The Republic of Ireland is a small country/island, roughly about the size of Indiana. Yet, it impressed me how different one corner can be from another. The island is shared by two countries: The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of England. When people say they are going to Ireland, most likely they mean the Republic of Ireland. The people from the Republic identify themselves as “Irish”, the ones from Northern Ireland probably as ‘British’. Although that also depends whether they are Catholic or Protestant. I mean, is a bit complicated.I’m not going to go deep into that history here it, but it is quite an interesting one.
If you want to know more about why they split and when it happened, check out this cool video in YouTube. The important thing to know is that the leprechaun and rainbow legend, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, etc… all of that is the Republic of Ireland, so don’t go to Northern Ireland on St. Patrick’s day expecting to see a lot going on. For that you need to go a bit further South. Regardless, no visit to Ireland is complete without paying a visit to their cousins in the north.
With only 5 days we knew that to get a decent taste of Ireland, we had to get out of its capital, Dublin. Not that there aren’t enough things to see and do in Dublin. On the contrary, one can easily spend 1 week just there. But going to other cities provide a unique opportunity to see a side of Ireland we rarely read about.
Tip: To be more efficient with time, a car is absolutely needed. All trains stop in Dublin, making a long train ride even longer. And public transportation in the country side can be tricky. We had so much more flexibility and were definitely efficient with our time thanks to having a car. If we did not like a place, we simply drove to the next one. Also, driving in the country side was such a nice experience. All the Irish clichés seen on the movies are found while driving around: sheep grazing, castles ruins, friendly people and the greenest green scenery.
7 “Musts” in Ireland:
#1 Visit Guinness Storehouse in Dublin
Guinness is more than simply beer. It is part of Dublin’s history and therefore, no visit to Dublin is complete without touring the Guinness Brewery. We don’t actually see how beer is made as that is a secret. But the tour of the facilities is very informative and fun. There are videos throughout the place telling the history of the brewery, where they get their water from and we learnt how to properly pour a Guinness. We even got a certificate showing we now know how to pour Guinness at the end. To avoid making a huge line is better to buy tickets in advance.
#2 The Book of Kells & Old Library
The Book of Kells is probably one of the world’s oldest books, dating from around 800 A.D. Celtic monks wrote in the 9th century this illuminated manuscript in a richly decorated fashion depicting the 4 Gospels of the New Testament. I could not snap a picture of the actual book because photos are not allowed. So to see it you need to go to Dublin, but believe me when I say that it is truly a treasure and an amazing experience to see this world’s famous medieval manuscript.
#3 Hang out in Temple Bar area and take a picture at the actual Temple Bar
Located in Dublin’s cultural quarter, this area is popular with tourists. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and shops. But probably one of the most photographed spots in Dublin is the red building of The Temple Bar featured in the picture below. We had an Irish coffee to warm up a bit after paying a visit to The Book of Kells.
Getting out of Dublin and driving around made this trip even more memorable. Galway is a great place to stop and savor more of the Irish culture, and also makes it the perfect over night stop to go to the Cliffs of Moher (#5 below).
Galway is a harbour city on the Irish west coast. This is the place to have a traditional Irish pub experience and enjoy live music. We stayed at highly recommended Petra House, a quaint B&B that offers yummy breakfast and a warm service. Galway is the real deal: B&B, Irish folk music, fish & chips and Murphy’s beer. It’s a cultural explosion. Everyone was so genuinely friendly and happy. The only regret we have is not spending more time there.
#5 Cliffs of Moher
About 1.5 hour drive from Galway, we found the majestic Cliffs of Moher. Another must see in Ireland. The cliffs are astonishing, dropping 700 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. It is very windy and cold in the area, so it’s important to bring layers. We went in October, but heard that even in summer there is a chilly breeze. Also, staying on the designated paths is important as the ground is unstable and dangerous. Not the place where you want to risk your life for a selfie.
#6 Giants Causeway (Northern Ireland)
Like I said before, no trip to Ireland is complete without going to Northern Ireland. Even if only to go see the Giant’s Causeway. Kudos to my husband for pushing on this because I was hesitant at the beginning thinking we didn’t have enough time. But oh boy, I’m so glad he insisted and I got to see it.
Scientists claim that a volcanic eruption almost 60 million years ago was responsible for making the impressive columns resembling a pipe organ and the perfectly strange rocks shaped in the form of hexagons that cover the ground. But the Irish call that pure BS and say it makes no sense because the mystique scenery was obviously created by an actual giant from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology.
Apparently a giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill or Finn MacCool, was challenged by Benandonner, another giant from Scotland, who was much bigger than Finn. Finn ignored the massive size of Benandonner, and was determined to get to him and defeat him. So he threw stones into the water, forming a path that would lead him to Benandonner. Terrible idea, because when Finn got to the other side and realized how big Benandonner was, he ran back and tried to hide. However, because of the path, Benandonner was able to chase him. Finn told his wife, Oonagh (bless her heart), what happened. Since women always find a solution to problems she quickly asked him to dress as a baby. When Benandonner came and saw the “baby” in disguise he got scared wondering if the baby was of that size, how big must have been the father then? So he ran away and never returned. What we see today is the remains of the path built by Finn, hence the name “Giant’s Causeway”. This makes much more sense to me.
#7 Dark Hedges, the road from Games of Thrones (Northern Ireland)
Fan of Games of Thrones or not, this mysterious road is fascinating to see. I actually have never seen the show (I know, shame on me), but standing among the mystic trees made me feel as if I was inside of an enchanted forest. Got to say we were lucky because the road was closed that day as they were filming a movie. However, the guards let us walk around and take pictures. When the road is open, there is a lot of traffic, even tourist buses drive through it which makes it impossible to take nice pictures.
Ireland exceeded my expectations. One of the most memorable moment from this trip was having dinner in Belfast, after going to the Giant’s Causeway. The food was great and then across the street there was a bar with a band playing live music and singing covers of famous songs. Mingling with locals, toasting with Guinness and truly having a great time reminded me why I love traveling so much. We go for the experiences, to make new friends, to get out of our comfort zone, to simply build memories. We did not find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but what we did find were plenty of reasons to understand why the Irish culture is so loved around the world. Certainly can’t wait to return to Ireland one day.