Ireland is a contemporary, inventive and bustling place to visit year-round. Between the art, history, music, and literature, there’s no better place to broaden your cultural horizons.
Fall is the perfect time to embrace cultural experiences in Ireland. With its abundance of energetic cities and history around every corner, here are 5 ways to explore the Emerald Isle this season.
Take a Walking Tour to Really Understand the Local History
Nerd out on a literary crawl, take a food-focused spin around local markets, or explore the island’s fascinating history.
Stretching your legs is a great way to investigate the nooks and crannies of Ireland’s walkable cities in any weather. Follow in the footsteps of some of its most famous Irish authors with the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, hosted by actors who bring the works of Samuel Beckett, W.B. Yeats, and Flann O’Brien to life. In Belfast, sign on for Taste and Tour‘s comprehensive four-hour deep dive into local markets and hidden gourmet gems.
The walled city of Derry/Londonderry has fifteen centuries of history to stroll through. An experienced guide from Derry City Tours will open your eyes to the city’s troubled past and subsequent road to peace.
Or, for something more macabre, brush up on your history with a ghost tour. Leap Castle in County Offaly was built on top of an ancient druidic site and is said to be one of the most haunted places in Ireland. Both the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast and the Cork Gaol offer intriguing historical prison tours that will raise your hackles with tales of vengeful spirits.
Attend a Festival to Experience Cultural Celebrations Firsthand
Get spooky with Halloween-themed festivities, enjoy the smooth sounds of jazz at music concerts, or embrace your inner thespian at renowned theatre gatherings.
Samhain is the ancient Irish celebration that marked the end of harvest time and the origin of Halloween as we know it today. It’s no surprise then that Ireland does Halloween better than anywhere else in the world. Check out Derry/Londonderry’s annual Halloween Festival, a week-long mix of ghoulish costumes, festive parades, and performances by local and international artists. At the same time in Dublin, the Bram Stoker Festival celebrates Ireland’s most famous gothic author with pop-up parks, theatre, and live music throughout the city.
The fall and winter seasons aren’t all ghost stories, however. The Cork Jazz Festival in late October is one of Ireland’s largest music festivals and brings thousands of people to what Cork residents insist is the prettiest city on the island. The Dublin Theatre Festival is Europe’s longest-running celebration of theatre, and runs for three weeks between September and October. And don’t miss out on Culture Night on September 20th—no matter where you are, coordinated special events have the whole island celebrating as one.
Stay in a Castle to Discover How Famous Families Used to Live
Tour over 220 acres of land dotted with 17th century architecture, venture into medieval churches, or take up falconry at storied manors.
Surrounding yourself with history is never difficult in Ireland, and for an especially immersive touch, why not stay in part of it? The likes of the Castlemartyr Resort in Cork put you in the middle of 220 acres of lands that used to belong to Sir Walter Raleigh. The castle itself dates back to the Knights Templar, and the newer manor house is a 17th century work of art.
Spread over eight islands in Fermanagh’s lake district, the Belle Isle Castle grounds are even larger—walking trails, private gardens, and a state-of-the-art cooking schools are all yours to enjoy. Adare Manor in Limerick boasts luxurious accommodations with a world-class golf course as well as fishing, falconry, and archery. It makes a great home base for excursions to the Cliffs of Moher or the Dingle Peninsula, too.
Go on a Whiskey Trail to Educate Yourself on One of Ireland’s Most Famous Exports
Visit the island’s many distilleries and sample some of the oldest and finest craft whiskey in the world.
With more than thirty whiskey distilleries scattered across the island, there’s a lot to explore and learn about this popular beverage. Begin your journey at The Irish Whiskey Museum just across from the centuries-old Trinity College in Dublin. The Old Jameson Distillery itself isn’t far away if you’re up for a walk, or you could find yourself a snug corner at O’Neil’s Pub, a 300-year-old establishment with a long list of craft whiskey.
The oldest distillery in Ireland is Bushmills in Country Antrim, which has been in operation since the 1600s. Matured in sherry and bourbon casks, Irish whiskey is a little smoother and sweeter than its Scottish cousin. Tullamore Distillery represents a new era of whiskey distilleries currently popping up around the island. Reopened in 2014 after decades of closure, you can now tour the distillery and learn about its process before sampling the ultra-refined whiskey for yourself.
Best yet, head west to the Galway Whiskey Trail, which connects some eleven distilleries together. If you arrive in late September, you’ll stumble across the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival. Sample the fruits of the sea while savoring the warmth of the distiller’s craft, wrought in barley.
Visit a Museum to See Tangible Examples of the Past
Learn more about Ireland’s emigration story, gaze at Bronze Age treasures, or visit the hometown of the Titanic.
Dublin is known for a boisterous and youthful nightlife, but there are any number of educational ways to spend your days. Get a better sense of the modern history of this fascinating city with a guided tour of The Little Museum of Dublin, situated right in the heart of Dublin city in a Georgian townhouse, then visit the National Museum of Archaeology to see ancient Bronze Age treasures.
Another highlight of Dublin is the Dublin Writer’s Museum, home to letters and artifacts from Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and James Joyce. The nearby EPIC Irish Emigration Museum uses cutting-edge technology to tell the story of Ireland, its people, and its impact around the world. It also happens to be the first fully-digital museum in the world.
A trip to Belfast wouldn’t be complete without visiting Titanic Belfast for an interactive experience. Come away with a better understanding of Northern Ireland’s most famous nautical export and its tragic story told through nine immersive galleries. Then, stop by the lesser-known Tower Museum in Derry/Londonderry, with artifacts recovered from the wreck of La Trinidad Valencera, a Spanish Armada galleon that foundered off the north coast in 1588.