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(Last Updated On: 9. April 2021)

Do you have Irish ancestors and are planning a family heritage trip to Ireland? Find out where to go, when to go and what to do in this ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide…

A short introduction to Irish emigration

In the 2013 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 33.3 million Americans—10.5% of the total population—reported that they have Irish ancestry.

A further three million people identified themselves as being of Scots-Irish heritage. This makes so-called Irish Americans the second largest reported ethnic group in the country, after German Americans.

If you have Irish ancestors, too and would like to learn more about how they lived in Ireland, a heritage trip to Ireland is the best way to do so.

Although it’s not possible to travel to Ireland at the moment, it’s never too early to start planning your next trip, right? So here is everything you need to know in the ultimate ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide…

Famine Memorial in Dublin 1_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Famine Memorial in Dublin

As you probably know, many Irish emigrants left Ireland because of crop failures, famines and hunger. There are several memorials to remember their struggles, for examples in Dublin and in County Mayo.

The National Famine Memorial in County Mayo, Ireland. Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
The National Famine Memorial in County Mayo, Ireland

The best time to visit Ireland

Fall colors at Blarney Castle_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Fall colours at Blarney Castle, Ireland

The locals warn you that you should anticipate rain at any time. And I found that to be true on my visits in October, November, August and June. Seasons can change several times during the day, no matter if it’s spring, summer, fall or winter.

But thanks to Ireland being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually pretty mild and it hardly gets super cold. So a particular good time might be in the so-called “shoulder season” (March / April or September / October), when there are less crowds. Also, the landscape looks particularly beautiful due to the changing seasons.

Flowers at the Titanic-Experience-Cobh-Photo-©-Sonja-Irani
August in Cobh, Ireland

How to get around in Ireland

Ireland is big for an island but small for a country, so you can easily see the whole of Ireland in one week! You can even make day trips from Dublin (East Coast) to Belfast (Northern Ireland) or Cobh (Southern Ireland). Here are your options…

Rental car: For maximum flexibility, this is for you. But make sure you feel comfortable to drive on the left and to navigate through the occasionally very narrow roads.

Guided bus tour: If you prefer to sit back and relax while listening to all those fascinating stories of Irish history, book a guided bus tour! There are also lots of day trips offered from Dublin to virtually all sightseeing highlights in Ireland, for example the half-day Wicklow Mountains film location tour by Day Tours Unplugged.

Train: Certain routes such as the Titanic Experience and Emigration Museum in Cobh are not served by guided bus tours, so trains are your best bet. Irish trains are comfortable and quick, but tickets can be very expensive if booked last minute, so try to book them online around 2-3 weeks in advance.

Public transport: Dublin is currently building an extensive new tramway system, but for the time being buses are your main public transport option to get around the city. The Dublin Area Rapid Transport (DART) rail line runs on Dublin’s coastline, which is supposed to be a very scenic ride.

Walking or Cycling: Many Irish cities, such as Galway or Cork, are small enough to walk everywhere. Dublin also offers a bike-share scheme with over 100 stations throughout the city.

Doolough Valley_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Doolough Valley, Ireland

Top Places to visit in Ireland

Start in Ireland’s capital Dublin, but don’t stay there! You haven’t seen the real Ireland unless you’ve been to the at least one of Ireland’s four stunning coasts…

The East Coast:

The best place to start your emigrant-tracing journey

Dublin view. Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Dublin panorama

Dublin

Dublin, the capital of Ireland, should be on anyone’s Ireland intinerey. It’s a great starting point to get an overview of Irish history, too as you found the country’s most important museums and archives here.

Two must-dos for everyone coming here on a family heritage trip are the National Library, which is free to enter, as well as the Emigration museum EPIC Ireland, which I found to be truly epic.

Don’t miss in your ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide:
The Emigration museum EPIC Ireland

Inside the Emigration Museum EPIC in Dublin_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Inside the Emigration Museum EPIC in Dublin
Famous faces with Irish ancestry inside the Emigration Museum EPIC in Dublin
Famous faces with Irish ancestry inside the Emigration Museum EPIC in Dublin

Don’t miss in your ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide:
The Jeanie Johnston Emigrant Ship

You will find the sailing ship “Jeanie Johnston” opposite the EPIC museum and close to the Famine Memorial in Dublin.

The ship is an authentic replica of an original emigrant ship from 1847.

When I was there, I joined a tour by one of the guides. It’s a fun activity to learn more about the (often not so fun!) circumstances the first Irish emigrants had to endure when they emigrated to America on such sailing ships.

The Jeanie Johnston ship in Dublin. Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
The Jeanie Johnston ship in Dublin
Me on the Jeanie Johnston ship in Dublin_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
All aboard! On the Jeanie Johnston ship in Dublin.

Don’t miss in your ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide:
Henrietta Street 14 Tenement Dwelling

Another great museum to learn more about the living conditions of (poor) Irish people in former times is “Henrietta Street 14” in Dublin.

Also, British singer Boy George came here with a film crew when he took part in the ancestry research series “Who do you think you are?”. One of his ancestors had temporarily lived in this house.

Henrietta Street Museum in Dublin 1_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Henrietta Street 14 Museum in Dublin
Inside the Henrietta Street Museum in Dublin _Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani.
Inside the Henrietta Street 14 Museum in Dublin

Wicklow Mountains

Just a one-hour drive from Dublin, you’ll find the spectacular backdrop of the filming locations for historical TV series Vikings (2013-2020).

You can easily go there on a half day trip, for example with the specialised film location tour offered by Day Tours Unplugged. For more info on this tour, check out my Vikings film location post on my film-inspired travel blog filmfantravel.com.

Wicklow mountains, Ireland. Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
At Wicklow Mountains – the filming location of ‘Vikings’
Wicklow Moutains
Wicklow Moutains

The North Coast:

Titanic and Game of Thrones

Belfast

The world’s largest Titanic attraction Titanic Belfast Experience located on the former building site of the original ship. The exhibition inside is really interactive and really extensive and insightful.

This is a must-do if you have ancestors that sailed on the Titanic or ancestors that came over around the time of the Titanic (1912) or if you are just a fan of the film Titanic (1997)

Don’t miss in your ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide:
Titanic Belfast Experience

At the Titanic Belfast_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani.
Can you spot me in this pic? The building for the “Titanic Experience” in Belfast was designed as a huge iceberg, which has the same height as the original Titanic.

Another unique attraction in Belfast is the so-called “Peace Wall”.

Belfast used to be a place of big political upheaval. To learn more about the “Troubles” (the civil war between Protestant UK loyalists and catholic Irish nationals in Northern Ireland), take the famous Black Cab Tour.

Belfast Peace Wall_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Belfast Peace Wall

Derry

Like Belfast, Derry used to be a divided city. Countless wall murals tell the story of the “Troubles”.

If you want to learn more about them, there is no way past LEGENDerry tour guide Garvin from City Walking Tours.

Murals in Derry, Northern Ireland
Murals in Derry, Northern Ireland

Ballintoy

Northern Ireland is Game of Thrones land. So if you’re a fan of the show, you simply cannot miss the ‘Dark Hedges’ on Bregagh Rd in Ballymoney and the ‘Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge’ near the small village of Ballintoy.

Other than that, the views over the Atlantic Ocean are absolutely stunning! 

Ballintoy, Northern Ireland. Photo by Sonja Irani
Ballintoy, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway

This natural wonder is made up of more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. The scientific explanation is that there was an ancient volcanic eruption.

The folklore story is that of a rivalry between Irish giant Finn MacCool and a giant from nearby Scotland. Either way, it’s beautiful!

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The West Coast:

Breathtaking nature and traditional Irish culture

If you are looking for traditional Irish culture, the West Coast is best. Many locals here (such as the inhabitants of the Aran Islands) still speak Irish Gaelic as their first language. English only comes second here.

Galway

Ireland’s third largest city Galway is Ireland’s party town with lots of traditional Irish pubs to check out in the evenings.

Galway, Ireland at night
Galway, Ireland at night

Aran Islands

Time stood still on these peaceful islands, which are best explored by bicycle or horse carriage and offer lots of scenic viewpoints along the way.

From Galway, you can go there on a day trip by bus and ferry or even by plane.

Aran Islands, Ireland
This cliffs almost look “man-made”, but everything is purely natural here on the Aran Islands
Cottage on Aran Islands_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
A typical cottage on the Aran Islands

Cliffs of Moher

No Ireland visit would be complete without this impressive natural wonder! From Galway, it takes about one hour and 40 minutes drive to get there. Alternatively, you can jump on a guided day tour from Dublin.

The Cliffs of Moher in the mist
The Cliffs of Moher in the mist

When I was there, it was very misty. However, that’s typical Ireland (see above for the weather explanation). And at least it cleared up a bit and later on it was beautiful blue skies again when we passed by the statue of St. Patrick in County Mayo.

St. Patrick statue in Ireland
St. Patrick statue in Ireland

The South Coast:

The last point of call for millions of Irish emigrants

Irish Emigration Memorial in Cobh, Ireland
Irish Emigration Memorial in Cobh, Ireland

Cork and Cobh (formerly Queenstown)

Most Irish emigrants that sailed to America left from the port town of Cobh (pronounced: “Cohf”). From 1849 until Irish independence was gained in 1922, the port city was called “Queenstown”.

Cobh with church_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani.com
Cobh, Ireland
Cobh harbor view from the hill where the church is
Cobh harbor view from the hill where the church is

Learn more about Irish emigration history at the Cobh Heritage Centre.

Don’t miss in your ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide:
Cobh Heritage Centre

Cobh Heritage Centre
Cobh Heritage Centre

Don’t miss in your ancestry-inspired Ireland Travel Guide:
Titanic Experience Cobh

The harbor town of Cobh also was the doomed Titanic’s last port of call in April 1912. Check out the interactive Titanic Experience and retrace the journey of the Irish emigrants who went on board here (perhaps one of them was your ancestor?)

Entry ticket at the Titanic-Experience-Cobh-Photo-©-Sonja-Irani
Entry ticket for the “Titanic Experience Cobh”
Crowds waiting to embark on the White Star tenders. Photo taken by Father Browne (11 April 1912). Courtesy of Titanic Experience Cobh.
Crowds waiting to embark on the White Star tenders. Photo taken by Father Browne (11 April 1912). Courtesy of Titanic Experience Cobh.
The same spot at the Titanic Experience Cobh, Ireland today
The same spot at the Titanic Experience Cobh, Ireland today
Titanic Experince Cobh, Ireland
Titanic Experience Cobh, Ireland

Blarney Castle

Ireland’s most famous medieval castle can easily be visited on a day trip from Dublin.

Blarney Castle, Ireland
Blarney Castle, Ireland

If you’re up for it, you can kiss the famous Blarney Stone for good luck. Just remember that millions of other visitors have kissed it before you did… Plus, you have to hang over to reach it. But a kind staff member will help you out with this.

Kissing stone at Blarney Castle_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani
Kissing stone at Blarney Castle

County Kerry

Beautiful beaches, typical Irish countryside and spectacular cliffs await on every corner of the famous ‘Ring of Kerry’. In the evening, stay in the beautifully traditional town of Killarney.

Ireland landscape
Ireland landscape

Dingle peninsula

The coastlines here are steep and the roads narrow, but the view is breathtaking! Try if you can see the uninhabited island of Skelling Michael, which was used as a film location in Star Wars: Rogue One (2016).

Irish coast line
Irish coast line

Here, you can also find the so-called “Dingle Dolphin” Fungie.

Dingle Dolphin in Ireland_Photo Copyright by Sonja Irani.
If you do not catch the real “Dingle Dolphin” Fungie, you can take a picture with the statue.

And finally in your Ireland Travel Guide

7 Practical Things you need to know
for planning your heritage trip to Ireland

  1. Official Currency: Euro (€) in the Republic of Ireland, Pound Sterling (£) in Northern Ireland
  2. Credit cards are widely accepted, but take some cash just in case credit cards may not be accepted (e.g. very rural areas)
  3. Contrary to other countries in Europe, where cars drive on the right side of the road (just like in the US), cars in Ireland drive on the left side of the road (just as in the UK).
  4. Tipping in restaurants with table service and taxis is about 10-15 %
  5. If you’re in a pub with a group of friends, it’s everyone’s turn to buy a “round” of drinks
  6. Hotels in Dublin tend to be either expensive or very quite far out of the city. I found AirBnB to be a good alternative, which will also get you in touch with the friendly locals.
  7. And don’t forget: There is no place in the world where a pint of Guinness tastes better than in a pub in Ireland. Cheers! 😉
Guinness Beer
Guinness Beer
Old castle ruins in Ireland
Old castle ruins in Ireland

Current Ireland travel restrictions related to COVID-19: Check out the latest information on Tourism Ireland’s Covid-19 web page.

Over to you: Do you have Irish ancestors? Have you been to Ireland already or are you planning a trip in the future? Let me know in the comments below. I am all ears!

No, this in not Australia. This is Ireland.
No, this in not Australia. This is Ireland.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos Copyright by Sonja Irani | RevisitEurope.com

Sonja

I have a special interest in "ancestral tourism" and wrote my Master thesis in 2020 for my degree in "Tourism Destination Development" about this topic. On RevisitEurope.com and RevisitGermany.com, I combine my two passions for travel and ancestry research to provide practical tips about ancestry-inspired travel to European countries such as Sweden, Norway or Ireland as well as my home country Germany. If you like to follow along, join the journey on Facebook @RevisitGermany

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