1. Connemara Ponies!
Idyllic Irish landscape always looks better from in the saddle, especially when riding a Connemara pony.
Riddled in rumors and folklore, it is said the Connemara has survived Ireland’s tough terrain for over 2,500 years – and maybe have some Spanish shipwrecked horse-blood in them! For many centuries, wild ponies ran free, with locals capturing and taming them for agricultural use.
Nowadays, it is easy to spot a Connemara jumping a clean round in a local riding competition or galloping across green lush pastures throughout the countryside.
In Connemara, and commonly throughout western Ireland, many “bucket list” horse riding opportunities are available to ride one of Ireland’s most cherished ponies. It is an absolute must do!
Connemara Equestrian Escapes offers several different riding holidays, combining an equal mix of trail riding and Irish culture along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Asked what makes Ireland such an excellent horse riding destination, Cathriona Goaley replied, “In our case, it’s the opportunity to spend the first few days of your trip at our farmhouse, Curra Farm, the breeding ground of our team of Connemara Ponies and then move on to one or more of our specially selected four star hotels in Connemara.”
Their holidays, based just inside the Connemara border, along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, are not just about horse riding, they give you the complete exposure to how this native horse breed developed over the centuries. With visits to farms, cultural sites, and museums, each day tells the story about how the Connemara pony has always been so valuable to any Irish rural household.
Cathriona notes, “Over the course of your trip with us, you will see the easy going nature of the wonderful breed while you spend time riding it, grooming it, even singing to it if you wish! It’s temperament, agility, and stamina are unparallelled anywhere in the world.”
2. Irish National Stud Farm and Japanese Garden
Not one horse tourist should go to Ireland and skip out on the Irish National Stud Farm just a short bus drive outside of Dublin. Besides their famous ponies, coastal cliffs and alcoholic beverages, Irish-bred thoroughbreds have a long history of upsetting their English rivals and being bold steeplechase racehorses.
Here, visitors have a chance to tour the historic yard, meet legendary race horses, walk among the broodmare pastures and learn more about horses at their very authentic horse museum.
Following a tour of the farm, the sounds of whinnying yearlings can be heard from the Japanese Gardens, located at the National Stud. Designed by a famous Japanese craftsman between 1906-1910, this garden is one of the finest to enjoy outside of Japan.
3. Great Live Music
There is a reason the Celtic harp is on the Irish Euro coin – the Irish love live music! Music of all sorts is importance in Ireland and it is not uncommon to hear an acoustic band playing at a small pub or restaurant.
If you are in the mood for live music, typically a walk down the street and you will find the local musicians playing a tune for dancers, drinkers and onlookers. Throughout the warmer months, many Celtic or Gaelic music festivals are available for an explosion of traditional Irish music.
Besides the Celtic harp, concertinas, accordions and special drums called bodhrán are typical instruments used in Irish folk music. Dublin is also full of great music venues, street musicians and bars with free live music evenings.
4. Irish Brews and Spirits
After a long day riding, have a pint of Guinness, or relax with one of Ireland’s many famous whiskeys – the Gaelic “water of life.” Guinness may have put Ireland on the map for quality stouts, but there are many other options of stout and draught beer, too.
So fun and delicious, whiskey and brewery tours may have you going back to Ireland for more than just riding adventures. A number of distillery and brewery tours are available across Ireland and offer a variety of tour and tasting options, with more establishments and craft breweries opening every year.
Check out the Old Jameson Distillery, the Irish Whiskey Museum, or the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin between your Irish horseback adventures!
Why not take a brewery tour in between your Irish horse riding adventures? Infinite Ireland, the great travel-planning guide for Ireland, has a nice rundown of some of the best of Ireland’s breweries HERE.
For some travel tips for Ireland’s whiskey distilleries, best whiskey pubs, hotel bars, and specialised whiskey shops, check out the Irish Whiskey Trail HERE.
INSIDER TIP: Guinness and Jameson are certainly well-deserved household names around the world, but other noteworthy brands include: Galway Bay Brewery (beer), Kinnegar Brewing (beer), Franciscan Well (beer), The White Hag Brewery (beer), Galway Hooker Brewery (beer), Eight Degrees Brewing, Teeling (Irish whiskey), Redbreast (Irish whiskey), and Green Spot (Irish whiskey). Have some favorites that we need to know about? Let us know!
5. Excellent horse events
For a small country, Ireland has big horse events. From the Tattersalls International Horse Trials and County Fair to the Dublin Horse Show, horse events are a year-round ‘thing to do’ in Ireland.
At Tattersalls, a festive country fair mixes with fresh excitement of an international three-day eventing competition. A very family-friendly environment, Tattersalls is a memorable experience.
The Dublin Horse Show, an annual event since its start in 1864, brings fantastic international show jumpers to the main stage at the Royal Dublin Society main arena. Between dueling jump-offs, check out the great shopping section for unique Irish treasures.
Major races, such as Irish Grand National, the Galway Races, Punchestown Racing Festival, The Irish Derby, and the Fairyhouse Easter Racing Festival are prestigious flat and steeplechase events that are both exciting and affordable for visitors of all ages.
Dress up to the 9’s and head to the grandstands or enjoy the races in standing room only sections – either way you will have a great day at the race
6. Emerald Isle Landscapes
Though modesty is a great Irish virtue, the Emerald Isle has many natural outdoor attractions to brag about. Miles and miles of coastline and endless roads are always ready to be explored in Ireland.
Buy a locally-knit sweater and explore the Aran Islands, just a ferry ride away from the iconic Cliffs of Moher, or dig into history at the Inish Prehistoric stone fort at Dún Aengus.
If you get rained out of a ride, go underground and explore one of Ireland’s many caves like the Mitchelstown, Dunmore, or Crag cave – no rain clouds will bother you there!
Further north in Donegal, the Derryveagh Mountain Range is a hiker and landscape photographer’s dream come true with mountains and lakes arranging the horizon with their reflective beauty.
Want to know what are some can’t miss natural attractions, and what makes them so special? We asked Stephanie Chastain of the terrific Ireland travel-planning guide, Infinite Ireland:
“Ireland’s natural beauty is easy to find. In almost every bend in the road you will want to stop to take in the scenery and steal a few photos. Most of the country’s iconic attractions are steeped in it–the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park, but my two favorite natural spots are a little more remote.
In the north west corner of Ireland in county Donegal are the Slieve League Cliffs. These 600 meter cliffs are some of the tallest in Europe and provide the best landscape for a hike on a fine Irish day. The best part is you’ll likely have them all to yourself since the nearest large town, Donegal town, is about an hour and half away.
In the very south west corner, in County Cork, you’ll find several finger-like peninsulas to explore. My favorite, Mizen Head, offers a spectacular drive through mountains and fields. Once you reach the tip the Atlantic opens wide before you. It’s the perfect spot for a leisurely picnic while watching for whales and dolphins in the distance.”
7. St. Patrick’s Day!
Irish horses may not care too much for St. Patrick’s Day, but for visitors and citizens alike, there is no place better than Ireland to celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick.
Spring is in full swing as people take to the streets for this beloved holiday, celebrated every year on March 17th in memory of Ireland’s most beloved missionary and bishop.
In northeastern Ireland each year on St. Patty’s Day, the Ballycastle and District Horse Plowing Championship takes place and is an excellent, and free horsey way to celebrate the holiday.
Take a break from riding and join parade-goers across the country as Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t forget to “drown the shamrock!”
8. Rich Horse History
For us equestrians, there is history, and then there is Horse History. Weaving your way around a museum in search of old horse bits, saddles, and horses painted into history is not a strenuous workout at the National Museum of Ireland-Archeology in Dublin, the Dartfield Horse Museum in Galway, or at the Corlea Trackway Visitors Center in County Longford.
The Corlea Trackway is an ancient Iron Age plank road, preserved in the wet boggy conditions and full of horse wisdom. Iron Age horsemen throughout Ireland made some of the world’s best horseware at the time, and the artifacts found in Irish museums are well worth taking a long look at.
Cooper’s Hill Equine in County Galway offers a great “haunted trail ride” to the medieval era Cloonacauneen Castle, just one of many castles that can be found in the hinterland of Castlegar.
James Tonery of Cooper’s Hill Equine notes that he loves Ireland’s landscape, history, and countryside, “You are never far away from a green field, a little winding stream, or a hidden path that has a story or local tradition associated with it. There is a richness from the ground up that inhabits the people and their lives with thousands of years of mystery, myth, and culture so deeply entwined in our land and people,” Tonery notes. “There’s no such thing as a straight road so you never know what’s around the corner, and you never know who you will meet.”
9. Delicious Food
The 19th century may have been plagued with famine and food shortages in Ireland, but today, the food scene is bursting in Ireland.
Traditionally, black tea, scones, corned beef, soda bread, champ (potato dish), lamb, Irish stew, and Christmas cake will have foodies licking their plates all over Ireland. However, the assortment doesn’t stop there.
Today, Ireland has a diverse restaurant culture with a style and spice for every palette. Mexican, Asian, Indian and seafood restaurants are just the start of Ireland’s diverse, cutting-edge food industry if you are looking for some affordable variety on your next tour of Ireland.
When asked what makes Ireland such a great foodie destination, Chef Zack Gallagher, an Irish food ambassador for Failte Ireland (the Irish Tourism department) a food blogger, and MD of Irish Food Tour, explains,
“Many of the best Irish chefs have grown up in the countryside and therefore have a real respect for local food producers and farmers here in Ireland. Our grass-fed Irish cattle and sheep (especially those reared on the west coast) benefit from the natural sea salts blown in on the wind from the wild Atlantic Ocean.
Being an island, Ireland is surrounded by excellent fishing resources. Nowhere in the country is more than an hour from the coast, so all our restaurants and pubs can serve the freshest seafood. Whatever you do, you must try some Irish Oysters washed down with a locally produced craft beer! They are so fresh, so tasty and so natural! This all combines to produce excellent flavor and helps make Ireland a real foodies’ paradise!”
Festivals and food are two of Ireland greatest pastimes and various events take place all over and all year round. Some of the best food festivals include A Taste of Donegal, Dingle Food Festival, Waterford Food Fest, Taste of Cavan, Bloom in the Park in Dublin and the LegenDerry Food Festival.
There are food tour providers all over Ireland now, in the cities and in the regional towns. All of these can also be booked for private group tours and all are listed on the Irish Food Tours website at www.IrishFoodTours.ie
10. Great Horse Riding Opportunities
Did you know that the first horse riding holiday in the world was established in Ireland? Irish horse trekking operators are some of the best, and oldest in the world, with many great hacking and overnight opportunities available across the country.
With trails offered in close proximity to large Irish cities such as Dublin, Galway, and Cork, it is easy to find a one-hour to multi-day tour of Ireland by horseback. With some of the most seasoned operators in the horse riding industry, these professional horsemen know their stuff.
Willie Leahy, the largest breeder of Connemara ponies in the world, and the world’s first horse holiday operator since 1969, set the pace not only for quality Connemara breeding, but also for rich rural Irish tourism. His activism is appreciated in the Dartfield Horse Museum and throughout Ireland.
For an amazing horse riding holiday on the Connemara Coast with Willie Leahy, CLICK HERE.
Other great horse treks in the west of Ireland:
Island View Riding Stables specializes in beach rides in Sligo and Donegal Bay. Drop in for a exhilarating horse riding experience on your journey along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Clew Bay horse riding at the Drummindoo Stud in County Mayo offers trail riding, riding lessons, horse-drawn carriages and even homestays.
Knockillaree Riding Centre is based in Oughterard, only 25 minutes north of Galway City, at the “Gateway to Connemara”. They offer treks and are nestled between beautiful hills, mountains, and the shores of Lough Corrib.
Foe horse riding near Cork:
Bantry Pony Trekking has a large selection of horses and ponies to suit all ages and abilities. Beginners are especially welcome, and their carefully selected Irish Cobs are sure to give you a safe pleasant introduction to riding and the Irish countryside.
Bantry Bay Pony Trekking offer trail riding for riders of all abilities in ancient woodlands. Bring your camera – deer, kestrel, wild goats and other wildlife are often seen on the horse and pony treks.
For horse riding near Limerick:
Boskill Equestrian offers trekking, home stays, lessons, and a cross-country course.
For Horse Treks in County Kerry:
River Valley Stables opened its doors to the public in 1993 in a gorgeous region of southwest Kerry known as the Roughty Valley. The stables are members of AIRE, with instructors trained to a high standard.
Killarney Riding Stables were established in 1968 by Donie O’Sullivan, and is still very much a family business with Donie’s wife Noreen, their two daughters Lorraine and Aoife, and son William all involved. The stables are home to 70 well-cared for horses, and their location, adjacent to the Killarney National Park, allows for treks of one, two, or three hours.
For trail rides closer to Dublin, we recommend:
Hollywood Horse Trekking Centre, set in the heart of the dramatic, timeless, unspoilt scenery that is the Wicklow mountains, offers 90 minute and half-day rides. The Maguire farm where they are based runs along the Kings River on the lower side, while on the higher side, rust-colored bogs and granite stone wall framed fields, make this a landscape of extraordinary beauty.
Coolmine Equestrian, a fantastic family-run horse farm boasting amazing views over the city of Dublin to the bay, and as far north as the eye can see. Coolmine offers a great selection of guided trail rides suitable for all levels of riding ability.
Killegar Stables, one of Ireland’s longest established horse riding schools and livery yards, offers riding lessons, guided treks, riding lessons, pony camp, and livery services. Their facilities take full advantage of their prime countryside location on the outskirts of Dublin, just outside the popular tourist village of Enniskerry.
Country Cottage Stables is a family run, private boutique equestrian yard, set in the serenity of the Wicklow mountains, just 30 minutes from Dublin city centre. They offer confidence building horse riding lessons, exploration trekking and full livery in a quiet setting.
Wicklow Equitours was founded in 2014 to offer luxury horse riding holidays in the picturesque Wicklow Mountains. County Wicklow is one of Irelands premier tourist spots, primarily due to its breathtaking scenery – indeed Wicklow is colloquially known as “The Garden of Ireland.”