It’s true, Ireland in the summer boasts long, bright, majestic days and late sunsets, but we’re going to let you in on a little secret: It’s equally amazing (if not more so) the rest of the year, too. There are endless reasons to travel to Ireland in the off-season, really. Some you can probably guess: thinner crowds, cheaper airfare, drops in prices for food and accommodation, less traffic… But it doesn’t stop there.
To learn more about why Ireland is worth traveling to all year long, we teamed up with Tourism Ireland and reached out to our most trusted travel bloggers and adventure specialists for their tips, tricks and favorites. Learn more about what to know and why to go, below.
1. Wild Flora & Natural Beauty
Neil Arthurs and Orla Smith, travel bloggers based in Dublin who run the site All the Ways You Wander, love to visit Burren National Park in County Clare in the spring “to [see] the spectacular wildflowers bloom.” And in the fall, they recommend the Sligo/Leitrim border area around Glencar Lake for the outstanding autumn colors. “[It’s] an enchanting area of natural beauty where William Butler Yeats was inspired,” Smith shared.
“For those looking for beautiful autumn landscapes, look no further than Killarney National Park [in County Kerry],” said Patricia Doe, general manager of Wilderness Ireland, an adventure tour operator based in Sligo. She added, “Ireland’s first national park is busy in the summer months, but as autumn rolls around and the leaves start to turn, Killarney quiets down. A canvas of reds and golds, the deciduous woodlands adorning the hills and lakes of Killarney are perfect in autumn.”
Brian Barry and Noelle Kelly, the nomadic couple behind travel blog Wandering On, love to take advantage of Ireland’s natural beauty by hiking whenever they’re in Ireland, their homeland. “One of the best spots in the whole [island] is our highest peak, Carrauntoohil, … located just outside of Killarney in County Kerry. “You’ll have the trails all to yourself, and when you get a warm, sunny October day before the clocks go back, it almost feels like summer,” Barry shared. “Seeing Carrauntoohil with a dusting of snow on top will make for an experience like no other,” he added. “On a clear day, you can see the Atlantic Ocean, as well as back to Killarney, and panoramic views of the surrounding Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.”
Pro tip: “When hiking in Ireland at any time of year, you need to be prepared with rain gear,” he said. “In the autumn or winter seasons, it’s definitely wise to bring a pair of gloves, a hat, a muffler and layers, like a thermal top, a fleece and a good windproof and waterproof jacket.”
2. Real Authentic Experiences
Loren Siekman, who runs Pure Adventures, a U.S.-based adventure travel company, believes that the secret to Ireland off-season is the locals. “My favorite part is that the people are just so approachable then,” he said. Because it’s less busy, he feels locals have time to be that much more present; and servers, hoteliers and staff at parks and attractions are even more attentive and available than usual. He added, “It all leads to better conversations, happier interactions and a better, deeper, more immersive experience.”
Laura Hamm of eco-friendly tour company Traverse Journeys seconds Siekman’s opinion: “My very first trip to Ireland was smack in the middle of winter … and I had an absolutely brilliant time,” said Hamm, who has lived in Ireland on and off and visits often (she now lives in Austin).
She recommends using the shoulder seasons to visit high-traffic places you might avoid in summer months, like Dingle town, for instance. “In low season, … you’ll get to experience Dingle town the way the locals have for decades!” According to Hamm, the Dingle Peninsula is known throughout Ireland as being a mecca for traditional musicians, so finding the best live sessions in town is definitely in order. “In the off-season, you can’t help but get an authentic experience,” she added. “Popular pubs aren’t filled with anything but Irish accents, and you may just have popular sights all to yourself.”
3. Magical Holiday Favorites
“Derry, the walled city, is phenomenal in autumn, especially October, because every year it hosts an amazing Halloween festival,” said Tara Povey of the travel blog Where Is Tara?. “And, after all, Halloween comes from the Celtic tradition of Samhain [a precursor to modern Halloween, in which people would dress up in costumes and light bonfires to ward off spirits], so what better place for a bit of trick-or-treating than Ireland? People dress up, you can take spooky tours around the city and the fireworks are always great,” she added.
One of the main reasons Meghan Malloy, who runs Travel, Wine, and Dine, loves to go to Ireland in November is because of how beautiful it is leading up to Christmas. The Boston-based blogger said, “Galway’s decorations are beyond amazing, and their Christmas market is magical. Town is just buzzing with festive energy, and it’s often warm enough to enjoy a mulled wine outdoors while enjoying that energy.”
4. Cozy Pubs
Many agree that the best part of a cold-weather hike is the cozy pub that follows. Siekman is among them: “I love to get outside in the brisk air, be active for a while and then just hunker down in some great Irish establishment,” he said. “Nothing like getting cozy around a fire in a stone cottage or pub after a weather-filled hike,” he added.
Hamm agrees that an Irish pub experience is the way to go. “Come during the low season and get a slice of what life is often like for the Irish, holing up in their local pub next to a roaring fire, drinking a hot whiskey and singing along as the musicians play into the night. You’ll understand far more about the Irish nature, culture [and] history…by experiencing Ireland the way they do.”
Frank Kelly, founder of Hennessy & Furlong, a travel advisory company based in County Tipperary, loves an off the beaten path pub in the fall or winter. At the top of his list are two bars in Dublin: Kehoes, a classic watering hole known for its stellar pints of Guinness, charming atmosphere and equal appeal to locals and tourists; and Davy Byrnes, a literary staple (the main character in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” spent a lot of time there) that serves traditional Irish stew and craft cocktails, in other words, the perfect place to warm up on a chilly afternoon.
Both Kelly and Smith recommend The Crown Liquor Saloon, aka the Crown Bar, in Belfast for a timeless institution that’s always in season. “While it’s popular with tourists in the summer months, in the fall or winter, it’s more likely to be the locals there,” Kelly said. Great for dinner — don’t leave without trying the fish pie! — and for enjoying drinks and ambience at the bar downstairs, Crown is literally a Belfast gem. “It’s an incredibly atmospheric pub with Victorian decor,” said Smith, adding, “It’s like stepping back in time!”
5. Festivals Aplenty
“Autumn is…a great time to catch some of the best festivals in Ireland, too, with the Galway International Oyster Festival taking place during September,” Barry said. In October, he and Kelly recommend the Guinness Jazz Festival in Cork City and, if you’re single, they suggest checking out the famous Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, which gives one “a chance to see what life was like before dating apps.” In November, they recommend the Causeway Coast’s free music festival, Atlantic Sessions, in County Antrim. “Featuring everything from traditional Irish music, to electric and acoustic,” Barry said, “you’ll hear [music] pumping out of everywhere, from pubs and hotels to coffee shops and town halls.”
Words by Jesse Sposato
From Tourism Ireland:
Ireland is a wonderful place to visit in the summer, with coastal touring and island exploring, but its cozy pubs and eclectic festivals make it equally alluring the rest of the year, too. Visiting Ireland outside of the peak season will allow visitors to enjoy fewer crowds, more affordable accommodations and the best attractions while still experiencing the warmth of an Irish welcome. Discover why Ireland is truly an evergreen destination waiting to be explored any time of year at Ireland.com.
This article was paid for by Tourism Ireland and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.