Holidays in Ireland: The best places to visit on the Island of Ireland

The island of Ireland is well known for its fun atmosphere but there is so much more to it, many castles steeped in history, stunning coastlines and many super cute towns and villages filled with friendly locals and authentic experiences. 

A good place to start your journey is in Dublin for a taste of the modern with a dose of the historical, then figure out your route from there. Not to forget Northern Ireland, home to bustling Belfast and the backdrop of the show Game of Thrones, both countries are within easy reach with a short flight or ferry ride

Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway with friends, romantic coastal adventures, fun festivals or city breaks, we’ve got great tips and tricks for holidays in Ireland as well as the deals to get you there.

Getting to the island of Ireland has never been easier! Since the 6th of March, the Republic of Ireland has dropped all Covid restrictions. Visitors will no longer need to fill in a Passenger Locator Form, show proof of vaccination, proof of recovery or a negative PCR test result upon arrival.

Travellers arriving from overseas to Northern Ireland via Irish ports or airports still need to comply with UK travel requirements, including completing a UK Passenger Locator Form.

Plus, the island of Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area, which is an open borders area with the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. If you are a citizen of one of those countries you are able to travel freely between them, as well as live, work and study!

How to get to Ireland

By plane

Travelling to Ireland by plane is the cheapest way. There are also plenty of routes from Great Britain, as well as internal flights from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.

Here are all the possible routes and airlines that you can fly with:

Northern Ireland

  • Flying to Belfast: easyJet, Loganair (from Scotland and Teesside), Aer Lingus, BA and Eastern Airways

  • Flying to Derry~Londonderry: Loganair (from London, Liverpool and Scotland) and Ryanair (from Manchester only)

Republic of Ireland

  • Flying to Dublin: Aer Lingus, Aurigny (from Guernsey), Blue Islands (from Jersey), British Airways, Eastern Airways (from Southampton), Loganair (from Aberdeen, Inverness and Teesside) and Ryanair

  • Flying to the Wild Atlantic Way: Knock, Shannon, and Cork: fly with Aer Lingus or Ryanair; Kerry: fly with Ryanair (from Manchester and London)

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: Aer Lingus, the former state-owned airline, is now part of the same group as BA, so if you’re looking to earn or use AVIOS points, then Aer Lingus might be your preferred option.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: One of the fastest and easiest ways of getting from the airport to your hotel is to take an Aircoach which runs every 15 mins from outside Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. A single adult ticket costs €7.00 but recommend buying a return ticket for €8.00 to the city centre. You can buy your tickets here.

By Ferry

Going by ferry and taking your car can be a great option for those looking to tour the Island of Ireland by car. It can also be a great way to save some extra money if you are travelling as a family. To give you an example of the savings, we’ve crunched the numbers for a family holiday this Easter:

A family of four would pay £354 return altogether (including the car) travelling from Wales to Dublin 15-18 April 2022 with Irish Ferries. Flying in with Ryanair (based on similar arrival/departure times) would cost £492 total for a family of four. Plus, you’ve got to consider that you’ve got to take a bus or taxi from Dublin airport, as it’s not connected via train if you don’t want to rent a car. So, for a family, a ferry trip can be well worth it – in this case it’s a saving of over £100!

There are several ferry options: you can choose a fast ferry or slow ferry, travel by foot or as a car passenger to Dublin and Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland, or Larne and Belfast in Northern Ireland.

There are also several ferry companies to look at:

Irish Ferries

Irish Ferries runs services between Pembroke in Wales to Rosslare on Ireland's southeast coast, and between Holyhead in Wales to Dublin Port.

There’s also a faster service, Dublin Swift, on the Holyhead to Dublin route, which takes 2 hours. Please be aware that during the winter months, and when the weather is rough, the fast connections might be cancelled, and you’ll be put on the next slower crossing.

For more information and for online bookings, click here.

Stena Line

Stena Line runs ferry services from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin Port, from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare in southeast Ireland, from Liverpool in England to Belfast, and from Cairnryan in Scotland to Belfast. They’ve got a low-fares finder, which is handy, and they also offer ferry tickets in combination with train or coach travel.

For more information and to book online, click here.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: You can also combine your ferry ticket with a train ticket (Sail&Rail) if you’re planning to get around via train.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: You can even use Tesco tokens in the purchase path.

P&O

Offering frequent crossings between Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland (can go by foot or with car), as well as between Liverpool and Dublin (you’ll need to book in with car).

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: Two meals are included in the Liverpool-Dublin crossing.

For more information and to book online, click here.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

These ferries connect Douglas on the Isle of Man to Dublin and Belfast – you can book in as foot passenger or bring a car, motorcycle or camper van. The Belfast ferry comes into Albert Quay, where you can get a bus to the city centre. The Dublin ferry comes into Port Dublin, outside of Dublin.

For more information, click here.

How to get around Ireland without a car

While a trip around Ireland is easiest with a car, you can totally do an Ireland trip without renting a car – there are plenty of options to go via train or bus, it just needs a little ahead-planning.

Republic of Ireland

Rail transport in Ireland is provided by Irish Rail, Iarnród Éireann. Currently, no airport in Ireland is connected to the rail system, although Kerry airport and Belfast City Airport are within walking distance to a rail station.

There are a few rail tickets that can save you some money in case you’re planning to use public transport to get around:

Irish Rail offers three travel cards that can save you some money when you’re there.

  • Trekker Pass – €110 (£92): unlimited four-day ticket for adults travelling in the Republic of Ireland, available at ticket counters, not online

  • Explorer – adults €160 (£134) and children €80 (£67): five days of unlimited travel out of 15 consecutive days of travel within the Republic of Ireland, available at ticket counters, not online

  • Leap Card – the best value for Dublin sightseeing combined with visiting other parts of Ireland, you’ll get discounted unlimited travel for 1, 3, or 7 days on Irish Rail, DART, Luas, Dublin Bus, Airlink airport bus services

If you prefer bus travel over train travel, check out the national bus company, Bus Éireann which takes you to pretty much every corner of the country. Although, if you want to access rural or remote areas, you’ll need to plan ahead as frequency in service via public transport isn’t a given.

Northern Ireland

Translink NI Railways provides train and bus services across Northern Ireland. There are train connections between Belfast and Bangor, Larne Harbour, Coleraine and Londonderry, Portadown to Newry. The bus network is extensive, although same here – if you want to access rural or remote areas it’s best to plan ahead as the frequency in servicing these areas via public transport isn’t great.

If you’re planning to do some sightseeing in Belfast, for example, make sure to use travel cards like the Belfast visitor pass. Adults can make unlimited use of the Metro & Glider, Ulsterbus, NI Rail zone 1 and Airport bus from just £6.

There’s also the Sunday Day tracker ticket: £8 for adults, £4 for children, with unlimited rail travel on a Sunday.

Renting a car in Ireland

Hiring a car is perhaps the easiest way to explore rural and remote areas across the Island of Ireland. We’ve made an overview of prices per day from the top five locations for renting a car this spring to give you an insight of where it’s cheapest to go from.

Also check out our tips on car rental here.

A closer look at Dublin: the best things to do

Where to eat like a local: Dublin’s best restaurants

If you only have a day or two to spend in the city, we recommend booking one of the highly rated food tours, led by local guides, which will give you a sampling of the best Dublin has to offer. If you can’t squeeze in a food tour or would rather venture out on your own, we recommend a stop at Queen of Tarts for a traditional full Irish breakfast and a slice of one of their signature cakes.

An excellent midday stop is The Pepper Pot, which offers up made-to-order sandwiches on slices of thick bread and an above-average afternoon tea. For upscale dishes featuring ingredients from all across Ireland, splash out on dinner at Michelin-starred Chapter One.

Where to drink your fill: Dublin’s best bars

It wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without indulging in a rich stout or a smooth whiskey in a local pub. In Dublin you’ll have your pick of hundreds of drinking establishments, all with their own special brand of Irish cheer.

We recommend skipping out on overcrowded Temple Bar and exploring places like The Palace Bar, a nearby favourite amongst locals, best known for their impressive whiskey selection. For a glimpse into the past, check out The Long Hall, a richly decorated Victorian-era pub, or pop into The Cobblestone for live music and excellent Guinness in rustic interiors. If you’re feeling peckish, nip into Grogan’s Castle Lounge for a toastie and a pint between meals.

Read more about food and drink in Ireland here.

Where to wander the cobbled streets: Dublin’s best neighbourhoods

For a leisurely look at the city, we recommend a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green, where you can admire beautiful red-brick buildings, stop for a rest in neat little neighbourhood parks, and have a bite to eat in local eateries before hopping over to Trinity College or one of the many nearby museums.

A bit further afield are areas like Howth and Dalkey, coastal villages that function as the quasi-suburbs of Dublin while retain an independent community feeling. They are both easy to reach from the city centre, and offer an opportunity for long walks with sea views, stops in cozy cafes and shops, and fresh-from-the-ocean seafood.

Where to step into history: Dublin’s best museums and sights

Dublin has a wealth of museums to choose from. For those with particular proclivities, stopping in at the Irish Whiskey Museum or Dublin Writers Museum will give a more in-depth look at these particular facets of Irish culture. Prices for a tour at the Whiskey Museum range from £17 - £25 depending on which tour you'd like to take. They have a few options, including the classic tour and a whiskey blending tour. Book tickets here.

Outside the museums, a trip to Trinity College is a must. For something a bit more off-the-beaten-path, seek out The Hungry Tree by Constitution Hill or the larger-than-life graffiti at the Tivoli Theatre Car Park.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate tip: A great way to view Dublin is from a hop on, hop off city bus tour. Tickets start from €27 (£26) for adults and €10 (£8.50) for children. Pirates will receive a special 10% discount on either the 24 hour or 48 hour hop on, hop off tour. Just use the promo code “pirates” when you go to buy your tickets.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate tip: If you're looking for a fun experience in Dublin, we can recommend The Irish House Party, which has been voted one of the top ten things to do in Dublin. The Irish House Party showcases live traditional Irish music and Irish dancing. Tickets start from €25 (£21) for the show, or have dinner with your show from €52.50 (£44) per person. Pirates will receive a 30% discount on the dinner and show tickets with promo code "HolidayPirates”.

Book flights to Dublin. Press the Green Button.

Belfast: everything you need to know for a fun city break to Northern Ireland's capital

When to visit & where to stay

A great time to visit Belfast is Spring to Autumn, with May and September less crowded but still warm enough to enjoy any outside attractions.

We recommend staying somewhere in the Cathedral Quarter as you will be located in the heart of the city without spending too much time on public transport to get around. Another great place to stay is in the Titanic Quarter, where you can experience Belfast’s new hotels right on the waterfront.

How to reach Belfast & get around

The capital city of Belfast is located around a 30-minute drive from the airport and there is also George Best Belfast City Airport which is closer and only flies between the UK.

The easiest way to get around Belfast is on foot, however, there is also a public bike rental scheme, buses and taxis.

Another great way to see the city is by taking a Black Cab Tour. Travel around Belfast in a black cab with seasoned cab drivers who double as your tour guide. Learn about Belfast's interesting history and get tips about how to spend your time in the city.

Where to go: fun activities from museums to local markets

Belfast is a modern city full of super-friendly locals who know how to have a good time. The city is also full of history, so if you love great architecture and history, we can really recommend this city, places of interest include the Grand Opera House, City Hall and St. Anne’s Cathedral.

You will also find an arts and cultural centre and a range of museums including the Ulster Museum, HMS Caroline, The Mac and the awesome Titanic Belfast (tickets cost £21.50 for adults, children £10).

Check out this The Titanic Experience with SS Nomadic tour here.

Where to eat and drink: Belfast's culinary & bar scene

Belfast offers a top dining scene, and you simply can’t visit Belfast without heading to a fish and chip shop where you should try a ‘Belfast pastie’ which is sausage meat and potato fried into a patty. Seafood is becoming more popular in Belfast, and we can recommend Mourne Seafood Bar where you can enjoy local fish and shellfish, including oysters. If you want to really treat yourself, you will also find three Michelin-starred restaurants: OX, The Muddlers Club and Eipic.

There are many cocktails bars and, of course, many traditional Irish bars, we recommend enjoying a drink in the Crown Liquor Saloon one of Belfast's most historic pubs, as well as the Sunflower Pub and the Dirty Onion to experience some live music.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: There are many free attractions to keep costs down even more. Some places that are free to enter include the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens. Enjoy a walk around the city looking and see some really cool street art or head to St. George’s Market on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday where you will find food stalls selling farm-fresh ingredients or enjoy some delicious and affordable street food.

How to experience Belfast's music scene

Don't forget to check out Belfast's bustling music scene while you're there! The city was awarded the prestigious City of Music status from UNESCO in 2021! And it's no wonder why as the city has an impressive list of artists who made their start in Belfast, which includes Van Morrison, Two Door Cinema Club and Snow Patrol to name a few. From Celtic and jazz to electronica and rock ‘n' roll, the city continues to attract music artists and fans alike.

Tourists who are interested in hearing some traditional music while in Belfast should follow the Traditional Music Trail.

You can also add these music venues and pubs to your list of places to visit on your holiday:

  • Dirty Onion Bar - located in the Cathedral Quarter, you'll be able to hear traditional music here

  • Cultúrlann - a hub for the arts and Irish language in West Belfast, this centre blends traditional music with contemporary

  • Oh Yeah Music Centre - besides celebrating the city’s past with music exhibitions and talks from lyrical legends, the Oh Yeah Music Centre also features new artists

  • SSE Arena - located within the Titanic Quarter, music lovers can expect to see huge international acts at this large venue

  • Empire Music Hall Belfast - offers a mixture of live music and comedy acts

  • Ulster Hall - this iconic music venue is where Led Zeppelin played Stairway to Heaven for the first time

Find cheap flights to Belfast. Press the Green Button.

Coastal adventures

While Dublin attracts crowds of city break seekers with its busy streets packed to the gills with pubs, restaurants, and cafes, we think the small towns and villages deserve just as much attention, if not more.

The island of Ireland is home to beautiful coastlines, and quaint villages that offer their own unique adventures. For those looking for a self-driving tour around Ireland, we suggest taking these great road trips. You can choose to do a small part of one or ride the whole way, it’s up to you!

The Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way, which is the more than 1,500 miles of driveable Atlantic coastline that stretches from the breathtaking cliffs of Donegal in the north to the serene ultramarine waters of Kinsale in the south.

Choose a short section to complete over a few days or a week, like the impressive series of beaches between Donegal and Erris, known to attract surfers. It is not what some people might associate with a typical beach holiday, but beautiful and impressive nonetheless. For a leisurely trip down the entire route with plenty of time for cliffside picnics, overnight stays in cosy coastal towns, and excursions to ancient ruins along the way, it’s best to give yourself a month or more to make the entire journey.

Spend a couple of days seaside in Kinsale, a town in County Cork best known for its colourful buildings and super fresh seafood. Watch surfers ride the waves outside Lahinch, in County Clare, before heading out for an evening of bar-hopping. Feel transported back in time as you admire the thatched cottages of Adare in County Limerick. The small towns of Ireland are many and each has its own special flavour—they are not to be missed.

The Cliffs of Moher

We also recommend adding The Cliffs of Moher to your itinerary. Located in County Clare, the UNESCO Heritage site features massive sea cliffs that are an impressive 214 metres tall. On a good weather day, you’ll be able to spot the Aran Islands in the distance. Tickets cost €7.00 for adults, and children 12 and under are free. You can book your ticket here.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: For the best rates, be sure to book online. We recommend visit outside of peak times (which are between 11– 4) to avoid large crowds. Of course, we imagine visiting during sunrise or sunset would be especially magical.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: For those who are wishing to travel the Wild Atlantic Way or visit The Cliffs of Moher by Bus, we recommend taking Bus Éireann which has a route from Galway to Ennis that stops at The Cliffs of Moher. During the summer, Route 350 travels along the scenic Wild Atlantic Way six times a day. You can view the bus timetable here. A single adult ticket from Galway to The Cliffs of Moher costs €17, and a return ticket costs €25.

Other not-to-be-missed road trip routes

Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is a gorgeous path that begins and ends in Killarney, passing through Killarney National Park in country Kerry. If you’re looking for colourful and quaint villages to visit on the way, we recommend stopping at Sneem, Kenmare and Waterville. Along the way, there’s plenty of stunning scenery and beaches to see, including Ladies View at the Lakes of Killarney or the white sands of Derrynane, Rossbeigh and St Finian's Bay.

Causeway Coastal Route

Located in Northern Ireland, this costal route stretches from Belfast to Derry~Londonderry and passes some pretty spectacular sights along the way, including Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and Titanic Belfast.

As the route connects with the Wild Atlantic Way at Muff in Donegal, you can combine the two for a truly epic tour of the island of Ireland. If you want to take it even further, you can continue on the Mourne Coastal Route in Belfast.

Giant's Causeway

A must-see during a trip to Northern Ireland is a visit to the Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim coast, which is made of 40,000 black basalt stone columns at the water’s edge and is a World Heritage site.

There is a choice of walks that will help you to see some best-known formations including the Camel, the Chimney stacks and the Harp. Another formation known as the Wishing Throne is the perfect place to stop and sit for a photo opportunity.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: While you can easily reach the Giant’s Causeway by car, bus or train, there is a free shuttle from the village of Bushmills on offer from April to October. There is also a bus to take you back up from the causeway to avoid the steep road or hundreds of steps.

Discover the Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland was the backdrop to some of the most memorable scenes in the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones. Step into the real-life Winterfell at the National Trust property Castle Ward, wander along the Dark Hedges that acted as the King’s Road or look out to Ballintoy Harbour, better known by GOT fans as the Iron Islands, home of the Greyjoys.

For a true experience of the show, don’t miss the newly opened Game of Thrones Studio Tour in Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge. Adult tickets costs £39.50 and children (aged 5-15) cost £27.50. You can purchase tickets here.

The best festivals in Ireland

From big holiday celebrations that are celebrated throughout the country to small-town local occasions, there are so many festivals and events to explore in Ireland. Travellers should keep in mind that many of these festivals and holidays mean that shops, bars, and restaurants may be closed, so it’s best to plan ahead.

Whether you want to sample the best oysters the coast has to offer, check out the alternative art scene, or even crown a goat-king, we’ve chosen our top festivals for any type of traveller.

Derry~Londonderry Halloween Festival

Derry~Londonderry knows how to do Halloween right, in fact, their Halloween festival is the biggest in Europe. The only walled city in Ireland and the UK, Derry~Londonderry plays host to a weekend of Halloween and Samhain-themed celebrations. You can expect events and installations for guests of all ages.

It is completely free for the public to attend, so be sure to book accommodation ahead of time and come in your spookiest fancy dress. This year it runs from 28th to 31st October. Read more about it here.

Galway Oyster Festival

This annual festival celebrates all things oyster, offering up a selection of the freshest picks from the rough Atlantic coasts. Taste your way through different oyster varieties and wash it down with local craft brews or fruity late-summer wines. If you think you’ve got what it takes, you can even throw your hat in the ring at the oyster-shucking competition.

This year's festival is from 23rd – 25th September 2022. You can buy tickets here.

The Cat Laughs Festival in Kilkenny

The Cat Laughs is an annual festival taking place in Kilkenny. The festival originally started as a few small comedy shows in 1995 and has since grown into an internationally acclaimed festival.

Dates for this year’s festival have yet to be confirmed, but it usually falls on the June Bank Holiday. Read more about the festival here.

Galway Arts Festival

This all-round arts festival is a can’t-miss occasion for visitors travelling in midsummer. A little under two weeks long, this festival packs in a lot in a short time: gigs with top bands, speakers from across the world, theatre shows, live music across the city, art exhibitions, and many other performances. It’s the perfect festival to just walk and explore—you’re bound to find something that takes your interest.

The Galway Arts Festival runs from 11-24 July 2022. Read more about it here.

Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival in Donegal

Those looking for a laid-back festival that mixes surfing and music, should head to Bundoran in County Donegal for the Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival. The three-day festival will take place on the beach from 17 - 19 June 2022, and will include performances by artists such as Kodaline, Basement Jaxx and Lyra among others.

Day tickets start at £50 and 3 days with camping from £109 per person.