Backpacking in Ireland on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Ireland

Ireland often finds itself the butt of jokes about terrible weather and heavy drinking. What this means for anybody backpacking in Ireland is beautiful, lush scenery, world famous beer, and cracking nights out in thoroughly modern cities.

The name ‘Ireland’ is often used to refer to the island as a whole, which has been divided in two since the 1920s. ‘Ireland’ therefore is more commonly used for Republic of Ireland, the southern and largest part of the island and an independent nation. The smaller Northern Island remains part of the United Kingdom.

A gap year in Ireland might take in either country or both. Wherever you go, prepare for a mighty adventure of folkloric landscapes, historical cities, rugged coastline, and more Guinness than you can shake your liver at.

What to Do in Republic of Ireland

Dublin, capital city of Republic of Ireland, can serve as an entrancing city break destination in its own right, as well as a base for wider adventures while backpacking in Ireland. Despite its size, Dublin retains a village feel thanks to an abundance of welcoming pubs, cobbled streets, and locals eager to show you a good time.

While you could comfortably spend your days drinking across the city, Dublin is also proud home to thousands of years of heritage. You shouldn’t miss the grand walls of Dublin Castle, the towering spire of St Patrick’s cathedral, or the picturesque Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey. And if you can’t get enough of the black stuff, the Guinness Brewery awaits.

When you’ve thoroughly sobered up, hire a car and get out into the Irish countryside. The Connemara Peninsula in County Galway is a seemingly endless parade of coastal views, seaside hamlets, sweeping valleys, and the austere majesty of the Maumturk Mountains. Look out for wild ponies and prehistoric megalithic tombs.

Glendalough in County Wicklow epitomises rugged Ireland, with its dark lakes tucked deep into a forested valley, while the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral rising from a grassy plain, is a striking reminder of the country’s long and storied history.

What to Do in Northern Ireland

Basing yourself in the city of Belfast, it can be difficult to comprehend that such a modern, vivacious town has such a troubled recent history. You can catch a fascinating glimpse by heading to the Gaeltacht Quarter to see the murals and graffiti that adorn the Peace Wall, erected to divide the Republican and Loyalist communities.

Elsewhere you might see beautiful Belfast City Hall, the grand Stormont government estate, or the Titanic Belfast centre, built to mark the centenary of the famous ship’s construction here, before hitting the Cathedral Quarter in the evening for your choice of pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants.

While in and around Belfast you shouldn’t miss the chance to explore the Antrim coast. The most famous sight is the Giant’s Causeway, an otherworldly sweep of basalt columns on the north coast, guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before. Nearby you’ll also find the nerve-wracking Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the eeries, imposing Dark Hedges, a tree-lined avenue you might recognise as the King’s Road from Game of Thrones.