Originally a religious feast day honoring Ireland’s patron Saint, the first parades were actually held in Boston and New York in the eighteenth century. Today, 150,000 people take to the streets of New York for the ‘Paddy’s Day’ Parade, which draws two million spectators every year.
And there are many more top destinations across the globe that celebrates St Patrick’s Day in style each year!
Keeping it Irish
Not to be outdone, the Irish still know how to throw a good party, and you’ll find the best celebrations back where it all began. St Patrick’s Day is only a national holiday in Ireland, and the whole country takes to the streets and the pubs for parties and parades.
In 1993 the Irish government decided the day should showcase Ireland and its culture, so the ‘Official’ St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin is a lavish six-day affair, promising Celtic comedy, culture and ‘good craic’ (a good time)!
So whether you want to rediscover your Irish roots or to see how the Celts really party, here’s a guide to celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Ireland.
The home of the official festival, events are spread out all over the city, with a funfair at Merrion Square and fireworks over the River Suir. From the parade which weaves through the city center to the Denny treasure hunt in locations across Dublin, there are loads of free events scheduled, which is great if you are traveling on a budget.
If you’re staying for all six days, you’ll need a comfortable base to explore the rest of the city, and luckily there are a wide range of hostels in Dublin in the city center. Try the lively Temple Bar district, where you’ll find several rowdy watering holes to enjoy a pint of Guinness!
There’s a friendly rivalry between Dublin and Cork, the second city of Ireland, and Cork hosts its own festival of free events.
What Cork’s festival lacks in scale, it certainly makes up for in character, with three days of free entertainment on the city streets. You’d be hard pressed to find Shamrock and Leprechaun clich’s here, but this is a celebration with a twist.
The city is famed for its artisan foods, and Barry’s Tea Food Market is an all-day feast of stalls selling delicious treats. Stock up on tasty souvenirs before watching the themed parade and quirky street performers, with Barber Shop quartets and circus performers livening up the proceedings.
Limerick is home to not one, but two festivals on St Patrick’s Day – the ‘St Patrick’s Springfest’ and the International Marching Band Festival. Taking place in the historic Georgian quarter of the city, expect theatre, Irish dancing and gigs galore.
Limerick is fast becoming a popular stop on the tourist trail, but avoid the ‘Angela’s Ashes’ city tours and make sure you see the medieval landmarks of St Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s Castle. When you’ve had enough of the pub, check out the Hunt Museum, Ireland’s most esteemed art gallery housed in an eighteenth-century Custom House, displaying over 2000 artworks.
For a traditional take on St Patrick’s Day, try the Galway region, a rugged and undiscovered corner of Ireland, and the largest Gaelic-speaking area of the country. Galway is a small but busy city, and the perfect base to explore the desolate landscape of the neighboring Aran Islands, home to Celtic customs that are thousands of years old.
But Paddy’s Day celebrations here are far from low-key; the Galway Parade is in its 105th year and draws 50,000 spectators onto the crowded streets. Known to insiders as ‘the best in Ireland’, the parade was one of the first attempts to turn March 17th into a National Holiday, with shops over the city closing up. Today pipe bands and dance groups from all over the world come to participate in the parade, and end the day by partying in the city’s cozy pubs.
It may feel off the beaten track, but you’ll find plenty of hotels in the Galway region, many boasting fine views of the countryside. For lower-cost accommodation, there are several hostels in Galway’s center.
For more ideas on celebrating (and surviving) the St Patrick’s Day festivities, have a look at this travel guide.