We drove an hour or so west of Galway to Cleggan to take a ferry to the island of Inishbofin for views of the ocean. Inishbofin is largely clear of tourists. Stop in the small visitor's center for a map and tips on the best hikes.
If you can peel your eyes from the untouched beaches, you'll find quaint farms separated by loose-stone fences. Some homes still have thatched roofs.
8. Croagh Patrick (719 kilometers or 447 miles): "Croagh," in Irish, means hill. But St. Patrick's hill is a freaking mountain. Hiking to the top takes five or six hours, or, in our case, longer since we couldn't find the trailhead for about an hour. It's marked with a giant white statue of St. Patrick, so it really shouldn't be that hard.
The steep walk has beautiful views of Clew Bay, which is dotted with hundreds of tiny islands one for every day of the year, they say. At the top you'll find a white chapel and the stone bed where, legend has it, St. Patrick slept for 40 days after he made the climb. It doesn't look comfortable.
9. Giant's Causeway (1,032 kilometers or 641 miles): After crossing into Northern Ireland, which is governed by the United Kingdom as opposed to the Irish Republic, we drove to the far northern coast to see Giant's Causeway, a natural wonder that is Northern Ireland's most popular tourist attraction.
A golf-course green canyon wall slopes into a set of volcanic rock formations that are completely surreal: Near-perfect hexagon tubes are stacked next to each other like puzzle pieces. Walking to the end of the trail to see the Giant's Organ a collection of tall hexagonal pillars stuck in a canyon wall and The Cathedral, which is a deep, semicircular valley full of squawking birds, is well worth the views.
10. Belfast (1,420 kilometers): The capital of Northern Ireland still divides itself with a metal wall, topped in barbed wire a reminder of the violent "Troubles" that plagued the city up until the late 1990s. It's not like a quick trip to Belfast clears up all of this long and brutal history, but it helps.
We took a long walk along the Peace Wall, which still separates two volatile neighborhoods, one Catholic (wanting to become part of the Republic) and one Protestant (favoring the current union with the United Kingdom). The gates between the enclaves still close at night. But it's safe in the day, and you can see a wealth of history on the walls of buildings: murals that feature martyrs of hunger strikes and glorified masked gunmen.
Take a bus or taxi tour of the city at large to gain a wider-lens perspective on Belfast,
which is seeing something of an economic boom and cultural resurgence.
Hope my post is intriguing enough and will get you soon to travel to Ireland.