Ireland and Northern Ireland have a lot to offer visitors: lively cities, lush landscapes, ancient monuments, welcoming people, and an enduring spirit. Not to mention the pub; the Irish have elevated a night at the pub into an art form.
From Birmingham Airport, there are direct flights to six Irish locations, each with its own unique experience. As the most famous Irish holiday, St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) is the perfect opportunity to visit the Emerald Isle.
Northern Ireland's capital exudes history and culture. A trip here will educate you on the country's tumultuous political past, memorialised in murals around the city. But that isn't all the city has to offer; there are restaurants, shopping and beautiful sights to see as well.
A famed port city, Belfast is the birthplace of the RMS Titanic and has an excellent museum and memorial garden dedicated to the iconic ship. For a taste of the arts, visit the studio where Game of Thrones is filmed or the Lyric Theatre, Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre.
Northern Ireland is the home of St. Patrick himself, and Belfast is a great base from which to explore his myth and his mission. Take the hour-long drive to Armagh, the home of his church, where two majestic cathedrals bear his name.
Go for: political history and vibrant culture, with the creature comforts of a capital city.
Nicknamed ‘The Republic of Cork’ by locals, the city has a wealth of cheeky personality and yummy food. Cork has felt the economic effects of recession, but revitalization is well underway, with renovated buildings overflowing with restaurants, pubs and shops. For day trips from the city, visit the famous Blarney Castle or Fota Island, Ireland’s largest wildlife park.
Near to the sea and surrounded by rich pastureland, it’s no surprise that Cork is renowned as Ireland’s culinary hotspot. Sample local produce at the Victorian-era English Market and check out some of the city’s signature restaurants like Farmgate Café, Jacques and Fenn’s Quay. Cork also houses The Butter Museum – yes, an actual museum about butter – that commemorates the city’s 19th century status as the world’s largest butter supplier.
Go for: foodie heaven, friendly locals and a spirit of regeneration
Known for its ‘hundred thousand welcomes,’ the Irish capital has a well-deserved reputation as one of Europe’s friendliest cities. Dublin is Ireland’s literary epicentre, recognized as a UNESCO City of Literature. Literary lovers should visit the Dublin Writers Museum, take the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl and wander through Trinity College’s Old Library.Sports fans can tour the massive Croke Park Stadium, home of the Gaelic games and many international sporting events
An influx of immigrants has created a multicultural Dublin, where you’re just as likely to find a Nigerian restaurant as you are an Irish pub. If you’re looking for traditional Irish music, head to The Cobblestone or O’Donoghue’s, two pubs known for their music scenes. The Guinness Storehouse, where you can learn more about Ireland’s famed beer, is a must-see; don’t miss the Old Jameson Distillery either, with its history of the bestselling Irish whiskey.
Go for: literary and cultural cachet within a vibrant multicultural city
There’s no better place to explore Ireland’s history than Waterford, a Viking-founded port that is Ireland’s oldest city. The city’s ‘Viking Triangle’ – three museums located in the historic quarter – tells the story of Ireland’s Middle Ages.
Famous glass manufacturer Waterford Crystal was founded here in 1783. Their visitor centre offers factory tours where you can watch expert glassblowers at work. If you get hungry, stop by the weekly farmer’s market for local cheese and meats and some fresh-baked blaas, Waterford’s ultra-soft, ultra-floury white bread rolls.
The wider County Waterford area has abundant natural beauty, with the stunning Copper Coast featuring beaches, cliffs, coves and even the occasional whale. If you’re an opera aficionado, journey one hour outside the city and attend the Wexford Opera Festival for 12 days of world-class performances.
Go for: Viking history, iconic crystal and delicious food, all in the birthplace of the Irish city.
Created as an industrial town in the 1960s and named after the nearby river, Shannon is a great base for exploring the wild natural beauty of the County Clare area. Start with the river Shannon itself; Ireland’s longest river is perfect for gentle cruising. Next, take in the impressive Cliffs of Moher, high above the Atlantic Ocean, which provide some of the country’s best views.
Finish off by time-traveling to medieval times at Bunratty Castle. Dating back to the 14th century, it has now been developed into a premier tourist attraction. Its authentic medieval banquets, held twice every night, are unmissable.
Go for: spectacular nature, medieval history and relaxing river rides.
Knock might have remained an unremarkable village, had it not been for a fateful night in 1879 when an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared. This transformed Knock into an International Marian shrine and a major Catholic pilgrimage site. With the village’s own international airport making access easy, it’s now visited by 1.5 million people annually.
Knock is also a gateway to the rest of Western Ireland, from white-sand beaches and rugged coasts to spacious, rambling countryside. This area is perfect for touring, so rent a car and drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, a trail that stretches along the west coast and features many of Ireland’s most dramatic landscapes.
Go for: fresh air, beautiful views and authentic Irish culture, away from the crowds.