What does Ireland have that the rest of the world doesn’t? Well, for starters, there’s the literary legacy of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, traditional sports such as hurling and Gaelic football, the smooth beverages of Guinness and Irish whiskey, hearty meals featuring soda bread and Irish stew, and numerous pop idols from U2 and Boyzone to Jedward.
Aside from all the culture and craic of the cities, Ireland also offers large swathes of stunning natural scenery, from the craggy cliffs of Moher to the pony-trekking beaches of Connemara.
The universities in Ireland aren’t too shabby either, judging by their positions in the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017. Of the eight Irish universities featured in the international rankings, five are within the global top 400, with Trinity College Dublin leading the way in joint 98th place.
Ready to study in Ireland and fall in love with the Emerald Isle for yourself? Start planning your stay, with our top 10 things to do in Ireland…
1. Visit the sights in Dublin (including the National Leprechaun Museum)
Top universities in Dublin: Trinity College Dublin (=98th in the world), University College Dublin (176th), Dublin City University (=380th) and Dublin Institute of Technology (651-700*). Maynooth University (ranked 651-700) is also situated just 15 miles west of Dublin.
Ireland’s urban and dynamic capital city Dublin is historic and picturesque, while at the same time brimming with exciting nightlife and activities. From the Guinness Storehouse to Dublin Zoo, the city’s castle to the Dublin Museum of Writers, not to mention Ireland’s National Gallery, Botanical Gardens and its National Leprechaun Museum, Dublin features heavily on any list of things to do in Ireland.
Home to one of the fastest growing populations of any European capital city, Dublin is a great place to study in Ireland as it offers a huge, fun-loving international student population and a diverse array of cultural venues. As well as theatre, Dublin is renowned for its live music scene, earthy pub culture, annual festivals and impressive literary legacy.
See how Dublin fares compared to the rest of world’s cities in this year’s QS Best Student Cities index.
2. Explore Trinity College and discover the Book of Kells
Placed joint 98th in the latest QS World University Rankings, and with famous alumni including Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, Trinity College Dublin is the top-performer among universities in Ireland.
In the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017, Trinity College is ranked among the world’s best for 21 out of a possible 46 subjects, with a top 50 ranking for nursing, and a top 100 ranking for English language & literature.
Trinity College isn’t only renowned among academics, however. It’s also the location of one of the top things to do in Ireland. Trinity College Dublin’s Old Library is home to the Book of Kells, an immaculately preserved ancient Celtic relic, widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. A beautifully illustrated manuscript, the Book of Kells contains the four Gospels of the New Testament and is believed to have been created by Columban monks in an Irish or British monastery around 800 AD.
So, if you want to explore one of the most prestigious universities in Ireland while getting up close and personal with a canonical theologian text, look no further.
3. Hit the surf in Donegal Bay off the west coast
Ireland may not have the warmest climate, but don’t let that stop you from hitting the waves off the west coast. There’s some great surf up that way and, in fact, various surfing champions give credit to this area, naming the region among the world’s surfing top spots.
Donegal Bay, in particular, has gained much fame among surfers, thanks to the funnel shape of the coastal bay which increases the size of the swell and therefore the size of the surf.
Even if you’re not into surfing, the Donegal coast is still well worth a visit. With its rolling sand dunes, secluded coves and shallow bays, it’s home to some of the most picturesque and sandy beaches you’ll find anywhere – even if it can’t quite lay claim to the tropical weather of the Caribbean. With lush countryside, nature reserves, golf courses and friendly locals, County Donegal is a favorite destination for many a tourist, so make sure to take time out from your studies and get some west coast sea air into you.
4. Get off the mainland and experience the Aran Islands
Surfing’s not the only reason to enter the chilly waters of Ireland’s west coast, as this is also how you get from the mainland to the Aran Islands, a group of three islands in the mouth of the Galway Bay. A place of deep cultural and linguistic heritage – with many native islanders bilingual in English and Gaelic – the islands are a must-visit for anyone keen to get deeper insights into Irish culture and the Gaelic language.
While you might get away with a “top o’ the morning to ya” greeting in Dublin, the Aran Islands offer a chance to get your head around the challenging language of Gaelic. By the end of your stay you should at least be able to wish the locals “maidin mhaith”, or “dia dhuit ar maidin” (both meaning “good morning”).
And what to do with the rest of your time here? Consider hiring a bike to explore the array of outdoor museums, cliff-climbing sites, historic castles, lighthouses, surfing spots, beaches and craft-producing villages – you’ll soon forget about those looming assignment deadlines.
Did you know...? The three Aran Islands are called Inis Mor Island (“the big island”), Inis Meain Island (“the middle island”), and Inis Oirr Island (“the east island”).
5. Celebrate St Patrick's Day the Irish way
Although it’s celebrated almost everywhere in the world, it’s easy to forget the real reason for this Irish celebration. For many, it’s just a fun excuse to dress up in green, talk in a bad Irish accent and consume too much Guinness. Celebrated annually on March 17, St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland, commemorating and celebrating the life of Saint Patrick, the principal champion of Irish Christianity.
St Patrick’s Day has become a week-long festival in honor of St Patrick. As well as bringing the community together, the celebration allows the country to showcase its culture, sense of fun and tourist attractions to the world. Whether or not you can handle a week of Irish festivities (they certainly know how to party), make sure to join in with some of the celebrations, attempt an Irish jig, and experience St Patrick’s Day as it should be spent.
Did you know...? The color originally associated with St Patrick was blue but over the years this has changed to green.
6. Head south and explore the historic sights of Cork
Top universities in Cork: University College Cork (=283rd in the world)
Tripe, a dish made from various animal stomachs, is one of Cork’s traditional foods, but we’re pretty sure that if you choose to visit Ireland’s second largest city, you’ll be able to get a feel for the place without having to try any… unless you want to of course.
Those without the stomach (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) for tripe will be glad to hear there are plenty of other things to do here. Admire the city’s Georgian architecture, visit the medieval Red Abbey or walk down the wide and historic St Patrick’s Street for a nice bit of window shopping.
If that’s not enough, take a trip to Cork Opera House or sample some more appetizing local foods at the famous English Market. Aspiring artists and performers may also be keen to know that Cork is home to a number of highly reputed art and design colleges, and has an arts calendar filled with events, including the Cork Film Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival and Live at the Marquee.
7. Visit Northern Ireland to photograph Belfast's murals
You’re correct – Belfast is not part of Ireland, it’s the capital city of neighboring nation Northern Ireland. However, it’s just a short drive away and surely worth a visit while you study in Ireland. Widely known for its history of political instability, Belfast was a key location in the sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants throughout much of the 20th century, and this history is strikingly depicted in various murals around west Belfast.
Known as “The Writing on the Walls”, these murals depict issues relating to politics, freedom and loyalty, while some also pay homage to sports stars, Northern Irish achievements (the RMS Titanic, for instance) and, of course, football.
8. Marvel at the Giant’s Causeway
While you’re in Northern Ireland, why not visit the Giant’s Causeway? A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Nature Reserve, this natural wonder is comprised of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, evidence of an ancient volcanic eruption. Visitors can walk on, over and around the many hexagonal columns, watch the waves crash against the rocks and marvel at the sheer size of the cliffs. The freedom to explore every part of the cliff face has kept the Giant’s Causeway among Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions.
Other ancient natural wonders to explore as part of the Giant’s Causeway include The Honeycomb, The Wishing Chair, The Giant's Granny, Lord Antrim’s Parlour, The King and his Nobles, The Keystone, The Chimney Pots, The Fan and The Punchbowl.
9. Enjoy a summer of festivals in Galway
Top universities in Galway: National University of Ireland, Galway (=249th in the world).
Galway calls itself the festival capital of Ireland, and, with a calendar of events that celebrates everything from oysters and jazz music to horse racing and literature, this is pretty well justified.
One of Ireland’s fastest-growing cities, situated on the west coast of the country, its summer calendar is packed full of events including the Galway Oyster Festival, the Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, the Galway Arts Festival, the Galway Film Fleadh, the Cuirt Literature Festival, the Baboro International Arts Festival for Children, the Connemara Marathon and the famous Galway Races.
It’s not a surprise, then, to find out that Galway was selected to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020, alongside the Croatian city of Rijeka.
Regardless of where you choose to study in Ireland, you should certainly plan a summer visit to Galway to make the most of these fantastic festivals.
10. Experience the winter solstice at Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb
Older than both the Great Pyramid of Giza and Stonehenge, the Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb is one of the world’s most famous pre-historic sites.
Made up of a series of passage tombs, Newgrange is perhaps best known for the shaft of sunlight that reaches the chamber floor on the shortest day of the year. The chance to experience this winter solstice sight is chosen by lottery, but if you visit the tombs your guided tour will include a re-enactment of the sun appearing in the chamber at sunrise – a sight first admired some 5,000 years ago.
The tomb is located just a 45-minute drive north of Dublin city, making it an easy day trip for anyone studying in the city.
Other top things to do in Ireland…
- Kiss the Blarney Stone.
- Listen to some traditional Irish music in Johnnie Fox's, Dublin’s highest pub.
- Sip the world’s finest pint of the black stuff at the original Guinness Brewery in Dublin.
- Give coasteering a go, although be aware, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
*For information about ranking categories, and answers to other frequently asked questions, click here.
This article was originally published in May 2010. It was updated in April 2015 and again in March 2017 to reflect the results of the latest QS World University Rankings®.