When it comes to Ireland and Scotland, you may think they share quite a few similarities —and you’d be right! Both provide travellers with a heavy dose of the countryside atmosphere with lush green landscapes and plummeting cliffs, and they both have their own twist on whiskey. Most importantly, both Ireland and Scotland are known for being home to some of the most welcoming locals and friendly personalities around. But, unmistakably, they both have a unique charm that makes them stand out in their own way.
So, if you’re wavering between the two (and don’t have time for both) this is your definitive comparison to help you choose where to go!
Travel to: Ireland
At a glance
Here are some quick and speedy facts about both countries!
|Population||4.773 million (2016)||5.295 million (2011)|
Perhaps its more immediate reputation is for the country’s legendary annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but year-round Ireland packs dramatic landscapes that can thrill even the most seasoned traveller.
The island is the third largest in Europe, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Celtic Sea as well as the Irish Sea. Ireland has a reputation for being home to incredibly friendly people, delicious beer and ancient sites that make most people’s bucket list.
Cliffs of Moher
Ireland’s west coast is marked by one of the countries most visited landmarks, the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. At the cliff’s highest point sits O’Brien Tower, where you can climb up for an even higher viewpoint. The challenging 20-kilometre coastal walk is a highlight to take in the cliffs at all their angles.
The Guinness Storehouse is the flagship for Ireland’s most famous stout beer located in Dublin. Taking you through different rooms and vaults, a tour of the storehouse will leave you with all you need to know, from production to pouring and the proper way to sip the beer (from its rooftop bar nonetheless).
Killarney National park
This mountainous park is a favourite for its many waterfalls, spotting the wild herds of native red deer and the Killarney lakes that sit at the foot of the mountains.
The Blarney Stone is embedded in the medieval Blarney Castle, built six centuries ago. The stone gets a lot of lip action. Legend has it, kissing the stone imparts the gift of the gab on the kisser.
The castle is located just outside of Cork, Ireland’s second largest city and has so much more to offer than just kissing the stone. The grounds of the castle are enchanting on the banks of the Blarney river.
Founded as a Viking capital, today the country’s capital strikes the perfect balance surrounding travellers with history and hedonistic pleasures.
Trinity College is where you’ll find the Book of Kells and its Old Library meanwhile you can indulge in the pub scene lining the cobbled roads of Temple Bar, not to mention the countless other pubs spread throughout the city.
Getting around Ireland
- Train: The train can be pretty tempting for its comforts like Wi-Fi, but they’re also expensive and need to be booked in advance.
- Ferry: Many ferry tours and services take you to coastal cities and significant sites for an off-land view.
- Bus: Ireland has been graced with a fantastic public bus system, frequently running at a modest price. Once you’ve arrived at your location, most cities are pretty walkable.
- Car: This is an expensive option, and it must be noted that Ireland has some winding and narrow roads which can be challenging to navigate, especially in more unmarked areas.
What to eat and drink in Ireland
- Hearty stews! The ultimate comfort dish filled with cabbage, potatoes (a top ingredient in the country), carrots and often beef or lamb.
- Champ, a mashed potato dish with onions, and is widely adored!
- Soda bread, made in many different variants, like with seeds and sometimes even Guinness!
- Shepherds pie, a layered ground beef and potato dish.
- Beyond drinking Guinness, try out some Irish whiskey distilled right in the country (hint: the Dingle Whiskey Distillery is a great place to start).
Things to know before you visit Ireland
- The rumours are true, Ireland’s weather can be unpredictable in all-seasons, so bring adaptable clothing for rain and cold nights, but don’t forget the sunscreen as it can sneak up on you in summer months.
- If you’re considering visiting multiple cities, purchasing an OPW Heritage Card is a good bet. It’ll get you into most sites and castles that are owned by the state for around 25 Euros.
- Brush up on your Irish slang, locals use a lot of it, and it will help you ease into the strong pub culture! Craic = fun or news.
- The island of Ireland is made up two countries: The Republic of Ireland referred to in this article and Northern Ireland that is part of the United Kingdom.
I love the friendliness of the people, the nature and the nightlife. Dublin is not a huge city, so it’s easy to see all of the interesting spots if you’re coming for a holiday. Some pubs in Temple bar have a live music from 12pm till midnight. They are full of tourists from all over the world and you can feel an atmosphere of nightlife even at 3 pm. I believe that’s quite unique. I love the nature and in a 30 minutes journey you could be on a 5km long sandy Portmarnock beach. And while you’re there, a few kilometres down the road there is a beautiful Malahide castle and gardens. Dublin Castle is also a must visit place, Trinity college, Phoenix park, Stephen’s Green Park. Most of the museums in Dublin have a free entry all year around. If you have time, definitely visit Powerscourt Gardens, voted as top 10 gardens in the world. There is a cute waterfall nearby worth visiting.
What Irish do in the city is have an afternoon tea in The Shelbourne hotel, try to find a secret location of “The Blind Pig” Speakeasy prohibition bar, and if you’re like me, more into bars than pubs, weekend evenings are perfect to be spent in one of the bars in Dawson Street. During the day, have a walk around South William’s Street, Grafton Street. Have a stroll along the river Liffey and check out Dublin’s technology hub in Grand canal dock, where companies like Facebook and Google have their European HQ. It’s also the most international and youngest area in the city with modern architecture. – Ana Maria, Life in Dublin
Phrases and Words
- Calm down
- Fir wye
The United Kingdom’s northernmost country is rugged and sprawling with mountains with well over 2000 castles. It attracts outdoor enthusiasts eager to climb its mountaintops and marvel over it’s mystical lochs from the highlands to the lowlands. The country hosted the first game of golf and also has a vibrant food scene.
Travel to: Scotland
The castle was once a royal residence and military fortress. It’s a stunning structure and an excellent example of Scotland’s magnificent castles — a real architectural prize. The castle has an essential spot in Edinburgh’s skyline and can be seen from most places in Scotland’s capital because of its high positioning perched on Castle Rock.
Try to spot the elusive Loch Ness monster, known as Nessie, that has been reported to swim in the murky waters of this massive body of freshwater nestled in the Scottish Highlands. The loch is also the enchanting backdrop of the Urquhart Castle with its ancient towers and castle remnants.
The highest mountain in the British Isles takes is a 6-8 hour round-trip climb. The climb is completely weather dependent since when it’s exposed to the elements the terrain can be quite challenging. Alternatively, you can take the Nevis Range Gondola up the north face of Aonach Mor where you can get fantastic views of the mountain.
This dormant volcano is the highest peak of Edinburgh and 251-metres above sea level. Hiking this icon takes only about 30 minutes, but you can take your time and visit the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel and open grassy areas giving way to lochs down below.
Edinburgh Old Town
The Royal Mile is the focal point of the Old Town, from its traditional pubs to the narrows alleys of Real Mary King’s Close. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are gothic buildings and an underground world of tunnels and caves that hold haunting stories.
Strategically surrounded by cliffs on three sides, this castle switched ownership multiple times between the English and the Scots. Stirling is the largest Scottish castle and holds incredible historically and architectural value. Restored to its former glory, it’s now a fantastic point of interest to see history come alive and notice details like the many unicorn representations throughout the castles.
Sample Whiskey in Edinburgh
It is said that whiskey and Edinburgh go hand-in-hand. But decide for yourself as you taste the country’s speciality malt or grain whiskey and sample the distinct styles of different regions.
Getting around Scotland
- Car: Whether it’s adjusting to driving on the left of the road or navigating the many curves in the roads, driving to and through Scotland can be challenging, so it might be best to take public transport.
- Train: You can get to Scotland via an overnight train from most major cities in the United Kingdom (bonus: expect amazing scenery).
- Ferry: Glasgow and Edinburgh are the two most popular ports to arrive at and a great launch point for boat tours.
- Bus: Connects all major cities and passes through some stunning landscapes and are reasonably cheap.
What to eat and drink in Scotland
- Haggis is a traditional dish of sheep heart, liver, and lungs, plus oatmeal, spices, and onions (you’ll find that many of the traditional dishes feature local game).
- Tattie scones, a delicious griddle cake made with potatoes, butter and flour.
- In a major city like Glasgow, you’ll find a developed international food scene.
- The bright orange carbonated soft drink Irn-Bru is considered the second national beverage, after whiskey, and is believed to be the ultimate hangover cure.
- Few things are more Scottish than a Scotch whiskey, but the Scots are also known to distil some pretty fabulous gin.
Things to know before going to Scotland
- You have what is called “the freedom to roam” in the countryside and on farmland (public or privately owned) while keeping a respectable distance from peoples homes.
- Bring bug spray and cover your skin, midges are common in the outdoors.
- Major cities like Edinburgh are quite hilly, but still, pedestrians and cyclists tend to dominate over cars.
- The east of Scotland tends to be drier than the west, but still, weather can change quite quickly so dress in layers and waterproof.
- Scots have their slang so brush up on words like scran (food), loch (lake), a close (minor street) and a kirk (church).
We absolutely love Scotland. It’s where we first met (in a tiny hostel in Edinburgh) and where we’ve returned several times. The history and atmosphere is our favorite aspect. As you might expect, Scotland’s quite rainy and misty, and this really adds to the overall mystique. You can head to the highlands and feel right as if you’ve stepped back into ancient times. The feeling of history is palpable and it’s everywhere. For first-time travellers to Scotland, we’d recommend making sure to visit the Highlands. Glencoe is a gorgeous area and it’s not that far north, so it’s a doable overnight or weekend trip from either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Our last piece of advice? Be sure to try haggis. It’s actually incredibly delicious. – Amy and Nathan, Two Drifters
Phrases and Words
- A good time
- On the lash
- To go out drinking
- An idiot
Tell us in the comments where you will visit next: Scotland or Ireland?