For those of you who are interested in traveling to Ireland in the near future, here are my recommendations as to where you absolutely have to go, along with some extras that may be worth your while.
Before you leave:
Brush up on your Irish history, and don’t bring a book with you. Just support the local bookstores and buy one in Dublin. I suggest going to Books Upstairs.
Try reading Windharp: Poems of Ireland since 1916, James Joyce’s Dubliners, Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry, and anything by W.B. Yeats.
Watch the movie Michael Collins to get an understanding of their fight for freedom from the English.
Dublin – (See my Dublin Specific Post)
From Dublin Airport, take the bus to the city center.
Right across the street from the front entrance of Trinity College, there is a helpful tourist office in which you can grab tons of information or sign up for a day trip to one of the following: The Cliffs of Moher/Galway, Northern Ireland, Connemara, etc.
1) Literary Pub Crawl or Walk: (see previous post for information)
2) Guinness Storehouse & Tour:
This could be your easiest way to cheap beer at the top in the Gravity Bar! Not only do you get to pour your own, but there could be a hoard of unfinished pints left by tourists who lack the stomach for the tasteful delicacy.
3) O’Connell Street from the River Liffey to the Garden of Remembrance:
Many statues including James Joyce, the Millennium Spire- also called the Stiletto in the Ghetto, or the Erection in the Intersection, and the Garden of Remembrance is a must-visit. However, make sure to get to the Garden during the day before it closes just like the other parks throughout the city.
4) Trinity College:
Make sure to take the tour, visit the library, and see the Book of Kells. For about 13 euro, a current college student will share the history of Trinity College with you, and it is worth doing once. You will also stroll through here as part of the Literary Pub Crawl at night so make sure to get some good night pictures.
5) St. Stephen’s Green: This is one of my favorite places to walk through in Dublin. Parks like this just don’t exist back at home in the states. Take your time walking around the green to view the statues and wildlife, a mix of old and new. Afterwards, also check out Merrion Square nearby.
Other must-sees include: the Temple bar District, Grafton Street, the Ha’Penny Bridge, Kilmainham Gaol, the Jameson Distillery, Phoenix Park, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christchurch Cathedral, the Irish Whiskey Museum, James Joyce Center, and Dublin Writers Center.
If you have never been to Dublin before, pay to take the hop-on/hop-off city busthat will take you to the majority of these places. This is a good day one activity as you overcome jet lag and attempt to find your bearings.
If you are looking for pubs to check out, I would start with the following:
1) Temple Bar: touristy and pricy.
2) O’Neill’s: many corners and nooks to have a buffet-style meal and drink in this 2-story pub.
3) The Brazen Head: The oldest pub in Dublin?
4) Kehoes: old-fashioned and multi-level.
5) The Stag’s Head, Davy Byrne’s, and The Duke: all part of the Literary Pub Crawl.
6) and there are many more…so just walk into them and check them out. I prefer O’Neill’s.
Day Trip to Cliffs of Moher/Galway
Having been to the Cliffs of Moher several times before, I still could not help myself from returning. I not only enjoy standing upon the top of the cliffs and viewing the spectacular scene, I also know that the weather has been different each of the times I have visited creating a very different picture opportunity each time.
Extreme Ireland Adventures has a day trip for 45 euros that leaves from the Molly Malone statue across the street from O’Neill’s Bar on Suffolk Street at 6:50 am every day. You can book online or at the tourist office across the street from Trinity College (I was able to get the student discount when I explained that I was a teacher).
Along the way across the country, the group will take a couple of food/relief stops before arriving at the cliffs where you will have about an hour and a half to explore. Since this is not much time at all, I suggest first following the trail toward the right for what I find to be better views and pictures.
If you have time, carefully (and I stress carefully because the grass can be slick and it can be easy to misstep and slide down toward the nearby cliff face) make your way back to the other side of the trail where you can get a nice picture of O’Brien’s Tower atop the cliffs.
Afterwards, our group enjoyed lunch at McGann’s Pub in Doolin. This old-fashioned pub does not give a receipt but works on the honor system. I suggest ordering a drink right away at the bar before everyone else starts to order and get settled. Then make your way to a table and order yourself some Irish stew, especially on a chilly day. When your meal is finished, return to the counter to tell the barman what you ordered and pay the appropriate amount. There are not many places like this left unfortunately. This pub makes me feel a small amount of hope yet for honesty in humanity.
On the road to Galway, we enjoyed a short stop along the coastal road at Oughtdarra, another photo taking opportunity. You can either climb up the rock formations on the right side of the road to get a view, or my suggestion is to cross the street and find a nice spot or two for photos. On a day of rough seas and white horses, expect to get splashed if you stand too close. Before you hop back on the bus, build yourself a small cairn, or pile of rocks, to mark the location you visited.
Another stop before Galway, if you are as lucky as my group, will be to Hazel Mountain Chocolate. Our bus driver liked to break up the drive a little with unique stops, and we were happy to do so. The owner even gave us a rundown of how their chocolate is different along with a variety of samples. Make sure to keep your eyes on where those samples end up so you can attack what’s left when everyone is through with them!
You should finish off with about an hour or a little more to explore Galway. Here, I’d suggest you explore the local shops on Shop Street to find souvenirs, especially clothing, to take back home. You might have time to grab a drink with your new friends after perusing the shops, but that depends on how quickly you can shop.
This trip was more than worth the money, particularly if you are looking for a hassle-free day to the west coast.
Afternoon to Howth
Howth is a small fishing village at the end of Dublin Bay that is possibly my favorite afternoon trip in Ireland. Catch either the train or bus out there before lunch and settle in for a 30-45 minute ride. Once there, make your way to the coastal cliff walk, which can take you anywhere from 2-3 hours, but is absolutely spectacular. When you return to the harbor, find a meal at any of the places surrounding the water and walk around the marina.
Take note that once you climb up to the top of the hill leading to the cliff walk, you will pass the once home of W.B. Yeats. Also, on the return leg you may walk through a portion of some of the nicest homes in Dublin.
Northern Ireland Weekend
Rent a car in Belfast and drive the Causeway Coastal Route. Seriously, do it. You won’t be disappointed. Leaving Belfast in the morning around 8 or 9, you will easily be able to drive along the coast and make it to Derry, or Londonderry as the northerners call it. Along the way you should stop at the following:
1) As you drive over the bridge in Cushendun and along the sea for a minute, you will find a place you can park on the left hand side of the road at a gravel parking lot with a restroom. From there, walk along the ocean back into the small town and find a nice place to eat lunch.
2) Next stop: Torr Head. The roads to get to this spot are simply breathtaking and not for the faint of heart. Also, I’d advise you to be pretty handy with a manual vehicle on these country, hilly roads. If you’re vehicle doesn’t have much power, it may be a little daunting to make it back up the hill. It’s worth the view, especially of Scotland’s coast right across the water, but you better hope it doesn’t rain so you can make it back up that hill on the way out!
3) Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge This is a bit of a touristy stop; however, it is worth it. If you are heading northwest and following your google map, the pin may seem to be telling you to stop at the Carrick-a-Rede House, which is not where you need to go. You should keep following the road for about another mile past the bend and take a right that will lead you down toward the coast.
Here you can park down in the car park, pay an obnoxious amount to hike a little jaunt and cross the rope bridge, and get some pudding and tea at the shop afterward. Unfortunately, the National Trust does get away with charging you the same amount whether the entirety of the trail is open or not. When I went, the final portion of the trail after you cross the bridge happened to be closed
4) The Giant’s Causeway is the most famous and most touristy stop on this route. When you arrive, do not park in the general parking for Giant’s Causeway as they will attempt to charge you. Instead of driving toward the visitor center, take a left and park down by the small train station. It is advertised at parking for 6 euros, but I was able to get by without paying.
After a short walk back up the hill, the Giant’s Causeway attraction is free if you simply walk under the archway at the end of the parking lot and fail to use any of the services of the site such as a guided audio tour or their facilities.
Just carry on down toward the site, take some pictures, and continue on the hike afterward for a beautiful cliff walk. The hike is less populated and absolutely worth the time.
5) End your day in Derry. I would suggest staying at the Groarty House and Manor B & B on the outskirts of town. The couple who run it are extremely friendly and will point you in the direction of whatever you would like to do. My friend and I arrived around supper time and they called in to The Cosh Bar to reserve us a table for a late dinner. The place is well kept and has a nice view of the cityscape below. You can expect a few hour drive back to Belfast the next morning, if you choose not to explore more of Northern Ireland.
My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to explore the city of Derry, visit some of the Game of Throne areas, and hike to Hare’s Gap. However, I have to feel content when I remember previous travel advice I’ve been given: If you see everything, there is no reason to go back.
I’m happy to have a reason to return 🙂
As a final remark, there is much more I can add, but several people have recently asked me for Ireland advice on a time sensitive timeline. I will add more in the future as I am able and as asked. If you visit any of these places, feel free to comment on this post and add your experience!
An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach.