There’s little doubting the beauty, romance and history of Ireland, an ancient territory that travellers and holidaymakers have fallen in love with for centuries. We’ve all heard of the Giant’s Causeway, the Blarney Stone, St James’s Gate Guinness Brewery and now Skellig Michael – the craggy island that’s found fame as a filming location for the latest Star Wars movies. There’s a lot more besides – but what of Ireland’s hidden gems? What might you have missed and what’s worth returning for a second look?
As big Ireland fans we are here to offer up some suggestions should you wish to explore something a little different during a visit to these famous shores, and it’s certainly a selection that will make you think again when planning an itinerary. From the weird to the wonderful and everything in between, here are their top picks for exploring just some of the hidden gems of Ireland.
Kerry Dark Sky Reserve
Sightseeing doesn’t always have to be during the day, and not a lot of people know that Ireland is home to one of the world’s premier Dark Sky Reserves. Astro-tourism is becoming increasingly more popular as people turn their attention skyward and at the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, you’ll be in awe of the celestial showcase you can experience. You’ll see more stars by the naked eye than almost anywhere else on earth. It’s beautiful in the day-time too!
The National Leprechaun Museum
Located in Dublin, this charming museum is the first of its kind in the world, exploring the lives of the little people known as Leprechauns (and they definitely do exist!) As well as enjoying some fun optical illusions involving giant furniture, there are plenty of entertaining stories to learn about the myths and legends of this magical country. And for adults, there’s a darker tour on Friday and Saturday nights to learn of those Irish tales that are not suitable for children!
The Jealousy Wall
When your rather horrible brother decides to build a house right next to yours, sometimes the only solution is to build an ugly wall between them! So stands the Jealousy Wall in the grounds of Belvedere House in County Westmeath. Built to deliberately resemble a ruined abbey, the wall is the result of an ornery family feud that dates back to 1936 and included the 31-year imprisonment of the Earl’s wife after accusing her of adultery. Families can be strange things, so come here to learn about one of the strangest!
Irish Sky Garden
If ever there was a hidden gem here – it’s this one! The Irish Sky Garden is a serene and magical place that you would never be able to find unless you knew it was there. Located on the Liss Ard Estate in West Cork, this garden crater beautifully captures the mystery of Ireland, and you’ll be astounded at just how powerful this piece of public art is. Created by American James Turrell, an artist who focuses on light and space, it was completed in 1992 and is a must-see when visiting the country.
The Stairway to Heaven
No, we’re not talking about the 1971 Led Zeppelin classic. This is the nickname given to a boardwalk and stairway built to protect a peat bog from erosion, completed in 2015. Since then, it’s popularity has soared and it won’t remain a hidden gem for much longer! It’s to be found at Cuilcagh Mountain in County Fermanagh, and if you fancy the moderate to difficult hike, the views from the top of this isolated and windswept wilderness are stunning.
The Sligo Glen
Yet another of Ireland’s fairytale landscapes (it’s little wonder some of the greatest writers who ever lived came from this country with this much inspiration) is The Glen. Cut through the rock Knocknarea a large hill near Sligo Town – is this almost perfect 60 ft deep by 40 ft wide chasm. It runs for around ¾ of a mile and is popular with hikers and those wishing to get away from life’s hustle and bustle. You will feel like you’re in another world here.
The Dunmore Cave
A limestone cave with a rich and turbulent past, this centuries-old subterranean structure is said to have been the site of a massacre of over 1000 Vikings. Formed over millions of years, human remains have been excavated on the site, as well as finding gold and silver in its depths below. It’s inspired many writers and history buffs down the years and is regarded as one of the most mysterious places in the country. A visit here is sure to make your spine tingle.
You might think that one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world would be more well known, but Hook Lighthouse in Country Wexford is ironically still under the radar considering it’s built for people to see it! It’s stood for over 800 years and you can take a guided tour of this amazing building and learn all about its history, and what it’s like to live as a lighthouse keeper. A big hit with the kids, the views from the top are spectacular and the visitor centre is world class.
A Truly Breathtaking World
It’s no secret just how beautiful Ireland is and coupled with the hospitality and friendliness of its people, it is one of the premier tourist destinations on earth. And while the popular and well-known sights will always attract plenty of foot traffic, it’s nice to give the little guys some limelight as well. This small selection of Ireland’s hidden gems should wet any appetite if you’re planning a visit to this bountiful land. Even if you’re not, you might want to go
What have we missed? Let us know your picks for hidden gems in Ireland!