I am a huge fan of Ireland and I have many reasons as to why. I’ve been there twice now, and have seen almost the entire island. We are planning to return in the next few years to explore Cork, Wexford, and Waterford and we will have seen every county. Before I knew how much Irish ancestry I had I was always enamored with the culture. The first time I visited Ireland I had no idea just how much history was in my DNA. Who’s to say this isn’t why I felt such a connection?
Ireland is made up of two countries, the north (Northern Ireland) consists of 6 counties and the south (the republic of Ireland) makes up the rest. Northern Ireland is still under British rule and so you will find a very big difference if you cross the border. The Northern currency is Sterling while the southern currency is Euros. The northern people have a distinct accent that is much more harsh and has somewhat of a Scottish influence. There is a lot of English influence in the food, cars, and just about everything else.
The Antrim coast and the Wild Atlantic Way are the most breathtakingly beautiful coastal drives you can take. If you plan on doing anything on your trip I absolutely recommend doing both. As of now, there is no firm border so you do not need to show your passport, but this could change at any moment with Brexit looming over head.
The countryside on the Antrim Coast is gorgeous, and I highly recommend going during the late March or early April to see all the lambs. They definitely stole the show on our most recent trip. Giant’s Causeway and BushMills distillery are also located on the Antrim Coast. They are relatively close to one another although not walking distance. If you are comfortable driving abroad then renting a car and hitting both places at once make the most sense. There are also a ton of tours offered from larger cities that will give you enough time at both. Along the Antrim Coast, Dunluce castle is also visible. While you may not be able to get to walk the grounds, there are some stunning shots you can get from the street. If you want more information on Giant’s Causeway you can check my blog post about it here.
The coffee and chocolate in Ireland (and the rest of Europe) is 100% better than the U.S. The coffee isn’t watered down, it is strong, and they do not use half and half or cream. They do have sweetener but you will need to pick it up from a grocery store because most restaurants do not carry it. You may get lucky and have a waiter who is carrying a dispenser in their pocket and will share with you. The chocolate is richer with much more taste. The food that we picked up for breakfast from the grocery store in Dublin was delicious and had way less sugar than it would have in the states. Speaking of food, Irish soda bread is the best thing I’ve ever had. I might just move to Ireland for the soda bread, chocolate, and coffee. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a avid coffee drinker, chocolate eater, and as long as I have those 2 things and bread, I am happy. So, take me to Ireland and leave me there forever, please.
If you have never been to Europe before, it is very easy to get around if you stay in a city. The public transportation in Dublin is really great. With so many universities in the city there are many options for you to use so you don’t need to rent a car. The dart train will take you out of the city, the Luas will take you north to south, or east to west of Dublin, and the buses are EVERYWHERE. Download “Journey Plan” or “LUAS” apps on your phone to take full advantage of the public transportation. A 7 day pass for the Luas is €24, for students it is even cheaper. Be sure to carry this with you as well as a photo school ID if you are a student as operators can ask you to show your pass at any time. Both times that I have stayed in Dublin I was able to easily use the Luas to get almost anywhere. So I highly recommend buying a week pass, if you use it more than 3 times it pays for itself. Journey plan is great too because it will tell you the best routes to take, the departure times, arrival times, bus stops, Luas stops, and walking distance so you make it to your destination on time. Also, locals told us to try Henry Street for shopping, it is MUCH cheaper. Grafton street is the famous shopping district for tourists and it is adorable, but if you need to pick up a lot of things Henry Street will give you a much better deal.
If you do not feel comfortable driving, but you want to explore outside of the city you should take a look at travel websites like Viator (my personal favorite!) and Trip Advisor. We use Viator for all of our vacations because it is reliable and we haven’t had a single bad tour. All of the information is displayed for you, they will send you confirmation notifications via text, and are very easy to work with. There are day trips from Dublin City to almost anywhere touristy in Ireland. While some of them are excruciatingly long (14+ hours) they are worth it, the buses are comfortable, and the tour guides are animated, funny, and informative (most of the time). Be sure to read all of the reviews before booking a tour and do your research on the tour companies. You should also contact the company for more information on the tour before booking. I have found that in some cases they do not list everything on the travel site for the tour. Ask about food, the general itinerary, length of time on the bus, and length of time at each stop. Ask if you can bring food onto the bus and ask how frequent stops are where you can use a restroom. Some of the tours have very early pick ups and this means you may need to hit up a grocery store to grab food to eat before you get on the bus or while you are driving. I also keep dramamine in my bag incase I or my fellow travel buddies get motion sick.
The Cliffs of Moher are absolutely stunning, but driving the Wild Atlantic Way is equally stunning. We started on our first day with seeing the cliffs and I did not think much could top them with the breathtaking views. The good thing about Ireland is that there are so many beautiful views that I don’t think any one spot can overshadow the others, but instead each place has a unique beauty you can’t see in anywhere else in the world. Stunning is an understatement and overwhelmingly beautiful does not do the vistas justice. The Antrim Coast and the Wild Atlantic Way both blew us away.
The Burren is a National Park in the Republic of Ireland where you can hike. The area is hard, rocky, and looks like dried mud, but it provides some beautiful areas. We made a quick stop along the coast and did not explore much, but the small area that we did see was gorgeous and we were able to get a few photographs before moving on. The area reminded me a lot of some of the hiking trails we came across while traveling in Maui and Kauai. It was equally as hard to walk on! Definitely bring comfortable shoes, already broken in, and lots of band-aids incase of blisters.
We also visited Galway in our most recent trip and the town on the bay was beautiful. The Corrib River, Spanish Arch, and Galway Bay were some of our favorite things we saw. The street performers are great and the locals, piss drunk, and yelling “WHAT THE FECK ARE YOU LOOKING AT” and “FECK OFF” were a great way to start our day in Galway, hehe. Did I mention you will need a sense of humor? We loved Galway and will 100% be staying here the next time we travel to Ireland. There was so much character, beauty, and simplicity in the city that you just can’t ignore it. I’m already planning our next trip back.
The oldest pub in Ireland, The Brazen Head is one of my favorite places to eat. The Irish stew is by far my favorite dish. It is located in Dublin and is definitely worth the wait if you can’t find a place to sit. On nice days you can enjoy yourself at the bar in the courtyard or sitting in the courtyard at a table. You can also find a seat inside one of the many rooms inside this tiny pub. Don’t let is fool you though, the food is amazing, the staff is great, and food comes out quite quickly. You won’t be disappointed.
Of all of the places we stopped Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge was my absolute favorite with the Titanic Museum coming in to a close second (I have always been weirdly obsessed with everything Titanic related since I was 6 years old). After about a mile walk of mildly difficult terrain you come to a rope bridge that dangles over the cliff side. It is a very windy, thrilling adventure to cross (by the way, you need to cross twice if you want to get home). We had so much fun and the scenery surrounding it is absolutely gorgeous. If you time it right you will not have to wait in a very long line, but if you do have to wait in line the views will keep you occupied so you do not get bored. I am saving our rope bridge story for another post so stayed tuned and subscribe for that story.
There are tons of places to visit, distilleries and breweries to explore, and tiny pubs hidden all over the country of Ireland. Wherever you visit, whether it is Galway, Dublin, Kilkenny, Belfast or anywhere in between try to talk to locals. More often then not, they will give you advice, tell you a great story, or lend a helping hand (or maybe all three!). If you have a favorite place to visit in Ireland comment below so we can add it to our list for the next adventure.