning a trip around the weather is not the way to do it in Ireland, but surely some August sunshine isn’t such a big ask? To make the most of this beautiful area, hire yourself a car and take on the Wicklow way, a 129km trail that cuts through the peaks and runs from Dublin’s Marlay Park to Clonegal in Co. Carlow. Head to Glendalough for some of the best scenes in Ireland, and check out the Monastic City – a network of some of the country’s most important monastic sites.
Perhaps the biggest lure here for holiday-ing visitors are the Cliffs of Moher, and recent Septembers have proven mild and bright enough to enjoy them at their best. Plus, there’s the added bonus of thinning crowds – a big cheer for clear photos and no photobombing anoraks! But Irish water babies have another reason to love the area, and it comes in the form of another surfing mecca – Lahinch. September brings mild temperatures, healthy swells from the Atlantic and a fab social atmosphere.
Perhaps Ireland’s most-loved city, pint-sized Galway is a nightlife sweetheart and a real festival head. October sees one of its busiest months as it hosts the city’s annual jazz festival, the Great Fjord Swim, the Bia Bo Finne food festival and the brilliant Comedy Carnival, which last year hosted the likes of Dylan Moran, Gina Yashere, Terry Alderton and Tanyalee Davis. This student hub is boho and it’s bonkers, and you’ll love it a lot.
Again, we’re not talking peak exploring weather here so let’s hop over the border again to the city of Belfast. Far more low-key than its closest capital to the south, the scale of the city’s transformation over the last twenty years or so shouldn’t be overlooked. The city has fantastic shopping (go to Donegall Square and just head north), great nightlife and plenty of live music venues. Head to the grounds of Queen’s University to check out the Ulster Museum and the Botanic Gardens, and set aside an afternoon at least to make your way around the Titanic Centre, voted the world’s leading tourist attraction in 2016.
So this one’s a bit of a gamble (quite literally) but if you’re lucky enough to 1) get a ticket and 2) get clear skies, this could be your most memorable winter solstice ever. Despite its weirdly futuristic surface, Newgrange actually predates the Great Pyramids of Egypt by around 600 years. Underneath you’ll find a Stone Age passage that is so perfectly aligned with the sun that every winter solstice (18-23 Dec), the dawn slowly penetrates it to dramatically light up the entire chamber. Welcome the end of the longest night outside the monument, or enter the draw to be in with a chance of getting yourself a ticket to the main event.
Whether you’re looking for cheap flights to Ireland, adventure tours that’ll show you the highlights, or want to tick off every stop on a roadtrip of Ireland, we’ve got you. Our Ireland travel guide covers everything from hints, tips and handy info, to the nitty gritty travel info.