Visit Ireland: Rural Spots You Should See
Ireland, the “Emerald Isle” is a land of dramatic natural beauty, from the remarkable karst landscape of The Burren to the stunning sights along the Ring of Kerry. As an island, you’re never far from rugged coastlines, serene loughs (pronounced locks), and spritely seas. Further inland, craggy mountains provide a breathtaking backdrop to timeless rural communities.
Whether you plan to explore this mainly rural island on foot, by bicycle, or by car, you can be assured of sweeping views and surprising landmarks at every turn. The pristine countryside is dotted with ancient dolmens, ring forts, and Celtic crosses that pre-date modern history.
We’ve picked out some of the best rural highlights below, but wherever you choose to visit in Ireland, two constants are guaranteed: stunning scenery and the warmest Irish hospitality!
Ireland’s most rural county is Leitrim, on the north side of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Despite being one of the largest counties by area, it is one of the least populated. Winding country lines provide endless opportunities for exploring the lush rolling countryside which is interspersed with rural villages and dark-water loughs. One of the best ways to appreciate this bucolic area is aboard a canal barge on the Shannon-Erne waterway. The 39 mile manmade canal has 16 locks and runs from the charming village of Leitrim to Lough Erne. Must-see attractions nearby include Lough Key Forest Park with its nature trails and tree canopy walk. It occupies the former Rockingham Estate and includes the 1970s Moylurg Viewing Tower. Although the grand mansion was demolished long ago, there are remains of the ice house, church, gazebo, stables, Fairy Bridge and Bog Garden within the evergreen and deciduous trees.
Connemara National Park
Located in West Ireland, the Connemara is a stunning region of natural beauty in Galway. Best known for its hardy wild ponies and woolen tweed knits, the best of the area is contained within the Connemara National Park. Three of the region’s 12 Bens (high mountain peaks) can be seen within the park boundaries and these are Benbaum, Bencullagh, and Benbrack. This unspoiled region is traversed by a network of hiking and climbing trails with panoramic views across the endless countryside. The lofty peaks give way to green inland valleys, fertile agriculture, and peat bogs stretching from Galway to Letterfrack. Don’t miss the lakeside Kylemore Abbey, an active Benedictine Monastery housed in a beautiful Victorian castle with heritage gardens in the wild Connemara countryside.
Within easy reach of Dublin City, Glendalough is known as “the Valley of Two Lakes”. Nestled in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, 28km south of the capital city, this lush rural area boasts rolling meadows, vast loughs, and heather-covered hillsides. Once the site of a silver and lead mine from the 1790s to 1957, the glacial Glendalough Valley was the site of a 6th-century monastery founded by Saint Kevin.
Aptly nicknamed “the Garden of Ireland” Wicklow remains a nature lover’s paradise.
The Burren offers a remarkable landscape of ruts, broken pavement and natural fissures often described as “walking on the moon”. The flat limestone “karst” landscape covers a huge expanse of Co. Clare in Western Ireland. It’s worth trekking across the terrain which, despite its barren appearance, nurtures a host of rare plants. Miniature alpines and wildflowers bravely struggle through the cracks to bloom in spring and early summer. Highlights of the area include strange green depressions called dolines. These indicate the sites of collapsed underground caverns, hollowed out by underground rivers over millennia. While you’re here, don’t miss the spectacular Cliffs of Moher that are also part of the UNESCO-listed Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark. These sheer cliffs rise to over 500 feet above sea level and stretch for an incredible 9 miles!
No trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the Giant’s Causeway on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited tourist attractions, it manages to remain a natural wonder in a stunning rural landscape. The causeway consists of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt rock columns that create a natural pavement of stepping stones with plenty of taller pillars for scrambling over. Stand in awe at this unique natural wonder and enjoy the stunning rural scenery and wave-dashed coastline that surround it. Just four smiles inland are the quaint hamlet of Bushmills and the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. Take a guided tour around the whitewashed buildings, enjoy a tasting and browse the gift shop for unique souvenirs.
The best way to experience the rural landscape of Ireland is with a ride in an authentic pony and trap. You might prefer to upgrade to a horse-drawn carriage with its sprung suspension, but for a breathtaking rural escape head to the island of Inishmore (Inis Mor) in Galway Bay. A short ferry ride connects the remote and beautiful Aran Islands with the small harbor in Rossaveal, Galway. Pony and trap tours take you all around this remote rural island, stopping for a warming Irish coffee and the chance to explore the remains of the ancient Dun Aonghasa Fort. The site dates back over 3,000 years to 1100BC! The ancient laneways around the island resound to the clip-clop of the pony and tours take around three hours to circle the island of Inishmore. With a cozy woolen rug on your lap and the Irish brogue of your local driver and guide, this is rural Ireland at its most memorable!
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