Cliffs of Moher Co. Clare
The overcrowded Cliffs of Moher can detract from the view
Set on Ireland's west coast, in Country Clare, the Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular site and one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. They attracted more than 1.5 million visitors in 2017, according to Fáilte Ireland, the country's national tourism authority.
The cliffs, formed more than 300 million years ago, stretch for five miles and reach more than 700 feet in elevation; their name is the English translation of the Irish word mothar, which means ruined fort and nods to the fact that this was the site of an ancient fortification. Tourists come here for the wild, dramatic setting and the views: Galway Bay, the Aran Islands and the Dingle Peninsula are all visible on sunny, cloudless days.
Wildlife and nature are also a draw. More than 20 bird species - including colonies of puffins, the sight of them waddling over the rocks makes for a delightful photo - live around the cliffs. In the spring and summer, the green grasses bloom with a rainbow of wildflowers.
Active travelers will enjoy visiting the cliffs for their several walking paths, says Siobhan Byrne Learat, the founder of Adams & Butler, a Dublin-based company selling luxury Ireland trips. Although the full hiking trail can take up to five hours, most people like to meander up the stone steps to the cliff edge and savour the scene. No matter which route you choose, you're likely to see cows and sheep along the way.
But going to the Cliffs of Moher isn't a relaxing experience, Learat says. "You are among the hordes here, and finding a spot in the parking lot can be a nightmare," she says. "They're far too busy, and it's difficult to take that Instagrammable photo without strangers included."
The cliffs also have a standard admission fee of 8 euros (about $14).
Location: About a three-hour drive west of Dublin, in County Clare.
Slieve League Cliffs Co. Donegal
Visitors will find all the above minus the tourists at the lesser-known Slieve League Cliffs
Situated in County Donegal, Slieve League Cliffs beat the Cliffs of Moher when it comes to a "wow" effect: These ancient cliffs, once a sacred Christian pilgrimage site, tower almost 2,000 feet above sea level - nearly three times higher than those of Moher.
"They're rugged and breathtaking," Learat says. "It's unspoiled beauty."
Yet few travelers, save for the Irish who vacation in Donegal for its scenic beaches, make the trip to this little-known attraction. Slieve League - the name comes from the Gaelic spelling Slaibh Liag and means Gray Mountain - saw only around 165,000 visitors in 2017.
Those visitors who do come are likely to spot an abundance of wildlife, including dolphins, whales, seals, sheep herds numbering in the hundreds, razorbills, flocks of geese and more.
As with Moher, the best way to appreciate Slieve League Cliffs is to walk them. There are various walking paths catering to everyone from fitness fanatics to those who are there for the views, not the workout.
You'll find numerous spots to stop for pictures as you stroll, but what you won't find is other people getting in your way. Learat says that you may not see another visitor the entire time you're there.
Although it means walking a few miles, the trip up to the cliff viewing point is worth it and has panoramas of Donegal Bay that are hard to beat. In pleasant weather, you can even have a picnic on the rocks, a popular pastime for the Irish, and best of all, these cliffs are free to visitors.
"The Cliffs of Moher are for tourists," Learat says. "Slieve League is for the traveller in on what the Irish consider to be their best-kept secret."
Location: About a four-hour drive northwest of Dublin, in County Donegal.