My first trip without friends and family was with an organized group called Contiki, to the enchanted island of Ireland. This couldn’t have been a better first trip to do on my own. I loved it so much that I want to go back and explore more of the western side of the island. Besides the beauty of the green countryside and the jagged shorelines, the Irish people are what makes the adventure to this little island in the northern Atlantic so memorable. The Irish are the wittiest, funniest, and most genuine people I’ve ever met. If you end up sitting next to someone at a pub, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them. Even better yet, if you find a pub that has live music, don’t be afraid to get up and dance the night away!
Contiki is a great organization for travelers, ages 18-35. Their trips incorporate culture, adventure, downtime, and plenty of wiggle room for those who want to venture out on their own. The best part of using an organization such as Contiki is that the planning of the trip is entirely done for you, so no need to think of where to go, how to get there, what type of activities to do, etc. Just buy your plane ticket and show up! Their trips show you the best of what the country has to offer, at a relatively decent price for young travelers. Along the way you meet like minded people from all over the world, with whom you form a bond with over the span of your trip and sometimes even beyond. So if you are nervous about traveling overseas either by yourself or with friends, then check out what Contiki has to offer because once you do it once, you’ll want to go back for seconds!
Arriving in Dublin was definitely a whirlwind. Going from the United States to Europe, you always end up losing a day of sleep since you get to your destination so early, but don’t let this stop you from exploring. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t contain my excitement about finally being there; so I pushed through as long as I could without any rest…which was probably way too long, but…YOLO right?!
Dublin is vibrant with a mix of old and new architecture and so much history. My first stop was Temple Bar. It is actually more amazing than pictures can show. The bright red paint makes it stand out from the rest of the store fronts, but it’s the flower plants and vegetation that gives it its true charm. I knew this would be a spot I’d be coming back to, particularly to try my first real Irish Guinness. While walking along the cobblestone streets, I stumbled upon Temple Bar Food Market that sold artisan breads, cheeses, olives, and so much more local and seasonal food items. It was adorable and had so much for the senses to take in. The presentation of the cheeses and olives, and the pastries were out of this world. I could have gone home with so much charcuterie and cheese, but chose some finger foods instead, as I continued to wander the brick-layed buildings and streets.
After restoring yourself with some local food, I recommend taking a stroll across Dublin’s first pedestrian bridge, Ha’penny Bridge; people watching in St. Stephen’s Green and searching for four-leaf clovers; walking the grounds of Trinity College and, if you’re lucky enough, visiting The Book of Kells Exhibition; and, finally, just taking in the entertainment and window shopping throughout Grafton Street.
In the evening, Dublin is a completely different city. It comes alive with its music streaming out of every pub and jolly people enjoying pints (or half pints) of Guinness everywhere. Stroll down Dame Street to check out the local pubs before returning to Temple bar. The spirit of the Irish people fills the air and is so contagious that you will feel the energy on every street and in every person you pass. The best advice I can give for Dublin’s nightlife is to become a part of it; dance all night long, sing at the top of your lungs, and let loose like you’ve never let go before.
Must See Cities and Activities
Kilkenny was one of my favorite little spots on the trip. It is not a large town, but has a massive castle in the middle of town which now belongs to the people of Kilkenny. They are able to use the grounds as if it is their own, so you will see soccer games, birthday parties, and picnics all over the green lush rolling grounds. To see this small medieval town in its entirety, take a bike tour to learn about its history, ride along the river, and throughout the castle grounds.
Pucker up and head to Blarney! Blarney is known for a chunk of limestone rock that was embedded into the castle walls. Legend has it that whomever kisses the stone will acquire the gift of gab. Whether the gift of gab is bestowed upon you or not, walking the lush green grounds of the castle and seeing the vivid purples and reds of the flower blossoms makes the small trek up the castle well worth it.
No trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. To really capture the magic of the cliffs, spend a few hours hiking the trails following the edge of the cliffs. If you’re lucky enough, the cliffs will be in clear view, but if they are hidden behind the thickness of fog, don’t fret. Patience is a virtue and it will reward you as eventually the thick white fog lifts and the cliffs will appear in front of you in all of their majestic beauty.
Just call me Galway girl. To me, Galway is by far the prettiest area and most authentic part of Ireland. Spend multiple days here if you choose to plan your own trip. You won’t regret it. Galway is a great homebase allowing you to explore the western side of Ireland. Do not forget to explore the adorable streets of Galway filled with cobblestones and multi-colored building facades. This is where you will hear the most “trad” Irish music no matter which street you are on….and if you request a street musician to play “Galway Girl”, don’t be surprised if they give you a confused look…yes I was that person!
A great day trip from Galway is to take a ferry over to Aran Islands to experience how life on these tiny islands is. Visit the largest of the islands called Inis Mór (Inishmore). The ferry ride isn’t always for the faint of heart as the waves over to the islands can make the ride quite choppy. So if you need your dramamine make sure to take it prior to boarding. The best way to see what the island has to offer, along with its rich archaeological history, is by bike. Close to the ferry drop off, one can rent a bike and grab some groceries to have a picnic at some point along the journey through and around the island. At the opposite end of Inishmore is the historic site of Dun Aonghasa. It is a three terraced walled fort that sits upon the 300 ft high cliffs. Archaeologists have done multiple excavations and discovered items from 1500 BC. The vistas from the top of the cliffs, as well as looking down the cliffs to the clear blue-green waters, are breathtakingly spectacular, albeit slightly unnerving. Along the path to these ancient ruins you will find smaller stone structures, horses and sheep, and fields upon fields neatly divided by hand-built stone walls that distinguish property lines.
Time to cross the border into Northern Ireland to visit the UNESCO site of Giant’s Causeway. The red hexagonal rock columns jutting out from the ground is one that can’t be missed. As you walk along the marked path you will see all forms of rock structures that you can climb. At times these formations act as a staircase to the next rock. I highly recommend obtaining an audio device before starting your journey through this remarkable place. The audio will give you a glimpse into key rock formations that tell the tale of a giant. Fionn the giant is said to have built the causeway as a way to reach and challenge a giant in Scotland. So while you’re taking in the majesty of the causeway, pay close attention to the fable and keep an eye out for one of Fionn’s shoes.
The last stop on this whirlwind tour is Belfast and Londonderry. Besides being the home of “Game of Thrones”, Belfast has some rich history to include political and religious turmoil. Let us not forget that it is also the birthplace of the Titanic. The story of the Troubles can be experienced via a walking tour through the city to see murals and various architecture that represent people’s emotions and their stories. The walking tour will not only provide a visual of the stories of people affected between 1971-1998, but the story of the awful attack of Bloody Friday and how far the city has come since the Peace Process agreed by the two parties in 1998. The detailed stories will bring you back in time and allow you to experience the somber history.
But the value of the experience is recognizing that despite our differences, we as a human race are capable of overcoming such turmoil and unrest.
This tiny island made up of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has so much to offer and is rich in history. The Irish people are some of the best storytellers and have some of the best fun using all their musical talents. A trip to Ireland will provide a wide range of activities for all types of people. You will fall in love with this little piece of land and it will leave you a lasting memory. And if you are like me, you will leave wanting you to see more of what this green luscious land has to offer.