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Sample itinerary for your vacation in Ireland
What to see in Ireland

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Ireland's attractions are its landscape and people – both in the Republic and Northern Ireland – and few visitors are disappointed by the reality of the stock Irish images: the green, rain-hazed loughs and wild, bluff coastlines, the inspired talent for conversation, the easy pace of life and wealth of traditional music. Ireland has become increasingly integrated with the industrial economies of western Europe, yet the modernization of the country has to date made few marks. It's a place to explore slowly, roaming through agricultural landscapes scattered with farmhouses, or along the endlessly indented coastline. In town, too, the pleasures are unhurried: evenings over Guinnesses in the snug of a pub, listening to the chat around a turf fire.

Especially in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht areas, you'll be aware of the strength and continuity of the island's oral tradition. The speech of the country, moulded by the rhythms of the ancient tongue, has fired such twentieth-century greats as Yeats, Joyce, Beckett and Heaney. Music, too, has always been at the centre of Irish community life, and you can expect to find traditional music sessions in the pubs of all towns of any size and along the west coast. Side by side with this is a romping rock scene that has spawned Van Morrison, U2, Sinead O'Connor and The Corrs.

The area that draws most visitors is the west coast, whose northern reaches are characterized by the demonically daunting peninsulas and the mystical lakes and glens of Donegal. The midwest coastline and its offshore islands – especially the Aran Islands – are just as attractive, combining vertiginous cliffs, boulder-strewn wastes and violent mountains. In the south, the melodramatic peaks of the Ring of Kerry fall to lake-pools and seductive seascapes, while in the north of the island, the principal draw is the bizarre basalt formation of the Giant's Causeway. The interior is less spectacular, but the southern pastures and low wooded hills, and the wide peat bogs of the midlands, are the classic landscapes of Ireland. Of the inland waterways, the most alluring is the island-studded Lough Erne, easily reached from Enniskillen.

For anyone with strictly limited time, one of the best options is to combine a visit to Dublin with the mountains and monastic ruins of County Wicklow. Dublin is an extraordinary mix of youthfulness and tradition, a human-scale capital of rejuvenated Georgian squares and vibrant pubs. Belfast, victim of a perennial bad press, vies with Dublin in the vitality of its nightlife, while the cities of Cork, Limerick and, most of all, Galway, have a rediscovered energy about them.

No introduction can cope with the complexities of Ireland's politics, which permeate every aspect of daily life, most conspicuously in the North. Suffice it to say that, regardless of partisan politics, Irish hospitality is as warm as the brochures say, on both sides of the border.

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