Ireland is home to incredibly peaceful cemeteries, gorgeous castles, an awesome landscape of bogs, beaches, and cliffs, and of course, Guinness.
As I learned in a nine-day trip around Ireland and its sibling Northern Ireland, this island is one of the most magically friendly places on Earth.
Here are fifteen reasons to visit.
1. The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland, are super rugged. Here’s the wreck of the Plassy, a steam trawler that got blown off course during a severe storm in 1960.
2. The beaches in Ireland aren’t lazy Californian affairs. They’re majestically badass. Here: Rossbeigh Beach in the the southwestern county of Kerry.
3. Monasteries like Kylemore Abbey in County Galway are outrageously peaceful. The Irish church was far from the influence of Rome, so it developed its own Celtic style.
4. Irish cuisine is completely underestimated. Get beyond the potato with poached salmon, bacon and cabbage, and steak and Guinness pie.
5. The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, is a strange and beautiful natural wonder. Legend has it that the Finn McCool, a beloved Irish giant, built the causeway to pick a fight with a Scottish giant, but they were actually formed by an ancient volcanic eruption.
6. Bogs — wetlands created by heaps of peat — are beautiful. About 16% of the island is “bogland,” as they say over there, and before electricity peat was a primary fuel used to warm homes. Sometimes they turn up 4,000 year old human bodies, perfectly preserved through the odd chemistry of the wetland.
7. Ring forts, circular forts which were built in the Middle Ages, are totally awesome. They were most often used as enclosed farmsteads. There are over 45,000 ring forts around Ireland.
8. Guinness is one of the finest beverages on Earth. That’s why 10 million glasses are sold every day around the world, making for over 850 million litres sold a year — enough to fill 340 Olympic-sized swimming pools with foamy deliciousness.
9. There are ruined medieval castles all over the country. Dunluce Castle, which sits perilously above the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland, is one of the most stunning castles, surrounded by steep drops into the sea. On a stormy night in 1639 most of the cliffside fell into the waters below, including several of the castle walls.
10. The Slieve League cliffs in the far northwest of Ireland feel like the edge of the world.
11. Trinity College in Dublin is where many literary greats got their start. Alumni include Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, and Bram Stoker, just to name a few. The library’s Long Room, pictured here, served as a setting in the Harry Potter films.
12. Hills and graveyards are the punctuation marks of the Irish countryside. It’s beautiful when they come together, like under the expansive skies of northwestern County Donegal.
13. Hundreds of “standing stones” — 3,000 to 5,000 year old monuments made of a single rock driven into the ground — can be seen across Ireland. People think they had an agricultural or religious purpose. But they’re so common that if you have one in your yard you probably want to make use of it.
14. Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature, home of legends like Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift. James Joyce may be the city’s favourite author — The Modern Library voted his day-in-the-life epic ‘Ulysses’ as the best novel of the 20th century.
15. The Burren, a limestone-filled landscape in County Clare, looks like Mars on a nice day. Though it appears desolate, the rugged place is remarkably fertile: The area contains 75% of the country’s native species. Plus it knows how to treat you to a nice sunset.