Ireland is an island, and it is west of U.K. Ireland the one of the most lush green countries that I have ever been to (it rains a lot, to crazy levels, in Ireland throughout the year). The northern part of this island is called Northern Ireland and is a part of U.K.; they share an open border, and they’ve had a bloody past. Although you will find some similarities between Ireland and U.K, Irish are very proud of their distinct culture. Irish people are some of the friendliest and most courteous you will ever meet on planet earth.
Famous for Celtic music, historical churches and castles, serene beaches (water can be quite cold, even in summers) and surreal landscape, Guinness beer (I prefer Jameson Whiskey) and Gaelic culture, Ireland has something for everyone.
Safety and local expectations
Ireland is a pretty safe country, but follow the basic safety precautions that you would in any other developed country. There might be a few pick-pocketers in crowded places, otherwise you can have quite a carefree attitude here. Be careful when walking around streets full of bars in the evening as you might find drunk people getting into flights, which might become ugly too quickly.
In general, locals are quite friendly and will offer to help you if you seem to be you lost. There is no harm in asking for directions and going your way by yourself.
People like me, who hold an Indian passport, or a passport from similar countries need to get a visa before they leave their home country. I had to go to the Irish Embassy to obtain the visa.
There are a lot of places, which will tell you if you require visa or not. I find this website the easiest- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_requirements_for_Indian_citizens; remember to punch in your country name.
Plan ahead as getting the visa might take a few days to 2- 3 weeks.
Like most countries in west Europe, Ireland has a very good public transportation system. Although you may like to travel in taxis or rent a car, I suggest that you take the buses and trains.
Driving: You may rent a car and drive around Ireland, but the organized tours in Ireland are some of the best. Renting a car is cheaper in the city than at the airport. Remember that they drive on the left, like the Britishers.
Rail: Ireland has an extensive rail system and you might get discounts if you book them online. You can use the trams in Dublin, although it connects limited areas.
Buses: There are a lot bus companies that operate in Ireland- both for inter-city travels and for travels within a city. I used the local buses to travel within Dublin.
Air: You probably will land at Dublin airport. The other international airports are Shannon, Cork and Ireland West. The national carrier is Aer Lingus, but the famous Ryan Air is also based out of Dublin. You may take domestic flights to Kerry and Donegal; however, I suggest you travel by road as the drives are very scenic.
Tours: Tours are one of the best ways to see remote places in Ireland; you can enjoy the scenic beauty and be one with mother nature. There are a lot of companies to choose from; trust the concierge of your hotel if you’re not very sure whom to go with. You can choose to go on a big bus or take those customized tours. Send me an email and I can suggest a few.
When to go
Although you can go to Ireland throughout the year, summer is a good time to enjoy this lovely country. Check the weather beforehand as weather can change quite quickly in Ireland- from a bright warm day to a rainy chilly day. Expect it to rain throughout the year, so carry a raincoat or a small umbrella with you all the time. During certain times of the day and in some places, it can be extremely windy; so, remember to carry something warm with you.
Where to Stay
You have a wide variety to choose from- bed & breakfast, hostels, guest houses, camping, self-catering and of course hotels. I prefer to stay in a hotel that is centrally located. The hotel that I stayed at was 15 minutes walking distance from the city center. Wherever you plan to stay, check about that place on trip advisor and bookings.com. Feel free to ask questions about the place you plan to stay from fellow travelers.
https://www.discoverireland.ie/ is another good place to check out your options.
What to Eat
You will find all kinds of food here, but Irish stew, boxty (potato pancakes) and other meat options are their favorites. Dairy products are everywhere- cows get more than enough green grass that grows for ten out of twelve months of the year. As I’m a vegetarian, I ended up having a lot of cheese sandwiches.
Ireland is a paradise for people who like their alcoholic drinks- Guinness for beer drinkers, Jameson for Whiskey drinkers, Irish coffee for cocktail drinkers and Baileys for sweet-tooth, hard-core liquor drinkers. There are obviously a lot international and local brands that I haven’t mentioned, but you get the idea. Head to an pub to try them out! I can have all of them except Guinness, any day!
Top Things to See and Do
This is the city where mostly people land in first. The capital and the largest city in Ireland, Dublin can be the first city to be explored. The main street in the city center is called O’Connell Street, which is full of restaurants, pubs and big brands. Depending on what interests you, there is something for everyone. You will find a lot museums in Dublin, such as national Museum of Ireland for archeology, natural history and decorative arts and history. The General Post Office is an iconic building; other historic places are Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral and Kilmainham Gaol.
Dublin is a good place to pick up some books too; you may like to check out the old library at Trinity College and Book of Kells.
If you are short on time, the hop-on hop-off bus is an excellent way to see the main attractions in the city.
You can spend half a day at Jameson Distillery (yes, it is in Dublin), or at Guinness Store, or even both J Temple bar is that landmark pub that almost everyone goes to. It is on O’Connell Street and this is a good place to buy your souvenirs.
Newgrange & Bru na Boinne Archaeological Park :
Around 50 kilometers from Dublin, Bru Na Boinne archeological park is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in Ireland. Know that access to Newgrange is by guided tours only; they allow only a certain number of people to access it each day. I highly recommend Mary Gibbons tour, she is one of the finest ladies you will meet in Ireland.
The visitor center has an impressive interactive exhibition that pulls you deeply into the history of this place. The Newgrange tomb was built around 3,200BC old (older than the Giza Pyramids) and had some religious significance; during winter solstice, the sun rays filter through the rooftop, converge and flood the tomb. Places like these, which show how accurately they measured time, make me wonder how scientifically advanced some of these societies in the past were!!!
Remember to enter the free annual lottery to witness winter solstice inside Newgrange tomb; you might be one of the lucky twelve, chosen out of thousands of people, to have this phenomenal once-in-a-lifetime experience. All the best!
Cliffs of Moher:
Combining the work of weather and the Atlantic ocean over millions of years, these captivatingly shaped cliffs were formed. Cliffs of Moher is on the west coast of Ireland, and you can take a day trip to this place from Dublin. You can combine this trip with a visit to Dunguire Castle or Bunratty Castle. You can spend 2 hours to half a day at the Cliffs of Moher. Don’t lean too much on the fences; enjoy the beauty of this place from different angles and places- it’s a long 8 kilometers stretch.
After walking around the area and admiring mother nature’s wonder, you can go up O’Brien Tower to get a bird’s eye view of Cliffs and the sea. Depending on the season that you go in, you might spot some unusual species of flora and fauna.
Hills of Tara:
If history and nature excites, Hills of Tara is a place for you. Hills of Tara is a expansive archeological complex. Although I didn’t spend much time here, I was completely engrossed by the landscape and the old folklores. You can combine a trip to Hills of Tara with Newgrange.
The visitor center used to be a church. When you walk towards the stone of destiny, the supposedly base for the high kings of Ireland, you will be mesmerized by its historical importance. Let your imagination run wild and you will soon transport yourself into the world of kings and lords, and scattered castles, churches and pagan holy places.
Take a stroll around St. Patrick church and cemetery area. You will also find a statue of St. Patrick, who probably bought Christianity to this island.
Nature lovers- you will fall in love with Glendalough! Okay, history buffs- don’t feel bad; you will find ruins of a 6th century monastery that was found by St. Kevin. Glendalough means valley of the two lakes.
You can drive to Glendalough; however, I suggest you take a day tour to this place form Dublin as finding a parking place in summers can be difficult. The best way to discover the lakes, hills, the monastic village and the tower is by foot.
Kilkenny is a city with most number of mediaeval structures in Ireland. You can take the train or the bus from Dublin; private tours are many and convenient though. Kilkenny is a small city and you can walk around and discover the city.
Spend as much time as you want in and around Kilkenny castle and the gardens; there is free entrance to the grounds, but there is a fee to enter the halls of the castle. St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower, and Black Abby are worth discovering.
Ireland is one of my favorite country. Visa process was easy and the public transportation system is diverse and well connected. After clearing immigration, I picked up my bags, and I took the bus to my hotel. I got a good rate at this 4-star hotel as our crew community stays in the same hotel. I’d landed in Dublin early morning and didn’t get much sleep on the flight. I slept pretty much the whole day- till 3pm and was cursing myself for doing so. As the hotel was in the center of the city, I picked up the map of the city and decided to walk around the city center.
I admired the statue of Molly Malone and wondered how women lived in 17th century and how is my world different from hers and what I can learn from hers. As the sun was coming down, I decided to head to the famous Temple Bar. Before heading to temple bar, I stopped at a few book stores. Yes, it’s the bookworm Aiena 😀 You see, the Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and other famous writers are from Ireland. I tasted Guinness beer in one of the Irish bars and headed back to the hotel.
I had a hearty breakfast the next morning, and armed with the same map in my hand, I was ready to discover the rest of the city.
Now, I know, the Guinness factory is a fancy place to go to in Dublin, but I wanted to dig deep into the history of Ireland. I decided to walk to Kilmainham gaol (gaol means jail). The lady at concierge of the hotel told me that it will be a good half an hour walk; I was excited to discover Dublin on foot to some extent. As I was lost on my way to this jail, one elderly gentleman helped my find my way and told me that he will walk with me for the next 10 minutes. We two spoke about the similarities between Indians and Irish and we also spoke about Mahatma Gandhi. He also told me to be careful of pick-pocketers and take care of my belongings. Its people like him, who make my trips worth remembering. After getting to know the history of Dublin through a jail (weird way, right?), I went around the city and discovered the usual touristy churches and historical places in Dublin. In the afternoon, I ended up going to Jameson factory, and I must admit that it is one of the finest Whiskey breweries that I have been to. If you get a chance, do try the whiskey tasting session here.
The next day, I booked a trip to the prehistoric Newgrange monument from the hotel with Mary Gibbons. You can see Newgrange tomb only through guided tours as they only allow a certain number of people of inside the tomb at throughout the day.
Please read reviews about her, and I must admit that this was one of the most enriching trips I’ve ever had, not only in Ireland, but also across the world. Mary’s knowledge about Ireland is so deep that you can literally ask her anything and, at the same time, have those worldly conversations with her.
On the 3rd day, I booked a tour to cliffs of Mohr and O’Brien castle from the hotel. It was a long day, but it was worth it. When you are at cliffs of Mohr, you see the how mother nature has created these beautiful cliffs. Spend some time listening to the gushing sound of the waves, and you will be at awe when you see these cliffs carved into beautiful shapes by the constant waves- something that must have taken millions of years to happen.
Before heading back to the airport for a late afternoon flight, I quickly squeezed in 2 hours for retail therapy. Shops open around 10 and there weren’t many people at that time. I had already checked-in online, so drive back to the airport was not stressful.
Written by Aiena on 19th June 2018, mid-air, over the Himalayan range (near K2 peak) around 0200 UTC & on 22nd June 2018 in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) around 0300LT