The island of Ireland is an exciting place to visit for many reasons, but the traditional clichéd view of shamrocks and leprechauns is far removed from the real country.
It is a place full of history and heritage, with people who are as passionate as they are friendly, with a host of attractions that entice people from all over the world. According to Tourism Ireland, 10.3 million visitors travelled there last year, which was almost a million more than the year before. That growth is driven, in part, by an increase in visitors from the Middle East, with between 65,000 and 75,000 travellers from the region visiting the island of Ireland in 2016.
So, why is this relatively small island in the Atlantic Ocean seeing such a boost in visitor numbers? In part, this is down to the increasingly easy access to Ireland’s capital, Dublin. In the UAE alone, there are double daily flights from Abu Dhabi and Dubai with Etihad and Emirates. Often global visitors stop off in the UK too, with Stena Line providing a range of excellent ferry routes between the UK and Ireland that allows people to explore the two historic islands in one trip.
Once you’ve landed on the beautiful shores of Ireland, there are a plethora of options. For adventurous travellers, there are incredible areas of unspoilt natural beauty. There are two particularly popular routes that are highly recommended for making the most of Ireland; the Wild Atlantic Way on the west coast of Ireland or on the opposite coastline you can discover Ireland’s Ancient East.
Both routes are ideal for self-drive tours (there are some excellent choices on myholidayireland.com), with exciting coastal roads that offer breath-taking views and scenery. The Wild Atlantic Way takes you on a journey from the wind-whipped tip of Malin Head to the safe haven of Kinsale Harbour on the world’s longest defined coastal touring route. There are soaring cliffs, buzzing towns and cities, hidden beaches and epic bays.
Visitors can travel through Ireland’s Ancient East and land at Brú na Bóinne, a World Heritage site filled with 5000 year old ancient tombs and head further north to County Down and take in Castle Ward, which fans of Game of Thrones would recognise as Winterfell. Screen tourism is a growing area for the Irish tourist industry, with other major films set on the island of Ireland such as Harry Potter and the latest Star Wars franchise movies. For enthusiasts of the latter, part of The Last Jedi was shot at Skellig Michael. It is a must-visit even if you aren’t a film fan. Skellig Michael has dramatic ancient ruins, and jagged rock formations rising forth out of the sea to create a spectacular destination. It has similarities to another area of natural wonder, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, with its incredible basalt columns jutting out of the ocean. Make sure at least one of these amazing UNESCO World Heritage sites is on your ‘To Do’ list.
For luxury lovers, there are a wealth of five-star locations with high-end spas such as the Monart in County Wexford, The Merchant Hotel in Belfast and the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, that features a Michelin two-star dining option; Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have a great array of activities and areas of natural beauty and history to excite and entertain. If you're looking for somewhere to add to the bucket list, the island of Ireland set in the rugged Atlantic Ocean, may just surprise and delight.