Irish tourism comes into the year on an extremely high note. 2015 was the best on record for visitor numbers, currencies continue to stand strong against the euro and sterling, more flights are connecting Ireland to more places, the country hasn’t tarnished its reputation for hospitality, and security-concerned travelers still view Ireland as one of the Europe’s safest.
Those attributes make Ireland a great place to visit in 2016, but they don’t point you to WHERE to go once you get there. We turned to a few Irish travel experts to get their ideas of the places that will be turning heads this year.
Ireland’s Ancient East
Following the success of the Wild Atlantic Way, Fáilte Ireland’s new offering Ireland’s Ancient East showcases the incredible wealth of heritage across the eastern half of Ireland, covering seventeen counties from Carlingford to Cork. As well as well-known sites like the Rock of Cashel or Newgrange, visitors can also experience hidden treasures like the ancient tombs of Loughcrew or the rambling ruins of once great monasteries like Athassel or Kells. It promises to be an engaging and immersive journey of discovery through thousands of years of Ireland’s archaeology, history, heritage and folklore!
Skellig Michael, County Kerry
This tiny island off the coast of the Ring of Kerry is difficult to get to. It is only reachable by boat, and that is very dependent upon decent weather. However, as a filming location in the highly popular Star Wars: A Force Awakens movie, expect it to be sought out by tourists who would normally not try such a trip. It is a truly spectacular spot, an ancient monastic village on the edge of nowhere and inhabited only by migrating seabirds. Do be warned; hundreds of stairs are required to get to the top, and there are no railings. This is not for the faint of heart or legs!
Christy Nicholas – author and artist – www.facebook.com/greendragonauthor/
Eat at the Seaside in Portstewart, County Derry
It’s Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and drink, and Harry’s Shack in Portstewart boasts the best of beach eats anywhere. Situated smack dab on Portstewart Strand, Donal Doherty’s charming reclaimed rustic timber bring-your-own wine salty air swept bolthole on the sea serves up some of the best dishes this side of the Atlantic. A trip to the northern coast of Ireland would not be complete without calling into Harry’s Shack for a bite to eat. (Tell them I sent you.)
Imen McDonnell – cookbook author and blogger – www.farmette.ie
Dublin and the General Post Office
With the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising, all of Ireland will be commemorating in 2016, but Dublin will be especially lively. Memorial services, official ceremonies and even a parade will be on offer Easter weekend, but the celebrations continue throughout the summer with music festivals, concerts, theater performances, symposiums and exhibitions. To sweeten the deal, a €7 million overhaul of the General Post Office (GPO) museum is underway by the same folks who transformed Limerick’s King John’s Castle.
Stephanie Chastain – Ireland travel coach & blogger – www.InfiniteIreland.com
County of Culture 2016: County Clare
In addition being home to the natural splendors of the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Lough Derg, and more, Clare is celebrating #ClareCountyOfCulture in 2016. This August, Ennis hosts the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the All-Ireland music festival; and expect some exciting additions to the Burren Food Trail. There are a ton of other interesting events on from matchmaking to jazz to winterage farming festivals. Check them all out at www.clare.ie.
Jessie – Clare-loving travel dog – www.vibrantireland.com
Finn Lough & the County Fermanagh Lakelands
Located in the Fermanagh Lakelands, Finn Lough offers one of the most beautifully unique places to stay on the whole island of Ireland. Overnight stargazing in one of the Forest Domes provides a real treat. I was seriously impressed with everything here- accommodation, food, activities, setting, and service… I even put together a video of the experience.
Susan FitzGerald – travel blogger – www.vibrantireland.com
Gobbins Cliff Path, County Antrim
Unlike other coastal paths that follow close along the top of an ocean-side cliff, the Gobbins Cliff Path first descends down to sea level, then winds along the base of the cliff, up and down steep cut stone stairs, across bridges from sea-stack to cliff face and island to island, by caves and through a narrow tunnel. Originally opened in 1902; the path hasn’t been accessible since the 1950s. Newly reopened, it’s an experience unlike any other in Ireland, and we’re happy to share our walk along the Gobbins.
Travis and Kate – writers, photographers, and podcast hosts – www.engagingireland.com
Achill Island, County Mayo
This is the year to visit Ireland’s largest island which is connected to the mainland by a bridge in Achill Sound. It has something for everyone — hotels, B&Bs, 5 Blue Flag beaches, an archaeological school that works in the deserted village, assorted churches, pubs, mountains, water sports, seaweed baths, golf, surfing school, and walking/hiking. The island also has several Gaeltachts where the Irish language is preserved and spoken. My favorite spot on Achill for lunch/shopping is the Beehive in Keel – wonderful, fresh salads and entrees (I recommend the mussels and salmon), home-baked pastries and more. Achill is also known for smoked salmon from Hassett’s Keem Bay Fish Products.
Judy Enright – travel writer and photograher – www.bostonirish.com/traveling-
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, County Clare
Although I visit every year, last summer I fell in love with Bunratty all over again. Shannon Heritage began an overhaul of the attraction and the place was glistening with fresh paint, more characters in the buildings, and a much more vibrant visitor experience. In 2016, improvements continue with a brand new entrance, shop, and cafe, as well as, an update to their Traditional Night program. This “old” attraction has put itself back on the “new” must-see list.
Liam Hughes – tour guide and co-host of the Irish Fireside Podcast – www.IrishFireside.com
Outdoor Pursuits: West County Cork
Outdoor exploration is going to be big in Ireland in 2016. I predict a lot of families visiting the country will be adding West Cork to their plans. Wide open spaces for hill walking, stunning coasts, and aquatic animal sightings will draw families to the area. Camping is on the upswing in Ireland, and the Pod Pairc & Walking Centre in Drimoleague is ahead of the curve. Their deluxe pods are perfect for families looking to ‘glamp’ in Ireland.
Jody Halsted – travel coach and blogger – www.irelandfamilyvacations.com
Game of Thrones in Ireland, County Antrim
By now it’s no secret, the Game of Thrones filming locations are the coolest in the history of television, and Northern Ireland is at the center of it all. The production company, based in Belfast, is keen to highlight the best nearby locations… as well as filming in Malta, Spain, Morocco, Iceland, and Croatia. This year, the show’s popularity continues to grow, and even those who haven’t seen the HBO series can be taken in by Ireland’s contribution to the magical world. Here are 25 Killer Photos of Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland, and Discover Northern Ireland offers a downloadable map of the sites.
Christa Thompson – blogger and writer – www.thefairytaletraveler.com
Upperchurch, County Tipperary
Few people outside North Tipperary have heard of the village, but the Irish Times gave the one-night-a-week pub down the road, Jim o’ the Mill, a nod for Ireland’s best. Curious visitors are rightfully searching out the place to judge for themselves. In addition to music at “The Mill” on Thursday nights, Upperchurch draws hikers to its signposted walk from town into the surrounding hillside, and the pubs in the village are always welcoming and cozy. Plus, sports fans can also look in on Ireland’s second largest stadium for hurling and Gaelic football matches in nearby Thurles.
Corey Taratuta – travel writer and podcast host – www.IrishFireside.com
And here are a few others for good measure…
The Concert Lineup
After the Garth-Brooks-concerts-that-never-happened stole the headlines from every Irish music event in 2015, this year promises a solid lineup of stars. On the big-name circuit you’ll find Brian Adams, Adele, Mary Black, Justin Bieber, Andrea Bocelli, Dixie Chicks, Josh Groban, Janet Jackson, Natalie Merchant, Brad Paisley, Rihanna, Rod Stewart, UB40, and Neil Young. And that list doesn’t even touch the local talent on offer throughout the island.
Once at the Olympia Theatre
While the Irish film “Once” took home a string of awards including an Oscar, the stage musical claimed even greater accolades on Broadway and the West End. The production returns home to Dublin this summer at the Olympia Theatre where the story and music, especially that haunting song “Falling Slowly,” will hypnotize audiences.
Westport, County Mayo & Kinsale, County Cork
Behind every overnight success, there are years of hard work. That’s true of Ireland’s most recent Top Tourist Town winners… Westport and Kinsale in the small and large town categories. Both destinations have earned this moment in the spotlight, but they’ve been working at getting it right for years. Both boast picturesque town centres, fantastic food, distinct accommodation and a welcoming community of residents and small businesses dedicated to a memorable stay.