Anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting the glorious island of Ireland needs little convincing to return. From its lively cities that successfully blend the celebration of a rich heritage with a forward-looking mindset to the inland scenery that’s remote and romantic, and a varied and wildlife-strewn coastline, Ireland is diverse and fascinating.
There’s abundant opportunity to try satisfying new experiences in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which you can travel between under the Common Travel Area (CTA) agreement. Whether learning a new skill, participating in a community event, meeting the locals, or challenging yourself physically, there are many rewarding experiences to be had in the two countries that share a border.
Once you’ve checked into one of the best hotels in Ireland, which include some of the most stylish places to stay in Dublin, or checked into a lovely hotel or guesthouse in Northern Ireland, you’ll want to soak up the beauty and culture of the incredible Emerald Isle.
For an enriching experience, participating in an eco-minded programme such as a beach clean helps genuinely contribute to the protection of Ireland’s coastline. And going back in time, perhaps exploring the stories of Irish emigration at the Ulster American Folk Park or visiting Titanic Belfast can be rewarding in its own way as it offers the chance to dive deep into a particular part of Irish history.
We’ve found nine experiences where you can try something different, learn a new skill, or participate in the local community in Ireland, each richly rewarding in its own way.
On Country Living’s exclusive adventure cruise around the Irish Sea in April 2023, you can try some of these experiences over a memorable week-long voyage where you’ll depart feeling like you’ve participated in an important sustainability programme and learned about the history of Ireland and some of its rural communities.
From seaweed foraging in Galway to being a shepherd for the day on the Glenshane Pass, these are the most rewarding experience to have on the island of Ireland.
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Join a beach clean in Dublin
Marine litter is a worldwide problem, with plastics and other rubbish killing wildlife and spoiling the beauty of our landscapes – including those in Ireland. While more is being done to address the source of the problem, clearing up the mess typically depends on the sterling efforts of dedicated volunteers. While the cause can be exasperating, being part of the clear-up can be a gratifying experience, knowing you’re playing a small role in keeping marine animals safer.
Clean Coasts organise hundreds of beach clean-ups every year across Ireland, coordinating thousands of volunteers to help remove marine litter from the coastline. On an excursion during a cruise of the Irish Sea in April 2023, you can join Clean Coasts in their efforts in Dublin. You’ll lend a hand removing plastics and other litter from the shoreline and learn how this work is essential to protecting the local environment.
Hike Dart Mountain in the Sperrins
Northeast of Omagh, the Sperrins is a wild and remote mountain range and the largest in Ireland. It’s ideal for hikers who want pure peace and tranquillity when exploring. Depending on your route, you might find yourself alone in blissful solitude or in the company of horse riders and cyclists, perhaps with a lone glider circling overhead.
Dart Mountain is the second-highest peak in the range and is home to places steeped in intrigue, including giants’ graves and fairy forts. For an expertly guided tour, join a seven-hour hike up Dart Mountain with Slow Adventure to visit historic locations, gigantic stones, and other wonders of the ancient world that are off the beaten track. You’ll also see the Dart Mountain Cheese factory, meet the cheesemaker, learn about the process, and join a delicious tasting.
Make the lovely Cedar Country Hotel in Omagh a base for your Dart Mountain trip. This cosy hotel is the perfect place to retreat to and soothe weary limbs. Find a seat around the fire at The Thirsty Duck Bar, order something suitably warming, and celebrate a rewarding day of hiking.
Bake farmhouse bread at Ballymorran Bay
Learn how to make traditional Irish bread, including soda, wheaten, and potato, under the expert guidance of wonderful baker Tracey in her charming Farmhouse Kitchen. Tracey welcomes guests with a steaming cuppa and homemade buttermilk soda bannock served fresh from the oven. Then it’s your turn: aprons are tied, and the baking begins. You’ll make three traditional Irish breads on the griddle in the picture-perfect setting of Tracey’s quaint 17th-century thatched cottage.
Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen is a 40-minute drive south of Belfast. Spend time in the city and make time to visit the excellent Titanic Belfast, then stay overnight in an art deco-inspired guestroom at Titanic Hotel Belfast.
Trace your family’s history in Dublin
Seventy million people claim Irish ancestry and travelling to Ireland can help descendants trace their genealogy further and find the answer they’ve been looking for. A great place to start is the National Archives in Dublin, where you can have a free consultation with a genealogist to get you started. The National Library in Dublin can help, too, with a specialist Family History team available to assist on an appointment basis.
Between poring over records and researching your family history (perhaps even identifying a long-lost cousin), you can relax and reflect in the gorgeous surroundings of the elegant Merrion, one of the best hotels in Dublin in the Georgian district.
Hear the myths and legends of the Giant’s Causeway
Visit Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and explore why the Giant’s Causeway captures the imagination of all who visit. Take a seat in the Wishing Chair, a natural throne created from the columns, and hear the myths and legends forever associated with this fascinating area at the visitor’s centre. There’s a choice of walking trails, each making for a rewarding experience whether you have time for a short visit or are planning to explore more deeply.
You can visit the Giant’s Causeway as part of a broader exploration of the Irish Sea aboard an expedition cruise ship in April 2023. When you dock in Portrush, an included excursion takes you to these magnificent stones.
Go back in time in Belfast
Admire the fruits of one of Europe’s largest regeneration projects at the impressive Titanic Quarter in Belfast. Its celebrated centrepiece is Titanic Belfast, an impressive and immersive exhibition dedicated to the lives of those who designed and built the infamous ship. Follow the one-way route through nine interactive galleries that reveal the sights, sounds and even the smells of the ship, bringing the stories of Titanic to life in a way never done before.
On an expedition cruise around the Irish Sea, you’ll dock in Belfast with time to explore the Titanic Quarter and visit Titanic Belfast. It’s just one rewarding experience on an incredible seven-day itinerary.
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