by Tyler Robinson
Given that Irish-Americans outnumber the actual population of Ireland 7 to 1, it’s hardly surprising that it’s such a popular travel destination. Geographically, the island of Ireland is also significantly smaller than the state of Ohio, providing a wonderful opportunity to visit distant parts of the island in a single trip.
Still, it’s worth considering where you might want to concentrate your time and how much of your vacation you’re willing to spend traveling from place to place. Ireland was the first place I ever visited outside of the United States back in the summer of 2009; I enjoyed my time so much that I returned in the winter of 2016. While I haven’t experienced everything Ireland has to offer, I can give you a first-hand account of what I especially enjoyed . . . and what you might as well.
You don’t get a moniker like the Emerald Isle without a lot of rain, so it’s worth noting that traveling in summer is no guarantee of a sunny vacation. On the other hand, the winters are mild with snowfall a rarity. In fact, when it does occur, the light dusting of snow on cobblestones holds a sort of Dickensian charm. Best advice: decide what possible weather conditions are most amenable to you, then dress in layers either way.
And you might be surprised to learn that St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been more of a somber religious feast day rather than the festive celebration it has become in the United States. Best advice: if you want to look savvy, keep the corn beef and cabbage for the US; it’s not even an Irish dish.
Still, never fear: there are a myriad of other festivals, concerts, sports matches and local celebrations all year long. You can find tons of info in travel books and online about what’s happening, where and when.
Better yet, talk to a travel advisor . . . they often know about hidden gems that you won’t read about anywhere else.
There are also local tourism websites, which are helpful for knowing what unique events may be taking place when you schedule a trip. Tourism Ireland represents both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and is a valuable resource for planning trips to either or both areas. Its promotional video Fill Your Heart With Ireland showcases stunning views in both territories . . . be sure to check it out!
You can also visit the tourism boards for the part of the country you plan to visit to find the most up-to-date info:
No matter what, where and when you choose to visit Ireland, you’re sure to be enchanted with the beautiful scenery, charmed by its people and amazed by all it has to offer.
CHANGE IS GOOD . . . ESPECIALLY THE CORRECT CHANGE
While Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom and uses British pound sterling (known as the GBP), the Republic of Ireland is independent and so only accepts the Euro. Confusing the two currencies — which bear a cursory resemblance — can lead to awkward encounters, particularly given the Republic of Ireland’s hard-won independence from the United Kingdom. Trust me: I know from personal experience that buses in Dublin require exact change, which may be a bit challenging to accomplish if you have British pounds mixed in with your Euros or find yourself short of small change. Best advice: be sure to have what you need before you step on the bus. And be sensitive to where you are and which currency you’ll need.
As an aside, Americans (and any other foreign travelers) should not be affected by the progress towards Brexit when traveling between UK countries like Northern Ireland and EU countries like the Republic of Ireland, according to a New York Times article. As with all of life, sometimes it just depends on timing and being aware.
GETTING AROUND THE ISLE
Public transportation is more advanced across the pond, but it is far from perfect. It’s easy to be enticed by a beautiful historic hotel in the countryside, but it might make more sense to stay in
a city if you intend to do a lot of sightseeing on your trip to Ireland. Dublin and Belfast are the capital cities of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, respectively, but they are not all Ireland has to offer.
But if you’re wishing to take the path less traveled, major cities in the Republic of Ireland include Galway in the west and Cork in the south. In Northern Ireland, they are Derry, Craigavon and Newtownabbey.
There are day trips, multi-day trips, natural attractions, outdoor activities (exploring caves, taking in the breathtaking beauty of the cliffs), movie and TV tours (heard of Game of Thrones??), cultural and theme tours, ancient ruins, horseback riding, museums, distilleries and sheepdog exhibitions . . . the possibilities are as varied as your dreams of the ultimate Ireland vacation. There are local buses, cross-country tour buses, car rentals, trains, taxis and more to get you where you want to go.
That’s where a travel advisor comes in handy. There are so many options that can include all you dream stops, and an advisor can help you create a plan that fits many of them in . . . plus more that you might not have thought about.
TO GUINNESS AND BEYOND!
So, where would I recommend you take your travel shoes? North, south, east west . . . there are amazing experiences in every part of the country. Here are just a few:
THE NORTH: BELFAST
The Titanic was built in Belfast and left quite an impression, with a Titanic Quarter built around the historic shipyard. For those interested in the true story of the catastrophic wreck, the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction may be worth a visit. And the Game of Thrones series was filmed nearby at Titanic Studios. The HBO show’s filming locations scattered across the Northern Irish countryside likewise have proved a boon to its tourism and a fascination to GOT fans. Other attractions within the Belfast area include a castle overlooking the city, as well as a national museum — the Ulster Museum — located in the Belfast Botanical Gardens.
THE EAST: DUBLIN
The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first such museum I visited abroad, and I was particularly drawn to its impressive archeology collection of Bronze and Iron Age artifacts. Still, there are many other National Museum locations scattered across Dublin focused on decorative arts, history, country life, natural history and more.
For bibliophiles, it is possible to arrange a visit to Trinity College, Dublin’s famous library. Arguably the most illustrious attraction is the beautifully illustrated Book of Kells, but the ambience of such an old and beautiful library is a wonder in itself.
For those interested in tracing their heritage, it should also be noted that the Chief Herald of Ireland is also based in Dublin at the National Library. Best advice: do as much of your genealogy research back at home as you can (the genealogy researcher at Footsteps World Travel can help out!), visit the Chief Herald with specifics in mind to use your time well, then be open to whatever surprises you may find there.
After all the museum time, you might decide a pint is the best route to go. Just know that a visit to the Guinness Storehouse is not your typical brewery tour. There are exhibits detailing the company’s almost-300-year history, from the adoption of the harp as its logo to the tools and process by which barrels were handmade. Restaurants inside the Storehouse serve traditional stews and brown breads made with a splash of Ireland’s signature brew. After a tasting, you can enjoy a complimentary pint with an unparalleled view of the Dublin skyline from the Gravity Bar.
THE SOUTH-WEST: CORK AND GALWAY
Galway has been designated a European Capital of Culture for 2020, and as such is hosting extra cultural events this year in addition to the famous Galway Arts Festival. Galway’s coastal location also affords easy access to the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, a sight just as striking as England’s cliffs of Dover. The Aran Islands just off the coast represent a bastion of traditional Irish language and could also represent an opportunity to obtain an Aran sweater — perhaps even in your own ancestral clan pattern — directly from its traditional source. Places like Aran, with particularly high levels of Gaelic fluency, are called Gaeltacht and are concentrated primarily along the West coast of Ireland.
In the South, Cork offers the opportunity to visit Ireland’s arguably most famous castle. If you visit Blarney Castle and are willing to literally bend over backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone, according to legend you will be blessed with the the fabled Gift of the Gab. However, the castle itself and its surrounding gardens may be more enjoyable than the famous stone dubbed — admittedly unscientifically — “the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world” by Trip Advisor.
BUT STILL THERE’S MORE . . .
- Of course, the attractions described above are hardly comprehensive. There really is something for everyone, so for further inspiration you might be interested in the Irish Bucket List, which features some of Ireland’s most stunning natural beauty along with some sites that may cater to the history or hops enthusiast in you.
- Alternatively, The 17 Top Tourist Attractions in Ireland is a list that may be more to your liking, if you intend to focus on absorbing as much of the castles and city life as you can.
- If you are looking to enjoy a laid-back time exploring your surroundings, you might, of course, want to review The Irish Pub Bucket List, which includes 50 of the most unique pubs in Ireland and an interactive map to help you find the recommended pubs in your area.
- But don’t take my word for it. Here are 121 Best Things to Do in Ireland.
- On the other hand, there are certain things you should avoid, above and beyond not getting stuck with the wrong bus fare, to truly enjoy your visit. Check out 30 Things Tourists Should Never Do in Ireland. We’ve warned you. You’re welcome.
Best advice: do some research on you own, talk to the Footsteps genealogy researcher for help digging up your Irish roots, then get some first-hand trip advice from Susan and Laura Becks at Footsteps there.
Of course, part of the fun of any vacation is the experience of exploration and discovery, but sometimes kismet can use a little help. The Emerald Isle may only be 174 miles wide by 302 miles long, but its heart and its charm are extraordinary. Isn’t it time for you to discover the magic for yourself?
That’s where Travel Advisors Susan and Laura Becks with Footsteps World Travel are so very valuable. Contact them to help you plan the vacation of your dreams: