Play Hard

4 of the best cities to visit in Ireland

With the Guinness flowing and St Patrick’s Day celebrations in full swing, there’s no better time to consider a trip to the Emerald Isle…

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 17.03.2022

DUBLIN

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An Alternative Dublin City. You won’t be able to move for all the tourist attractions in ROI’s capital and, what’s more, you won’t be able to move in or around them, either. So why not go off the beaten track? With a little help from the experts, of course. The Alternative Dublin City team take locals and tourists alike on weird and wonderful tours across the city’s famous cobbled streets to show them a lesser-seen version of Dublin – a version where art and beauty hide in the shadows; where true crimes have happened and where musical legends have passed through; where the secret history of gay Dublin has thrived and where inspirational women have silently triumphed… explore it all, without anybody else ever knowing.

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Peruke & Periwig, if it’s traditional Irish refreshments you’re after. Offering visitors a unique drinking and dining experience, P&P serve up draught pints, craft beer, cocktails, whiskeys, spirits, liqueurs, wine and coffee on the ground floor, along with some tempting bar snacks, while it’s up on second and third floor lounges where you can tuck into a modern Irish menu every evening. Don’t miss their roasts on a Sunday if you can help it – they’re something else.

 

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The Hairy Lemon pub. Christened in memory of one of the city’s great characters – who was reportedly a dog-catcher in the 1950s, who boasted a lemon-shaped visage and a stubble of gooseberry-like hair – this pub has become one of Dublin’s most famous drinking establishments. Even the 19th century house in which it resides is a little outside the box – inside is filled with years of memorabilia, a sitting room suspended in mid-air, a ballroom and even a blockbuster film set…

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The Temple Bar Inn. Because, let’s face it, you want to be right in the heart of the action during your stay in this vibrant city. Chic, quirky and comfortable, this boutique hotel promises you a luxurious retreat without you ever missing a beat – with 101 cleverly designed ensuite rooms encompassing everything you could ever need, all located within the famous Temple Bar quarter – just a three-minute walk away from the popular O’Connell Street and Trinity College.

 

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Van Gogh Dublin. This summer, don’t miss your chance to gain access to the world premiere of this immersive journey, which takes over 20,000 square feet of the Royal Dublin Society. Delve into the world of Van Gogh, as the Society brings some of his most famous works of art to life with award-winning audio-visual storytelling and cutting-edge virtual reality technology in a family-friendly 3D experience you’ll never forget.

CORK

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Blarney Castle. Built nearly 600 years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, Blarney Castle has been attracting attention and admiration ever since. Perhaps the reason the stronghold has become a world-renowned landmark – and one of Ireland’s greatest treasures – is because it’s home to the famous Blarney Stone. A legendary stone of eloquence found at the top of the tower here, legend has it that those who kiss the stone will never again be lost for words…

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Cork is where it’s at when it comes to food. After all, this is a county that has spearheaded the Irish food revolution and the city is practically fizzing with great restaurants, craft-beer pubs and one of the best food markets in Europe. So, you can imagine how difficult it is to choose just one eatery to recommend. That being said, Café Paradiso is arguably one of the best vegetarian restaurants going.

 

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The best bar in Ireland, of course! Cask is a multi-award winning cocktail bar nestled within a gorgeously traditional building in Cork’s Victorian quarter. With a team that embraces creativity, energy and style, head to Cask any night of the week and you’ll find it buzzing with punters on a pilgrimage to try the most innovative drinks in Ireland. This sustainable, seasonal, farm-to-glass cocktail menu changes every 12 weeks, so we can’t even give you our specific recommendations. What we can do is assure you that, whatever you drink here, you’re going to enjoy it.

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Castlemartyr Resort. Steeped in Irish history and tradition, this 220-acre resort, nestled within East Cork’s woodlands, consists of a grand 17th century manor house that sits adjacent to the ruins of an 800-year-old castle. So, as far as unique staycation spots go, it’s pretty up there. With a tempestuous history that includes Strongbow, Walter Raleigh and the Knights Templar, the Castlemartyr Resort has been magnificently restored to offer 108 guest rooms and suites, along with 47 luxury self-catering lodges.

 

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Ballydehob Jazz & Arts Festival. This boutique jazz festival packs one heck of an artistic punch, as live music combines with street spectacle, art, dance and family workshops. With everything from big-name concerts to intimate pub gigs and a healthy dose of fringe attractions to complement, artists from as far away as Paris, New Orleans and Berlin descend on this improbable corner of the jazz world to entertain the masses – and indulge in the now-infamous Ballydehob New Orleans Jazz Funeral Parade. Get amongst it!

GALWAY

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The extraordinary Cliffs of Moher. One of Ireland’s top visitor attractions, these cliffs tower high over West Clare’s wild Atlantic coastline, just over an hour’s drive south of Galway, and offer breath-taking vistas. To the north and west are the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, the Twelve Bens mountains and the Maam Turk mountain range; to the south, there’s the impressive Loop Head with the Kerry coast lurking in the mist beyond it. And atop these iconic cliffs sits O’Brien’s Tower – yet another of Ireland’s most photographed landmarks – holding steadfast against the relentless winds to guard the coast from Spanish galleons and warring tribes.

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Dillisk on the Docks. One of the newest restaurants in the city, Dillisk on the Docks overlooks (as the name suggests) Galway’s beautiful harbour. Combining creative and traditional styles of cooking to create sumptuous dishes made using ingredients of local provenance, a key – or should that be, quay – ingredient in many of the dishes here is the unsung superfood of the Atlantic waters: seaweed. Indeed, ‘dillisk’ is a red seaweed common in Irish waters, so the clue is really in the name. And hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – seaweed can treat high blood pressure and is an excellent source of protein and vitamin B12, as well as being highly delicious.

 

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The Latin Quarter. Extending from the city’s Spanish Arch to O’Brien’s Bridge and passing by St Nicholas’ Church and Middle Street, this pocket of Galway features one of the finest medieval laneways in Ireland in Kirwan’s Lane, as well as many relics of 16th and 17th century architecture. And that’s before we mention the wealth of boutique shops, bohemian-style cafés, pubs, restaurants and hotels that intersperse the historical buildings here. If we had to pick just one pitstop for a pint, we’d go for Taaffes Bar – where their strong history in traditional Irish music wins out every time with stellar live performances.

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Delphi Lodge. This delightful 1830s country house, fishing lodge and hotel is located within one of the most spectacular settings in Connemara Ireland, an hour and a half’s drive north of Galway city. But what is lacks in handiness, it more than makes up for with charming accommodation, glorious scenery and total tranquillity, making it more than worth the extra travel. Located in a wild, unspoilt valley of extraordinary beauty, this 1,000-acre estate really is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets…

 

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Galway International Arts Festival. From 11th – 24th July, this multidisciplinary festival will once again take over the streets of Galway, as musical superstars, international artists, actors, dancers, historians and events organisers come together to celebrate creativity and culture in all its forms. While the majority of the line up is still to be announced, a few reasons to get excited right now are some big top performances from the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs, Pixies and Sinead O’Connor.

BELFAST

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Titanic Belfast is the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience and a must-visit on any trip to Northern Ireland. Telling the story of the doomed ocean liner from her design and building on the museum’s site in Belfast to her subsequent place in history, the self-guided Titanic Experience extends over nine interactive galleries which explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of this special ship.

If you’re more into your nature than you are your history, than follow in legendary footsteps to see the famous Giant’s Causeway, which is just an hour’s drive north of the city. Northern Ireland’s iconic World Heritage Site has inspired artists, stirred scientific debate and captured the imagination of all who’ve seen it.

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the historic Linen Quarter is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after places to see and be seen in Northern Ireland’s capital. And with 40 cafés, bars and restaurants, a dozen hotels and three major music venues all in one compact area, it’s easy to see why. You’ll not go wrong with any of James’ Street, The Ginger Bistro or Zen, while just less than a five minute walk away, Parisien’s elegant décor, cosmopolitan location and authentic French cuisine is also sure to impress.

 

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Belfast Whiskey Club. The city’s only fully independent and non-profit whiskey club has officially opened its doors so that people from all around the world can come and experience unique whiskey tastings in venues across Belfast. From Jamesons in The Jeggy Nettle to Bushmills in Bogan’s Bar, these handpicked venues have the proper Irish bevs and live music to keep you dancing ‘til dawn.

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The Malone. This Victorian townhouse hotel, just minutes from Belfast’s city centre, offers tradition, tranquillity and elegance in abundance. Set in the leafy avenues of the University Quarter and opening onto Belfast’s Lisburn Road – which is lined with fashionable boutiques – The Malone is a sensationally secret staycation spot bursting with Irish hospitality.

 

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Hit The North Street Art Festival, which will see more than 50 local and international street artists create a breath-taking array of modern murals across Belfast from the beginning of May. And, for the first time since 2019, the ‘paint jam’ will return to Kent Street – where you’ll also find live entertainment, street food and drinks as you watch artists bring their murals to life before your eyes.

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