Between big cities, quaint countryside, and some breathtaking coastline, here’s a list of some of the best craic we had out in the Emerald Isle.
Places to Go
Here are our favorite places and things we got to see, from all around the country.
• Cliffs of Moher. This one’s probably on your list already, it’d been on mine for a while. We’ve found that so many of the tourist attractions we’ve visited lately had let us down, they were either just packed to the gills, or we had unrealistic expectations based on pictures online that we’d seen photoshopped half to death. The Cliffs of Moher far surpassed our expectations though, even better than you see in pictures - deep emerald cliffs set against a deep blue sea, flecked with white seagulls and golden flowers. Give yourself plenty of time, you’ll want to walk along those cliffs for hours.
• Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way - as much as you can. The Wild Atlantic Way is a tourism trail spanning across the west, and parts of the north and south coasts of the island. It encompasses so many different counties and breathtaking geographical areas, including the Cliffs of Moher. The area is scattered with ancient castles, monasteries, little towns, beautiful lakes and beaches, and some of the most breathtaking coastline you’ll ever see - meaning there are so many opportunities for activities like kayaking, fishing, hiking, and more. I wish we could have seen it all, but that would truly take ages - we spent time around Clare, Galway, and much of Donegal and the northern coast, and I’m making a mental note of several places to visit if we return - including the Ring of Kerry (scenic landscape drive), Slieve League (beautiful sea cliffs that rival those at Moher), and other areas around Cork, Westport, and Dingle.
• The Guinness Storehouse. A very touristy attraction, but a must-do if you’re interested in breweries (or drinking). You really learn a lot about the brewing process and the history behind the most iconic beer of Ireland - they will even teach you how to pour yourself a Guinness the correct way: hold the glass at a forty-five degree angle and pour until it is three-quarters full (approximately up to the harp); allow the surge to settle, then top off until the head forms a slight dome over the top of the glass. This process should take approximately 120 seconds. Be sure to take your Guinness up to the Gravity Bar above the brewery, there are 360-degree glass walls which give you a beautiful view of Dublin on all sides.
• Book of Kells & the Trinity College Library. The Book of Kells is a 9th century manuscript which documents the four gospels as well as many other texts and tables, all with a beautiful and lavish artistry over one thousand years old; it is widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. The Book of Kells exhibition also includes access to the Trinity College Library, a huge room containing hundreds of thousands of books old and new, rows upon rows of spiral staircases, the harp used as a model for the coat of arms of Ireland, marble busts of philosophers and writers, and is just stunning to behold.
• Make a trip to Nothern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a technically a different country from the Republic of Ireland (it’s part of the UK), but you’d certainly be remiss if you didn’t pay it a visit while you’re here. We went for a quick weekend road trip, stopping off in several locations along the way, including Derry, Belfast, Mourne Mountains, and the highlights - Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim Cliffs nearby.
Things to Do
• Explore the castles. Apparently there are around thirty-thousand castles and ancient ruins peppering the Irish landscape; after running into several during drives without even planning to, I’d definitely believe it. There are also many that you can stay in overnight, and experience a bit of Irish history first-hand. Unfortunately we didn’t get to do it this time - most of the castle-hotels are pretty luxurious, and we were doing Ireland on a bit of a budget (we spent most of it living for free in a trailer, after all) but it’s on the list for next time if we feel like a splurge. If you don’t want to stay overnight in a castle, definitely just check some out, there’s some really cool architecture/ruins out there (my favorites were Dunguaire and Dunluce).
• Experience the pub culture. There’s such a long history of pub culture throughout Ireland, centered around friendly people, good food, draught beers, live music, and Irish sports. Our favorite pubs in Dublin were: Mulligan’s, Napper Tandy’s, O’Donogues, and the Hairy Lemon. There are also many pubs in Dublin that are famous for being frequented by many famous writers back in the day, such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Yeats - e.g. Davy Byrne’s, Neary's, and Brazen Head. Temple Bar is a very famous and touristy pub in Dublin as well. Our favorite might have been Sean’s Bar in Athlone, though - it’s famous for being the oldest bar in the world, est. 900 AD! Hanging out at pubs is also where you’ll catch some Irish dancing or listen to traditional music (plus, if you strike up a conversation with the band and tell them you’re American, they might even play Country Roads by John Denver for you - this happened more than once).
• Stay in a Gaeltacht. Gaeltacht districts are defined as the few regions left in Ireland where the primary language spoken is Irish. The gaeltacht is threatened by a serious language decline, there are very few communities today in which Irish is spoken on a daily basis by two-thirds or more of the population (which is considered by many to be the tipping-point for language survival). We were lucky enough to stay in the Donegal Gaeltacht for about a month, a small town where the traditions, music, and culture of Ireland still felt so alive. I got such a big kick out of just going to the pub and hearing bartenders and patrons chatting in Irish, it was something I wasn’t necessarily expecting from Ireland but it truly made us feel so immersed in a new culture.
Food to eat
For Irish food, head to the pubs. Most of the traditional meals were simple, potato-heavy dishes: shepherd’s/cottage pie, coddle (traditional Irish stew), boxty (potato pancakes), colcannon & champs (mashed potatoes); as well as standard pub food: fish & chips, roasts, beef and Guinness stew, fry-ups (add black and white puddings to make it Irish!) Oh, and all the Guinness you can drink - it really does taste better in Ireland.
We didn’t really know what to expect coming into Ireland, neither of us had been there before, and it’d been over a year since we’d even been to Europe. It was a little cold and a little rainy, but the historic cities and absolutely stunning and picturesque coasts made it better than we could have hoped.