Overtourism and the alternatives

Carrick-a-rede ropebridge
Giant's causeway
Dunluce Castle
Gobbins Cliff Path
Glendalough hikers
Newgrange monument
Guinness Storehouse at night
Kilmainham Gaol
Cliffs of Moher
Sliabh League Cliffs
Blarney Castle main structure
Trim Castle
An Grianan Aileach, Co
Cobh Cathedral
Kylemore Abbey
Sky Road, Connemara

Let's not sugarcoat it; overtourism has become an issue in Ireland in recent times and whilst steps are being taken to battle this negative phenomenon, it's the mindset of visitors that also needs to become more flexible. These attractions are very popular because they're either very beautiful (the Cliffs of Moher), important to Ireland's story (the Book of Kells) or have a unique selling point (the Blarney Stone) but a lot of other places also fall into these categories.

 

These are the sights in Ireland that have been used to advertise tourism in the country for decades and a bucket list has been consciously or subconsciously created. However they're now perpetually overcrowded and if visited at certain times can be disappointing and unenjoyable experiences. There is also the negative environmental impact and an unequal spread of the spoils of tourism. 

 

In 2019 the most visited places in Ireland were:

  1. Guinness Storehouse – 1,736,156

  2. Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience – 1,580,000

  3. Dublin Zoo – 1,230,146

  4. Book of Kells – 1,057,642

  5. Giant's Causeway - 1,000,000

  6. Kilkenny Castle Parklands – 799,032

  7. National Gallery of Ireland – 775,491

  8. Glendalough Site – 732,824

  9. Tayto park – 700,000

  10. National Botanic Gardens – 655,609

  11. Castletown House Parklands – 642 278

  12. St Patrick’s Cathedral – 627,199

  13. Kylemore Abbey & Garden – 561,657

  14. Muckross House – 550,649

  15. Irish Museum of Modern Art – 505,891

  16. Carrick-a-rede Ropebridge - 500,000

  17. Doneraile Park – 490,000

  18. Powerscourt House Garden and Waterfall – 472,523

  19. National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology – 466,038

  20. Blarney Castle & Gardens – 460,000

  21. Farmleigh House Estate – 389,932

  22. Battle of the Boyne/Oldbridge – 355,608

 

Whilst a number of these sights should definitely make it onto your list of places to visit, please mix it up a little as battling the crowds at all the stops on your tour will begin the grate.

This is our guide to some of Ireland's most visit spots and the alternatives you could consider.

 

Cliffs of Moher

Why should you still consider it?

To be fair, the sheer scale of the cliffs height and length is very impressive. Arrive early or late afternoon and take a wander along the cliff from the epicentre of O'Brien's Tower and the crowds will thin out.

 

Why should you avoid it?

I defy you to find a single article on tourism in Ireland (including ours) without a photo of the cliffs front and centre. It's iconic and brings thousands of pilgrim per day. During of the year up to twenty coaches plus hundreds of cars will be parked up for the experience. Avoid the visitor centre at all costs.

 

The alternatives

Hit up the rest of The Burren - the Burren is the moonlike national park in which the cliff preside. The cliffs may be the hotspot but there's so much else to see and do amongst the unique landscape of never-ending rocky plateaus, like searching out the Pulnabrone Dolmen, listening to music in a Doolin pub, learning how to make perfume at the Burren Perfumery, exploring the Ailwee Caves or tasting local produce at St Gola's Goat Farm and the Burren Smokehouse. 

 

Slieve League Cliffs - Ireland's worst kept secret are located in a quiet corner of County Donegal in the country's north west. Ask any local or tourist who's been to Ireland more than once and they'll confidentially share this natural wonder with you like they'd discovered it. But there are a reasons for this universal love. For a start, they're the highest sea cliffs in Europe and even when the mist rolls in you can be sure of stupendous views of cliffs and … sea. They're also the antithesis of the Cliffs of Moher in that they're relatively undeveloped with a small locally run café and gift shop. You can take a minibus to the look out point or walk up from the small car park. As with any great natural attraction there's always a tiny feeling that with a missed step or steer you could die.

 

Gobbins Cliff Walk - so some renegades in Northern Ireland stuck a metal walkway to the edge of some cliffs and made a terrifying (but completely safe) walk out of it. I think there's enough there to sell this alternative.

Blarney Castle

Why should you still consider it?

Aside from the gift of the gab rubbish it can be considered of a very good example of a castle ruins and with the poison gardens, extensive grounds and adjacent village there is certainly plenty to see.

Why should you avoid it?

It's really expensive! €16-18 per adult or €40-45 per family. Then you have to ask yourself if standing in a massive queue to kiss the Blarney Stone - to purportedly give yourself the 'gift of the gab' - is really going to be worth it? Will you treasure that super-staged photo forever? 

The alternatives

Trim Castle - a cool castle ruin in the middle of the wedding hotspot town of Trim. Guided tours of the Keep are only about €4 and there are also great views of the exterior from across town.  

 

Grianan of Aileach - you can find a collection of amazingly intact stone ring forts all over the island. Generally these circular defensive structures give stunning panoramic views and a place for kids (and adults) to clamber all over. Just outside Derry in the north is one of the best examples: the Grianan of Aileach. The same kind of stone ring forts can also be found on the Ring of Kerry (Cahergall) and in the Burren (Caherconnel). Super bonus point: most of these are free of charge.

 

A seaside town in County Cork - why not get your fill of emigration history in the seaside town Cobh? Cobh is home to the Titanic Experience and the Cobh Heritage Museum. There also Kinsale which has it's own Chales Fort overlooking the marina as well as a gamut of seafood restaurants. Last but not least, Clonakilty is great for traditional pubs and a brand new distillery.

 

Guinness Storehouse and Trinity College & the Book of Kells

Why should you still consider them?

These two have been Dublin mainstays for ages and there are good reasons for this. The Guinness Storehouse is a really polished multi-facted experience. Enjoying a pint with panoramic views of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains, pulling your own and a tutored tasting are all good fun. At Trinity College there's the very impressive Old Library and the Book of Kells is one of Ireland's most important artefacts.

Why should you avoid it?

Standing nose to tail around a crowded indoor attraction isn't a lot of fun in the summer. A winter queue in the rain for the Book of Kells isn't much better. The Guinness Storehouse is another budget decimating activity at around €20.

The alternatives

Distilleries - after a long fallow period Jameson Distillery Bow St. now has lots of company in the form of the Dublin Liberties, Teelings, Pease Lyons and Roe and Co. distilleries. They all bring something different to the table, for example the old church based Pease Lyons is half distillery, half history tour.

Epic Museum of Irish Emigration - ask anyone who's been and they'll tell you that there's a new museum king in town. This interactive attraction charts the influence of Ireland on the world through emigration. It's a little bit quieter as it's still fairly new and in an odd location surrounded by corporate eateries.

Kilmainham Gaol - possibly the most interesting attraction in Dublin. Kilmainham Gaol brings to life an old Victorian jail which had a big part to play in the 1916 Easter Rising. This place is very popular and pre-booking is essential but there's a limited number per tour so never gets crowded.

Glendalough

Why should you still consider it?

It's a beautiful spot, it really is. This scenic County Wicklow lake offers a number of walking trails and a monastic ruins. Also being within a 45 minute drive it's conveniently close to Dublin city centre. Glendalough remains quite quiet in the winter and during mid-week mornings in the summer.

Why should you avoid it?

A close proximity to Dublin city centre is also a curse as the always heavy tourist numbers is bolstered by a horde of locals on any day the sun dares to come out. It's spacious enough to take the crowds but getting into the car parks can be a stressful experience. Don't even think of stopping in one of the welcoming looking towns en-route either as everyone has already thought of this.

 

Alternatives

Newgrange - another extremely popular attraction that is saved by a pre-bookable time slot arrangement. Possibly the most important historical structure in Ireland, Newgrange is grand stone mound built over 5000 year old ago as a burial tomb. Should be as famous as the pyramids.

 

Bray Cliff Path - eliminating the need for a car, just pop on the DART light rail just over the border to Greystone in County Wiclow and enjoy fantastic cliff views along the coast to Bray. It takes about 2 and half hours to complete the around 4 mile (7k) walk. 

 

Howth - a town famous for seafood and also a stunning walk around an adjoining peninsula. No lying, this town does get very busy in summer but the ability to take the DART and an abundance of places to eat, takes the stress out of this daytrip.  

 

Giant's Causeway & Carrick-a-rede Ropebridge

Why should you still consider it?

Where else are you going to see over 40,000 interlocking hexanganal basalt columns strutting out into the sea? Both the causeway and the ropebridge do look amazing and offer excellent photo opportunities and a chance to stretch your legs with walking required.

Why should you avoid it?

It seems a little wrong that you should have to pay quite a lot to park at these natural attractions. Since Northern Ireland properly opened up to the world of tourism these two places have been their flagships and most visited places. Carrick-a-rede used to be quiet spot where you could experience the ropebridge on your own and engage in mutual photobombing with other groups.

 

Alternatives

Causeway Coast walk - why not arrive at the Giant's Causeway after enjoying the stunning views of the coast-hugging Causeway Coast Way? There are cheaper and emptier car parks along the 33 mile route and you have a real chance to build up a sweat.

 

Dunluce Castle - perched on a cliff side this is one of the most dramatic looking castles on the island and it's just up the coast from Giant's Causeway. Take the tour for an interesting history lesson too.

 

Game of Thrones locations - even if only a few of your group is really into the series this is a great way to explore a number of really pretty places on the north coast. You can visit Ballintoy Harbour, Cushenden Caves and the iconic Dark Hedges which all feature on the show but are also great places in their right.

One last thought - and a disclaimer - the Irish are big daytrippers and sun chasers so on weekends during the summer and especially bank holidays if the weather is in any way decent, most natural attractions in Ireland will be busy with families and those in pursuit of adventure. If you're coming to Ireland and don't have to do everything at the weekend then it would be beneficial to leave your major sightseeing to weekdays.

Aerial shot of Griana of Ailleach

FANTASTIC FREEBIES

Stone circle at Loughcrew Cairns

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

 

Hill of Slane hilltop ruins

IRELAND'S ANCIENT EAST

© 2018 by Macanta Ireland. 

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