IRELAND - WHAT TO SEE & DO
REGIONS & ATTRACTIONS
EXPORING THE EAST - DUBLIN, WICKLOW & GLENDALOUGH
I know plenty of people who enjoyed up to a week in the capital and with so many interesting attractions, it’s easy to understand why. Aside from the touristy “Temple Bar” area, Dublin is a very authentic and original city with a down to earth locals and a colourful history.
In case you might be asking yourself, much of this history is colored with trouble and from the Vikings and Normans to the Potato Famine in 1945, it seems that the Irish have had a hard time. With this in mind, there are many remnants and relics that pay homage to the past such as Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin Castle and the old Medieval wall next to Christchurch.
On the other hand, the city is overflowing with café’s and restaurants where traditional food is surprisingly rare but the standard is as high as they come. After dark, the bars come alive and there’s absolute no doubt as to why Dublin is often considered the best night out in Europe.
Two days might not be enough to see as much as you might like in Dublin but having visited the Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar, Grafton Street and Christchurch Cathedral – it’s worth getting a move on elsewhere.
Hiking in Wicklow and Visiting Glendalough
For many locals, in spite of its popularity, Wicklow is still the most underrated part of Ireland. That is to say, most visitors arrive with hopes of visiting the Cliffs of Moher or the Ring of Kerry yet the Wicklow Mountains are just as special.
Located just 4o minutes drive from Dublin city centre, this beautiful outdoor haven is where many famous movies were also made such as Braveheart and PS I Love You. I’ve watched them both, they’re fantastic but nowhere near as green as the real thing. In fact, hiking in Wicklow is one of the highlights of a trip to Ireland and with endless hiking trails, it’s easy to get out there to explore.
What’s more, this is also where you can find the “Wicklow Way” which is a multi day hiking trail that runs right through the mountains.
Meanwhile, at the heart of these mountains you will find a 12th century monastery called Glendalough. It sits beautifully next to two stunning lakes which is arguably one of the most impressive sights on the entire island. At the same time, the rich history behind this monastery makes it an especially interesting place to visit and a great spot for lunch if you spend the day hiking.
INTO THE WEST - SKELLIG MICHAEL, THE ARAN ISLANDS & THE CLIFFS OF MOHER
Galway is a great stopover and a great place to spend time if you can afford some. Featuring a bohemian atmosphere and an art focused culture, this is much more town-like than the city of Dublin and far more laid back. That being said, the attractions elsewhere mean that overstaying in Galway can sometimes take away time from other places and so it’s best to move quickly or risk getting stuck in one of the many lively pubs!
Visiting Cliffs of Moher
At first, I thought that the Cliffs of Moher must have been the inspiration for the North Wall in Game of Thrones. At 700 meters tall, they are truly immense and an awesome sight as they stand proudly over the Atlantic. Located just one hour south of Galway in County Clare, these cliffs are the most visited attraction in Ireland and it’s easy to see why when you finally stand on them.
Another great highlight in the area is the town of Doolin where many tourists are unaware about the incredible hike nearby. In other words, you can hike the entire length of the Cliffs of Moher from Doolin and this cliff walk eventually passes the visitor centre where you can catch a ride back to town. Just so you know, the hike should take half a day but you could easily extend and keep on hiking.
Cycling on the Aran Islands
Many hundreds of years ago, the entire country spoke a language called Gaelic. Although this language was outlawed by the incoming Normans, Gaelic has actually survived on the Aran Islands.
Situated off the mainland in the west, these iconic islands can be reached by ferry and feature tiny communities and the most beautiful unspoiled landscapes. Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inisbeag are three of the smaller islands but Inishmore has a little more to offer in terms of attractions.
It’s just wonderful to visit somewhere so remote and dare I say backward, for the islands can feel like stepping back to a time when there was no such thing as cars. Also, the fact that you can rent bicycles and cycle around this island make this even more appealing.
Of course, you can stay overnight to enjoy live music in the pubs and hospitality in the guest houses but the ancient Fort Aoenghus is definitely the highlight for any stay. Needless to say, I recommend that you rent a bike and cycle to this fort in order to spend a bit more time outdoors.
Skellig Michael features in the new Star Wars movie and left fans scrambling for Google to find out more about the locations in which they saw Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi. It looks spectacular and other worldly but Skellig Michael is far more interesting than the movie. You see, the most remarkable beehive huts sit on top of this jagged cone-shaped island and these were once the weather-beaten home of monks in ancient times.
Further, this is also home to a great number of bird-colonies which include the puffin bird which is certainly the cutest species I have ever witnessed. It takes a ferry ride to reach this island but once there, you climb a treacherous staircase to learn more about the history on the island.
Either way, photographers, history buffs and outdoor lovers are sure to be blown away on Skellig Michael – literally, it gets super windy out there!
WAY DOWN SOUTH - THE RING OF KERRY & THE DINGLE PENINSULA
The Dingle Peninsula
When the Irish tourism board used to talk about Dingle, “Fungy the dolphin” was often the first means of promoting the area. It seems rather silly to rely on a resident dolphin in the bay because the peninsula is spectacular in its own right. Besides, I believe that Fungy passed away many years ago but the locals decided to name the new resident dolphin by the same name!
Anyway, this is the quintessential place in Ireland the old stone walls, remote cottages and barren landscapes. It’s also dramatic scenery with steep cliffs next to towering peaks, big ocean vistas and incredibly green fields.
With this in mind, the town itself is enjoyable and the dolphin is pretty neat but taking a road trip around the Dingle peninsula will provide some of the most impressive photography opportunities you are likely to find anywhere in Ireland.
The Ring of Kerry
Another of the most famous places to visit in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is a stunning National Park where historic sites and ancient remnants blend seamlessly with nature. There are endless panoramic view points around this region which is best travelled in a car.
That being said, there are more hiking trails and bike trails in this areas than almost anywhere else in Ireland so getting outdoors is never about “how” but rather about ”when”. Stretching for 111 miles, the roads snake in and out of old stone churches, houses and even megalithic tombs.
Killarney is a fantastic nearby town which loves nothing more than catering for visitors. However, I will warn you that July and August are overcrowded and often overbooked.
Travelling North – Belfast, Rathlin Island and the Giants Causeway
Although somewhat grey compared to other cities in Ireland, Belfast has a unique character and several things to do that make it worth the visit. For example, you can take a “Black Taxi Tour” around West Belfast which uncovers the shocking yet thoroughly absorbing troubles that have plagued the city for decades. Now, it’s not all “doom and gloom” or dangerous in any way. In fact, the drivers and locals are some of the funniest and friendliest people you will meet on the island.
On the other hand, for something different, the Titanic Experience is one of the largest Titanic museums in the world and has many interesting artifacts that went down on the ship. In case you did not know, the Titanic was built in Belfast before it undertook that fatal journey.
When you have a community as small as Rathlin Island, locals refer to this gathering as a parish. Rathlin Island is indeed much different to the mainland and as with the Aran Islands, it feels like stepping back in time. Whether you sit by the harbor or walk six miles from one end of the island to the other, the sense of relaxation and tranquility is always noticeable.
If you want an authentic escape or a night in an old stone cottage in Ireland, this is the place to do so and trust me, you will be thankful that you made the trip.
The Giants Causeway
In spite of myth and legend, volcanic eruptions over millions and millions of years are responsible for the creation of what is now the Giants Causeway. You see, Irish myth tells the story of a giant by the name of Finn MacCool who built a giant bridge from Ireland across the channel so that he could fight the residing giant called Benandonner in Scotland. However, Benandonner eventually destroyed this bridge out of fear and so that he would not need to fight the Irish giant after all.
It might be true but the alternate story is that the Giants Causeway consists of 40,000 interlocking spurs with varied sized columns in the shape of hexagons. If you look at the photographs, you will see what I mean but especially, this is one of the most majestic sight you will ever see in this lifetime.
Okay, you will definitely see lots of sheep in Ireland and depending on your preference, possibly just as much Guinness. However, time is of the essence and the above places are definitely the highlights that should appease any nature, wildlife, photography or history enthusiast.
Anyway, enjoy your trip and keep an eye out for Braveheart, Finn MacCool and Obi Wan Kenobi!