I’m sure you know already that there’s more to Ireland than its capital Dublin.
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Even though it’s a small country, Ireland has a diversity of sights and scenery for the visitor to see.
From the sunny southeast to the rugged northwest, Ireland is a country worth exploring.
There are 4 official provinces on the island of Ireland.
They include Ulster, which incorporates much of Northern Ireland – technically part of the United Kingdom – as well as Connacht in the western half of the country, Munster in the south, and Leinster in the east.
The origins of these provinces can be traced back to Medieval times when Ireland was divided into several kingdoms, which were in turn divided into smaller entities.
However, from a tourism perspective, Ireland is now divided into broader regions that include the following:
The Southwest Region
This includes Counties Cork and Kerry, both of which are high on the list of destinations for most newcomers to Ireland.
The Shannon Region
Limerick has its own charm, with The Hunt Museum in the city and Adare, the prettiest village in Ireland among its popular attractions.
The Southeast Region
Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, and Wexford make up this region, which is otherwise known as The Sunny Southeast because it gets more sunshine, and it is generally drier than other parts of Ireland.
The highlights for tourists in these counties include the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary, the Viking Triangle, part of the Waterford Treasures in Waterford City, along with tours of the world-famous Waterford Crystal, Kilkenny Castle, the bucolic countryside of Carlow, along with its many historical and archaeological attractions, in addition to Wexford’s Hook Head Peninsula.
Expect rugged scenery in this region, which is home to Counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.
The sea stack known as Downpatrick in County Mayo is a sight to be seen, and The Ceide Fields in rural Mayo are a reminder of Ireland’s distant past. Croagh Patrick is another popular attraction near Westport, and Roscommon is proud to call The National Famine Museum its own, as well as the popular Lough Key Forest Park.
The Mideast Region
This area of Ireland includes Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow. It is home to one of the largest Palladian-style mansions in Ireland, notably Castletown House in Kildare, as well as Ireland’s most treasured archaeological attraction, Newgrange.
In Louth, expect to explore the Boyne Valley, which includes attractions like the medieval town of Carlingford, the Battle of the Boyne historic site and Mellifont Abbey.
The Midlands Region
This area consists of Laois (pronounced “leash”), Longford, Offaly, and Westmeath.
Expect to see plenty of lakes, waterways, and canals, including Ireland’s longest river, The Shannon.
Some of the popular attractions in this region include the Rock of Dunamase in Laois, the Corlea Visitor Trackway, a piece of ancient Iron Age roadway in County Longford, the beautiful monastic site of Clonmacnoise in Offaly, and plenty of castles and historic houses in Westmeath, including Tullynally Castle and Belvedere House Gardens and Park.
Cavan is home to its own Burren region, while over on the west coast Donegal has beautiful beaches that make it one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country.
Sligo is known as Yeats Country and there are plenty of reminders of the famous poet, including Lissadell House and his final resting place at Drumcliff, as well as a new Yeats Trail.
Sligo has a rich archaeological history, too, and you’ll find that in places like the Carrowkeel megalithic complex. In Leitrim, there’s the opportunity to explore that county’s blueways, and in Monaghan, you’ll find the beautiful Carrickmacross Lace Visitor Centre.
While technically part of the U.K., it is quite easy to cross over to Northern Ireland from the Republic. Lots to explore in this region, including the beautiful Coastal Causeway route, which is primarily in Antrim and Derry.
Some of the more popular attractions along that route include The Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Belfast has its own charm too, with Titanic Belfast being its most popular attraction.
In Derry, you can see where the popular TV series Derry Girls was filmed but more importantly, learn about that city’s rich history as you walk along its historic walls and later see the impact of The Troubles on Derry in the Bogside areas.
Getting Around the Various Regions of Ireland
Getting around the regions of Ireland can be accomplished by public transportation or rental car. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but if you want to explore Ireland at your pace, renting a car is probably the best way to do it.
Public transportation will get you to many places, but it takes a great deal of planning. However, it is doable if you have the time and the patience to put into it.
Ireland By Train
The main hub is Dublin, and it is where I suggest everyone start if they are thinking of traveling around Ireland by train. Book your tickets on Irish Rail.
Ireland By Bus
You can hop on a bus anywhere in Ireland. The main provider is Bus Eireann, but there are private bus companies providing transportation to specific areas of the country too.
For more information, read the guide to transportation in Ireland.