From chic clubbing in Dublin to cycling the Ring of Kerry, Ireland's got a bit of everything
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Dublin defies the stereotype of quaint old Ireland. The vibrant, modern capital embodies the nation’s fast-changing fortunes—Ireland’s GDP has nearly doubled in the past decade. And Dublin manifests the change with contemporary culture: In the Temple Bar district, you can wander cobblestone lanes to discover art galleries, bars, and clubs. Then escape the urban and stroll the Wicklow Way, about 30 minutes from downtown. The 80-mile trail meanders through forest wilderness and sheep-spotted hillsides. It takes up to ten days to complete, but with so many pickup points, hikers can do an abridged version. www.wicklowway.com
Poetry and Sand
County Sligo—with its exposed bluffs, rolling mountains, and miles of empty shoreline—is as wild as Ireland gets. Like the whole country, the northwestern corner is rife with history, in addition to beauty, and Sligo takes particular pride in its William Butler Yeats heritage. Find the poet’s inspiration around Sligo Town, from famous Innisfree to Glencar Lake, inspiration for “The Stolen Child,” published in 1886. Discover Sligo (011-353-71-91-474-88, www.discoversligo.com) charges $27 for a half-day tour. When you’re Yeats’d out, hit the beach breaks at Strandhill Beach, frequent host of the national surfing championships. The Perfect Day Surf School (011-353-71-91-28488, www.perfectdaysurfing.com) offers two-hour beginner or advanced lessons for $40.
Though Cork had humble beginnings as a seventh-century monastic center, it’s now Ireland’s second-largest metropolitan hub and the EU’s choice as the 2005 European Capital of Culture. Don’t miss the old town’s landmarks, like the Butter Exchange, which exported almost 30 million pounds of the yellow stuff annually in the late 19th century. Then stretch your sea legs in West Cork, 90 miles southwest, exploring the rocky shorelines via sea kayak. On a full-day trip with local guide Frank Conroy, you’ll see the ruins of 13th-century Dunboy Castle. $93, including lunch; 011-353-27-70692, www.seakayakingwestcork.com
The Good Liffey
Amid 550 acres of County Kildare in east-central Ireland, the K Club is among the country’s most extravagant resorts and oldest estates. The land was settled in 550 and has been home to prominent people including a vintner who, in 1832, built the mansion that houses 69 lavish guest rooms. In your suite bedecked with period furniture, you might forget you’re living in the 21st century—till you hit the new spa for a bamboo-and-ginseng body polish. Play the part of the Irish noble and hook rainbows in the Liffey River, which traverses the property. Doubles from $525; 011-353-1601-7200, www.kclub.ie
The Back Way
The spectacularly scenic Ring of Kerry, a 110-mile road loop in southwestern Ireland, is not to be missed. What you’ll want to miss is the crowds and tour buses that flock here. To enjoy the scenery sans the tourists, take an eight-day back-road cycling tour through the Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas. You’ll still see many of the major sights—Slea Head, Molls Gap, and the Gap of Dunloe—while getting off the beaten track. Discover the 15th-century Muckross Abbey or listen to a performance of traditional music post-ride in Dingle. Irish Cycling Safaris offers guided and self-guided tours, with about 35 miles of pedaling each day, for $444 (Trek hybrid bikes, accommodations, and some meals included). 011-353-1260-0749, www.cyclingsafaris.com