10 amazing places to visit when studying in Ireland | Top Universities

10 amazing places to visit when studying in Ireland

By Rory C

Updated April 11, 2023 Updated April 11, 2023

Often called the Emerald Isle for its gorgeous landscape, geographical gems and world-class historical sites, Ireland has plenty to offer the travelling student. It’s an island like no other, made up of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, part of the UK.  

Ireland features impressive natural landscapes and bustling cities such as Belfast, Cork and Dublin, so whether you're looking for a rural escape or a city break, there's lots going on. 

If you choose to study at one of Ireland’s top universities, get exploring! Here are my favourite locations across Ireland, all of which are accessible from one of the major cities.  

​​​Aran Islands 

Considered the gems of Ireland’s cultural crown, the Aran Islands are a series of three picturesque rock formations turned civilisations, off the west coast.  

Only a 25-minute boat ride from the picturesque fishing village of Doolin (an hour’s drive from Galway), you’ll find the most untouched traditional Irish culture that remains as well as castle ruins and even a shipwreck. The islands are commonly used to shoot movies, including the Oscar-nominated Banshees of Inisherin.  

The largest island, Inis Mór, is known for its stunning sea cliffs below the ancient fort of Dun Angus. Fans of cliff diving can enjoy a plunge in the ‘Serpent’s Lair’, a naturally occurring ocean. Inis Meáin is the most pristine of the three with many beaches to visit around the island. Enjoy the views of Galway Bay as you traverse this untouched Irish landscape.  

The islands are perfect for a day visit, but with plenty of hotels, hostels and AirBnBs, you can stay over. I like to rent a bike and visit one of the islands in just a few hours.  


The city of Galway has one of Ireland’s largest populations, but it’s much larger in terms of cultural status, as it acts as a melting pot of Irish and international arts and culture.  

The city is centred around Eyre Square, notable as a quality shopping destination and for its proximity to the Galway Marina. You can stroll down to the sea from here in a couple of minutes, taking you through the vibrant Latin Quarter where you can head into a pub, catch a street performance or explore a traditional Irish crafts shop.  

Down by the seafront is the Salt Hill area, with its famed diving tower and year-round sea swimmers. For a refreshing moment, head to Jungle Café Galway and get a coffee to sip on while sat overlooking the beach. Galway is great for connecting to other locations in the west of Ireland, so head into one of the many tourism offices to see where you can explore next.  

The Burren 

Into the far west of Ireland, you’ll find an enormous area of rocky terrain that may leave you wondering if you’ve landed on the moon. The Burren is a feature of large smooth rock faces, on which little natural life grows, but beauty flourishes.  

I have many memories of visiting The Burren with my family to picnic and hike. The ground is very walkable with casual shoes and there’s lots of places to park nearby. It’s a perfect outdoor activity during a day trip of Galway Bay. The Burren takes around 30 minutes to drive from Galway.  

Slieve League

Slieve League is Ireland’s second-highest sea cliff and one of the highest in Europe at over 600 metres tall. Nestled up in the north-west of Ireland in county Donegal, the cliffs are actually one end of the Appalachian Mountain range. The Appalachians run primarily through the US and Canada but also under the Atlantic and pop up in Ireland and Scotland.  

A friend of mine at Trinity College Dublin told me a story of when his grandfather climbed the cliff face on his own. Check them out for yourself and see if you believe it! Fortunately, that’s not the only way to get to the top. You can hike up the side of the cliffs on well-marked hiking trails. At the top of Slieve League, you’ll find a legendary ridge-walk called The Dead Man’s Pass. You can access the trail by car or by Sliabh Liag shuttle bus.   


Belfast is Northern Ireland’s industrial city thanks to the textile boom of the industrial revolution. Nowadays it’s famed for its vibrant nightlife and music scene. As a medium-sized city, it’s easy to tour around in one of the famous Black Taxi Tours, where you can learn about its rich history including the longstanding conflict between Protestants and Catholics.  

Pay a visit to the Botanic Gardens, an expansive public park tucked inside the city centre. There are plenty of restaurants in this area, so I’d recommend getting food-to-go and eating it on the grass. Adjacent to the gardens is Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland’s most prestigious university, with an elegant red-brick campus. 

Aptly nicknamed ‘The Iceberg’ by locals, the Titanic Belfast Museum towers over the heart of Belfast docks. The world-class interactive museum tells the story of the Titanic. Belfast takes great pride in its once-enormous ship-building industry, and if you look to the sky, you’ll see Samson and Goliath, the two giant cranes that built the ships.  

Giant's Causeway 

At Giant’s Causeway, 40,000 hexagonal columns lead into the sea. The formation makes for a perfect summer visit and on a clear day you can see Scotland on the horizon. You can park for free at the visitor centre and take a 15-minute stroll down the sea.  

There is also a bus tour from Belfast which offers a convenient way to and from the Causeway, complemented by a local guide. Public transport will take just over two hours from Belfast, first travelling to the village of Bushmills and then taking the free shuttle bus to the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre.  

I like to take a picnic to eat on one of the benches dotted along the seafront or walk down the coast to Runkerry Beach. Look out for the famous columns that look like chimney stacks and rise 12 metres in the air. 

The Mourne Mountains

The Mourne Mountains stretch across the southern tip of Northern Ireland. I love the mountains because they’re great for hiking, cycling, or just a detour when driving between Dublin and Belfast.  

The nearest town is Newry, right on the border with the Republic of Ireland. Dublin students can take a quick bus ride to Newry and then rent bikes for a day trip in the mountains. Spelga Reservoir is a popular spot in the Mournes. When the water level goes down, the usually submerged road is revealed. If you’d like to extend your visit, you can camp along the idyllic Mourne coastal route. 


Dublin is split down the middle by the river Liffey – a cultural crossroads between the city’s British influence and its place as the vibrant, cosmopolitan Irish capital.  

Dublin attracts most of Ireland’s visitors on account of its position as Ireland’s undisputed metropolis, and for its rich history that dates to Celtic times. Both the North and South areas of the city offer plenty of culture, dining and nightlife options which keep Dublin in the international spotlight.  

Home to the ancient Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s leading university and one of the city’s most visited landmarks, Dublin is a popular student destination. The city is known for its traditional pubs as well as its impressive music scene. Those looking for the most authentic Irish pubs should try Flannery’s, Ryan’s and Devitt's. 


Ireland’s greatest ancient masterpiece has to be Newgrange, the Celtic burial mound which predates the pyramids of Giza by nearly 1,000 years.  

The original construction of Newgrange has a mysterious past, but those lucky enough to coincide their visit with the winter solstice will marvel at the ingenious construction which enables the long passage running deep into the structure to flood with sunlight.  

Newgrange is a 30-minute drive from Dublin by car, or you can take a tour bus from O’Connell Street. 


In the north-eastern corner of the Republic of Ireland is the fishing village of Carlingford, where you’ll find traditional Irish pubs, plenty of cafes and restaurants offering some of the best Irish seafood, and stunning scenery.  

During the day, you can walk along the seafront and watch the fishing boats come in and out. You can’t miss King John’s Castle, a well-preserved ruin from the 12th century that sits by the waterfront.  

I recently stayed in Carlingford for a few nights with friends in a rented house on the beach. Every night we’d run down to the beach for a swim. There’s a huge choice of outdoor activities including the Skypark Adventure Centre and Slieve Foye hike. 


With incredible geography and culturally rich cities and towns, Ireland has everything you could want. Whether you take a reading week trip or head out for the weekend, there’s great things to explore.  

This article was originally published in April 2023 .

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