On the surface many of Ireland’s counties can be a bit, how can I put this delicately, samey.
Some counties can seem to blend into another with no apparent distinction. In fact, we’d bet there are plenty of counties you’ve never ever been to because you haven’t really felt any need. I mean, have you even considered going to Louth? I rest my case.
That’s why we put this list together, showing you that there’s at least one thing worth seeing in every county that makes the trip worthwhile.
Start ticking these off your list ASAP…
1. Antrim — Giant’s Causeway
This one was a tough call, cos Antrim’s one of those counties that’s got tonnes going for it — the Dark Hedges, Causeway Coastal Route and Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge to name but a few — but if you have to pick just one sight to see in the county before you die, which we do, it’s gotta be the Giant’s Causeway.
These 40,000 columns were created by a volcanic eruption which took place more than 50 million years ago, making for a sight so rare that visitors flock from around the world to lay their eyes on them.
2. Armagh — Slieve Gullion
Meaning ‘Mountain Of The Steep Slope’, this extinct volcano is notable for being the highest point in the county at 573 metres (1,880 ft) and for being a major setting for many tales from Irish mythology.
At its summit you’ll find a lake and two ancient burial cairns, including the highest surviving passage grave on the island.
It’s worth the trip for the view alone.
3. Carlow — Browneshill Dolmen
Thought to weigh about 100 tonnes, the capstone on this megalithic portal tomb is supposedly one of the heaviest in Europe.
Shrouded in mystery, little is known about this National Monument apart from the fact that it was built by some of the first farmers in Ireland more than 3,000 years ago.
It’s a little fragment of Ireland’s early history that’s managed to withstand the test of millennia, standing in a field just 3km outside of Carlow town, and there it will endure far into the future too.
4. Cavan — Clough Oughter Castle
The tales surrounding this ruined circular castle on a tiny lake island seem worthy of Game Of Thrones.
Dating back to the 12th century Kingdom of Breifne, the fortress became the prize of a number of warring clans, Normans and revolutionaries during its bloody history.
5. Clare — Cliffs of Moher
You feel like you’ve reached the edge of the world as the green of Ireland gives way to a sharp black precipice that’s constantly bombarded by the violent Atlantic.
You can’t help but be awed at the sight.
6. Cork — Fota Wildlife
Spread across 100 acres of Fota Island, you’ll find a huge variety of exotic animals and plants in this park.
Fota Wildlife has got agile gibbons, Asiatic lions, capybaras, cheetahs, giraffes, kangaroos, red pandas, meerkats, Indian rhinos, Sumatran tigers and many, many more exotic creatures.
If you love getting up close and personal with animals, this’ll be one of your favourite spots in Ireland.
7. Derry — Ness Woods
Ireland’s answer to Sherwood Forest.
A Robin Hood-esque outlaw from the 18th century named Shane Crossagh O’Mullan supposedly evaded captured in these woods once upon a time, leaping over a waterfall and swimming away to safety.
While you may take that particular story with a pinch of salt, you can trust that Ness Woods, with its wooden footbridges and wildflower meadows, is the perfect place for Sunday stroll.
8. Donegal — Tory Island
Ancient traditions have been preserved on this remote island, which includes the appointment of a Rí Thoraí, or island king. Its isolation has meant that Irish remains the first language spoken by natives.
Rare birds and wild flowers flourish in the unspoilt place and it’s also developed a bit of a reputation as a refuge for artists.
9. Down — Tollymore Forest Park
Located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, this designated Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is spread across 1,600 acres.
The park boasts experimental tree plots that contain the likes of redwood, monkey puzzle and eucalyptus, as well as natural curiosities like rocky outcrops and caves.
There are four walking trails for exploring the woods to choose from, with the longest being eight miles in length.
10. Dublin — Guinness Storehouse
Guinness is much more than a mere drink, it’s now firmly established as part of our national identity itself, so if you really love Irish culture you have to make the pilgrimage at least once.
Get a guided tour of the brewery to learn about the history of Black Stuff and the signing of the infamous 9,000-year lease, before seeing the process behind the stout’s creation.
The ascent through the Storehouse ultimately ends in The Gravity Bar, where you’ll be treated to one of the best views in the city and a complimentary pint of Guinness. We’re thirsty already.
11. Fermanagh — The Cuilcagh Way
Dubbed “The Stairway To Heaven”, this is easily one of the most picturesque walks in the country.
This 7.4km mountain trail is made up of gravel track, exposed mountain path and boardwalk, with the total ascent being 550m.
On the way to the highest point you’ll pass a Bronze Age burial mound and you’ll be afforded a stunning view of the 13,000-year-old Lough Atona.
12. Galway — The Sky Road
This circular route is 11km long and takes you west out of Clifden.
Boasting truly spectacular views of the rugged west coast, we’ve already named this as one of the most scenic drives in Ireland.
Stop at the carpark at its highest point to properly take in the scenery and grab a few snaps.
13. Kerry — Skellig Michael
There’s a reason this place was chosen as a filming location for one of the biggest movies of all time, y’know.
Now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, Skellig Michael was once home to devout monks who wanted to seek refuge from the world on this extraordinary and solitary rock.
These holy men carved rough steps into craggy cliffs to reach their beehive cells, like little stone igloos, to live among the puffins, gannets and other rare birds of the island.
14. Kildare — Irish National Stud & Gardens
You really don’t have to be a horse fanatic to appreciate a visit to the Irish National Stud.
You’ll find a museum dedicated the history of mankind’s connection to the majestic creature, you’ll learn about the beating heart of Ireland’s thoroughbred industry and get a close look at some of the most magnificent horses ever produced in Ireland.
Finish up with a stroll around the Japanese Gardens, which were beautifully designed as a symbolic journey through the lifetime of a human being.
15. Kilkenny — Dunmore Cave
Descend in the Earth’s dark bowels and explore a series of chambers that were formed over millions of years.
Boasting some of the finest examples of calcite formations in Ireland, Dunmore Cave has been known and appreciated by man for centuries, with evidence that the Vikings even made use of the space.
It’s a sight that’s sure to boggle the mind… but maybe give it a miss if you’re a bit claustrophobic.
16. Laois — Rock of Dunamase
Commanding a view of the surrounding countryside from a height of more than 45m, it’s easy to see why this rocky outcrop was once chosen as a location of a stronghold.
The structure has had a colourful history, having suffered Viking raids and transfers of ownership between major figures in Irish history, like Strongbow himself.
It’s a reminder that dramatic events from our past are still clear to see, if we care to look.
17. Leitrim — Glencar Waterfall
Waterfalls are something of a rarity in Ireland and Glencar is one of the finest examples we have.
There’s something undeniably romantic about this wonderful feature, which can be viewed from a path through forested surroundings — it even featured in WB Yeat’s poem The Stolen Child.
It’s particularly impressive following heavy rainfall, so time your visit accordingly.
18. Limerick — Desmond Castle
Like many Irish fortifications, this castle had once been the subject of tug of war matches between powerful rivals.
The Earls of Kildare held the structure, with an ancient ring-fort at its centre, from the 13th century until 1536 when they had to hand it over to the Earls of Desmond.
You can take a guided tour of Desmond Castle during the summer months, where you’ll discover all there is to know about its checkered past.
19. Longford — Lough Ree
The second largest lake on the Shannon, Lough Ree is a popular spot among boating and fishing enthusiasts.
Upon the lake you’ll find the small island of Inchcleraun, which is home to monastic ruins from the early Christian era.
There’s also been tales of a monster lurking beneath the murky waters of this lake… so it’s practically Ireland’s answer to Loch Ness.
20. Louth — The road out of it
We’re kidding, you know we love you Louth.
When you’re in this neck of the woods you should make it your mission to stop by the gorgeous Beaulieu House & Gardens.
Dating back to the 17th century, this is one of the earliest examples of an unfortified mansion in the country. The house itself looks resplendent with its ornate plasterwork, panelling and family portraits, and its gardens look equally fabulous with four tranquil acres of flowers and grassy terraces for visitors to explore.
21. Mayo — Keem Bay Beach
If you like your beaches secluded, you’re gonna love it here.
You’ll need to journey over the bridge from the mainland to find this beach of fine sand, which is bordered by two cliffs, hidden away on the western side of Achill Island.
The only building in sight of the strand is a former coastguard station, so you’ll feel blissfully disconnected from the world.
22. Meath — Newgrange
This is the kind of place that every Irish person is aware of, but not a lot of us have made the effort to actually visit.
Older than Egypt’s pyramids, this 5,000-year-old structure was built by our distant ancestors to honour their ancient dignitaries, who have been laid to rest in a passage tomb that becomes illuminated by sunlight every Winter Solstice.
The monument is made all the more magnificent by the 97 kerbstones which surround it, all engraved with megalithic artwork.
23. Monaghan — Rossmore Forest Park
Once an estate granted to the Rossmore family back in the 17th century, these grounds are now open to the public to explore.
Take one of many walking trails on well maintained paths through the forest, enjoy the distant views from the terraced lawn and be astounded by the sight of two gigantic redwood trees near the entry gate.
When the weather’s fine, it’s an ideal picnic spot.
24. Offaly — Clara Bog Boardwalk
Clara Bog is a wildlife reserve that’s home to many protected species and this 1km-looped timber boardwalk allows visitors to venture deep into the habitat without damaging its environment.
Along the walk you’ll find panels containing information about the area and, at the nearby visitor centre, you can learn about its history and archaeology, biodiversity and the development of peatland.
Who said bogs weren’t fun, eh?
25. Roscommon — Arigna Mining Experience
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a coal miner? Seriously, you actually have? Well then, you really must give this place a try.
The site of an operational mine from the 1700s until 1990, Arigna Mining Experience now gives visitors a simulation, through lighting and sound effects, of what it was like for all those hardworking souls who’d spent their lives toiling in these underground tunnels.
26. Sligo — The Devil’s Chimney
Located just a short distance from Glencar Waterfall, which we mentioned earlier on in this piece, The Devil’s Chimney is one of the highest waterfalls in Ireland.
When the wind is blowing strongly the falling water can spray upwards back over the cliff from which is fell… looking for all the world a bit like a smoking chimney.
27. Tipperary — The Rock Of Cashel
Located at the heart of Tipp, the impressive castle is supposedly the site where St Patrick converted Aenghus the King of Munster to Catholicism way back when.
The Rock is said to have been created when Satan himself took a bite out of a nearby mountain (known as the Devil’s Bit) and spat it out to form a mighty fortress, at least that’s what the locals say… the mad feckers.
28. Tyrone — The Argory
Built in the 1820s, this is a Greek revival villa which overlooks the Blackwater River.
Inside this stately home you’ll see Victorian-era furniture, marbled walls and collections of fine art, while outside you can enjoy the estate’s manicured lawns and tree-lined paths.
29. Waterford — Waterford Greenway
Avid cyclists will adore this dreamy stretch.
All of the lush green surroundings and coastal scenery will blow you away, with plenty of historical information displayed along the way to answer any burning questions about the area that you may have.
Perfect for a sunny Bank Holiday weekend adventure.
30. Westmeath — Athlone Castle
This historical treasure was built back in the 12th century to protect an important crossing point on the river. Perhaps its most striking feature is the free standing polygonal tower which forms the fortification’s central keep.
After undergoing extensive renovations, the castle reopened to the public in 2012 to offer visitors a more immersive experience, including 3D maps, audio-visual installations, illustrations by renowned illustrator Victor Ambrus and dress-up experiences for kids and adults alike.
31. Wexford — Hook Lighthouse
Having first been built 800 years ago by William Marshal, known as “the greatest knight that ever lived”, Hook Lighthouse is the second oldest operational lighthouse in the world.
If you take a guided tour of the tower you’ll be treated to tales from medieval times and learn about the peculiar life of a lighthouse keeper.
Head up to the fourth storey balcony to take in spectacular view of the crashing sea beyond, where hundreds of ships have gone to a watery grave.
32. Wicklow — Powerscourt Estate
It says a lot that the 68-room mansion at its heart, named one of the greatest grand houses in the world by Lonely Planet, isn’t even the most impressive part of this staggering estate.
Year-round events are held across 47 acres of grounds — like guided walks, gardening workshops and theatre evenings — but you don’t need an occasion to enjoy its terraces, statues, waterfall, ornamental lakes, and winding paths.
Just spend an afternoon here and you’ll understand why they call Wicklow “the Garden of Ireland”.
Don’t agree with us on any particular county? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.