If there was ever the perfect year to visit the Emerald Isle, 2013 might be it. This is the year of The Gathering, and Ireland has issued a worldwide invitation for anyone who has Irish roots -- or whoever thinks they do -- to come discover them first hand.
The country-wide event will mean tons of added value to any Irish vacation, thanks to a bevy of festivals, concerts and events (many of them free) that have been scheduled throughout the year. Once you're there, these unique experiences will make any 2013 trip to Ireland a real memory-maker.
Eat the Beer, Don't Just Drink It
Headed to Dublin? Then you'll probably find your way to the Guinness Storehouse, an eye-opening visitor center where history and suds collide; enjoying a pint at the top-floor Gravity Bar, with its 360-degree views, is a must. But here, you don't just sip Guinness, you also eat it. Pull up a seat at the Brewer's Dining Hall, where you'll be amazed by how Guinness beer works perfectly as an ingredient in dishes like Beef & Guinness Stew, Irish Smoked Salmon on Guinness Bread and Guinness Chocolate Mousse. (By the way, get your visitor tickets online and save 10 percent.)
Go Fine Dining, Take a Break from the Pub
One neat surprise for this traveler was just how delicious Irish food can be. Pub fare, of which there's plenty, is tasty and affordable, and it's always served with enthusiasm. But fine dining in downtown Dublin is worth the splurge (yes, it can be pricey). Restaurant Patrick Gilbaud, a classic venue since 1981 and a favorite stop for native son Bono, features impeccable service, a jaw-dropping European wine list and artistic renditions of dishes like squab pigeon, pan-roasted duck foie gras and shoulder of milk-fed lamb. Amazing.
See the Graffiti, Skip the Museum
It turns out that Irish culture is alive and well on the streets. Newly formed Urban Productions features Dublin's first graffiti and street-art walking tour. Your guides are art and photography students who showcase fascinating, urban-inspired works from frescoes to sticker murals. This is not a celebration of taggers, but rather a glimpse at a fast-budding contemporary art movement.
Come for the Beer, Stay for the Read
Actor Colm Quilligan founded the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which brings literary history to life. Actors portraying Irish authors like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett take guests from pub to pub (The Duke has been a favorite haven for writers for decades) while performing snippets of poems and plays. These evening tours usually include a stop at iconic Trinity College.
Fly into Belfast, Drive to Dublin