Situated at the base of steep cliffs on the northeast coast of Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is a natural rock formation that does indeed look as if it were fashioned by giants. The honeycomb formation of more than 37,000 hexagon-shaped basalt columns appears too geometrically perfect to have been shaped by nature. It took 60 million years of tectonic plate movement, lava flows and erosion to fashion the stepping-stone columns into their present shape. Cliff-top trails offer great views of the rocks, and a flight of steps leads down to sea level. A nearby visitor center also offers walking tours and trips by van to the site.
Killarney National Park
Located in southwest Ireland in County Kerry, the Killarney National Park was established in 1932 when the Muckross Estate was donated to the country. The Victorian Muckross House now serves as the park’s visitor center, and the estate’s extensive gardens are popular attractions in the park. For many visitors, however, the park’s three lakes are the biggest draw. Populated by swans and otters and surrounded by forests inhabited by Ireland’s only native herd of red deer, boat trips on the lake offer encounters with wildlife as well as scenic views. A broad network of surfaced paths invites exploration by foot, bicycle or horse-drawn carriage.
Bru na Boinne
Remnants from Ireland’s ancient past are found all over Ireland, but the Brú na Bóinne mounds in Boyne Valley are not to be missed. Three of the 5,000-year-old burial mounds have been fully excavated and are open to visitors: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. With its carved granite boulders and white quartz façade, Newgrange is the most striking. A central passage leads to vaulted chambers where cremated remains and grave goods from at least five people were found. The mound of Knowth is best known for its 250 decorated stones, some of which appear to be local maps. There is no public access inside Dowth, but visitors can climb the mound to enjoy the view.
Ring of Kerry
The most popular scenic drive in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is a more than 160 km (100 mile) long highway that runs along the coastline of the isle’s picturesque Iveragh Peninsula. Most visitors start and end their tour in the busy town of Killarney; savvy travelers choose the less-crowded pretty village of Kenmare as a base. Sights along the Ring include Ireland’s tallest mountain Carrantuohill, several pristine lakes, a medieval monastery and the prehistoric Staigue Fort, which features thick stone walls constructed without mortar. Several seafront towns and resorts along the route boast sandy beaches, making them charming side destinations when the weather is warm.
Cliffs of Moher
No visit to Ireland is complete without spending some time enjoying the view from on a high cliff overlooking the Atlantic, and the Cliffs of Moher take this experience to breathtaking new heights. Rising nearly 210 meters (700 feet) from the shoreline, the stretch of cliffs attracts almost one million visitors each year making it one of the most popular places to visit in Ireland. Understandably, access to the cliffs is restricted in windy weather. Boat tours offered at the pier in Doolin give visitors the opportunity to enjoy the cliffs from a different perspective.