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10 Alternatives to Avoid Tourism Crowds in Ireland

By Dawn Rainbolt
More by Dawn

Ireland Beyond the Icons

Clients love the famous landmarks and icons: Dublin, the Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway. But to avoid crowds, why not include a few alternatives on your itinerary?

Ireland is full of amazing places, many of which are great alternatives to pressure points. Less crowds, lower prices, and an elevated sense of adventure are all the rewards for choosing one of the 10 alternative destinations on this list, as well as giving clients the opportunity to get off the beaten path.

See below for 10 alternatives to help your clients avoid any tourism crowds in Ireland.

1. For cliffs, visit the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal instead of the Cliffs of Moher.

Slieve League Hiking - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Hiking along the Slieve League cliffs in Co Donegal

So, nearly all Ireland visitors want to visit the Cliffs of Moher. The 200 meter high (700 foot tall) cliffs on Co Clare’s coast are a towering landmark and probably Ireland’s most iconic destination. But as magnificent as they may be, the narrow cliffside path is often bottlenecked with people jostling for the same view, which takes a bit of the magic out of the experience. Not to mention the wear and tear that amount of visitors do to the cliffs. Though beautiful, it hardly feels like an adventure.

A great alternative instead to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland are the dramatic Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, Ireland’s most northwestern (and officially its coolest!) county. The Slieve League Cliffs are actually taller, clocking in at 600 meters (1,900 feet), making Slieve League nearly three times higher than the Cliffs of Moher. The exceedingly dramatic sea cliffs are far less visited than the cliffs in Clare, so your clients can enjoy the panorama without the crowd. For adventurous clients, we also recommend hiking up the Pilgrim’s Path, a trail climbing the back of the cliffs to the windy summit.

2. For cosmopolitan flavour, visit Belfast instead of Dublin.

Belfast Northern Ireland black cab - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

If you’re looking for cosmopolitan charm that means you can avoid touris crowds in Ireland, look no further than Belfast.

Though a fascinating city with a rich history, unfortunately Dublin can also be quite popular making it busy, as well as expensive. Sometimes getting the hotel room your clients want in peak season can be difficult. And though it is accessible, it’s also a large city. The main sights are often crowded, and finding that perfect local restaurants can be a task.

By comparison, Belfast is the exact opposite. Northern Ireland’s city is just as cosmopolitan and hip, but lacks the crowds of Dublin. Prices are reasonable, and your clients don’t have to worry about tourist traps. Belfast has an up-and-coming foodie scene and has seen significant revitalisation of its streets, including the new Titanic Museum. Belfast is easy to get to, and has not one but two airports within 20 minutes of city centre. Most interestingly, Belfast & the Causeway Coast are the Lonely Planet’s top 2018 destination, meaning that Belfast is on more and more travellers’ radar. Head to Belfast to see this city changing before your eyes.

3. For Star Wars, visit Malin Head in Donegal instead of Skellig Michael.

Malin Head Donegal - Star Wars - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Welcome to Malin Head, Donegal, a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars fans flock to the famous Skellig Islands, off Kerry’s Ivereagh Peninsula (aka the Ring of Kerry). While true that the Skellig Islands play a central role in the 2017 Star Wars film, it’s also true that most scenes people think were filmed on the Skelligs – weren’t. Only so many boats are licensed to land on the Skelligs, so places are extremely limited. Prices are skyrocketing, booking is first come first served, and the ocean crossing (they’re about 11 km away) can be rough for many clients – and that’s only if the weather allows the boat out at all.

By contrast, your Star Wars fans will find the alien landscapes of northern Donegal’s Malin Head much easier to visit. Even though Malin Head (Ireland’s northernmost point) is far away, it’s a peninsula, so no boats or payment required. Visitors to Malin Head are more sparse, meaning clients will avoid tourism crowds of Ireland’s famed Co Kerry. As the up close Star Wars scenes were actually filmed at Malin Head (the Skelligs are too small to contain the universe inhabited by Rey and Luke Skywalker), clients still get their fill of Star Wars. While at Malin Head, your clients can explore the WWII-era ‘EIRE’ sign (signifying neutral Irish land) and the old signal tower before heading off to hike the savage, rocky coast where it’s easy to see why this desolate place was chosen to be part of an alien world.

4. For fascinating islands, visit Cape Clear Island in Cork instead of the Aran Islands.

Hiking Cape Clear Island Cork -

Bird’s eye view of Cape Clear Island, off the coast of south Cork

The Aran Islands are known as bastions of the Irish language as well as the traditions and customs of an old Ireland. However, their proximity to the ever-popular Galway and the recent uptick in day tours to the islands means that they are visited by thousands each year.

If your clients are looking for an island retreat within a lost Ireland, head south to West Cork’s Cape Clear Island, officially known as Cléire. Here, there is a small but thriving Gaeltacht community (half of the islanders report that they speak Irish daily). Part of Cork’s microclimate, Cape Clear benefits from some of the best weather in Ireland, and the island is easy to access from the ports at Schull or Baltimore. As the last glimmer of Europe for most boats headed to America, it’ll seem like the end of the world. As for traditions, the islanders mix modern with old here. Your visitors can learn about herding goats from a blind goatherd – and then taste some of his goat’s milk ice cream. Though traditional accommodation exists on the island or in nearby Baltimore, adventurous clients may prefer an go glamping in a yurt.

5. For whiskey, visit the Teeling Distillery instead of the Jameson Distillery.

Most visitors to Ireland dream of visiting a distillery to see whiskey in the making – and most choose to go to Dublin’s Jameson Distillery. While the museum part of the distillery has seen a recent modernisation from the animatronic exhibits of 90’s, the Jameson Distillery is still considered by many to be overcrowded, expensive and overhyped.

In contrast is the little-known and relatively new Teeling Distillery, which offers a fresh and modern take on whiskey touring without the crowds. Both Teeling’s tour and the tour & tasting experiences are decidedly cheaper than Jameson’s similar experiences. Still centrally located in the city centre, Teeling Distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin for over 125 years, easily allowing visitors to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland.

6. For a long-distance driving route, choose either the Skellig Ring or the Ring of Beara instead of the Ring of Kerry.

The Skellig Islands - Skellig Ring, Kerry - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

The Skellig Islands framed by a sunset, as seen from Kerry

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Iveragh Peninsula’s famous Ring of Kerry to drive the ring road around the peninsula, meaning that most visitors only see the wilds of Kerry from the window of a car or bus. While Kerry’s beauty is undisputed, it’s no fun spending your holiday in traffic.

For your visitors who prefer to get off the beaten path, choose to include the Skellig Ring in their itineraries. One of Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations in 2017, the Skellig Ring is an extension off the Iveragh Peninsula on the northwestern tip. Though a shorter route, travellers will be off the main road and away from the traffic while enjoying phenomenal views of the Skellig Islands. For those who wish to see the Skelligs up close, the best way to catch a boat is from Portmagee (though keep in mind the increasing demand from Star Wars, as well as ocean and weather conditions). To the north end of the route is Valentia Island, home to prehistoric tetrapod footprints that are 350 to 370 million years old.

A second alternative to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland is the Ring of Beara, the peninsula south of the Iveragh Peninsula. The narrow Beara Peninsula is far more rugged and wild, offering great coastal hikes. Visitors can explore the Allihes copper mines, clifftop signal towers, views over Bantry Bay, and the spectacularly winding Healy Pass, all on a backdrop of sharp mountains and blue ocean.

7. For mountain hiking, go to the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland instead of the Wicklow Mountains.

Mourne Wall, Mourne Mountains - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Forlorn Mourne Wall wandering through the distant Mourne Mountains, a short distance to Belfast

Due to their closeness with the bustling capital city Dublin, the Wicklow Mountains often get called the “Garden of Ireland.” Dubliners desperate for a bit of greenery scamper off to the mountains on every sunny weekend (and many of the rainy ones too!), meaning that the Wicklows really do seem like a garden.

If you’re looking for somewhere a bit quieter to send your clients, a fantastic alternative is the Mourne Mountains. Located in Northern Ireland’s County Down, the Mourne Mountains are only an hour away from the island’s other capital, Belfast, also on this list. Yet, the Mourne Mountains have managed to stay virtually uncharted. Here, visitors can admire dazzling views over the Irish Sea that once inspired the creation of Narnia. The Mourne Mountains are also a great place for hikers looking for challenging peaks. As an added token of interest, stumble through empty landscapes to follow the Mourne Wall, a long, semi-forgotten wall that encircles the desolate peaks and valleys of these mountains.

8. For luxury accommodation, stay at Adare Manor instead of Ashford Castle.

Adare Manor sunset luxury accommodation - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Dusk settles over the luxurious Adare Manor in Co Limerick

Turrets, towers, gardens, the whole lot – Ashford Castle is the stuff fairytale dreams are made from. Ah, Ashford Castle at the heart of Connemara – the epitome of luxury accommodation in Ireland, right?

But if you’re looking for a new and exciting yet still lavish alternative for clients requiring high-end accommodation, try Adare Manor. On par with Ashford Castle’s top-notch standard of pure luxury, Adare Manor gives you the opportunity to explore a whole other region of Ireland. Located outside of Limerick in the adorable fairytale village of Adare – a place where thatched roofs still adorn enchanting cottages – Adare Manor is re-opening in 2018 after major luxury refurbishment. Previous customers won’t even recognise it.

9. To visit an Irish national park, visit Glenveagh National Park instead of Killarney National Park.

Glenveagh Castle - Glenveagh National Park - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Glenveagh Castle sits primly on the quiet shores of Lough Veagh in Glenveagh National Park

Ireland has six national parks, but it’s mostly all about Killarney (and Wicklow) for most visitors. Killarney National Park is handy in that it’s walking distance from Killarney town – but that also means that the landscapes are full of people, especially when the weather is fair. While a lovely place, the park loses its wilderness appeal when your view is obscured by other visitors.

If your clients are looking for a bit more wilderness, instead direct them up north to County Donegal’s Glenveagh National Park. Accessible from the small northern city of Letterkenny (about a 30 minute drive away) but still far enough away from the world to keep less adventurous crowds at bay, Glenveagh National Park offers roaming peaks, cascading valleys and forlorn lakes. The idyllic Glenveagh Castle clings to the narrow Lough Veagh, framed by eerie mountain peaks, creating a painting perhaps even more stunning than Killarney’s Ross Castle.

10. For fascinating geology, discover the wild Burren landscapes instead of the Giant's Causeway.

Burren National Park hiking - avoid tourism crowds in Ireland

Hiking the lunar landscape of Burren National Park’s strange geology to avoid tourism crowds in Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway.

It’s true that there’s no replacing the strange geology Giant’s Causeway, whose only relative is Fingal’s Cave on Scotland’s Isle of Staffa. And the myth of how the Giant’s Causeway was created is even more intriguing – it’s said the Giant’s Causeway was built by two warring giants, but things didn’t work out according to plan (learn more about the myth here). Alas, the Giant’s Causeway is crowded and bustling, and there is a hefty charge to park your car.

To avoid tourism crowds in Ireland while exploring the strange geological phenomenon of the island, head south to the Burren, an exposed limestone landscape in Co Clare. Just as strange and alien, this barren landscape explodes with colour in spring and early summer with a unique rainbow of wildflowers native to the Arctic down to the Mediterranean. Scattered with megalithic monuments such as the Poulnabrone Dolmen, holly wells, and the subterranean Doolin Caves, the Burren region is also known for its delicious food and unique whiskey – not to mention meandering hiking trails.

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture, intriguing history, ancient castles, cheery locals and sweeping landscapes of Ireland.

View profileMore by Dawn

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