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Ireland is always a popular holiday destination, drawing a record 10.3 million visitors in 2016 alone, thanks to its vast amount of sights and natural beauty (and possibly its role in Star Wars). You could easily spend all of your leisure time in Ireland exploring ruined castles and cathedrals, hiking the hills and coastline, or learning through the museums. The Irish also know how to have fun, too, with plenty of pubs and live music.

Castles and Cathedrals

The Irish history really comes alive when you visit its historical architecture. There are still many castles and cathedrals, both intact and ruins, worth visiting all over the island. Perhaps the most popular castle you can visit in all of Ireland is Blarney Castle, just outside of Cork. Here you can asborb some luck of the Irish by hanging upside down and kissing the famous Blarney Stone. Renvy Castle, which was built during the war between the Irish clans and pirates, is found in the Connemara region, facing the sea. Ardgillan Castle, which is found in the Dublin County, was built in 1738. It offers a stunning view of the Drogheda forests and bay. Howth Castle, just outside Dublin, is a hidden gem that has only just allowed the public in for tours.

Ireland also has many beautiful, well-preserved cathedrals and abbeys thanks to its history with Catholicism and religious affiliations. Perhaps the most famous of these is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the centre of Dublin, but there are also many others worth seeing in other parts of the country, such as St Mary's Cathedral found in Killarney. As far as abbeys go, The Callan Augustinian Friary, also known as the "Meadow Abbey" located in County Kilkenny, the Yellow Steeple, built in the 14th century and which is found in the Trim region, and Murrisk Abbey, which was built in 1457, are all must sees. Rathfran Abbey, located in the Mayo County, is also worth a visit.

Gardens and forests

The country’s numerous forests and gardens will delight nature lovers. The Merlin Woods, found in Galway, stretch over some 164 hectares of land, and abound with wild fauna and flora. This pine forest also houses the 16th century Doughiska Castle ruins. The Mossy Woods, which are found in the Killarney region, are also popular for their wild and fairy-like appearance. You will also find many gardens and natural parks in the urban areas, namely the National Botanic Gardens and Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

Beaches and hiking

Dingle Bay Peninsula in County Kerry has several sandy beaches, including the famous Inch Beach, situated between large cliffs. This region is particularly popular for surfing and hiking. Dunree Bay is another beautiful beach with fine sand and a turquoise lagoon.

At Dogs Bay and Gorteen Bay you can hike, swim, and picnic. Bantry Bay, which is found in the Cork county, offers a magnificent sight of neighboring islands such as Bere Island and Whiddy Island which are both covered by thick forests, surrounded by rocks and white sand beaches. You may also visit Clew Bay, known for its stunning views of the ocean and neighbouring Clare Island.

Hikers are spoilt for choice in Ireland, with plenty of trails to follow. You can go chasing waterfalls, with destinations like the impressive Powerscourt Waterfall, at some 121 meters of altitude, and Torc Waterfall found at the foot of the Torc Mountain in Killarney. Some other popular trails to consider are the Bray to Greystones cliff walk, the Ballycotton cliff walk, and the Kerry Way.

Other attractions

One of the most interesting attractions you can see in Ireland is Bunratty Folk Park, near Bunratty Castle. This is a life-size replica of an Irish village, including houses, mills, and shops, which explains Irish history from the Middles Ages to the present. If you still want more history lessons, the Irish National Heritage Park in Wexford County has prehistoric relics, Viking paraphernalia, and items from the Middle Ages. For something a bit more lighthearted, there is Westport House & Pirate Adventure Park, which includes slides, pirate ships, paddle boats, a miniature railway, a stately home, as well as other thrilling activities.

For a more adult day out, you can learn all about Ireland’s history with alcohol by touring the Guiness Brewery or Jameson Distillery in Dublin, or simply go to one of Ireland’s many pubs to learn about it with the locals. Most urban areas also host plenty of live comedy, music, and theatre events.

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