If you’re considering a trip to Dublin and want to know what to expect, or if you’ve always wondered, “What Ireland is known for?” this post is for you. It’s hard to generalize or essentialize an entire country, but I wanted to pull together a list of things that come to mind whenever people think of Ireland.
I have lived in Ireland for over two years, so I wanted to share a list of the things I associate with the country. My mind immediately drifts towards the rolling green hills of more central parts of Ireland, the jagged beaches and stretches of coastline around its perimeter, and the warm and inviting glow of a pub on a chilly evening.
So, what is Ireland known for?
When I think of Ireland, I think of a small country that has had a huge impact on the world’s music, literature, and culture. There are iconic brands of beer and whiskey, enjoyed around the globe – I even have a friend who sports a tattoo of a retro Guinness ad on their leg. Every year, people around the world ostensibly celebrate Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day, which is a huge event throughout Ireland.
Here is my list of the things that Ireland is known for – let me know if I missed anything!
With its brilliant marketing campaigns, Guinness has risen to deserved international acclaim and recognition. This stout beer is available throughout Ireland, but it’s primarily a beer from Dublin. In the south of Ireland, you’re much more likely to find Murphy’s, an alternative stout that is popular in Cork.
If you enjoy Guinness, brewery tours, or both, you can visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. The Guinness factory delights visitors throughout the year; highlight is usually having a pint in the Gravity Bar that overlooks the city. I’ve never been to the Storehouse, but I have had a pint of Guinness in several pubs throughout the country.
As Eleanor Morton, a Scottish comedian once said of Scottish whisky, “Please note that it is ‘whisky’ without an ‘e.’ If it has an ‘e’ in it, it’s Irish, and if it’s called ‘Scotch’ that means it’s American, and that means it’s pish.”
Whiskey is popular in Ireland, with several international and local distillers. The most popular Irish whiskey in the US is Jamison; if you’re already familiar with Jamison, try Powers, another large local distillery that is popular in Ireland. Tesco and other off license vendors will sometimes sell a Powers Old Fashioned, which is a bottled old fashioned cocktail made with Powers whiskey. The Powers Old Fashioned is similar to the popular Slow & Low rye old fashioned from Rock and Rye, but, unfortunately, the canned version hasn’t yet made it to Ireland.
If you want to try Irish whiskey in a pub, two popular drinks to try are the iconic Irish coffee and a hot toddy. A hot toddy is a drink made with sugar/honey, hot water, whiskey, lemon, and clove.
3. Green hillsides
Ireland’s nickname is the “Emerald Isle,” or the green island, because the country is, overwhelmingly and vibrantly, green. The damp weather and temperatures that typically stay above freezing mean that foliage can grow freely and wildly.
For an extra treat, visit a spot in Ireland with purple heather, a type of shrub that also grows in England. The heather covers the mountainside of Trooperstown, a small area with hiking trails in County Wicklow. There are a few holiday homes and B&Bs near Trooperstown. You could stay nearby for a weekend exploring the county’s many treasures and hidden gems.
Pubs, or Public Houses, are the traditional bars, restaurants, and meeting houses that you’ll find throughout Ireland. You’ll notice that pubs can vary widely in terms of the clientele, energy, and aesthetic. There are charming historic pubs, full of relics from bygone eras, wooden furniture that was handcrafted before you were born, and, usually, some nicknacks nailed to the wall for decoration.
When I first moved to Ireland, I was surprised by the country’s pub culture. It’s very normal for groups to spend an evening sitting in a pub, or to travel between several pubs over the course of a night. While some pubs serve food, it’s more likely that you’ll head to the pub after you eat dinner – unlike the Irish pub-themed restaurants you’ll often see in other parts of the world.
Anytime you go to a pub, be sure that everyone in your group orders a drink, as it’s not socially appropriate to sit in a pub without one. However, if you don’t drink or it’s early in the day, you’re welcome to order a soda, bottled water, tea, or other non-alcoholic beverage.
5. Traditional Music
Known locally as ‘Trad’ music, this is traditional Irish folk music that can still be heard throughout Ireland in pubs. One of the best pubs for trad music is Siné in Cork, a cozy establishment that features live music daily and was once voted the #2 place in the world to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. If you visit Siné, prepare to squeeze in with lots of locals because it’s a popular spot without much seating.
Outside of Cork, you’ll find trad music in pubs throughout the country. One of the best ways to find a great show is to start by asking the locals, who will likely be happy to point you towards the best spot. If you’re in Dublin, head to Temple Bar and keep an ear out – you can usually hear the music from the streets.
Although you’ll find traditional music being played on the streets all over Ireland, especially in the summer, I’ve noticed the most street performers in Galway. So, when you’re in Galway, head to the center of the city for some live music and bring some coins to tip people as they play. I’ve even seen spontaneous dance parties break out in the streets!
I know that New Zealand is more famous for its ewes and rams, but there are also a lot of sheep in Ireland. You’ll find them throughout the hillsides, nibbling on the rich, green grass that grows throughout the country. If you’re driving in Ireland, keep a close eye out at all times for the sheep who occasionally wander into the road, having jumped the farmer’s fence.
The sheep you’ll find in Ireland are a pretty hearty variety, with long heavy coats for most of the year. However, if you’re able to visit Ireland during the springtime, you might get to see all of the little lambs skipping and hopping along the hillsides. You probably won’t get a chance to pet one, as they’re pretty flighty and prefer to be observed from a distance.
If you see a ram, or a sheep with horns, watch out – they can sometimes be aggressive. Try not to provoke them by keeping your distance and avoiding direct eye contact.
7. The Titanic
If your trip to Ireland covers a few weeks, you’ll likely find yourself visiting some museums dedicated to the Titanic, a ship that famously sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 1912. You may not associate the ship with Ireland, but it was actually largely manufactured in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where you can see a large museum dedicated to its construction. In fact, ship construction was a huge industry in Belfast around the time of the Titanic’s construction.
The final stop for the Titanic before it set sail for the United States was in Cobh, a port town near Cork along Ireland’s southern coast. There is a much smaller museum in Cobh dedicated to the Titanic, if you’re interested in some local history.
8. The Cliffs of Moher
Among Ireland’s most iconic landmarks are the Cliffs of Moher, set along its western coast in County Clare. From the top of the cliffs, you can see out across the Atlantic, as well as up and down the majestic coastline. During some periods of the year, visitors can see puffins, small birds with vibrant beaks that live in the northern regions of Europe, North America, and Asia.
If you decide to visit the Cliffs of Moher, park in one of the nearby towns north or south of the visitor’s center. This way, you can hike up towards the most iconic view, taking in all of the less famous vistas along the way.
9. Charming small towns
Most of Ireland is very rural, so you’ll find charming small towns throughout the country. One of my favorite small Irish towns is Enniskerry, a small village of less than 2,000 people in County Wicklow. In 2021, Enniskerry was the filming location for Disney’s Enchanted movie, and the town was briefly dressed up like a large movie set.
There are also many charming towns that are a bit larger, like Tramore in County Waterford. Tramore features a Japanese garden dedicated to the late Irish writer, Lafcadio Hearn, a small but charming central area, and a beautiful stretch of beach. You’ll also find one of my favorite bakeries, Seagull Bakery, in Tramore, which serves sandwiches, focaccia, and pastries.
10. Rainy weather
If you think of Irish weather, you probably picture a dreary, cold day where the rain is lashing from the sky. Ireland certainly does have days where it seems to rain from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed, but in all honesty they’re not terribly common. Most days when the weather is bad, you’ll find that it’s gray and dreary outside, with a few hours of sunshine if you’re lucky.
When it does rain in Ireland, beware that the weather has a way of absolutely soaking you. Unlike other areas where the rain simply falls straight down onto the unfortunate souls below, in Ireland it will fall from the sky in a drenching mix of mist and raindrops. The combination will soak through any but the most serious rain gear, so be sure to choose a raincoat that can stand up to the Irish rain.
The rainiest times of the year are the spring and fall, when the weather starts to change.
When you were a child, you might have associated leprechauns and their pots of gold with the rainbows that stretch across the sky. The lore is at least partially true; the rainy weather in Ireland does, in fact, lend itself to plenty of rainbows. So far, I have yet to come across a leprechaun at the bottom of one, but I’ll update this post if that changes.
If you’re in Ireland during a springtime rainshower, keep a lookout for rainbows! Occasionally you can catch a really clear one as it makes its appearance across the sky.
12. Friendly, welcoming locals
While you’ll likely meet a few people who aren’t terribly friendly during your visit to Ireland, the majority of the locals are very warm and welcoming. If there’s something you’d like to do, see, or try while in Ireland, you can usually find the best places by simply asking around. For instance, a local in Galway is likely to know the best place to get fish and chips in their city, so long as you ask nicely.
The tourism sector in Ireland takes hospitality seriously, and you’ll likely find very helpful and kind staff when you visit a hotel or B&B. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations at the place you’re staying, as they’ll probably be happy to help.
Just be careful not to overextend the friendly people that you meet. Irish people are known for being very polite and less direct than people from the US, so be contentious when asking for help. If you find you’ve been speaking with someone for a while, be on the lookout for signs that your companion would like to move on with their day.
13. Irish food
Traditional fare like fish and chips or shepherd’s pie often come to mind when people think of Ireland. These foods are found on menus throughout the country, and you can even find some great versions of these dishes if you know where to look.
Always check McKenna’s List, a food award system that rewards 100 of the best restaurants across Ireland with a silver plaque. If a restaurant has several plaques from making the list for a few years in a row, it’ll probably have some great food.
As I mentioned in the “pubs” section, not all pubs serve food. So, you’re likely to see most of these iconic dishes at a restaurant, where a chef has likely been perfecting them with their team for many years.
You’ll see more shamrock advertising than actual shamrocks in Ireland, but they do exist! Perhaps my favorite example of shamrock marketing is a brand of crisps that claims to be shamrock flavored, with shamrock extract listed on the ingredients. Notably, shamrocks are really just a type of grass, so the flavoring is bound to be subtle. Still, they’re honestly one of my favorite flavors!
15. Saint Patrick’s Day
Saint Patrick is the 5th century patron saint of Ireland, as well as the country’s national apostille. He is also credited with ridding the country of snakes, and to this day Ireland is one of very few places in the world without a wild snake population. It turns out that the lack of snakes is actually due to the ice age, not Saint Patrick, but this bit of lore is persistent.
Saint Patrick’s Day is a bank holiday or national holiday in Ireland, and it is widely celebrated throughout the country. A typical Saint Patrick’s Day celebration will include a parade and lots of socializing in the pubs. You may see green beer in a few pubs in Ireland, but this is not a widespread tradition here – you’re more likely to see people dressed up in green costumes than you are to see them drinking a green pint.
16. Brilliant literature
Ireland has long produced some of the world’s most brilliant writers, including WB Yeats, James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde. There’s a strong writing culture in Ireland, with several pubs across the country that are considered “literary pubs” because they were popular haunts for Irish writers.
Within Dublin, there are a collection of literary pubs, and you could even try to visit them all as a sort of self-guided walking tour while you’re in the city. If you decide to try this, follow this route: Brazen Head – Palace Bar – Davy Byrnes – NEARY’S – Toner’s. Following this route, it’s about 35 minutes of continuous walking, so perfectly doable in an afternoon/evening if you find yourself in Dublin.
Arguably the best known contemporary Irish writer is Sally Rooney, who has published three novels including the wildly popular Normal People. Rooney’s novels are pensive and insightful, at times leaving you wondering if you’ve ever had an original thought in your entire life. She articulates the small moments where we show our insecurities, like adjusting our shirts even though we already adjusted it three times, with incredible accuracy and clarity.
My favorite of Sally Rooney’s books so far is Conversations with Friends, a novel that follows two college students as they explore relationships with an older married couple. The novel was made into a TV series starring Alison Oliver, Sasha Lane, Jemima Kirke, and Joe Alwyn that is currently streaming on Hulu.
17. Irish Coffee
Traditionally, Irish coffee is made by mixing together hot coffee, sugar, and whiskey in a glass, then topping it with lightly whipped cream. It’s strong, a little sweet, and warming on a cold Irish evening, when a cold beer is sounding a little less appealing.
You can find this drink throughout Ireland, but the best one I’ve ever tried is at Bar 1661 in Dublin, near the city center. The signature cocktail at Bar 1661 is actually the Belfast Coffee, a play on the traditional Irish coffee, that is served cold. It’s a mix of cold brew, poítin, a traditional Irish spirit, and lightly whipped cream, then dusted with nutmeg.
18. The full Irish breakfast
You may have heard of the full English breakfast, but there is also a version you’ll find here – the full Irish breakfast. Typically, the Full Irish Breakfast includes white and black pudding, sausage, bacon, baked beans, fried eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, hash browns, and toast. It’s served with tea or coffee, and sometimes orange juice.
You’ll usually find vegetarian and vegan options, as well, and they’ll swap the meat sausages for veggie versions. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can go to Centra (sort of an Irish 7-11) or Supermac’s and order an Irish breakfast roll. There are a few variations on the breakfast roll, but it’ll typically have most of the ingredients of the full Irish breakfast served as a sandwich in a baguette or roll.
Ireland has castles of various sizes and ages throughout the country, and I’d recommend that you set aside some time to see one on your trip. These castles can range from the luxurious Ashford Castle to the infamous Blarney Castle (where you can kiss the Blarney Stone), and everything in between. Some castles are well enough preserved and maintained that they’re now castle hotels, like Ashford Castle, while others have been reduced to ruins over time.
One of the spookiest places in Ireland is Three Castle Head, a small area on the tip of the Mizen Peninsula with the ruins of three castles. The most famous of these is Dunlough Castle, which dates back to approximately the 15th century. Three Castle Head is said to be haunted, and legend has it that the O’Donuhue family were the last ones to inhabit the castle – but they all died violent deaths, so now a drop of blood falls every day from one of the towers.
If you visit Three Castle Head, take care not to wander far from the ruins, because the fog can set in startlingly quickly on the Mizen Peninsula.
20. Cemeteries and funerary stones
Throughout Ireland, you’ll find cemeteries filled with gravestones bearing Celtic crosses, mostly from the 19th century onwards. One of the most famous cemeteries in Ireland is near Glendalough, surrounding the ruins of a monastic city that dates back to the 6th century. If you’re on a road trip through Ireland, you could also visit Clonmacnoise monastery in County Offaly, Ireland.
For travelers interested in older artifacts, there is a free, open air exhibit at the University College Cork with funerary stones. If you visit UCC during business hours, make your way to the main quad and walk through the hallway where the stones are on display.
When many people think of Ireland, they think of potato dishes. Although potatoes are certainly popular in Ireland, the number of potatoes that Irish people consume won’t feel much different from the United States. In fact, neither the US nor Ireland are in the top 15 countries in the world for potato consumption per capita. So, it’s really just a stereotype that doesn’t hold up!
One thing you’ll find if you visit an Irish supermarket is that the types of potatoes (or spuds, as they’re called locally) are a little different than you may be accustomed to seeing. You usually won’t see Russet or Norland potatoes, as those are more common in the US. Most potatoes here are a creamier variety with thin skins, more similar to a new potato.
22. Irish accents
You might have a sense in your mind of what an “Irish accent” sounds like, but did you know that there are actually many distinct accents throughout the country and in Northern Ireland? This video gives a great overview of some of the most distinct accents, including the two different accents you’ll hear in Dublin. If you listen closely, you can start to distinguish between the accents you’ll hear in Ireland – but it’s not easy, especially for beginners!
23. The Irish language
Although you’ll probably hear people speaking in English throughout Ireland, the nation’s official first language is actually Irish. The Irish language was widely spoken until the 19th century, when it started to become a minority language in favor of English. The political history of the Irish language is tied to the long periods of British rule in Ireland, but there are contemporary policies intended to keep the language alive.
There are even areas around Ireland known as the Gaeltacht, where Irish is widely spoken and the street signs will only appear in Irish. Located along the western coast of Ireland, you can hear plenty of Irish language radio programs and even sometimes overhear casual conversations in Irish.
24. Stone Walls
Ireland is covered in stone walls, fence alternatives that have been around for decades or centuries marking the division of property. Irish comedian Killian Sundermann even made a short video about stone walls. Many of the dry stone walls – built without cement or mortar – are less than 200 years old, built simply from stones that farmers and laborers found laying around near their fields.
FAQs: What is Ireland known for?
If you’re considering a trip to Ireland, or if you’ve always been curious about the country, here are some answers to frequently asked questions.
What is the most Irish thing?
Not to be cheeky, but – of course – Ireland is the most Irish thing! But, if you want to get a little less literal, some common Irish symbols you’ll see throughout the country are Saint Brigid’s Crosses, small crosses made from straw or other long grasses. Celtic crosses are also common symbols in Ireland.
If you’d like to hear about Irish culture from a local comedian, check out Carl Mullan. Here is a video he made about Irish people watching their neighbors through the windows, which offers a glimpse into the inner workings of communities throughout the country. Carl has videos on a wide range of contemporary cultural topics, from sayings like “there’s a grand stretch in the evenings” (referring to the long days in the summer) to commentary on the number of spiders living in people’s houses.
What food is Ireland most known for?
Ireland is probably most known for its hearty pub food, like beef stew and fish and chips. While these foods are certainly popular in Ireland, you’ll also find many restaurants that serve modern European fare.
The relatively large number of immigrants in Ireland also leads to restaurants representing regions from around the world, including cuisines from Malaysia, Italy, and Brazil, to name a few.
Do people in Ireland celebrate Halloween?
Yes, people in Ireland celebrate Halloween. Children and adults dress up in costumes, and children trick-or-treat, especially in larger cities. Children in rural areas may travel to urban areas to trick-or-treat, or local businesses may pass out candy, depending on the community.
Halloween is typically celebrated on October 31, as opposed to the weekend before. Cork, Ireland hosts a Halloween parade, complete with spooky creations, marching bands, and plenty of candy.
You can buy Halloween candy, as well as shampoo and other essentials, at Tesco, SuperValu, or a number of other Irish grocery stores.