With a history reaching all the way back to the Mesolithic period, Ireland has a wealth of fascinating landmarks to see and learn from. Kiss the Blarney Stone, a limestone block that’s part of the medieval Blarney Castle, and find out if it really does give you the gift of gab. Step back in time at the Rock of Cashel, fifth century home to Munster’s kings, where it overlooks the pastoral countryside in County Tipperary. Meet the Benedictine nuns who live in Kylemore Castle, a 19th century private home transformed into an abbey after World War I, and walk through their Victorian gardens. Take a tour of Kilmainham Gaol, the Dublin prison where the leaders of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising were imprisoned and executed and where many other pro-independence Irish men and women were held during the war. Walk the five thousand year old burial grounds at Newgrange, where Irish kings were laid to rest. Visit the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where 18th century author Johnathan Swift once served as the Dean.
In a country known for its verdant, unspoiled landscape, don’t be surprised if you want to spend as much time outside as your class schedule allows. Visit one of the sheep farms situated in Ireland’s rolling green hills. Go night kayaking on Lough Hyne in West Cork and let the bioluminescent phytoplankton living in the lake guide you with their light. Get up close to Fungie the wild dolphin, who’s been greeting visitors in Dingle Bay for decades. Visit the famous Cliffs of Moher, dramatically rising almost four hundred feet above the Atlantic in County Clare. If you’re in Dublin, you don’t have to leave city limits to get your nature fix: Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in any European capital, features acres of fields where wild deer graze, Victorian flower gardens, and the Dublin Zoo. For a more rugged adventure, the Wicklow Mountains invite you to hike through their gorgeous terrain into the Glendalough Valley. Bike the Waterford Greenway, a dedicated off-road track connecting Waterford and Dungarvan, and take in the lovely views of the Clonea Strand Beach. Roam Killarney National Park to bask in mossy green woodlands, watch colorful sunsets by the lake, and tour the grounds of Muckross House, a pristinely preserved 19th century estate.
The Irish people have always prized the arts and their own big name contributors to music, literature, and film. You don’t have to take a trip to continental Europe to see great art. Spend a whole day browsing the art collections at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, where some 15,000 works are displayed, or hunt for the thought-provoking and gallery-worthy murals in the streets of Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick. For a small country, Ireland is brimming with independent bookstores, from the old and cozy to the modern and minimalist. Dublin, named an UNESCO world heritage site for literature, can keep you busy with the James Joyce Museum, a literary pub crawl, and a Writer’s Museum dedicated to an array of literary memorabilia. The country that birthed Bram Stoker, author of Dracula; Oscar Wilde, the infamous 19th century novelist, poet, and playwright; world-famous playwright Samuel Beckett; and the great poets William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney unashamedly loves a good story and will give you plenty of your own to tell.