I’ve never been a fan of the, “What’s your favorite place in the world?” question, because frankly, it’s impossible to answer. Like, “Which kid do you love most?” Wait, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know, and I’d hate to be the reason you now have to put your secondary child(ren) in therapy. Let’s just say I appreciate and admire unique destinations for what they are. That said, there miiiight be a select few I hold dearest, Ireland being one of them. Once the haunt of my dreams, the Emerald Isle has secured a spot on my Go Back Someday list after our grand, three week visit. If an Irish vacation is on your travel list, you’d better learn how to say, “Cheers!” in Gaelic (it’s, “Sláinte,” by the way) and check out these 12 tips for traveling the clover country!
1. Visit the big stuff everyone talks about
The Blarney Castle, the Cliffs of Moher, Slieve League, the Giant’s Causeway, Ring of Kerry… They’re popular for a reason. Except drive the Ring of Beara instead of Kerry (less busy and more scenic). And whether you’re more city or country – forgive the cliché – there is something for everyone. Dublin and Belfast check the culture and entertainment boxes, while heart and charm fill picturesque towns from coast to coast.
2. Get a set of wheels
Dublin and Belfast are a cinch to explore on foot, but you’re going to want to ditch the city to explore the rolling hills and seaside cliffs on your own. “So I can just arrange to be part of a tour group!?” Wrong. Well, you could, but I highly suggest you put that idea in the can. Tour bus, schmoor bus. Rent a car! The roads are very easy to navigate and I can assure you, you’ll never wish you didn’t rent a vehicle, whether you’re off trailblazing or following suggested routes. Just make sure to pay attention when you cross from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland (right… no left!).
3. Don’t wear a skirt when you kiss the Blarney Stone
Or hey, maybe that’s your thing: making entirely inappropriate wardrobe choices and regretting them. Whatever you do, know that the smoochable rock is tucked in a precarious spot that requires some – ehm – tricky maneuvering and a bit of assistance to reach. On the note of clothes and packing, bring stretchy pants (and an umbrella, sweater, boots…). Your muffining belly, courtesy of Irish breakfasts and pints of Guinness, will thank you for the wiggle room. You can also count on the weather to be as fickle as a pickle. Rain, shine, wind, or calm; unpredictability comes with the territory, as you’ll find weather (arguably) the no. 1 topic of conversation among locals. Feel free to join in the banter!
4. Put yourself out there
Get your head out of your bum (or cell phone) and actually talk to people. Meet locals. Go to bars! Irish folk are warm, welcoming, and incredible storytellers. Masters of the tale, the list of notable Irish authors is hefty. Ever heard of James Joyce? Irish. Oscar Wilde? Irish. Bram Stoker? Irish. J.M. Barrie? Actually, he’s Scottish. But still! Writerly talents abound among infinite shades of green. A special sauce for good times, mix in a touch of liquid courage to instigate hours of yarn spinning with strangers.
5. Take a black cab tour in Belfast
Arranged just a day in advance, our personal guide took us to some of Belfast’s most infamous sites associated with The Troubles, a 30+ year period of civil unrest and violence. Take some time to do your research to best understand the content, but know that successful guides will present a fair and (as much as possible) unbiased account of the conflict. Do be a dear by keeping your opinions to yourself; the wound still feels very fresh in a recovering community. I found it one of the most enlightening and heart wrenching experiences we’ve had on our travels, not to be missed. And since we’re on the subject of tours, do the free walking one in Dublin, too!
6. Look out for fairies
Magic is real. Don’t believe? You will once your eyes feast on sights, or after you’ve sucked down eight, proper pints. Magic comes from within! Not really; that’s just you being drunk and thinking you’re awesome. As for the fairies, they are totally a THING here. Remember the bit about the Irish being stellar storytellers? Wisps, mythical creatures, figments; just more fodder for folklore. Keep your eyes peeled for the whimsy (like sweet, petite fairy doors) and maybe you’ll find a surprise. As for leprechauns, never mind those shifty buggars.
7. Watch your step, and try not to give your wife a heart attack…
…by doing crazy things like hanging over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, for an (admittedly) kickass photo. Be adventurous, but don’t be a dope, and certainly don’t take a selfie doing it. Have you read the stats about selfie-related mortality? Serious #facepalm action. If you want to eat blood sausage (Eww!), pet mountain goats, drink Guinness for breakfast… that’s your prerogative! Just try not to make the rest of your traveling party anxious every time you get the twinkle for thrills in your eye.
8. Come thirsty, and exercise your vocal cords
It’s not hard to find yourself a nice pub with musical entertainment. Songs and brew are as much a part of Irish culture as, well… they ARE Irish culture. You’ll never know true joy until you join a lively sing-a-long at a cliffside bar in Donegal. Well, you probably know all sorts of joy, but I assure you this kind of fun settles in your very being. Your mood will improve, you’ll search for excuses to turn life into a musical a-la-Once, and days will slowly shift to center around pub outings.
9. Stay in B&Bs
Say ta-ta to big name hotels in favor of the little guys. You don’t really want to stay in a Hilton again, do you? Regardless, you’d be hard pressed to find one of those outside a major city, and Ireland is where B&Bs were BORN! I think. Feels like it anyway, with uniquely Irish lodgings a cinch to find. Some are quaint and country, like grams & gramps’ doily-infested abode. Others artfully blend classic Irish touches with a modern aesthetic. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong so long as there’s afternoon tea and fluffy pillows.
10. Don’t close your eyes
Keep those peepers open, like, ALL the time, because you won’t want to miss a thing. One of the most strikingly beautiful destinations, the island is a two-for-one jackpot. Whether you’re sticking to Northern Ireland or venturing ‘round the Republic; eye candy is all around (see: every photo in this post). Soak up every ounce of beauty that pours from the landscapes of dreamers and lovers. Oh, and you may want to stock up on SD cards, because shutter-happy is a common affliction among first time visitors.
11. It’s not all corned beef & cabbage
It’s bacon & cabbage in Ireland, but there’s also savory pies, stews, sausages, and other stick-to-your ribs delights. I wouldn’t consider it a haven for vegetarians of the world, but there are always the rooty veggies to turn to! Like the always satisfying potato… These tubers live up to the stereotype as staple foods of Ireland; boiled, baked, or fried, they’re fair game any time of day. Along coastal areas, seafood takes the show, and a beer rounds out any meal, any time of day (obviously). And as luck would have it, we had some of the best damn ice cream from a food cart at the cliffs of Slieve League. Eat up!
12. Get moving!
For goodness sake, what are you waiting for? Go north! And south, east, and west. But whatever you do, go to Ireland. Get off the beaten path and really explore. What’s the worst that could happen? You get lost then find your way again. Just DON’T try to cram everything in unless you’ve got the time. You’ll find yourself rushed and disappointed. Ireland is a smart and sassy girl but doesn’t want to rush things. Take it slow, have a few drinks, and let the layers peel off one by one. Or if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, just Google filming locations and hit those up. You can’t lose. Let Ireland happen.
There you have it! Rent a car, get lost in the beauty, and drink some beer.
Adh mor ort!