One thing about Ireland is for sure, and that’s that any Irish Festival is sure to be a party. There’s no denying that Ireland can sometimes seem a sleepy, quaint country. But alongside the miles of rolling green hillsides, sheep-laden fields, and beautiful coastlines, there is an underbelly of liveliness, adventure, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. One thing for which there is no short supply in this incredible country is festivals; Ireland is chock full of events, festivals, and fairs to suit a variety of interests.
From arts and traditional music to some of the best local food you’ll ever taste, there’s something for everyone. And bonus; the fun doesn’t stop in the chilly months! Here is a list of some of the most popular festivals in Ireland…for every month of the year!
Irish Festivals You Have to Attend At Least Once
The Top Irish Festival in January – Temple Bar TradFest
The Temple Bar TradFest (say that ten times fast) runs for five days in the last half of January every year, at the tail end of winter and to celebrate the imminent arrival of spring. Now in its 13th year, this festival is growing in popularity every single year. The genre of festival is in the name; this is a niche celebration of traditional Irish tunes.
At least, that’s how it started out; now, the festival has expanded in such a way that there is a wide spread of musical genres to appeal both to the stubbornly traditional and the musical generalist. TradFest’s roots are still firmly planted in traditional Irish music, but folk and even rock and roll have a place there.
The festival showcases national talent in several different venues (including City Hall) so that you can see more of the city while you attend.
Location: Dublin City
The Top Irish Festival in February – The Gathering
Over two decades of this festival have culminated in something truly special. The Gathering is a widely-loved festival for Irish tradition in all its richest forms – including music, jig, storytelling, and ceilidhs. There are even masterclasses from musicians to teach the art of instrument craft. Whether your interest lies with the fiddle, accordion, flute, or another instrument, there are workshops and experts to show you the tricks of their trade.
In 2020, the festival will run from February 26th through to March 1st. The sheer size of the festival means that events, shows, and workshops will take place in several venues located around town – from trendy bars and swanky hotels to classic ballrooms – but it is headquartered at the Gleneagle Hotel. If you can get a room there, you’ll be close to the action!
Location: Killarney, County Kerry
The Top Irish Festival in March – St Patrick’s Day Festival (Obviously)
St Patrick’s Day, on March 17th every year, is the biggest and most extravagant celebration of the year in Ireland. Every city will, of course, have its own festival, parade, or other show of fun, but the largest of them all is undoubtedly the annual St Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin City. Spanning a full five days in mid-March, this celebration is definitely geared towards those with an inner party animal. Think Mardi Gras, but for nearly a week and with a lot more beer.
The events offered across the five days cover a lot of ground: you can tour the 300-year-old Marsh’s Library, take a city walk to retrace the steps of St. Patrick himself, fill your stomach at a craft beer & food festival, listen to live music left right and center, and the cherry on top: a huge parade that works hand in glove with theatre and pageantry companies to put on a show unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Location: Dublin City and around Ireland
The Top Irish Festival in April – Cork VegFest
If you have any interest in veganism, sustainability, and animal rights issues, or just a general appreciation for food, then you’ll want to add the Cork VegFest to your itinerary. This isn’t just about plant-based dishes; VegFest is a celebration of veganism and vegan cuisine and puts a spotlight on local vegan-friendly businesses. You can find everything here, including demonstrations, product and dish sampling, information booths, and a ton more. As the vegan industry & lifestyle grows in popularity, so do the options for plant-based food substitutes (and their quality has skyrocketed in recent years, so even if you aren’t vegan, we can promise that you are in for some very fine dining!).
Veganism is growing, and this popular Irish festival goes to show that the plant-based food movement is starting to reach more and more communities in a growing number of countries. Every April, there’s a roster of panel speakers, performers, and educators to add something new to your vegan knowledge. But in addition to the educational aspects, there are fun events such as a vegan (temporary) tattoo station and even a hot sauce competition!
Location: Cork, County Cork
The Top Irish Festival in May – The Burren Slow Food Festival
For anyone who hasn’t yet come across the term, ‘slow food’ is, in short, a movement: it is a celebration of food that is made and eaten slowly, intentionally, and mindfully. There is also a heavy emphasis on a production process with a small footprint; if it is actively fighting against harming the environment, chances are it qualifies as slow food.
The Burren Slow Food Festival is one such celebration, dedicated to not only knowing and understanding where your food comes from, but the economic, political, and agricultural aspects of the entire culture of the food processing industry. This May festival offers food and cooking demonstrations, meet and greets with local food producers who keep their farming local, and of course, sampling some of the freshest, Ireland-produced food around. You might never have thought of food as ‘endangered,’ but that’s just the kind of eye-opening information you’ll learn about if you attend!
Location: The Burren, County Clare
The Top Irish Festival in June – Taste of Dublin
Four days in June are home to another festival entirely dedicated to food (we know these are numerous, but how could anyone get bored of a food festival?). While this festival has similarities to other culinary-related events in the country (engaging with industry suppliers, chefs, and other professionals), the key feature of the Taste of Dublin is undoubtedly its masterclasses on offer. Always wanted to learn how to make cocktails? No problem.
Spend time in the taste marketplace to connect with artisan culinary producers to find the best of the best when it comes to ingredients & supplies – these vendors stock only the best when it comes to food and drink. Note that this is a ticketed event (€28 for a standard entrance), but it’s worth the investment.
Location: Dublin City
The Top Irish Festival in July – Galway International Arts Festival
The GIAF (Galway International Arts Festival) happens in July each year. Now in its 43rd year, the festival sees installations and contributions by musicians, dance companies, theater productions and more. The festival has grown to such a size that it overtakes several venues within the city, many with extra accessibility and sustainability initiatives.
Think anything and everything, including street dancing performances, giant puppeteering, and on-the-spot live music jam sessions. Whether your particular arts interests lie in theater, music, dance, visual arts, or comedy, there are sure to be dozens of shows you’ll be ecstatic to see. The annual recorded talks are also on display, where people ranging from red carpet stars and playwrights to CEOs are interviewed to talk about their perception of issues faced by our world today.
Location: Galway City, County Galway
The Top Irish Festival in August – Fleadh Cheoil
One of the nicest months of the year, some of the best traditional music Ireland as a whole has to offer, and five straight days of musical and artistic indulgence. The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann festival takes place in Drogheda every year, having started with its founders dreaming of bringing Ireland’s top musical talent to their small town for five days a year. In a time when traditional musicians were not held in high esteem, the goal was to bring morale to an all-time high and reinvigorate the pride and joy taken in the country’s traditional sound.
Nearly 70 years later, the festival is only growing in size with each passing year. Nearly 400,000 attendees come from all over the country, with around one-third of visitors arriving from overseas. Local orchestras, live street music & dance, walking tours of the historic city, and organized concerts held in a variety of venues around town are just a sliver of what’s on offer at this renowned festival. Note that most of the events are ticketed, so be sure to obtain them beforehand on the festival website.
Location: Drogheda, County Meath
The Top Irish Festival in September – National Ploughing Festival
You can add this to your list of unique festivals in Ireland. While not focusing on traditional Irish tunes or the finest dining the country has to offer, the National Ploughing Festival is still a significant cultural event in the country. This festival is an outdoor agricultural event focusing on – as the name would suggest – a main event consisting of a ploughing competition, where the neatness and linearity of the ploughing strip is judged against other competitors.
Ireland’s is the largest in the world, and the festival lasts a full three days, with an astonishing attendance of almost 300,000. The perfect combination of participation (this is something of a farmer’s party!) and uniqueness makes it an ideal candidate for the list of popular festivals in Ireland.
Location: Ballintrane, County Carlow
Other Option – Galway Oyster Fest
The native Galway Flat Oyster comes into season every September through April. There’s no better or Irish way to celebrate this wild Atlantic and salty oyster than with a giant festival, a few pints of Guinness, and live Irish music in Galway Bay Harbour. In celebration of the season, the Galway Oyster and Seafood festival happens on the last weekend of September every year and has over the previous 64 years.
It may have started as a little gather of a couple of dozen people, but since has grown to include several thousand people and truckfuls of oysters. While you can enjoy oysters all year, like Oyster Pacific Oyster or Giga, the festival highlights the native flat and is quite the party!
Location: Downtown Galway
The Top Irish Festival in October – Cork Folk Festival
If there’s one thing Ireland knows how to do, it’s music. This year, Cork is hosting the annual folk festival for the 40th year in a row, and it promises to be a seriously good time. This isn’t your average folk festival where indie singers and bands come from all over the world; instead, this is a homage to Irish folk music.
The venues involved are bars and pubs that are among the oldest or most popular venues in the city, including An Spailpin Fanach (founded in 1779) and Oliver Plunkett Bar. So not only will you get to hear some of the best regional folk music the country has to offer, but the ambiance and setting will complement the tunes just as nicely. (Plus, we know from personal experience that a Guinness goes perfectly with Irish folk music, especially when it’s live.)
Location: Cork, County Cork
Other October Option – Halloween Festival
The city of Galway has been dubbed “Festival City” and is well known as the festival capital of Ireland. Throughout the year the city draws in visitors from all over the world for world-class events, like St. Patrick’s Day in March, the Galway Races in the summer, Galway Jazz Festival, the Comedy Festival, and Galway International Arts Festival in October.
Besides the Galway Oyster Fest, we were able to visit the Halloween Festival and see one of the best Halloween Parades on this planet! The whole city lights up in spookiness. Fall is in the air, people are drinking beer at the Galway pubs and their scary costumes, and the night ends with an epic Halloween parade.
Location: Galway City
The Top Irish Festival in November – Cork Chocolate Festival And Baking World
We’ve all had our weekends where we overindulge in sweets a little more than we’d have liked, but when there’s an entire weekend festival dedicated to chocolate and baked goods, you’d be crazy not to partake. Another festival set in Cork, the Baking and Chocolate Weekend happens over a weekend in the last half of November—so it’s a perfect way to start feeling festive in time for the arrival of December. The decadence and immediate interest with which most greet this festival landed it pretty quickly on our list of popular festivals in Ireland.
Over the two-day festival, top chocolatiers and bakers from Ireland and abroad will host demonstrations, and attendees can partake in 30-minute tasting sessions (because what good is a chocolate festival if you don’t get to eat any?). If you’re traveling with children, there are even workshops available for both sampling the goods and for any kids with an interest in baking themselves!
Location: Cork, County Cork
The Top Irish Festival in December – Viennese Christmas by Candlelight
With the arrival of December, the festivals around the country take a turn towards the Christmassy. With the holidays fast approaching, festive events pop up left and right, such as Bavarian-inspired Christmas markets, holiday music events, and city-wide decorating.
Happening annually in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin City, the Viennese Christmas by Candlelight is a one-night affair, where the London Concertante arrives to play through their festive orchestra list of pieces, from Tchaikovsky and Brahms to Strauss. Regardless of your level of knowledge or involvement with classical music, this is something that can be enjoyed by even the most novice of orchestra-goers, and is sure to get you in the mood for the holidays. Occurring only two weeks before Christmas, it’s the perfect evening out.
Location: St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
Quick Ireland Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Gaelic: “Dia dhuit” and “Go raibh maith agat”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland are separate countries on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland known as ‘Ireland’ grants 90-day visas. Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom also grants 90 days.
- Weather: Expect lots of weather! Ireland is known for having rapid shifts in and lots of rain – it’s only the only reason a country like Ireland remains so green and fertile. See our full packing list here.
- When is the best time to visit Dublin? Ireland is a fantastic country to visit year round. Though you’ll find crowds during the summer. My favorite time to visit Ireland is in September when the weather is cool and the crowds are low. Plus it’s when the famous Galway Oyster Festival happens!
When is the Best Time to Travel Ireland for Good Weather?
If you’re still wondering when the best time to visit Ireland for good weather is – it’s summer. You stand your best chance of good weather in Ireland between July and early September. Temperatures range from 15°C-21°C.
You’ll find locals enjoying the sunny weather and festivals in the countryside and the city. It’s the perfect time to enjoy a pint of Guinness outside and watch life go by! Read more about the best time to visit Ireland.
What to Pack for Ireland
It should go without saying that the weather in Ireland can be a bit rainy, a packable rain jacket is super important. You have two options for style of rain jackets. The first one we recommend is a classic outdoor rain jacket that is a solid choice for outdoor adventurers. The second option being a trench coat for those looking to maintain style while dodging puddles. One of the best raincoats for travel is the North Face Resolve.
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Ireland, and good ones were fairly easy to find for a decent price. For those with less time a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. Start here!
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Ireland is perfectly safe to drink.
We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottles for travel in our post.
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