In a word, Ireland is AWESOME. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting an Irishman (or woman) during your travels- and chances are you have- you’ll already know that they are GREAT fun- always in good spirits, always up for a laugh, always game for a pint. Now consider an entire country full of similar folk, and that’s Ireland. Dublin is the most common entry point- a city full of history, with a lively pub and a friendly face on every corner. But Dublin is only the beginning- the REAL Ireland lies beyond the city limits, in the small towns and beautiful countryside that make Ireland such a special place. Rugged beauty, storied history, and a unique attitude towards life that is all about ‘the craic’- Ireland is one of those places that seeps into your skin, and somehow feels like home.
- Walk around Temple Bar- The most famous area of Dublin is often mistaken for a specific bar. Yes, there is a ‘Temple Bar’ in Temple Bar, but the area’s name actually derives from a sand bar in the River Liffey that was supposedly owned by the Temple family during the 17th Century. Today, the cobble-stone streets of Temple Bar are jam-packed with restaurants, cafes, and ‘traditional’ Irish pubs, along with heaps of hotels and hostels. Yes, it can all be a bit ‘touristy’, but still, Temple Bar is the heart of Dublin, and a must-see when visiting the city.
- Drink Guinness- REAL Guinness drinkers will tell you that ‘black stuff’ only tastes right in Dublin, and even there, some pubs pour a better pint than others. Regardless of how snooty you are about how it’s poured, drinking Guinness in Dublin is a cultural institution.
- Take the Guinness Storehouse Tour- Along the same lines, if you’re keen to learn the right way to pour and drink your Guinness, you’ll get the opportunity on the Guinness Storehouse Tour. They’ve been brewing Guinness at the famous St. James’s Gate Brewery since 1759, and this insightful tour is well worth the price of admission (Your pint is included...). Loads of history, an inside-look at the brewing process, a unique ‘Taste Experience’, a chance to pour your own pint at the Guinness Academy, and then sip it down over stunning views of the city in the Gravity Bar- the Guinness Storehouse Tour is one of THE things to do while in Dublin.
- Walk along O’Connell Street- Shooting north from the River Liffey and the O’Connell Bridge, O’Connell Street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare. Lined with historic buildings, including the impressive Post Office, O’Connell Street is one of the city’s busiest shopping streets. Cafes, restaurants, and fast-food options mix with large department stores and small boutiques, creating a great place to wander around.
- Walk 'The Quays' along the River Liffey- The Quays are a peaceful part of the city to wander along the River Liffey. Away from the bustling shopping streets, these river-side walks are lined with cafes, hotels, and small restaurants.
- Do a pub crawl- An easy thing to do in Dublin, considering there’s a pub every 20 meters or so, if not closer. Often, you’ll almost ‘accidentally’ do one on your own- all it takes is a simple ‘Let’s finish this one and then try something next door...’ Boom- pub crawl. There are several organized options as well, which are worth checking out- you’ll get good specials and discounts, hit some of the best pubs in the city, and meet some fellow revelers along the way- all good things.
- Go on a walking tour- As with many other historical cities, there is a variety of walking tours one can go on to explore Dublin in more depth. Many of these are ‘free’, tip-based tours, and are guided by local students trying to earn a few extra Euros.
- Walk around Trinity College- Established in 1592, Trinity College is a picturesque part of Dublin that has that old ‘University’ feel about it. Located on College Green, Trinity College is perhaps best known for housing the Book of Kells- an illustrated collection of the books of the New Testament dating back to 800AD.
- Listen to some Trad- 'Trad' is short for 'Traditional Irish Music', and you can find bands of all shapes and sizes playing in the pubs strewn throughout Dublin. Temple Bar is a good place to start, though the 'Trad' there tends to be a bit more touristy. Ask some locals for their favorite spots, cozy up to your favorite pint, and get a taste for what the REAL pub scene in Ireland is all about.
- Shop- Grafton Street, Henry Street, and O’Connell Street are the main shopping thoroughfares in Dublin. Large department stores, designer shops, and small boutiques line these streets, intermixed with cafes and news agencies.
- See the Street Performers on Grafton Street- Grafton Street is home to the largest concentration of street performers in Dublin. Musicians, magicians, dancers, artists- all convene on Grafton Street in the hopes of earning a few spare coins.
- Visit Dublin Castle- The major icon of Dublin’s medieval history, Dublin Castle is now an active government complex. The most impressive part of the castle is the Record Tower- the round, turreted tower that dates back to the 13th Century. If you do go on a walking tour, you’re sure to stop by Dublin Castle somewhere along the route.
- Go to a Hurling and/or Gaelic Football match- Two crazy sports exclusive to Ireland, hurling and Gaelic football are INTENSE. If you are in Ireland during the season, you HAVE to go to a match. Don’t worry- the locals will explain the rules, and really, understanding what’s going on isn’t really that important.
- Visit County Donegal- Located in the far northwest of Ireland, County Donegal is easily overlooked by visitors, which is unfortunate. This county is incredible, with miles of untouched coastline and loads of excellent hiking opportunities. Perhaps the best of these is the hike along the the Slieve League- a narrow path that tracks along the 600 meter-high sea cliffs (almost 3 times as high as the more famous Cliffs of Moher). The cliffs are an easy drive east out of Donegal Town- ask a local for directions, as some of the signage is in Gaelic... While in Donegal Town, make sure to check out the impressive castle (15th Century), and have a walk around the town center. It’s a great place for a pint after braving the cliffs of the Slieve League...
- Drive along the North Coast- There is a great drive along the northern coast of Northern Ireland, aptly named the Causeway Coastal Route. This drive takes you through several quaint villages along the scenic coastline, and eventually comes to the Giant’s Causeway- a unique geological site, and top tourism attraction in Northern Ireland. Mother Nature (or the local giant Finn McCool, depending on who you believe...) worked some magic at the Giant’s Causeway, forming a unique geological oddity that stretches into the sea. Whether you believe in giants or not may be a moot point, as the real magic here is raw power and beauty of the Northern Ireland coast.
- Stop off in Belfast- The capital city of Northern Ireland is buzzing these days, a hot spot for artists, musicians, and a burgeoning student scene that is reshaping the way people think about Belfast. There are several quality museums to visit, most notably the Ulster Museum, which provides an interesting look into the conflict known simply as ‘The Troubles’. The city center is easily navigated on foot, with the towering City Hall the centerpiece. If you’re interested, the ultra-modern Titanic-Belfast museum is more of an experience than a museum. A detailed history of Belfast’s ship-building past merges with the story of the ill-fated ship built in Belfast’s shipyards. Complete with interactive exhibits and a maechanized ride of sorts, this museum is worth visiting just for the experience.
- Visit Lahinch- A small surf town on the west coast of County Clare, Lahinch (or L.A. Hinch, as the locals call it) is the pace to be when the waves are up. During the summer, the surfers come in droves, as the break in the local bay is one of the best in Ireland. Cool cafes line the boardwalk, and there are a few quality pubs in town. Watch out for the ‘disco’ though- it’s quite a scene...
- Marvel at the Cliffs of Moher- One of Ireland’s top tourist destinations, the Cliffs of Moher are nothing short of spectacular. A short drive north out of Lahinch, these towering sea cliffs rise to a height of 216 meters, with precipitous vertical drops givingn even the most stout-hearted fits of vertigo. There is an interesting Welcome Center, and marked paths that meander along the cliffs in both directions. Be aware- there aren’t any barricades along most of the cliffs’ edges, and any misstep could end badly. Use caution...
- Drive through the Connemara- A unique region in western Ireland, the Connemara is ‘generally’ defined as western County Galway, an area stretching from the city of Galway north to the town of Westport and west to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a STUNNING part of the country, and a drive along the N59 through Clifden and Letterfrack up to Westport, and then down the N84 back to Galway is a great day trip. You’ll get to see plenty of rugged beauty, and have ample time to wander through the various towns you’ll pass through along the way.
- Hang out in Galway- Considered by many to be the most vibrant town in all of Ireland, Galway is a happening spot located on the west coast. Renowned for its pubs and cafes, Galway is a great spot to hang out for a night or two. While there’s not much to see as far as typical ‘tourism’ attractions, the bars, pubs, cafes, and restaurants are sure to keep you busy, as are the cobble-stone streets and varied shops and boutiques strewn throughout town.
- Visit Dingle and drive the Dingle Peninsula- Dingle is a quiet little seaside town in southwestern Ireland. Made up of a few colorful streets lined with B&Bs, cafes, pubs, and a handful of hostels, Dingle is the perfect base for a day trip around the SPECTACULAR Dingle Peninsula (a MUST-SEE in its own right).
- Kick it in Killarney- While the town of Killarney may be overrun by tourists, it is still worth a visit for its extensive selection of B&Bs, cafes, restaurants, and pubs. It also provides excellent access to Killarney National Park- a spectacular nature reserve just outside of town. In addition to all this, Killarney also remains the best place to base yourself for a trip around the magnificent Ring of Kerry. This 180-km drive around the Iveragh Peninsula is world-famous, and is one of the MUST DO’s on any trip to Ireland. Rugged coastline, quaint little towns, and more natural beauty than you can handle- that’s the Ring of Kerry in a nutshell. GO. THERE.
- Crawl around Cork- Cork is the 2nd largest city in Ireland, and is renowned for its raucous nightlife. There are HEAPS of pubs, bars, and clubs in Cork, and it’s not hard to find a crowd hitting the town for a big night out. Cork is also packed with shops and boutiques- a good place to do some souvenir shopping if the shops in Dublin were a bit overwhelming. Here’s a tip- if you want to drink a stout in Cork, order a Murphy’s- it’s brewed in Cork, and you’ll probably get funny looks if you order a Guinness.
- Get the Gift of Gab- Blarney Castle (ca. 1446) is one of those places that, while uber-touristy and potentially overhyped, still has to be seen when traveling through southern Ireland. It is actually a remarkable castle, and the grounds and garden are extremely well-kept. If you plan on kissing the Blarney Stone (what you’re there for, after all...), plan on climbing a bunch of narrow, uneven, windy steps to reach the top floor of the castle, and if it’s high season (May-Oct), you’ll probably have to wait in line. All that for a bit of wit...
- Stand in the shadows of kings at the Rock of Cashel- The traditional seat of the Kings of Munster, the imposing Rock of Cashel has actually served as a castle, a church, a chapel, and a residence since its founding around 1100 AD. Today, much of the structure has been restored, with work continuing on the section known as Cormac’s Chapel. The site is rich in legend and lore, and a walk around the grounds is a journey into Ireland’s tumultuous past.
- Visit Kilkenny- The capital of County Kilkenny, the town of Kilkenny is hopping these days. Make sure you visit Kilkenny Castle- the city’s iconic structure- and take time to wander around the lively streets. There are loads of cafes, pubs, restaurants, and bars, with plenty of shops and boutiques mixed in. If you’re in town on the weekend, make sure you hit up The Pump House on Sunday night- it’s the only place going off, due in no small part to a band called The BarFlies- they’ve been playing at The Pump House on Sunday nights for over 20 YEARS! GREAT craic, for sure...