There’s no national festival more beloved than St. Patrick’s Day. All around the world, people don silly green costumes or devour pints of Guinness to celebrate. But for a genuine St. Patrick’s Day experience, there’s nowhere in the world other than Ireland or Northern Ireland for you to visit.
The Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way, a scenic, 1,500 mile driving route that stretches right along Ireland’s Western seaboard, isn’t known for its gentle, relaxing nature. But if you’re the sort of person who enjoys the feeling of salt spray on your face, or the occasional lungful of fresh, sea air, then this is one route to put right at the top of your bucket list. Most people say that the best way to see the true nature of a country is to drive through; this route is perfect for it. You journey will take you along winding roads, past dramatic cliffs and coves, through verdant green landscapes filled with wildlife and accompanied by warm local hospitality. The route is well signposted, and can be driven in sections or in its entirety. Starting in County Cork, and heading west, the tour passes past famous sights such as the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, and the pretty town of Westport in County Mayo. There are a series of free events held during St. Patrick’s Day all along the way, so you’re really spoiled for choice.
Visit: Walk in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker on Skellig Michael, a tiny island – and UNESCO world heritage site – that was used extensively in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The island was first settled by monks as early as the 6th century, but today it’s a haven for bird life including puffins and gannets.
Eat & Drink: In Westport in County Mayo, The Pantry & Corkscrew offers a great-value menu filled local produce; An Port Mór is fantastic option if you’re in the mood for proper Irish food, made using seasonal produce from artisanal suppliers.
Sleep: Enjoy all the beauty of west Cork and traditional Irish hospitality at Oriel House Hotel; the Rose Hotel is surrounded in the Kerry county town of Tralee, offers an elegant, relaxed atmosphere with its own restaurant and gym; in Westport, the 4-star Westport Plaza Hotel is one of the finest in town.
Galway is often considered the ‘most Irish’ of Ireland’s cities, and in fact it is one of the only place you’re still likely to hear the Irish language spoken in the streets. Known for its medieval history, colourful streets, and atmospheric pubs, Galway is deservedly one of the most celebrated places in the west of Ireland. One of the most impressive remnants of Galway’s medieval past is the Spanish Arch, thought to be an extension of the medieval city walls. The arch was designed as a passageway through which ships would enter the city and unload goods brought over from Spain. This trading reputation is reflected somewhat in the city’s thriving food scene with some of the country’s quirkiest cafés and Michelin-starred restaurants, giving it a well-earned foodie reputation. For St Patrick’s Day you can expect a variety of artistic displays in a series of theatre performance, street events, and a major parade, all part of the St. Patrick’s Galway Festival.
Visit: A visit to Galway City Museum will easily take up a rainy morning or afternoon. On sunny days your options are virtually endless, with the city’s streets coming alive with buskers and street performers.
Eat & Drink: Visit the famous Galway Market in Church Lane for lots of great Irish delicacies, and a wonderful, bustling atmosphere. For a meal to remember, head over to Aniar, a Michelin-starred restaurant offering fine dining with local produce.
Sleep: The Western Hotel is a pleasant, traditional, family-run guest house situated right in the heart of Galway. With its own bar and restaurant, it provides a real taste of Irish hospitality and great value for money.
You can’t have a list of St. Patrick’s Day destinations without including Dublin, the charming and beloved Irish capital. Dublin has a lot to offer, for a short break or a longer stay. It’s vibrant, eclectic, and blessed with a unique, charismatic personality. Its fascinating history – sometimes dark, always characterful – is in evidence everywhere, from its medieval castle to its Georgian squares and houses. During St. Patrick’s Day, you can expect live music acts, a plethora of street performances, food markets, walking tours, fun fairs, Irish dancing a bright green lights, as well as the usual annual parade that forms the highlight of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festival.
Visit: If there was just one thing you had to see in Dublin, Trinity College is surely it. Not only is this one of Dublin’s most attractive buildings, but it’s also home to one of the world’s most famous – and most precious – books, the beautifully illuminated Book of Kells.
Eat & Drink: The Vintage Kitchen is a cosy restaurant serving traditional Irish food, nestled in the old part of town. If you fancy fresh oysters served with crisp glasses of wine, head over to Temple Bar Food Market.
Sleep: Staycity Christchurch is an excellent, city centre option if you want a serviced apartment that goes beyond the usual hotel experience; if you’d rather go for something more luxurious, Finnstown Castle Hotel, on the western outskirts of the city, is a proper manor house experience, with four-poster beds, an award-winning restaurant and plenty of leisure facilities.
Belfast can lay claim to a unique history. Though most famous as the home of the shipyards that built the RMS Titanic, most people often forget that there’s plenty more to this intriguing city. Belfast is blessed with a unique character coloured by a troubled past, welcoming pubs and bars, a growing art scene, and plenty of shops, galleries and restaurants to enjoy. With fewer tourists a lower prices, it can be a great alternative to Dublin. In March, Belfast pulls out all the stops. Festivities start with Féile an Earraigh, Belfast’s Spring Festival that takes place on 12-18 March. It features a smorgasbord of the very best music, dancing, spoke word, and literary events the city has to offer. On the 17th, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade leaves City Hall and winds its way through the city, featuring an array of fantastic floats, performers, musicians and dancers. An outdoor follows from 1.30pm on Custom House Square.
Visit: For a bird’s eye view of Belfast, head to Victoria Square shopping centre’s glass dome and gaze out across the city. Alternatively, head to The Cathedral Quarter for a perfect mix of cafes, bars and buzzing art galleries. It’s a must-see spot.
Eat & Drink: Indulge in a proper Ulster fry-up (fried eggs, sausages, bacon, potato farls and soda bread) at St. George’s Market, a beautiful Victorian market and one of Belfast’s oldest attractions. The Crown Liquor Saloon, another Victorian gem, is a classic pub housed in a distinctive building. For traditional Irish food, Hoolohan’s is the place to go.
Sleep: Slap bang in the city centre, Hastings Europa is one of the finest 4 stars in town. Situated in the leafy suburbs of Belfast, and overlooking the gardens of Stormont Castle, the luxurious Stormont Hotel is only 4 miles from the city centre. Meanwhile, the magnificent Culloden Hotel, situated on the wooded slopes of the Holywood Hills overlooking Belfast Lough is renowned as one Northern Ireland’s premier 5-star hotels.
Cork is known as the culinary capital of Ireland, with a strong foodie reputation earned through places like the renowned English Market. Dishing up delicious food and produce since 1788, the market offers a mix of traditional Cork fare and more exotic goods, combined with long-standing, family-run stalls. More recently the city has developed a cutting-edge creative side, with plenty of interesting new galleries, and arts and music festivals. One of the city’s most dynamic art venues is the Triskel Arts Centre, a clever transformation of an 18th-century church, offering everything from creative workshops to exhibitions, live music and cinema. For St. Patrick’s Day the city has plenty on offer, including the famous St Patrick’s Cork Festival, one of the biggest in Ireland, featuring a range of workshops, exhibitions and free events from marching bands to puppet shows.
Visit: Climb the bell tower at St Anne’s Church for the chance to ring the wonderful 18th-century Shandon Bells. The Huguenot Quarter is a tight-knit area around French Church Street and Carey’s Lane, featuring a blend of interesting bookshops, bars, cafes and boutiques. Just off Patrick’s Street sits the Crawford Art Gallery, an artistic institution which houses the famous Canova Casts, a series of plaster casts donated by the Vatican to the Cork Society of Arts in 1818.
Eat & Drink: Market Lane in Oliver Plunkett Street is an award-winning restaurant and bar serving Irish dishes with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The Franciscan Well Brewery, built on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery and Well, offers a range of proper Irish stouts and red ales. For some lively music, head over to Sin É, a local pub which has been hosting traditional music sessions since the 1970s.
Sleep: Oriel House Hotel is located just outside Cork. Belonging to the Talbot Collection, this hotel combines luxurious, stylish accommodation with sophisticated leisure facilities.
Causeway Coastal Route
There is no place on the island of Ireland more magical than the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Made up of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is coloured bytales of pagan gods and belligerent giants, making it a haunting and legendary location. It’s also the perfect location to celebrate Irish culture, and one of the world’s best road trips. Stretching 120 miles along the coast of Northern Ireland from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry, you’ll come across a tapestry of picturesque harbours, lovely villages and sweeping views. There are plenty of hidden gems along the way, but this is a route that is packed with iconic sights. Not to be missed are the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, swinging and swaying over a 100ft gorge, St. Gobban’s Church – allegedly Ireland’s tiniest – and Ballintoy Harbour and the Dark Hedges, in Ballymoney, where Game of Thrones has been filmed. But the jewel in the route’s crown is of course the Giant’s Causeway itself.
Visit: Celebrate all things Irish at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, perfect for families and young kids. Fun activities around St. Patrick’s Day include hunting leprechauns along a treasure trail, face painting and balloon modelling.
Eat & Drink: Stop over for lunch and a great cup of coffee at Lost and Found in Coleraine. Sample some fine local ingredients, with a continental European twist, at The French Rooms in Bushmills. For fine-dining in Derry/Londonderry, head over to Brown’s.
Sleep: Enjoy all the charms and luxury comforts of a real Irish castle at the famous Ballygally Castle in Ballygally, north of Belfast. On the final leg of your journey you can rest your head in the wonderful Hastings Everglades Hotel in Londonderry.
Guinness – image by Kacpar Gunia via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Giant’s Causeway – Image by David McSpadden via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Detail of Giant’s Causeway – Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge – Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The Dark Hedges – Image by Jim Barton via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Galway – Image by Peter Gorman via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Spanish Arch – Image by Peter Gorman via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Galway Farmers Market – Image by Conor Lawless via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Fish stall – Image by Phil Burns via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Galway streets (panoramic) – Image by Mark Grealish via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Dublin Custom House – Image by Giuseppe Milo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Trinity college Old Library – Image by nymo59 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Dublin Street Art – Image by Giuseppe Milo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Dublin Phoenix Park – Image by Roberto Taddeo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Guinness beer – Image by Zach Dischner via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Dublin Grand Canal Theatre – Image by melfoody via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Cliffs of Moher – Image by Dennis Wilkinson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Puffins at Skellig Michael – Image by Maureen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Ring of Kerry – Image by Alex Ranaldi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Flowers at the cliffs of Moher – Image by Jim via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Spirit of Belfast. Victoria Square – Image by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
St George’s Market – Image by Marcella via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Titanic Museum – Image by tatchie via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Jaffe Fountain – Image by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
City Hall – Image by Vossitch via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Street Art – Image by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
English Market – Image by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Shandon Pedestrian Bridge – Image by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Crawford Art Gallery – Image by LWYang via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Shandon Bells – Image by Michelle O’Riordan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Sin E – Image by William Murphy via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)