Ireland is one of the globe’s most singular travel destinations, a feisty, twinkling country far more famous for the sum of its parts than for any specific sight or attraction. Its landscapes are raw, its cities are animated and its history holds endless tales of adversity. Tying all this together is the Irish character, a fabled combination of bright-eyed bonhomie and bar-room banter: there’s good reason why the planet’s full of Irish pubs.
Lovable Dublin falls naturally as the most popular option for first-time visitors, although for all the capital city’s stately architecture and riverside charm, it only partly hints at what the wider country has to offer. The real spirit of today’s nation might be up for debate – it’s as likely to be found in a Connemara village as a Cork street scene – but searching for it is hugely enjoyable.
It’s often said that there are two Irelands. Despite its economic woes, 21st-century Ireland is a modern destination, full of fresh creativity. At the same time, of course, it’s somewhere rooted in the strongest of traditions, a country marked by humour, hospitality and more than the occasional late night. The craic of legend isn’t generally hard to find.
With all this in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ireland caters for such a broad range of interests. Those in search of windswept hikes, Celtic relics and fiddle-and-song pubs will be well sated, but so too will those looking for on-trend gastronomy, family-friendly attractions or slick hotels. The country may be small but its cultural impact worldwide continues to be enormous, and this is due to far more than just a romantic notion of how it used to be.
Various icons and images enjoy close associations with Ireland (see everything from craggy peninsulas to pints of Guinness) but the real beauty of the country is the fact that it transcends every cliché that people throw at it. Its potential for adventure – for real, blood-pumping adventure – is all too often overlooked, while for those who just want to take it easy, the options are copious.