The following content is created in consultation with Tourism Ireland. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Chicago's editorial staff. To learn more about visiting Ireland, visit Ireland.com.
We might be in the middle of the Holidays, but with 2015 just around the corner it's time to start planning your next vacation.
And there's no better place to escape to than Ireland. Known for its vibrant mix of urban culture, stunning coastal vistas, rich heritage, charming villages and world-famous hospitality The Emerald Isle is the perfect destination for anyone looking for the most out of their vacation.
Luckily, there's never been a better time to go than now. With more daily direct flights than ever before, no matter where you live in the U.S. it’s incredibly easy to get to Ireland. You can even enter to win a 2015 trip for two!
And yet it still feels a world away. From UNESCO World Heritage Sites to breathtaking landscapes to authentic live music, travelers will be enchanted by all Ireland has to offer. Add a mix of modern and traditional cuisine, unique art and design, and an impressive literary history, and you've got a destination that's as culturally rich as it is welcoming.
Which makes it important to have an itinerary. To get you started, we've put together this helpful guide of unforgettable things to see and do on your 2015 Irish adventure.
Voted the Friendliest City in Europe twice by TripAdvisor, Dublin is the perfect place to explore by day. Getting to know the locals is best done over a pint--there's even a citywide initiative in which Dubliners invite tourists for a drink--but there's also plenty to do outside the pub. Explore this intimate city on foot through parks like Merrion Square and along the River Liffey, where Vikings first entered. Next head to the medieval center, where you'll wend your way along small, charming alleys and passed cultural landmarks like Christ Church, Dublin Castle and Dublinia. Thanks to its rich literary tradition, Dublin--home to four Nobel Laureates, including W.B Yeats--was also awarded the title of UNESCO City of Literature.
Ever wonder how the world's most distinctive stout is made? Well, now you can find out as no visit to Dublin is complete without a tour of the Guinness Storehouse. Learn about their unique brewing process--which dates back to 1759--as you amble through this interactive, seven-story complex. Grab a pint of Guinness at the end of your tour in the plant's Gravity Bar, which affords 360 degree views of Dublin.
Belfast Titanic Visitor Experience
Evoking waves and ice with its bold architectural design, Titanic Belfast celebrates the ill-fated ship that put the city on the industrial map over 100 years ago. Explore this state-of-the-art museum which replicates the Titanic experience, from construction to voyage, through nine distinct galleries.
Stunning Coastal Trips
Ireland has one of the world's most stunning coastlines, and there's no better way to experience the dramatic ocean views than by taking a memorable road trip. Thankfully, there are two epic journeys on your agenda. First up is the Causeway Coastal Route. Located in Northern Ireland, this 120-mile journey takes you from Belfast to Derry~Londonderry. Along the circuitous route, you'll take in dramatic views as you hug the road past cliffs, dells, waterfalls and coastal castles. It's no wonder that Game of Thrones films here. Be sure to walk the Giant's Causeway, where otherworldly basalt columns greet you, and explore the romantic views of Dunluce Castle.
Next up is The Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,500 mile journey traversing all of Ireland's rugged west coast. As charming as it is dramatic, The Wild Atlantic Way features a variety of sightseeing locations, as well as opportunities for guided tours, venues, viewing points, music and excellent food along the way. Go whale watching and then enjoy an amazing seafood dinner in County Cork; take a walk along the dramatic Cliffs of Moher--County Clare's iconic 700-foot precipices that loom over one of the biggest swells in Europe--and stop for homemade ice cream after, or look out for the Northern Lights along the Donegal coastline.
Traditional Irish Music
Speaking of the Cliffs of Moher, no visit would be complete without a night in the nearby village of Doolin -- the traditional music capital of Ireland. Head to Gus O'Connor's Pub, where an assembly of skilled musicians will jam in a marathon seisún for as long as fresh pints continue to await them on the table. After a full night's sleep, take a morning ferry to the Aran Islands -- three islands that are home to all Irish speaking communities (yes, English is not the native tongue) not to mention a charmingly rural way of life.
In fact all of County Clare jigs to the rhythm of traditional Irish music, which takes its inspiration form the surrounding area's beautiful landscape and laid-back way of life. But you'll find a lively music scene everywhere in Ireland, from the beat of Belfast to the acclaimed bars fringing Dublin's historic cobblestone streets.
Don't forget to pack your clubs as Ireland is home to some of the most challenging and beautiful golf courses in the world. Just ask World Number One golfer Rory McIlroy, who perfected his game on Northern Ireland's famed fairways. He'll need to rely on that skill next year if he plans to win the 2015 Irish Open, taking place at Royal County Down -- a beguiling course that has flummoxed legends like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Try your luck there, or get a head start on the competition at the nearby Royal Portush, an exquisite course that is being touted as the possible venue for The Open 2019. Of course no golf trip would be complete without a game at County Cork's Old Head Golf Links, where ocean cliffs flank fairways and it's not uncommon to spot humpback whales splashing in the swirling waters as you tee off.
To learn more about all Ireland has to offer--from literary festivals to the Rock of Cashel--and to start planning your trip today, head to Ireland.com.