8 Ways to Discover Authentic Ireland

Immerse yourself in iconic sights and off-the-beaten-path experiences to venture beyond the green veneer.

1. Meet a farmer—and his flock

In Ireland’s rural regions, you’ll drive past scores of bucolic, sheep-dotted green pastures. If this leaves you wondering what traditional farm life is like, you’re in luck. Many working farmers are opening their barnyards to visitors and their farmhouses to overnight guests. At places like Belmore House or Rathbaun Farm, you can meet the family and discover the local way of life. Bottle-feed a lamb, help with chores or learn how the farmer and his Border collie work together as one to herd sheep.

Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Ireland in this episode of the Well-Traveled with AAA podcast.

2. Tuck into a tempting, traditional Irish table.

Coddle, champ and colcannon. Never heard of these dishes, let alone tried them? Savor your first tastes of genuine, classic Irish cuisine and the warmest of welcomes with a meal in a family home, where local lore is served up with your spuds. Pubs and restaurants also dish out traditional and reinvented classics, from hearty Irish stew and bacon and cabbage to fresh-from-the-Atlantic seafood chowder with brown soda bread.

3. Sleep like a royal.


If Ireland’s castles could talk, they would tell harrowing tales of medieval battles. Left in the wake of the marauding Anglo-Normans, hundreds of stone castles and tower houses dot Ireland’s landscape. Most are abandoned keeps or crumbling coastline forts—mere fragments of the strongholds they once were. Others have been restored and are breathing new life as luxury hotels. Best of all? Royal title is not required to bed in edifices like 13th-century Ashford Castle or baronial Dromoland Castle Hotel.

4. Get your feet wet.


With a coastline stretching more than 3,500 miles, Ireland boasts a bevy of beaches. Stroll one or more, and sink your toes in the sugar-soft sand. Inch Strand, the country’s longest, is perennially popular, while Connemara counts two of the finest: startlingly white Gurteen Beach and Dog’s Bay. When a refreshing dip beckons, take your pick of the 76 bathing beaches awarded international Blue Flag status for cleanliness and environmental sustainability.

5. Wander the wild Cliffs of Moher.


Stretching for five zigzagging miles, the iconic, colossal Cliffs of Moher on the west coast are the country’s most visited natural attraction. They rise dramatically 700 feet above the Atlantic surf, and on a clear day the panorama is splendid from a perch atop the rugged flagstone-and-shale cliffs. Stroll the pathways to cliff-edge viewing platforms, or take a serious walk on the coastal trail. For an even better view, follow the footpath to O’Brien’s Tower, on the headland of the highest cliff, and climb the stairs to the top.

6. Linger in the footsteps of literary legends.


The epicenter of Ireland’s rich literary history is Dublin, whose native sons include George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats and James Joyce—perhaps the city’s most beloved scribe for his 1922 masterpiece, Ulysses, set in Dublin’s streets and pubs. Delve into the works of these literary stars at the Dublin Writers Museum—housed in an 18th-century mansion. And across the River Liffey, stroll through the cobbled stones of Trinity College’s Old Library to view the Book of Kells, a ninth-century gospel manuscript said to be the most beautiful book in the world.

7. Ride ’round the Ring of Kerry.


Allow a full day to explore the Ring of Kerry—a 110-mile, mostly coastal driving route. It’s famed for stunning vistas framed by Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountains, and Killarney National Park—26,000 acres of sloping mountains and cascading waterfalls. The park is best seen from above at Ladies’ View. From the ring, you can see the island Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of an early Christian monastery. If seas are calm, take a boat out. If not, stop at the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre on Valentia Island, then head to Fogher Cliffs for panoramic views.

8. Crank up the craic!


Pronounced “crack,” you’ll hear this Gaelic word—loosely meaning enjoyable conversation, entertainment and fun—time and again. Whether you’re normally a pub-goer or not, savoring the craic in pubs is an unforgettable way to sample Ireland’s social culture. Traditional Irish folk dancing, called ceili, is often on show, along with spirited, toe-tapping traditional music sessions. Strike up a conversation—the Irish truly are endowed with the gift of gab—and lend an ear to their lovely, lilting stories.

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