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Top 10 Ireland experiences for first-timers

From beer to books, cliffs to castles, Ireland offers a trove of adventures to fill first-timers with wonder.
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.BENOIT DOPPAGNE / AFP/Getty Images
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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. 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 , starting with a stroll through Trinity College’s beautiful . 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. Located on Ireland’s west coast, 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.

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Slideshow  10 photos

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Hundreds of thousands of revelers were expected to take in St. Patrick's Day events around the world. The holiday is celebrated every year by people of Irish ancestry, and often by those without.

3. Don’t let the unassuming name fool you, the , 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). , 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. Located off the west coast of Ireland, three limestone outcrops form the idyllic . Irish is the main language spoken here, a fact that only adds to the feeling that time has left these islands untouched. , the largest island is home to Dún Aengus, an ancient stone fort perched high on a rocky cliff. The two smaller islands, and 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 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. Located across the border in Northern Ireland, the 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. County Kerry’s sublime boasts a scenic drive full of postcard-worthy vistas. The landscape features sandy beaches, Caribbean-blue stretches of ocean, and, of course, , the charming village for which the peninsula is named.

9. The heartstopping drop off of the 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 in Dublin, in Westport or 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

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