While anyone studying in Ireland could (and should!) see “cover of a brochure” tourist sites like the Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Stone, why not be a rebel and discover off the beaten path Ireland destinations? Whether you’re studying history, music, environmental science, or anything else (literally — almost any major can find a suitable study abroad program on the Emerald Isle!), exploring these secret sites to see in Ireland in your free time will take your studies to the next level, not to mention make you truly understand the luck of the Irish.
Since studying abroad in Ireland affords you with the opportunity to go a little deeper, we’re here to encourage you to consider bypassing the Ring of Kerry or skipping the lines to kiss the Blarney stone to have a more intimate, truly authentic Irish experience. Here are five sites to see in Ireland, where you’ll discover what actually at the end of the rainbow:
1. Waterford, Ireland
For students studying in Ireland in Cork or Dublin, a visit to nearby Waterford, which lies between these two cities near the coast, is a must. This city is known for being Ireland’s oldest, as it was founded by Vikings, and was once also a hugely important port. You’ll feel like you’ve walked back in time in time as you visit the six towers that date back to the medieval ages and marvel at the tall-masted ships and steepled cathedrals.
The city hosts many festivals throughout the year, such as the Waterford Music Fest, Waterford Film Festival, St. Patrick’s Day parade (duh), and more; each will have you soaking in this historic city when you need a break from hitting the books. Beyond the cultural beauty, there lies an entire city full of friendly Irishmen and women ready to share a chat and a pint. With a friendly atmosphere and a beautiful harbor, you won’t want to skip out on this quaint and quiet seaport.
2. The Copper Coast
Not far outside Waterford (about 30 minutes) is the Copper Coast, a beautiful drive along the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Tramore to Dungarvan. Its namesake comes from the copper mining that used to take place here, and you can still find abandoned relics, like the Tankardstown Copper Mine, scattered along the coast. As the moniker suggests, the coast itself is coppery in color, with red cliffs and sea stacks plunging into the ocean. Students who visit here in the off-season have the chance to enjoy whole stretches of beach all to themselves. Taking your time while driving through the little Irish villages and green meadows will make your excursion here feel extra dreamy.
If you’re still looking more fun places to visit in Ireland along the Copper Coast, take a quick detour to Dunhill Castle. Perched on top of picturesque hill, you’ll have a lovely view of the River Anne. With this castle’s history dating back to the early 1200s, it would surely cost an admission fee elsewhere in the world, but here along the Copper Coast, you’ll have complete access to scramble up to the tower and explore the interior — fo’ free.
3. Lismore & Dungarvan
Both of these off the beaten path Ireland towns are located an hour from Cork. Lismore is the quintessential Irish village with ancient graveyards, brightly painted pubs, and little cottages along the roadside. Make sure to check out the massive Lismore Castle owned by the Duke of Devonshire. It’s the first thing you see when you drive into town, and it is stunning! Easily one of the top sites to see in Ireland. Inside, the walls are adorned with 17th century tapestries, the rooms are littered with artwork, the bookshelves are filled books signed by the likes of Adele Astaire, and there are massive fireplaces that whistle in the wind.
Then there’s Dungarvan, one of the prettiest little Irish towns on the south coast. You’ll enjoy resting here after a busy road trip. One of the highlights is a pub known as The Local, where traditional Irish music sessions, or “trad,” often take place. The owner, Donnchadh Gough, is a famous bodhrán player himself. His interesting travel stories are worth a conversation with him over a pint of freshly-pulled and frothy Guinness (for cultural immersion’s sake!).
4. Sligo County
Here’s where the real magic of Ireland happens. As this location’s atmosphere encourages socializing, you’re sure to meet many of the locals and have some mighty craic. The Tricky McGarrigles pub offers you the opportunity to watch bands like Rackhouse Pilfer play and also has an insane Sunday night session known as MASS: Massive Acoustic Sunday Session (#SundayFunday never sounded so good!).
SUP? No, really. Other than an incredible music scene, Sligo is a hub for surfers and stand-up paddlers. Take a stand-up paddling lesson down the River Bonet, where you’ll land on the Isle of Innisfree (made famous by poet W.B. Yeats). The little town of Strandhill is where all the surfers come, as the area is known for having some of the best waves in Europe. It’s a little known secret (shh!); so don’t tell too many of your new mates about these highlights of Ireland.
5. The Ring of Beara
This coastal drive isn’t exactly an off the beaten path Ireland destination, per se, but it’s often overlooked in favor of the better-known peninsulas like the Ring of Kerry and Dingle. You won’t hear many people recommend this spot, which is located in the southwest of the island, but it’s one of the best things to see in Ireland. The drive on the west coast is quick to earn a glad eye and will become one of your favorites in no time (thanks in large part to its dramatic scenery and sparse tourists). You might have to brake several times — not only for selfies and epic Snapchats, but to let our four-legged friends like wandering sheep and cattle cross the road as you wind your way through mountains and hills.
You’ll also pass a lot of abandoned homes that looked like they were suitable for fairy dwellings, and most shops and houses here are extremely colorful to offset grey skies – especially in the rainbow-painted town of Allihies. Be sure to explore sites to see in Ireland like Dereenataggart Stone Circle and Dursey Island while you’re at it!
Top Rated Ireland Study Abroad Programs
If your list of best things to see in Ireland is solid, but you’re still figuring out which program you’d like to pursue for your summer or semester abroad, here’s a short list of awesome organizations to check out for program information:
- CISabroad has six programs across Dublin and Limerick, Ireland and boasts over 1,000 participant reviews.
- AIFS gives students the chance to study in Dublin, Limerick, or Maynooth, and enjoy the benefits of studying abroad with a company rated as a 9.27 out of 10, based on 200+ reviews.
- IES Abroad has ten different Ireland programs, ranging in focus from acting to writing to combo intern/study programs. Rated 9.35 out of 10, by over 1,000 happy students.
- ISA program participants can call Galway, Limerick, or Dublin home with a semester program in Ireland. ISA is rated 9.62 out of 10 based on more than 200 reviews.
Top O’ the Mornin’, Time to Get Goin’!
From exploring the lush green hillsides to examining the historical hideouts, you’ll no doubt relish the beauty of these five off the beaten path Ireland destinations amidst your post-class rainbow chases. While studying in Ireland will give you some book learnin’, discovering new places will broaden your horizons and round out your educational experience. Just remember to toast the locals with a “sláinte!”, wherever you go.