Ireland Ireland

If the regular polls of departing travellers are to be believed, it's Ireland's timeless traditional side that continues to hold the key to the country’s draw as a tourist destination. At the heart of it all is the often breath­taking scenery, still gorgeous enough to make your jaw drop despite the best efforts of developers to scar some of the most beautiful bits with round­abouts, brutal suburbs and summer bungalows. From the lonely, wind-lashed wilderness of the Beara Peninsula to the awe-inspiring landscapes of County Derry, Ireland is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, and worth every effort you make to explore it. The sometimes overwhelming popularity of the scenic superstars like Connemara and Killarney National Park has seen the emergence of quieter idylls as the preferred destination of the discerning traveller, who has discovered the beauty of the lakes of County Roscommon, the villages of County Waterford and the rarely visited County Westmeath. Here you can come into contact with a more genuine Ireland, the kind removed from the slick machinery of the tourist trail. Of course, this does not mean you should miss Dublin: the pulsating capital has a soul and sociability unrivalled by any other European city.

The slow grind that resulted in the end of violence in Northern Ireland has meant that the province can finally go about showing to a much wider audience that it is just as beautiful and interesting as the rest of the island. In 2007, Lonely Planet’s Blue List put it in the world’s top 10 destinations to visit for good reason – the province has always had plenty to see, but the activity of paramilitary groups made the prospect of visiting a little daunting.

Given the troubled nature of its recent past, combined with all of the usual problems thrown up by any modern society, Ireland is no laid-back Utopia (that'd be boring anyway). But the fact remains that the Irish warmth and welcome is the real deal, and millions of visitors testify to the sheer ease with which they made friends here. Someone will stop and help you find your way when you’re standing on a corner gawking at a map; you will strike up a conversation if you’re sitting alone in a pub; and there is a very good chance that if you’re stuck somewhere a local will volunteer a lift to wherever you need to go. The Irish love complaining about their country – about the crappy weather, the horrible traffic, the unplanned construction, the venal corruption – and will swear to you that you’re the luckiest person on earth because you don’t have to live here, but they only do it because this is the greatest country on the planet. Make sense? Well, it does ­­here.