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Downpatrick Head in North Mayo along the Wild Atlantic Way. Photo courtesy of Daniel Struk for Getty Images.

Ireland’s Must-See Attractions (Many of Them are Free!)

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Are you curious about seeing Ireland's must-see attractions?

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The ones listed here range from a long-abandoned island off the coast of Co. Kerry to a giant crater covered in grass that's close to a fairy fort, an abandoned old house that some say attracts paranormal activity, as well as the real head of a saint on display in one of Ireland's Roman Catholic churches.

The Glen, Sligo

Tucked into the cleft of Knocknarea (where on top, according to legend, lies the grave of Connacht's mythical Queen Maeve) is a most unusual phenomenon known in County Sligo as The Glen.

Archaeologists believe it was formed during the Ice Age.

a mountain in Sligo Sligo Walks
A view of Knocknarea in Co. Sligo. Photo: Alison Crummy for Failte Ireland.

The mountain itself is a popular attraction for hikers and casual climbers, but most people have no idea that the Glen exists unless they live in the local area, which makes it even more curious to visitors seeking out some of Ireland's must-see attractions.

The Glen is really a valley that runs for about three-quarters of a mile in between rock walls that reach up to 60 feet (18 meters) in height.

There you’ll find hanging vines and ivy-covered stones, tall sycamore, beech, Scots pine, and oak trees, as well as hazel, holly, honeysuckle, and bramble bush, all growing around it.

You’ll need to know where to look for this magical spot though.

Travel along Glen Road on the southern slope of Knocknarea past the parking lot. About a half-mile down the road, on the right-hand side, you'll find a rusty old gate. An old well surrounded by a white wall is located opposite the entrance, so be on the lookout for that too.

a forest Ireland's must-see attractions
The Glen in County Sligo. Photo: Martin McCabe.

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 The Glen is private property, so do not leave litter behind. In addition, wear waterproof boots as the area can be quite muddy. If you are traveling with kids, this wonderful spot is sure to delight you.

Lullymore Heritage Park, Kildare

Many families in Ireland use turf as a form of heating, which comes from bogland that was formed thousands of years ago.

Today, it is viewed by the scientific community as a unique habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna.

A typical stack of turf shown on a peat bog in Ireland. Photo: Jamie Stamey.

But for many Irish, “cutting turf” was and still is a way of life, even though there are now different means of heating homes in Ireland, such as gas and oil.

The peatlands were developed and turned into a fuel source in the 1930s by Bord na Móna, the semi-state body that harvests Ireland's peat, as a way to generate much-needed jobs and to reduce Ireland’s dependence on oil imports.

In recent years, the practice of turf cutting has been threatened because the bogs have been emitting greenhouse gases. The agency closed 62 bogs in 2019, signaling the end of an era for many.

Visitors curious about the country's unique way of providing fuel for its people will find Lullymore Heritage & Discovery Park, located in County Kildare.

It is, for sure, one of Ireland's must-see attractions.

Lullymore Heritage Park. Photo courtesy Failte Ireland.

The 60-acre park, which includes the Peatlands Exhibition and Biodiversity Boardwalk, the only one in Ireland, recounts the story of the bog in that area of the country and the rural communities that sprung up around it.

This video talks about the bog and its relationship to Irish culture.

There are meandering trails to explore and much to learn from this unusual, yet fascinating place, which is only 30 miles outside of Dublin.

Try your hand at cutting turf with a slean (pronounced “slane”), visit the 1798 John Doorly House, where you’ll learn about Lullymore native Captain John Doorly, a captain in the revolutionary group, The United Irishmen.

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The Peatland Heritage train at Lullymore Heritage Park. Photo: Michael Anderton for Failte Ireland.

You’ll also have the opportunity to see the Famine & Emigration Cottage, which was built in the traditional style using mud, straw, heather, and animal hair.

Two additional exhibits tell the story of two other Lullymore natives, Michael Rush, who emigrated to Australia in 1820, and Katie Gorey, who left Ireland in 1908 for New York.

Learn why they left their native land and the additional challenges they faced in their new homes.

And for children visiting Lullymore, they’ll have the chance to make a wish at the Fairy Tree located in the park’s theme gardens.

There’s more to this attraction that I can fit into this blog post. It is a must-see attraction if you’re traveling in Ireland’s Midlands region.

Admission to the park is €21 for one adult and €39 for a family of four. For more information, visit the park's website.

The Sky Garden, Liss Ard Country House Estate, Cork

From the air, it looks like a giant green stadium.

In reality, it’s a stone crater covered in grass that was designed by American architect James Turrell and built close to an original fairy fort.

If you know anything about Irish superstition, you’ll know one thing for sure. You never disturb something that is connected to the fairies, or else bad luck will come upon you.

It’s an old Irish “pisheog” (otherwise known as a fairy curse) that is still taken seriously in modern-day Ireland.

people walking on grass Ireland's must-see attractions
Visitors walk out into the Sky Garden crater, close to the stone altar. Photo: Eleanor Keegan for Failte Ireland.

Inspiration for this unusual installation, which is located on the grounds of Liss Ard Country Estate, was inspired by Celtic, Egyptian, and Mayan architecture.

The entrance to the crater, one of Ireland's must-see attractions, can be accessed through an archway or long megalithic-like passage.

From there, you will need to take a set of steep stairs before you get to the oval, bowl-shaped interior.

The Liss Ard Estate in Cork. Photo: Liss Ard Estate Facebook.

Many visitors say they find an incredible sense of peace once inside the crater.

In fact, the acoustics are such that nothing can be heard from the outside. In the center, you’ll find a stone plinth similar to an altar. Many visitors lie on the stone to gaze at the wide-open sky above.

The Sky Garden is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from April through November. Admission is by guided tour only and costs €5. Book a tour by emailing [email protected].

The estate is a wonderful place to explore. It includes a waterfall garden, a woodland garden, as well as an arboretum, and a wildflower meadow.

Duckett’s Grove, Carlow

A Gothic Revival-style house that has dominated the County Carlow landscape for over 300 years is another one of Ireland's must-see attractions.

The derelict house, complete with towers and turrets, has attracted paranormal seekers for years. In 2011, it was featured on Syfy’s “Destination Truth,” a weekly paranormal reality TV series.

The house, which was the home of the Duckett family, was built between 1815 and 1850.

They were the largest landowners in all of Carlow, owning approximately 12,000 acres. The house was destroyed by fire in 1933. In 2005, Carlow County Council took it over and began to renovate the grounds, including two beautiful Georgian walled gardens.

a deserted building Ireland's must-see attractions
Duckett's Grove in Carlow. Photo: Suzanne Clark for Tourism Ireland.

The gardens contain a variety of plants and flowers, including shrub roses, a collection of Chinese and Japanese peonies, azaleas, rhododendrons, and more. There are also figs and a historical variety of Irish apples.

The estate, which is free to explore, is open year-round. There are tea rooms on the property open Saturday through Tuesday from 12 to 5 p.m.

Read More: 8 of the Most Haunted Places in Ireland

St. Audoen’s Gate, Dublin

Imagine what Dublin looked like in medieval times, then visit St. Audoen’s Gate located in the Liberties section of the city, one of its most historic working-class neighborhoods, as well as one of Ireland's must-see attractions.

an archway Ireland's must-see attractions places you must see in Ireland
St. Audoen's Gate in Dublin. Photo: Psyberartist.

At one time, this was the edge of the city, where a stone wall acted as a toll booth of sorts to keep invading clans and foreigners from entering.

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The wall surrounding Dublin was built by the Normans in the 13th century. Part of it is still standing today.

It is called St. Audoen’s Gate (sometimes referred to as St. Audoen’s Arch) and it is located behind St. Audoen’s Church, the only remaining medieval parish church in Dublin.

The Great Blasket Island, Co. Kerry

Over 1,000 acres of large mountainous terrain make up the Great Blasket Island, an uninhabited island that is one of six islands off the coast of Kerry.

It is four miles long and a half-mile wide.

houses on a hill Ireland's must-see attractions
The Great Blasket Island off the coast of Kerry. Photo: Kim Leuenberger for Tourism Ireland.

Now long abandoned, the families who lived in this remote region had meager possessions, each of them owning a cow, a few sheep, and a plot of potatoes.

Unlike mainland residents, they took advantage of the sea for sustenance and as a result, were not devastated by the Great Famine of the mid-1800s.

In 1953, the island was evacuated by the Irish government because it was unsafe for residents to remain there.

In 1947, after they were cut off from the mainland for weeks due to bad weather, they sent a telegraph to the then Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Eamon de Valera, asking him to send much-needed supplies.

an old building with the beach and ocean in the background Experience the Great Blasket Island
The ruins of what were once homes on the Great Blasket Island. Photo: Noel O'Neill for Getty Images.

The Great Blasket Island housed at most, 163 people, according to a census in 1911.

The island today is a popular must-see attraction. You won’t find any restaurants, pubs or hotels there. But you will find limited self-catering accommodation and the island’s only coffee shop.

A ferry service runs from Dingle to the island on a seasonal basis. The boat holds up to 12 people and costs €65 per person.

Passengers on the Dingle Sea Safari boat watch a playful dolphin in the ocean nearby. Photo: Dingle Sea Safari Facebook.

The Dingle Sea Safari is a popular boat trip from the Dingle Pier to the island that takes approximately 3 hours.

The northern shore of the island is a particular hotspot for gray seal activity. In fact, the island houses the largest seal colonies in the North Atlantic.

Visitors can take 3 ½ to 4 hours exploring the island’s old village and other areas of this beautiful place, one of Ireland's must-see attractions. Complimentary tea and coffee are provided.

Shrine of Saint Oliver Plunkett, Drogheda

Walk into St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Drogheda, Co. Louth, and you’ll discover something you may never have expected.

The severed head of Oliver Plunkett, a 17th-century Irish martyr, can be found there. Plunkett, who was canonized in 1975, was hung, drawn, and quartered by the British for “promoting the Roman faith.”

When Plunkett became a priest in the 1650s, it was not a safe time to be practicing the Catholic religion in Ireland.

Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, Roman Catholic priests were regularly persecuted and killed.

After his brutal death, Plunkett’s remains were buried in England but were exhumed a few years later.

It would be several hundred years later before his head was brought back to Ireland in 1929.

the inside of a church Ireland's must-see attractions
St. Peter's Church in Drogheda, Co. Louth, where the severed head of Saint Oliver Plunkett is enshrined. Photo courtesy Failte Ireland.

The church, in the French Gothic style, houses a national shrine to the saint.

The elaborate shrine encases the saint’s head, with a nearby showcase displaying his shoulder blade and bones. The exhibition, one of Ireland's must-see attractions, also includes the cell door of Newgate Prison where he spent his last days.

In 1997, Ireland declared him the country’s patron saint for peace and reconciliation.

The Curiosity Shop, Malin Head, Co. Donegal

Located in Malin Head, Co. Donegal, this unusual little shop is perhaps Ireland’s smallest.

Its contents feature a wide variety of interesting items, including old maps, postcards and posters, unusual wine bottle openers, out-of-date coins, plates, and other souvenirs.

The shop is located between the town of Malin and Malin Head at Banba’s Crown on the coast road.

Owner Peter McAvenue is a local tourism expert who frequently provides recommendations to all who stop by.

While you’re in the area, grab a cup of Barista made coffee and a delicious sweet treat from Cafe Banba.

The company has two mobile coffee shops, one parked at Banba’s Crown in Malin Head from April through September.

Another larger mobile truck can be found at local markets, festivals, workplaces, beaches, shows, weddings, and other events throughout the year.

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Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo

About 5 kilometers (approximately 3 miles) north of Ballycastle village is a natural phenomenon and rising out of the ocean called Dun Briste, a sea-stack that is one of County Mayo’s most recognizable natural destinations and definitely deserves to be on Ireland's must-see attractions list.

a sea stack Downpatrick Head Ireland's must-see attractions
Downpatrick Head in North Mayo along the Wild Atlantic Way. Photo courtesy of Daniel Struk for Getty Images.

Leaving aside the natural causes for this amazing structure, the Irish have plenty of other explanations as to how it got there.

One is that an ogre used to live in the spot where the sea-stack is today, He was an obnoxious character who made St. Patrick's life very difficult.

Frustrated, St. Patrick prayed to God to take the ogre away and the next day, the ogre’s residence was separated from the mainland. There was no way for him to escape, so he vanished.

A few years ago, scientists camped out on the top of the sea-stack, examining the surface for any remains. They found what was once a medieval house, walls, cultivation ridges, and a corn-grinding stone.

The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim

It’s a bit hard to find, but once you get to the Dark Hedges, you’ll instantly recognize it from the popular HBO series, “Game of Thrones.”

Another one of Ireland's must-see attractions, the unusual beech trees that line the driveway on either side leading up to Gracehill House were first planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family.

the Dark Hedges over a roadway Ireland's most unusual attractions
The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim. Photo: Colette Connolly

As the trees matured, they began to turn in over the road, thus creating this fascinating look.

The Dark Hedges is located near Ballymoney. Many tourists go to the Hedges Hotel and walk from there, which is about a 2 to 3-minute walk.

Have you been to any of Ireland's must-see attractions mentioned here? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments section below.

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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