I’m of Irish descent. I have pale and freckled skin, a Gaelic last name and the ability to tell a story more like a tale, rather than with its actual truths.
The Irish are known for their fairy tales.
Because of my heritage, Ireland had always been at the top of the list of places I wanted to visit, however the stars never seemed to aligned. Last year I had multiple trips internationally and each time it came to plan our next destination, I voted for Ireland. But because of flight prices and our unique situation (my boyfriend living in Western Europe), the trip to visit these islands continued to lose in the elections.
In 2017 I stepped foot in Norway, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Czechia, Belgium, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. No Ireland.
June of 2018 was our opportunity to travel internationally again and when we sat down with our wish list, budget, and Rick Steves’ books to pick out our next adventure,
Ireland was at the top of my list…
and Ireland won.
TRINITY COLLEGE AND LIBRARY
We had three days in Ireland and we allotted one of them for the city of Dublin. We landed around 8:00 AM and quickly figured out the straightforward bus system, getting to the hotel around 9:00 AM. Trinity College was just a short 10-minute walk from our hotel and we easily joined the 10:35 AM tour.
At the college we purchased a combo ticket, which included a quick 30-minute tour of the campus followed by entrance into the library. The tour is short, simple and gives you a great overview of Ireland’s oldest university. The tour is led by current students, which is really entertaining, you’ll be told great stories and let in on many of the college traditions. The tour drops you off at the library, which for us, was the part we had been waiting for.
The library contains two iconic pieces of Irish history: the Book of Kells and the magical Long Room. There is no dress code and, like I had mentioned, your combo ticket allows for admission to this building. Phones and cameras are allowed, just no flash. We spent about 30 minutes on the tour and another 45 minutes walking through the library.
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL
There are two main churches in Dublin, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church. Due to some bias, we decided to spend our time in St. Patrick’s. It’s seven euros for admission and you can opt for an audio guide for an additional five. We simply paid admission and used their English pamphlet to guide us around. The pamphlet opens to a map of the cathedral with many location points and each has an associated reading. Simply walk to the point on the map, read the paragraph, rinse and repeat.
If you have time on your itinerary for this, it’s fine for a visit. But other than that, I wouldn’t say to change your plans in order to have this make the list. We found the exterior of St. Patrick’s to be beautiful but the inside just seemed to fall flat. I’m not sure if this is because we have the Sagrada Família or Notre-Dame to compare it to, but the inside felt more of tourist attraction than a place of worship.
Lord, please forgive me.
I paid the donation.
Buried (literally) between the bustling streets of Dublin is Dublin Castle. Not much of the castle is left but it’s an easy tour to book and well worth the 10 euro admission fee. The tour is 70 minutes long and you’ll find roughly 20 people along with you. The tour guide takes you underground to the original castle towers and moat, teaching about the birth of Dublin along the way. Other sites, like the original chapel and castle apartments are also included. We took the last tour of the day (4:00pm) and even through the jet lag and dehydration, we were glad we took the time to see the castle.
ROCK OF CASHEL
On our second day in Ireland we headed south, towards Blarney. Along the way, if you follow the M7, you will eventually come along a popular castle, Rock of Cashel. This castle is worth the eight euro visit and very easy to tour. At the base of the castle you can find parking (“car park” as the Irish would say), a cafe and a few shops. Park the car and simply head up the hill to the gates. You’ll probably need no more than 30-40 minutes here, but it’s a great opportunity to stretch your legs, snag some great photos and wander around the ruins of a castle.
Blarney Castle is about a 2.5 hour drive south of Dublin and even if you’re not interested in kissing the Blarney Stone, it is certainly worth the visit. Parking is a breeze and there is an awesome visitor center equipped with all the souvenirs you could want, a simple cafe and plenty of bathrooms. We spent two hours at the Castle and we probably could have used about an hour more – there is so much to do! Blarney is more than just a castle, it’s walking trails, gardens, waterfalls and caves. Head into the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone and receive the “gift of gab and eloquence.” The attraction is well marked and even posts wait times, which makes it easy to figure if you have time for this. I would try and hit here first, the rule of thumb is that it’s an hour wait from the castle’s front door then add 30 more minutes for every additional 100 meters.
If you don’t have time to wait, don’t fret, the rest of the grounds are just as exciting!
Just minutes from Blarney is the city of Cork. Cork was our last stop before heading back north to Dublin. Cork is a quaint but bustling town, divided by a river with a pedestrian-friendly bridge connecting the two sides. There are plenty of shops to pop in, delicious restaurants and iconic pubs to pull up a seat in.
Which is exactly what we did.
CLIFFS OF MOHER
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The greatest reason for my excitement to visit Ireland was to see the Cliffs of Moher. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be one of the top tourist destinations in Ireland (alongside the Book of Kells). The Cliffs receive one million visitor in a year (the Colosseum brings in four million and the Eiffel Tower, six) and if tragedy interests you, they say 28 people fell to their death in 2017. The cliffs are 3.5 hours east of Dublin, clear across the country on the opposite coast. If you don’t plan on renting a car (and braving the left side of the road), many companies run 12 hour day trips over to the Cliffs.
We spent two hours hiking the Cliffs and definitely could have used two more. There are two sides to the Cliffs, with the visitor center dividing the two. Over to the right, you’ll find O’Brien’s Tower and that iconic, picture-perfect view. If you head left, you will be on top of the main Cliffs and looking back on the Tower and the secondary Cliffs (these aren’t the official names, just how I am describing them). We were only able to hike about half way on each side, so if you would like to do the full hike, I would figure around 4 hours.
As far as safety, there is an official trail which is marked by the visitor center and a stone wall. This trail is perfectly safe, well marked and easily accessible (even for seniors). There is a second, unofficial “seasoned trail,” which is not within the park grounds and considered dangerous. This trail is well marked, due to the excessive foot traffic and not nearly as accessible.
All these tips and explanations aside, my one recommendation is to take a deep breath and to soak it all in.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The Burren is just a short drive from the Cliffs of Moher. You’ll need your camera and no more than 15 minutes here. There is no proper parking situation, everyone pulls their car off to the shoulder (as much of a shoulder a place like Ireland has) and hops right out. The Burren continues on for miles along the road but any place is worth taking a stop to visit. The ground turns from rich agriculture to stone, spilled right out in front of you. Towards the coast, the rock continues right up to a cliff’s edge. Towards inland, the hills tower above like natural stone walls. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the wild horses making their way along the cliffs. Walking along the Burren will feel like you’re on another planet, and you almost are. It is said that the Burren is the only place on Earth where you can find the closest terrain to Earth’s Moon.
Returning from County Clare back to Dublin, we stopped for lunch in Galway. Galway is a harbor town with quaint streets and a lively town center. If you’re looking for live music, pubs, restaurants and shopping, you’ll want to head here. We spent two hours enjoying our lunch and shopping in the streets. You can find plenty of shops owned by local families and even hand knitted sweaters from the Aran Islands.
Ireland gave me the experience I had been hoping for. Days filled with grey skies and Gaelic in the air. Footsteps on lush grass, castle walls and cliffs made of stone.
Visiting Ireland also gave me a look into history,
the history of Dublin,
the Irish people,