By Amanda Little
Most people think of the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse when they think of Ireland, but the Emerald Isle has so much more to offer! For those looking for off the beaten path attractions, these ten places will make you feel you’ve discovered your own piece of Ireland.
1. Torc Waterfall, Killarney National Park • Killarney
While trekking through the trails Killarney National Park, you may want to take a 5 minute detour off the N71 Killarney Kenmare road into the woods to find the impressive Torc Waterfall. Feeding from the Owengarriff River and falling over 60 feet into “The Devil’s Punchbowl," Torc Waterfall is a stunning stop on the Kerry walking tour. While it was once a hidden gem, it had become more and more popular over time and may be congested during the summer months.
2. Aran Islands • County Galway
Just a ferry ride away from Galway, the Aran Islands await, full of adventure and beautiful sights. Medieval castles, prehistoric fortresses, beautiful beaches, time-weathered churches and more adorn the three islands. Stop in at Dun Aonghasa, a World Heritage site sitting on the edge of a 300-foot cliff, pick out the cutest bed & breakfast among the islands, or try out Ireland’s newest glamping grounds.
3. Glendalough • County Wicklow
Make sure your camera is ready for one of the most beautiful, tucked away corners of the country. Stop in Glendalough to visit Gleann da Loch, the lake that represents the rugged and wild beauty that the idea of Ireland inspires in most. Even with its popularity, the two lakes tucked into the valley are tranquil and covered in deep forest. You can find the historic settlements of the monks along its shores, and walking there, you can understand why they chose that location.
4. Mourne Mountains • County Down
Find a challenge suited to everybody among the Mourne Mountains. Known for their array of beautiful lakes, gentle slopes, and even challenging climbs, the beauty of the 28 peaks here is easy to find. You could rest along the banks of Murlough Bay, or climb Slieve Donard, the tallest peak, for a fantastic view out over it and the small town of Newcastle. Walkers can pick out easy trails along Butter Mountain, Slieve Corragh and Slieve Lamagan, but all should pack their camera for the journey.
5. Skellig Michael • Skellig Islands
Make the impressive journey to the very top a towering sea crag jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean where you will find the remains of a monastery built by ascetic monks between the sixth and eighth centuries. A dramatic testament to Christian monasticism, the monastery stands as an outstanding if difficult to access UNESCO Heritage attraction off the western edge of the Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry.
The monks had returned to the mainland by the thirteenth century, but two lighthouses had been built on the crag by the nineteenth century as it remained a place of pilgrimage. You can catch a glimpse of Skellig Michael in on the silver screen as well as the setting at the end of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."
When visiting Skellig Micheal, it's best to plan well in advance. Capacity limitations, access issues, and weather conditions can make it quite difficult to get to.
6. Hore Abbey • County Tipperary
Built in the thirteenth century, with changes and additions, including the tower at its center, up until the fiftheenth, Hore Abbey was once inhabited by Cistercian monks and is the only monastery in Ireland to have the cloister to the north of the abbey. Now, the ruins of the monestary are surrounded by fields of sheep and cattle, and can be accessed by the public.
7. Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge • County Antrim
Look out over the sheer drop as you cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge connecting the tiny island of Carrickarede to the mainland near Ballintoy. The 65 foot long bridge spans the distance, and if you dare to look down, you can see the rocks and water nearly 100 feet below! From the bridge, you can pick out the ancient caverns that dot the cliffs.
It's highly recommended that visitors pre-book before visiting. The bridge is open daily from 9:30am to 6pm.
8. Rock of Dunamase • County Laois
No castle nor church can withstand the Rock of Dunamase. Over the years, many have tried to build their residence or military post on the picturesque hill, but none have lasted. Now, the hill is strewn with ruins that date back for hundreds of years. An archaeological paradise and scenic to wander through, the crumbling remains of history are open to the public to view. Make sure you bring your camera!
9. Caves of Kesh • County Sligo
The Caves of Kesh (or Keash) are easy to see, but a bit more difficult to access, but the adventures to be had among them are well worth the effort. Surrounded by myth and fairy tales, the caves can only be accessed by a steep climb up a hillside filled with stinging nettles. You can explore through the 16 shallow caverns and take in the view from Cormac’s Cave, but there is more if you continue on an even harder climb. Pick your way through caves and foliage to reach King’s Mountain, the top of the hill. Keshcorran’s stone age tomb crowns the very top of the hill. With all of its dramatic views and wearying climb, its easy to see why this was the place of myth.
10. Cuilcagh Trail • County Fermanagh
Nicknamed the "stairway to heaven," the wooden boardwalk on Cuilcagh Mountain has become a social media darling. Opened in July 2015 in order to preserve the area's rare blanket bog, the trail offers stunning scenic views of the surrounding mountain. Be advised: the entire trail is 4.6 miles and a steep climb is required to reach the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain.