Image: Illustration picture shows the library o
Trinity College’s Old Library in Dublin contains one of the world’s oldest manuscripts, the Book of Kells.
updated 3/17/2011 3:40:42 PM ET 2011-03-17T19:40:42

Ireland’s reputation precedes itself, so first-time visitors might think they know what to expect: fields of clover, gabby locals, etc. But there’s so much more to Ireland than its stereotypical charms. Skip the over-hyped Guinness Storehouse and find better things to do with your lips than kiss the been-around-the-block Blarney Stone. Instead, check out these top 10 experiences for first-timers.

1. Literary Dublin
The Irish are known for possessing the gift of the gab. Not only can they talk up a storm, they can also put pen to paper with flourish (just ask one of Ireland’s four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature). Experience Ireland’s literary tradition first hand in Dublin, starting with a stroll through Trinity College’s beautiful Old Library. There you’ll find one of the world’s oldest manuscripts, the Book of Kells. If merely looking at books doesn’t satisfy you, visit Dublin on June 16th, when Victorian-garbed masses take to streets to celebrate Bloomsday, a festival devoted to James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses.

2. Galway City
Located on Ireland’s west coast, Galway is an excellent base for trips to the Aran Islands and Connemara. But no one would blame you for not wanting to leave the city at all. The young, college town is so wonderfully lively, even Dubliners flock here for raucous weekends away. The compact, cobblestoned city doesn’t have much in the way of traditional tourist traps, but what Galway lacks in sightseeing it more than makes up for in atmosphere. And by “atmosphere” we mean pubs. Soak up the old-fashioned charm at The Crane and Taaffe’s, or hang out with young and hip Galwegians at The Blue Note.

Slideshow: Green in the streets (on this page)
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3. The Rock of Cashel
Don’t let the unassuming name fool you, the Rock of Cashel, is no mere rock. Rather, it’s one of Ireland’s most spectacular castles. The dazzling fortress stands proudly on a gently sloping hill in County Tipperary. The “Rock” is a historic treasure trove: its structures include a 12th-century Romanesque chapel and a 13th-century Gothic cathedral.

4. Trad
Traditional Irish music, more commonly known as "trad," is the heart of Ireland’s pub scene (and Guinness is the soul, but more on that later). Doolin, a small village in County Clare, is celebrated as the center of Irish music, but lively sessions full of upbeat jigs and heartbreaking ballads can be found in pubs throughout the country.

5. Aran Islands
Located off the west coast of Ireland, three limestone outcrops form the idyllic Aran Islands. Irish is the main language spoken here, a fact that only adds to the feeling that time has left these islands untouched. Inishmór, the largest island is home to Dún Aengus, an ancient stone fort perched high on a rocky cliff. The two smaller islands, Inishmaan and Inisheer, are a good bet for those looking to get even farther off the beaten track.

6. Ancient Ireland
When you think of Irish history, do you immediately summon to mind the Potato Famine or the Troubles? If so, it’s time to go further back in time and visit one of Ireland’s ancient ruins. The most impressive site can be found at Brú Na Bóinne in County Meath, a necropolis that includes the truly remarkable Newgrange. This ancient passage tomb was designed during the Stone Age with a chamber that floods with sunlight on the winter solstice, but it is well worth a visit on any day of the year.

7. Giant’s Causeway
Located across the border in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway almost feels as if it’s in another world. The hexagonal rock formations jutting out into the sea are one of Ireland’s most fascinating natural features. Part of the popular Antrim Coastal Walk, the causeway is a tourist hot-spot, but it’s well worth braving the crowds for a chance to experience this geological wonder.

8. The Dingle Peninsula
County Kerry’s sublime Dingle Peninsula boasts a scenic drive full of postcard-worthy vistas. The landscape features sandy beaches, Caribbean-blue stretches of ocean, and, of course, Dingle, the charming village for which the peninsula is named.

9. Cliffs of Moher
The heartstopping drop off of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare might have safety-minded visitors wondering where the guardrail is. Get as close to the edge as you dare (but not too close — people have fallen off) and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view and the cool spray of the Atlantic on your cheeks.

10. The perfect pint
Pouring a pint of Guinness is practically an art form in Ireland, and no trip would be complete without at least one pint of the black stuff. Savor an expertly drawn pint at Mulligan’s in Dublin, Matt Molloy’s in Westport or Séhán Ua Neáchtain in Galway. Just avoid touristy pubs where they commit the sacrilege of drawing a shamrock on the head of your beer.

Related stories:

· Top 10 places to see traditional Irish music

· Ireland’s most offbeat festivals

· Slow food along the Shannon

· Dublin’s underground literary scene

This story, "Top 10 Ireland experiences for first-timers,” originally appeared on

© 2011 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

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  1. Green and proud

    A young girl with her face painted watches the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Thursday, March 17, 2011. (Cathal Mcnaughton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Green light

    Table mountain is seen lit up in green in a spectacular display to commemorate St Patrick's Day on Thursday in Cape Town, South Africa. (Schalk Van Zuydam / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Green delight

    Jenna Drenten of Atlanta reacts after kissing a New York firefighter as he marches in Savannah's annual St. Patrick's Day parade on Thursday. (Stephen Morton / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A reason to celebrate

    Crowds watch as floats pass during a St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to attend St Patrick's Day parades throughout debt-ridden Ireland on Thursday with the traditional celebrations a welcome relief from economic austerity measures. (Peter Muhly / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lucky glasses

    A spectator gets into the spirit of St. Patrick's Day ahead of the first race on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival, in Gloucestershire, central England. The Cheltenham Festival, jump racing's annual Olympics spread over four glittering days, started on Tuesday. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Festive parade

    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg shares a laugh with the crowd during the 250th annual St. Patrick's Day parade on Thursday in New York City. The parade honors the patron saint of Ireland and marched for the first time in the U.S. on March 17, 1762, fourteen years before the Declaration of Independence. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Whitehouse goes green

    Green water comes out from the fountain at the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama was hosting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny for a St. Patrick's Day celebration. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pipers piping

    Bagpipers march up Fifth Avenue in New York during the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Waiting for the show

    Parade goers celebrate as they watch the St. Patrick's Day parade march up Fifth Avenue in New York City. St. Patrick's Day is celebrated every year by people of Irish descent all around the world. (ANDREW GOMBERT / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Swiss contingent

    Visitors from Fribourg, Switzerland, watch as participants march up Fifth Avenue during New York's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Celebrating St. Patrick's Day


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