Natural beauty spots have been intricately carved out over millennia
Unrelenting erosion has etched out a rugged and breathtaking coastline
Ice age glaciers have sculpted spectacular rock formations and mountains
Irish Geography 101
Ireland’s jagged landscapes are characterized and molded by the island’s location in the North Atlantic Ocean. Its windswept seaboards are skirted by a ring of coastal mountains and punctuated by an awe-inspiring array of islands, peninsulas, headlands and bays. Moving further inland, the island boasts spectacular lakes, rivers and wetlands colonized by a diverse range of both native and introduced wildlife.
Despite the constant refrain of the natives of being held captive by hostile, capricious weather systems, Ireland actually enjoys a temperate climate distinguished by moderation as opposed to extremes. Brutal cold snaps and violent storms are as rare as heatwaves and droughts, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a single soul lining up to compliment the fickle Irish weather.
Lonely Planet recently curated a fabulous list of 500 must-see destinations from all around the world including 6 heavyweight contenders from Ireland. Inspired by this list, we decided to remix it and publish our own top 6 made up exclusively of natural wild places and virgin landscapes. Don’t forget to get involved and nominate your favorite Irish wild place in our poll when you’re done!
If you'd prefer to begin with a whistle-stop tour in fabulous 4K, you can get a drone's-eye view of Ireland from the skies with spectacular footage below!
Option 1: Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway has been capturing the imagination of visitors to Ireland for centuries.
From the lofty vantage point of 21st century science, we can now confidently date the distinctive pillar-shaped rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway all the way back to the Paleogene Period — some 50 to 60 million years ago. Geologists now recognize the hallmarks of violent volcanic activity in the region, but this was a highly contentious issue shrouded in myth and Gaelic legends for centuries!
The legend of the Giant’s Causeway is Hollywood blockbuster material with a distinctly Celtic twist. The fascinating story casts the Giant’s Causeway as the stepping stones used to bridge the short distance from Ireland to Scotland and the stage for a battle of the giants constructed by Fionn MacCool — a benevolent Irish giant and warrior. Today, the Giant’s Causeway still attracts visitors in their droves to marvel at a site where fact is as beautiful as fiction.
Option 2: Benbulben
In Irish legend, Benbulben was a hunting ground for the Fianna warriors during the 3rd century.
Apart from its role as a favored hunting territory and warrior’s playground in Irish mythology, Benbulben acted as a known refuge for IRA soldiers during the Irish Civil War and became an unlikely resting place for a group of unfortunate souls from the United States Army Air Forces in 1943.
In modern times, Benbulben is cherished as a haven for wildlife such as hares and foxes with unique plant life dating back to the Ice Age. It is also a favorite destination for hikers with easy access from the nearby town of Sligo. As a source of artistic inspiration, it was a muse for the celebrated Irish poet W.B. Yeats with the local area affectionately referred to as Yeats Country in his honor.
Option 3: Dingle Peninsula
At Europe's westernmost point, Dingle Peninsula serves up spectacular natural beauty.
At the westernmost point of Europe, Dingle Peninsula juts defiantly into the Atlantic Ocean. The sea is a hungry dog relentlessly pounding this ancient Irish promontory with wave after wave. It’s an awesome display of the ocean’s white-knuckle power that has carved out secluded coves and golden sands from the sandstone rock. It’s also home to the abandoned Blasket Islands. Precariously perched off the coast of Kerry, its inhabitants were forcefully evacuated to the mainland in 1953. This chain of islands was affectionately dubbed the next parish to America.
Today, the western part of Dingle Peninsula is the seat of one of the last great bastions of the Irish language — the Dún Chaoin Gaeltacht. Dingle Peninsula’s Irish-speaking village overlooks the Blasket Islands and has spawned several celebrated authors and seanachaí (traditional storytellers) including Peig Sayers. The bountiful seas lure trawlers from far afield to harvest the seafood served in some of Ireland’s top restaurants while the opal-blue waters and pristine sands serve sports enthusiasts and even the occasional sunbather.
Option 4: Aran Islands
The three Aran Islands are situated at the mouth of Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland.
The largest and westernmost of the three Aran Islands is Inishmore with a population of approximately 840 people. The second largest and middle island is Inishmaan with about 160 inhabitants (making it the least populous of the three). The smallest — but second most populous — and easternmost island is Inisheer with about 250 residents. The Arans are renowned for their strong Irish culture, allegiance to the Irish language and the versatility and ingenuity of their populaces.
Traditional island life required extraordinary adaptability and cunning to maintain self-sufficiency and prosper on islands with different resources and challenges to the disconnected mainland. One of the many tricks of the trade employed by islanders was to mix layers of sand and wet seaweed on top of rocks to form fertile soil for growing potatoes. Traditional crafts have also flourished on the islands including the production of Aran Island sweaters and distinctive currach boats. Read IrishEmpire.org’s article on traditional crafts for more on currachs boats!
Option 5: Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher regularly top polls for Ireland’s #1 tourist attraction based on sheer beauty.
Around one million tourists flock to the Cliffs of Moher every year to hike in awe along a stretch of coastline that runs for about 20 kilometers. With sheer cliffs rising majestically to the skies, it’s a paradise for hikers, nature lovers, birdwatchers, geologists and romantics the world over. The enduring popularity of the Cliffs of Moher has scored them cameos in popular culture including roles in movies from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to music videos by Maroon 5. Legendary performer Dusty Springfield even had her ashes scattered at the cliffs by her brother.
Of course, no true Irish attraction worth its salt would be complete without an abundance of Gaelic legends and folklore and The Cliffs don’t disappoint on that front either. Naturally, there is a beautiful mermaid tale but also the more sinister story of the corpse-eating eel and the mysterious Lost City of Kilstiffen for good measure!
Option 6: Burren National Park
The Burren is Ireland’s smallest National Park but possesses an other-worldly martian charm.
The Burren National Park is a sister attraction to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, but you definitely won’t want to miss the opportunity to explore and photograph its stunning lunar landscape. The soluble bands of limestone and porous rock are pockmarked by criss-crossed cracks known as grikes giving the 250-square-kilometer park its interplanetary elegance.
The Burren boasts an exceptionally temperate climate supporting an unusually long growing season for its diverse range of plant life. Three-quarters of all Irish species of flowers are found in The Burren and this promotes incredible biodiversity with a remarkable ecosystem supporting many unique and rare insects.
So, there you have it: six of Ireland’s top natural beauty spots to knock your socks off. Now vote for your #1 Irish wild place by stamping your seal of approval in our poll below!