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Travel: Ireland’s Best Kept Travel Secrets

Ireland—the land of Guinness, shamrocks, and leprechauns. And, just beyond the easy brochure images, some of the best hiking, surfing, mountain biking, and climbing in the world.

Most people know about Dublin—a city where you could spend weeks and just scratch the surface of its shopping, architecture, food, and drink. There’s the ancient city of Waterford to explore, the beaches and mountains of Sligo (where you’ll witness the inspiration of W.B. Yeats firsthand), and of course the magnificent castles (you can stay in many of them—we like Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal for its access to hiking and biking).

There are more than 6 million people living on the Indiana-sized Island—about two-thirds in the Republic of Ireland, and the rest in Northern Ireland.  But the first thing you notice is that people take the time to talk. The second thing is that appreciation of the outdoors is as second-nature as appreciation of good music and dance. That leads to a more robust level of intoxication than you get from tossing back a few of the country’s famed whiskeys. But in Ireland, thankfully, it’s all too easy (and acceptable) to spend a day in the wild and crown the experience with a few pints, a heavy pour, and the welcoming ease of the country’s amiable locals.

Sea Stacks, Donegal

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Visions of Donegal’s sea stacks—carved over the centuries by the unrelenting waves of the Atlantic off Ireland’s northern coast—have been stopping visitors in their tracks for decades. But as impressive as these cliffs appear from the shore, a handful of intrepid explorers have turned them into their personal playground by climbing up the stacks’ surface to perch high above, sometimes more than 650 feet over the ocean, to take in the wild world that surrounds them.

Benbulben

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A 1,738-foot-tall formation of shale and limestone believed be more than 100,000 years old dominates the horizon of Country Sligo, a part of Ireland commonly dubbed “Yeats Country” in reverence to all the words that the famous poet penned in honor of this region. And when you first see Benbulben (or “Ben Bulben” as it’s also known), you may yearn for the poet’s finely crafted phrases, because the mountain itself is apt to leave you speechless. And climbers take note: the northern approach is significantly more challenging.

Glanveagh

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Glanveagh, the second-largest park in Ireland, covers a relatively modest 105 square miles on the hillside above Glenveagh Castle on the shore of Lough Veagh.  But within its borders you’ll find a year’s worth of distractions, from wildlife and walks to castles, gardens, and the beatific Emerald Isle landscape.

Slieve League

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Windswept seaside cliffs may not be the first cliché that comes to mine when thinking of Ireland. But unlike shamrocks and leprechauns, the rock formations carved by the ocean exceed expectation–especially in Slieve League. The cliffs here measure in at a towering 1,972 feet, some of the highest in the country.  We suggest spending a day wandering these rugged environs, followed by a pint of Guinness at a local pub in a small town, another Irish cliché that delivers beyond most expectations.

Wall Guinness

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Craft beer is all well and good–and also alive and well in Ireland, along with the rest of the world. But you’d be remiss to miss a pint of the country’s justifiably famed Guinness. The stout originates from the Author Guinness brewery back in the 1800s, and that heavenly white head has been a trademark ever since; today 1.5 billion pints are sold annually.  And yes, Guinness DOES taste better in Ireland. Whether it’s the proximity to the brewery or just because you’re sipping it in its homeland is up for debate as you work your way through your second pour.

Clare Island

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The narrow chain of islands that stretch across Ireland’s western shores ia as arguably Ireland’s best-kept secret.  Accessible via the bustling metropolis of Shannon, exploring these more remote locales (like Clare Island, pictured here) provides a way to step into the true country and its people. Hike the length of the island during the day, bed down at a small B&B at night, and hop a boat to the next. The only limit imposed? The length of your vacation time.

Cliffs of Moher

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Standing 702 feet at their highest point, the cliffs stretch for five majestic miles on the Atlantic coast of County Clare in western Ireland. Numerous pathways and viewing platforms along the cliff edge offer up amazing views of the cliffs, the Aran Islands, Kerry mountains, Galway Bay, O’Briens Tower, and the thousands of seabirds that make the cliffs their home. Ditch the crowds and hike the 7.5-miles round-trip route that precariously hugs the edge of the cliffs to the most southern point at Hag’s Head, where you can enjoy the views all to yourself from the remains of the old Moher Tower.

 

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