I just got back to London after visiting my friend in Ireland, and although I’ve made a quick trip to Dublin back in college, Ireland completely blew me away! To be honest with you, I feel like Ireland’s a destination that’s kind of under rated. I’ll admit, especially having been before, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to re-visit properly but never really fell at the top of my bucket list. With countries like Italy and Iceland booming all over Instagram, Ireland seems like less of a travel priority, but having experienced this stunning country firsthand, both urban and rural, I feel like it’s certainly a contender for one of the most naturally stunning places in the world & definitely one of my personal favorite places I’ve been!
I’d say it’s the perfect destination for any adventurous traveler, looking to experience a bit of medieval architecture, warm Irish culture, and incredible, breathtaking views. With a little taste of everything from lively city centers, to vast countrysides, age old castles, and one of a kind coastal landscapes, it’s an incredible country filled with the friendliest people, rich beauty, and captivating charm.
If you’ve ever considered traveling to Ireland or maybe traveled here before but didn’t quite experience all that if has to offer, I definitely recommend bumping it up on your travel list! I know personally, one of the reasons It took me two trips to experience Ireland to the fullest was lack of resources and a proper travel group, but I’m breaking down some common misconceptions and sharing my first-hand experiences to maximize every second (solo or not!) in this breathtaking country!
Before visiting Ireland, most people I had spoken to had either A. traveled to Ireland with family (aka were not paying for it themselves and had some form of rented private transportation), B. Were traveling as a couple or small group and rented a car to sightsee around the country or C. Stayed in Dublin and didn’t quite experience all that Ireland had to offer. While my first trip to Ireland was definitely in the “C” category, this go around I found myself wishing I was in some sort of A or B situation. I didn’t feel comfortable or confident renting a car in a different country and navigating the windy, narrow roads by myself, but I really wanted to branch out of Dublin and see more of this beautiful country!
Thankfully I partnered with Wild Rover Tours, and while I wouldn’t say I’m your biggest tour bus girl, it really was the best way to see a vast majority of this beautiful part of the world, and learn a ton about Ireland, especially being based out of Dublin! Even if this exact scenario doesn’t particularly relate to you but you want to visit Ireland and maximize your time, budget and experiences, here are some of my top-rated “must-dos” that made me fall in love with Ireland! And everything included is totally doable even if you’re based out of Dublin!
It goes without saying if you are traveling all the way to Ireland you certainly have to experience Dublin, Ireland’s capital! Quite the bustling, lively city, everything is no more than a 20-minute walk. With an international airport and nonstop services to most major cities, it’s a great home base if you’re traveling abroad, and somewhat centrally located to the North, West and South regions of Ireland.
DO: If you’ve never been to Dublin and are keen on exploring some of its most famous sites, here’s a round up of my top recommendations- St. Patrick’s Cathedral (pictured), The Guinness Factory Tour, Trinity College Library and The Book of Kells, the Dublin Castle (Pictured), The Dubhlinn Gardens and Steven’s Green Park.
EAT: Surprisingly, the food in Dublin is pretty incredible! Head to Temple Bar (pictured) to get your tourist photos but try some of these delicious places (recommended by my local friend!) if you’re after a great meal and ambiance- Drury Buildings (and basically any restaurant in this area!), Fade at St.Social, Sophie’s at the Dean, Charlotte Quay, Goose on the Loose, Blind Pig (Speakeasy cocktail bar) and Honey Truffle.
STAY: I stayed at my friend’s apartment who lives in Dublin, but if you find yourself in the city needing a place to stay check out The Westbury (where I personally would have stayed) or the Shelbourne (for an authentic luxury experience). If you’re studying abroad or trying to cut costs, there’s no need to splurge on an uber luxurious room. Because there’s SO much to do and see in Ireland, you really only need a clean, central place to sleep and somewhere to store your luggage.
*** TRAVEL TIP: Dublin does have uber, but I found it quite unreliable, with uber drivers often canceling and not calling you when they are close or out front. For the most part, Taxi drivers are just about everywhere, with the occasional 5-10 minute wait, but be sure to have some euros on hand as the majority of them do not take Credit Cards.
MALAHIDE CASTLE & GARDENS
As cliche as it sounds, as soon as I got to Ireland I really wanted to see medieval architecture and castles. After learning Ashford Castle was unfortunately too far out of range for this trip, I did some digging and discovered Malahide Castle was only a 25-minute drive from Dublin! Truly one of my favorite parts of the trip, I fell immediately for the serenity and history of this beautiful property. If you’re staying in Dublin, I 100% recommend blocking out a few hours to take a Malahide trip, touring the castle, walking around the gardens, eating breakfast or lunch at AVOCA, and taking a peek in the beautiful butterfly house.
AFTERNOON TEA @ THE WESTBURY
After our morning in Malahide, we made a reservation for Afternoon High Tea. The perfect afternoon pick-me-up and break from traditional tourist activities. I’m sure there are serval hotels in Dublin that offer afternoon tea, but our experience at the Westbury was beyond incredible! I LOVED the decor and light blue table wear and the tea, champagne, scones, sandwiches, and pastries were absolutely delicious. Even if you aren’t staying here, it’s a great way to get a taste of the hotel and enjoy beautiful views of the city!
SHOPPING ALONG GRAFTON STREET
Last time I visited Dublin, I was on such a mission to see all the “tourist stops” that I missed a lot of the everyday charm of the city. This time I took less of a “trip advisor” approach and more of a leisurely pace to truly admire the character of Dublin. While many of the major sites are definitely worth visiting, I recommend giving yourself some leisure time to stroll down Grafton Street and check out a few stops. Some of my favorites shops include Brown Thomas, and Other Stories, and Jack Wills, just off Harry Street. And if you keep following this road around, you’ll actually find yourself stumbling across a few Dublin destinations including The Molly Malone Statue, my favorite flower filled pub, O’ Neills, St. Andrews Church, and Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, and St. Patricks Cathedral a bit further around the corner.
CLIFFS OF MOHER
If there’s one thing you do when you come to Ireland, make sure it’s the Cliffs of Moher. This was actually my #1 reason (besides seeing my friend of course!) for returning to Ireland, and the vast views did not disappoint. If I have any advice, it would be to come with weather appropriate clothing and weather proof boots. The weather can be quite hit or miss with rain and fog often in the forecast, but even the slightest view of the cliffs makes everything worth it!
Upon arrival, I’m sure you’ll see lots of tourists and a trail that spans to the left and right. Warned about the wind, I veered right and was completely awe struck by the stunning views. You’ll pass O’Brien’s Tower which you can enter for 2 euro, and continue down an extremely narrow, steep path with cows on your left and the Atlantic to your right. Each vantage point is even more picturesque than the last, making it truly one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve visited.
There is a cafe in the visitors center once you arrive, but I recommend forgoing the touristy route and packing a sandwich or picnic to enjoy(weather permitting!) once you discover your favorite view! Time permitting I also recommend venturing left. Here you will find more of your traditional Cliffs of Moher Views and quite the steep vantage point overlooking the cliffs.
***TRAVEL TIP: The Cliffs of Moher are over 3 hours from Dublin, so if you’re not renting a car or traveling on a pre-arranged trip and are based out of Dublin, I recommend taking Wild Rover Tour’s Cliffs Of Moher, Atlantic Edge Ocean Walk & Galway City Day Tour from Dublin. It’s only 50 euro per person (45 for students | 30 for kids) and they really do a great job allowing guests to see as many sights as possible and maximize their Ireland experience. It does begin at 7 am and ends close to 8:30 back in Dublin, but I found the country drive quite relaxing and enjoyable and if all else fails you can pass out on the bus!
In addition to the Cliffs, this tour also includes a stop in Burren (pictured below), one of Ireland’s lunar landscaped national parks, views of Blackhead Lighthouse and Dunguire Castle, and a stop in Galway (pictured below) where you can enjoy the coastal town, restaurants, and shops.
While I wouldn’t characterize Belfast as the most picturesque city, it is certainly home to some of Ireland’s deeply rooted political history. If you find yourself venturing north, I definitely recommend at least a few hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s Capital. While Im sure we’ve all heard something about Irelands troubles, witnessing the major conflict sights and peace wall first hand made this recent history unfathomably real, almost like stepping back in time.
BLACK CAB TOUR: If Ireland’s History and political unrest interest you, I definitely suggest taking a Black Cab Tour. In an intimate group up to 6, a local will bring you all throughout town explaining the raw detail’s of Ireland’s past, and first hand account of the “nationalist” and “unionist” conflict.
The Titanic Museum: For those of you fascinated with the history and tragedy of the Titanic, you can experience a taste of this historical ship at it’s building site in Belfast. Filled with interactive galleries, the actual site of consturction, and even a ride, this museum is worth a visit for those wanting to learn more about the history, launch, and ultimate fate of the RMS Titanic.
Titanic Studios: For all of you GOT fans, just next door to the Titanic Museum is the studio where Game of Thrones is filmed. For those of you that are insanely invested, you can check HERE for Belfast/ Northern Ireland filming location tours.
In addition to seeing the Cliffs of Moher, I was advised to not miss Giant’s Causeway (pictured above). Completely on the other side of Ireland, 2.5 hours North of Dublin, this 60 million-year-old, volcanic eruption site is not to be missed. Known for its distinctive rock formations that span over 18 miles down the coastline, I recommend starting your journey along the top of the cliffs on Red Trail and working your way down the coast. Because it’s such a beautiful sight there are quite a few tourists and coach buses, but staying along the steeper footpath eliminates a lot of travelers. Be sure you walk ALL the way to the end of the trail, it was here that I discovered my absolute favorite views, then work your way down the set of steep stairs, into the valley of the cliffs and down to the rock formations in the coast of the causeway.
Travel Tip: While Significantly less muddy and steep than the Cliffs of Moher trails, I also recommend a pair of weather proof boots and bringing several layers. And if you’re based out of Dublin, you can also experience this incredible sight via Wild Rover Tours.
CARRICK A REDE ROPE BRIDGE
Just about 10 minutes from Giant’s Causeway is Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge (pictured above). This was personally my reason for wanting to do Wild Rover’s Northern Ireland Tour and the views did not disappoint. It’s a bit of a walk from the drop off location to the entrance to the bridge, but I quickly discovered all of the views of Ireland’s Atlantic Cliffs are absolutely stunning. If you’re traveling here with a tour group, the company provides tickets in the cost, otherwise book ahead online, as entry is permitted via time slot.
The bridge itself wasn’t as terrifying as it was advertised to be (probably because I visited on a sunny, clear day) and to set up some realistic expectations the walk across is quite short. But between the sweeping views of the oceanside cliffs and the green island across the rope bridge, this Northern Ireland destination is certainly worth a stop!
TRAVEL TIP: I lucked out and came here on a clear day, so if you happen to have great weather too, be sure to look down in the water before you cross the bridge. There are several otter that swim in the area.
ADDITIONAL OPTIONS IF TIME/ TRAVEL PERMITS
As full as my 4 days in Ireland were, this really only begins to scratch the surface. There’s SO much to see and experience, I definitely can’t wait to make another trip back! If you’re looking for more to do and have the time and resources, I also recommend looking into these destinations/stops. Also, if you’re staying in Dublin there’s also the Kilkenny, Wicklow Mountains, and Gledalough Day Tour too to see more of Ireland’s southern region and experience more Castles, countryside and even a working sheep farm.
Ashford Castle: Rated one of the nicest hotels in the world, this 13th century castle is a true Irish Dream. Two of my friends that had the luxury of staying here mentioned it was their absolute favorite part of Ireland because of the “one of a kind experience”, but even if you don’t front the 500+ euros to stay here, a quick way around the grounds or lunch on site is worth considering
* Located in West Ireland, about an hour drive from Galway
Ring of Kerry: Considered one of the most scenic drives in the South West Region of Irleland, the Ring of Kerry is a must of you have your own car. Over 100 miles long, in a circular formation (hints the “ring” part of the name) it’s filled with castles, coastlines, and your fair share of quintessional Ireland photo ops.
Dromoland Castle: If you haven’t already noticed, Ireland is not lacking in Castles. This 5 star, 5th century castle is another stunning lodging option in Ireland’s West Region. In reach of the Cliffs of Moher, Wild Atlantic Way, the Burren and Shannon International airport, this hotel and country estate is quite lavish and grand.
Killarney: Actually a stop on the ring of Kerry scenic drive, this quintessential Irish town is not to be missed when in Southwest Ireland. With walking trails, 19th century buildings, Ross Castle, Torc Waterfall, and Muckross House and Gardens, I’ve heard its a must visit spot in Ireland located about 4 hours from Dublin.
Blarney Stone: Even if you don;t know much about Ireland I’m sure you picture, vast green land, clovers, lephruchauns, and possibly the Blarney Stone. 100% a tourist attrcation, this famous stone at Blarney Castle is worth adding to your list when in the Southernmost region of Ireland.
That’s it for my Ireland Suggestions (for now!) I quickly fell in love with everything about this country and can’t wait to share more of my experiences and suggestions once I go back!