With its dramatic coastlines and lush green valleys, Ireland is the perfect destination for nature-loving film fans of historical and fantasy TV shows such as Game of Thrones or Vikings, which have both been filmed in Ireland.
Planning to discover Ireland yourself (either through movies or for real)? Here are my tried-and-tested tips in order for you to get the most out of your time and budget…
- Films to see for inspiration
- When to go
- How to get around
- Where to go
- The East Coast
- The North Coast
- The West Coast
- The South Coast
- Good to know: Seven Travel Tips for Ireland
1. Films to see for inspiration
Here are 18 films and series that are either set in Ireland, have been filmed here or both. They will show you a glimpse of this fascinating island and its turbulent history from the comfort of your couch. And perhaps inspire you to make a trip to Ireland yourself…
- Braveheart (1995)
- Titanic (1997)
- P.S. I Love You (2007)
- Once (2007)
- Becoming Jane (2007)
- Hunger (2008)
- TV series Game of Thrones (2011-ongoing)
- Albert Nobbs (2011)
- Philomena (2013)
- Vikings (2013-ongoing)
- 71' (2014)
- Frank (2014)
- Calvary (2014)
- Dracula Untold (2014)
- Love Rosie (2014)
- Brooklyn (2015)
- Sing Street (2016)
- Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
2. When to go
The locals warn you that you should anticipate rain at any time. But thanks to Ireland being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, it is usually pretty mild and it hardly gets super cold. A particular good time might be in the so-called "off season" (March / April or September / October), when there are less crowds and the landscape looks particularly beautiful due to the changing seasons. I picked late October / early November for my trip and was spoilt with beautiful sunshine on most of my days.
3. How to get around
Ireland is big for an island but small for a country, so you can easily see the whole of Ireland in one week! Here are your options…
Rental car: For maximum flexibility, this is for you. But make sure you feel comfortable to drive on the left and to navigate through the occasionally very narrow roads.
Guided bus tour: If you prefer to sit back and relax while listening to all those fascinating stories of Irish history, book a guided bus tour! For those on a budget, I recommend the 7-day All Ireland Rocker Tour by Shamrocker Adventures, which I took in October 2016. There are also lots of day trips offered from Dublin to virtually all sightseeing highlights in Ireland, for example the half-day Wicklow Mountains film location tour by Day Tours Unplugged.
Train: Certain routes such as the Titanic Experience and Emigration Museum in Cobh are not served by guided bus tours, so trains are your best bet. Irish trains are comfortable and quick, but tickets can be very expensive if booked last minute, so try to book them online around 2–3 weeks in advance.
Public transport: Dublin is currently building an extensive new tramway system, but for the time being buses are your main public transport option to get around the city. The Dublin Area Rapid Transport (DART) rail line runs on Dublin's coastline, which is supposed to be a very scenic ride.
Walking or Cycling: Many Irish cities, such as Galway or Cork, are small enough to walk everywhere. Dublin also offers a bike-share scheme with over 100 stations throughout the city.
4. Where to go
Start in Ireland's capital Dublin, but don't stay there! You haven't seen the real Ireland unless you've been to the at least one of Ireland's four stunning coasts…
The East Coast:
- Dublin: For a first overview of the capital's highlights, check out my Dublin in a day post
- Wicklow Mountains: Just a one-hour drive from Dublin, you'll find the spectacular backdrop of the filming locations for historical TV series Vikings (2013-ongoing). You can easily go there on a half day trip, for example with the specialised film location tour offered by Day Tours Unplugged. For more info on this tour, check out my Vikings film location post.
The North Coast:
- Ballintoy: Northern Ireland is Game of Thrones land. If you're a fan of the show, you simply cannot miss the 'Dark Hedges' on Bregagh Rd in Ballymoney and the 'Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge' near the small village of Ballintoy. The views over the Atlantic Ocean are absolutely stunning!
- The Giant’s Causeway: This natural wonder is made up of more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. The scientific explanation is that there was an ancient volcanic eruption. The folklore story is that of a rivalry between Irish giant Finn MacCool and a giant from nearby Scotland. Either way, it's beautiful!
- Belfast: This city used to be a place of big political upheaval. To learn more about the "Troubles" thematised in the historical thriller '71 (2014), take the famous Black Cab Tour. A must-do for all fans of Titanic (1997) is the world's largest Titanic attraction Titanic Belfast Experience located on the former building site of the original ship.
- Derry: Like Belfast, Derry used to be a divided city. Countless wall murals tell the story of the "Troubles". If you want to learn more about them, there is no way past LEGENDerry guide Garvin from City Walking Tours.
The West Coast:
- Galway: Ireland's third largest city Galway is a lively student town with lots of traditional Irish pubs to check out in the evenings – the perfect setting for the romantic comedy P.S. I Love You (2007) and the film's title song "Galway Girl".
- Aran Islands: Time stood still on these peaceful islands, which are best explored by bicycle or horse carriage and offer lots of scenic viewpoints along the way. From Galway, you can go there on a day trip by bus and ferry or even by plane.
- Cliffs of Moher: No Ireland visit would be complete without this impressive natural wonder! From Galway, it takes about one hour and 40 minutes drive to get there. Alternatively, you can jump on a guided day tour from Dublin.
The South Coast:
- Cork and Cobh: From Ireland's second largest city Cork (2 hours 30 min. by train from Dublin), it's a short 25-minute (scenic!) train ride to the harbour town of Cobh – the doomed Titanic's last port of call in April 1912. Titanic fans and those interested in the history of Irish emigration, should check out the Titanic Experience and Emigration Museum here.
- Blarney Castle: Ireland's most famous medieval castle can easily be visited on a day trip from Dublin. Alternatively, head there from Shannon airport, which is just 7 miles away. If you're up for it, you can kiss the famous Blarney Stone for good luck. Just remember that millions of other visitors have kissed it before you did…
- County Kerry: Beautiful beaches, cliffs and views await on every corner of the famous 'Ring of Kerry'. In the evening, the party town of Killarney is a fun experience, especially if you are in group. Just watch out for the famous 'Kerry men', who all wear checkered shirts and are extremely persistent when it comes to flirting with newly arrived girls.
- Dingle peninsula: The coastlines here are steep and the roads narrow, but the view is breathtaking! Try if you can see the uninhabited island of Skelling Michael, which was used as a film location in Star Wars: Rogue One (2016).
5. Good to know:
Seven Travel Tips for Ireland
- Official language: English (you may also hear some Irish, also called Gaelic, especially in the countryside…)
- Official Currency: Euro (€) in the Republic of Ireland, Pound Sterling (£) in Northern Ireland
- Credit cards are widely accepted, but take some cash just in case (e.g. for very rural areas)
- Cars drive on the left just as in the UK
- Tipping is only expected in restaurants with table service and taxis and is about 10–15 %
- If you're in a pub with a group of friends, it's everyone's turn to buy a "round" of drinks
- Hotels in Dublin tend to be either expensive or very quite far out of the city. So AirBnB may be a good alternative for budget travellers who don't want to stay in crammed hostel. If you've never booked an accommodation on AirBnB before, sign up via this link and I'll give you 30 Euros / 32 USD / 26 GBP off your first booking!
Disclaimer: I will receive a small affiliate fee if you click on the AirBnB link in the post, register on the site and make your first booking through this link. Other than that, all experiences that I talk about in this post have been at my own expense. Thus, my opinions expressed here are personal and unbiased.