IRELAND IS A SMALL COUNTRY—LESS THAN HALF THE SIZE OF FLORIDA—BUT IT COULDN’T BE ANY BIGGER WHEN IT COMES TO VISITOR APPEAL. FROM ITS RICH HISTORY DATING BACK TO THE VIKING RAIDS TO ITS MODERN-DAY MARVELS, AND FROM ITS WILD, WINDSWEPT COASTLINES TO ITS BUSTLING BIG CITIES, THE EMERALD ISLE OFFERS TRAVELERS A DIZZYING ARRAY OF LANDSCAPES AND EXPERIENCES TO CHOOSE FROM.
By Carlos Edery from Forest Travel
Dublin is a great place to start your Irish adventure. The capital city has undergone a rebirth of late, emerging from a post-crash slumber with a renewed vim and vigor that has put it squarely back on the tourist map. There’s a burgeoning foodie scene focused on showcasing local ingredients, and the city is buzzing with new shops and hotels, galleries and theaters, coffeehouses and more. Much of the action is centered in the Temple Bar cultural and entertainment district, so head that direction if you’re looking to spend a lively night on the town, or if you just want to kick back and enjoy a pint at a local pub such as The Stag’s Head, a favorite tippling place since the 1890s. You’ll also want to set your sights on the plentiful boutiques along Grafton Street and some of the literary landmarks that have appeared in the works of everyone from James Joyce to Oscar Wilde. By far, the most popular attraction in town is the Guinness Storehouse. Here, you’ll learn how Ireland’s best-known export is made and, from its rooftop bar, you’ll enjoy a spectacular view of the city while sipping on your complimentary glass of the dark, dry stout.
Belfast, a former industrial boomtown, has undergone a renaissance of its own of late, as well as renewed interest from travelers. Much of that can be attributed to the impressive Titanic Belfast exhibition center that opened a few years back. Located on the same spot where the historic ship was built more than 100 years ago, the building contains six floors of artifacts, blueprints, models, photographs, and more, tracing the history of the mighty vessel that met its tragic end in the North Atlantic Ocean on a fateful April morning in 1912. Docked next door is the SS Nomadic, the only surviving steamship of the White Star cruise line, now restored to her former glory and open for tours.
Fun fact: Bono and The Edge, members of the popular Irish rock band U2, own a
rock-and-roll themed hotel called The Clarence in the heart of Dublin’s Temple Bar cultural and entertainment district.
Of course, Belfast has more to peruse than its shipbuilding lineage. It’s also well known for its musical pedigree, having spawned talents such as Van Morrison and Snow Patrol, and there are venues galore where you can take in a show. If you’re thirsty, be sure to stop in at the Crown Bar, the city’s most famous pub and one of its top attractions. The Crown Bar dates back to 1826 and it is a prime example of Victorian gothic architecture, so you’ll be drinking in high style. Belfast’s black taxi tours are a popular way to see the sights, but given that it’s only about an hour’s walk from one end of town to the other, a proper exploration is equally manageable on foot.
Travel just over an hour north and you’ll reach the seaside resort town of Portrush, situated on a mile-long peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. You’ll have your pick of activities here, be it strolling the miles of sandy beaches, exploring medieval Dunluce Castle, playing a round at the acclaimed Royal Portrush Golf Club, or dining on the catch of the day at one of the eateries along the harbor. One spot you definitely won’t want to miss is the Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest distillery, which has been making its world-famous Irish whiskeys for more than 400 years. Surrounded by some 185,000 barrels, you’ll learn how barley, water, and yeast blend to create this liquid gold. Bonus tasting sessions are held at the onsite pub where American troops once bivouacked during WWII.
A unique way to take in all of these sights and more is aboard the Belmond Grand Hibernian, a luxury touring train set to launch service in August 2016.
A sister to the Belmond Royal Scotsman that traverses the Scottish Highlands, the Grand Hibernian will offer exclusive two-, four-, and six-night itineraries throughout the Republic and Northern Ireland. The deluxe railcars harken back to the golden days of train travel, and the journey not only exposes riders to Ireland’s breathtaking scenery, but also to authentic Irish experiences such as kissing the Blarney Stone, fishing for trout on Lough Leane, attending a sheepdog trial, and snapping selfies among the over 40,000 basalt columns at the Giant’s Causeway nature reserve.
Ireland is magical, cheerful and green, very green, and its summers offer 18 hours of daylight, so there are plenty of chances to see the sun-showers and Ireland’s famous rainbows, giving every visitor an opportunity to find the pot of gold.