Don’t get me wrong, Dublin is a great city. If you’re on a city break and only have two days available, Dublin is a good choice. The food, the museums, the pubs, the live music, it’s all there.
But Ireland has so much more to offer beyond Dublin!
I first moved to Ireland back in 2005. At the time I was at a crossroad in my life. Long story short, I trained to be an opera singer since I was 9 years old, but when I was in my early 20’s I got sick and couldn’t continue. It had been my one driving goal for so long that I was lost. I tried a few other paths, studying archaeology cause I love history (turns out that the Indiana Jones-movies aren’t the documentaries I’d thought they were), then I tried studying tourism since I love to travel (preparing me for a career of watching OTHER people travel)…and I had just realized that it wasn’t for me when a German friend of mine (hi, you horrible hag!) announced that she was moving to Ireland.
We were chatting about it, and as a joke I asked if her new employer needed any Norwegian-speakers.
Well, she didn’t get the joke. Cause, German. (I’M KIDDING! Kinda.)
She found me a job ad, and I figured I had nothing to lose so I sent off an application.
Less than three weeks later I was on a flight to Cork, Ireland, wondering what on earth I was doing!
It was the best decision of my life. I’d originally planned to stay for 1-2 years, but ended up staying for 7 before the travel bug caught me. I did stop off at home (Norway, that is) for a little bit before I took off for parts unknown, but in the years to follow I kept coming back to Ireland.
So, let me show you some of my favorite sights in Ireland. This could take a while so I will have to spread it over a few post but it’s worth it!
Since I began this by talking about Dublin, let’s start there.
The public transport system in Dublin is very good (compared to the rest of the country, which is slightly behind the times. It’s all part of the charm!), with three main options (beyond inter-city trains):
Bus: In Dublin you need exact change if you’re paying in cash. If you don’t have the exact amount, then the driver will give you a receipt for the outstanding amount which you can cash in at the central bus station, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to do that unless you HAPPEN to be there for some other reason. A better, and cheaper, option is to buy a Leap Card. It’s a green card with a picture of a frog on it (I don’t know why, and I find it best not to ask). You pay €5 for the card in machines at the train or bus station, then you top it up with however much you think you’ll need. Present the card to the driver, and he will deduct the price of the ticket from the card. Easy.
Luas: This is a tram that takes you along two main lines through Dublin, red line from east to west, green line from north to south. You need to buy a ticket from a machine at the luas stop, you can pay by card, cash or leap card. If you’re using a leap card, remember to validate it before you go onboard. There’s a handy cap on the leap card that sets in automatically. In other words, if you are traveling so much that you’re paying more for tickets than the price of a day-ticket, you won’t be charged beyond that amount.
So far so good, we have covered the main transport options in the city center. But, there’s another option that’s not much used by tourists, and it’s called the Dart.
Dart stand for Dublin Area Rapid Transport and is a local electronic rail service that covers Dublin and the surrounding areas.
I won’t lie, the dart-trains are quite old and not very glamorous, but they run often and they are a cheap way to explore the areas surrounding Dublin. You can take the dart southwards, to Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Don Leary – gorgeous little town with a great harbour walk, and the Sunday market in the People’s Park is amazing!), or to Bray, where you can take the stunning cliff walk. It’s 7 km long, so save it for a sunny day.
North of Dublin you have Howth, an amazing little peninsula. There’s a lot to do here, but my favorite is the cliffwalk (the Irish do love their cliffwalks!), or visiting Howth Castle. It’s still a private home, so is only open to visitors on Sunday afternoons during the summer months, with limited tickets sold so this is a pretty exclusive experience.
A little further north, but still accessible by Dart, is the seaside village of Malahide, where you can find Malahide Castle. It’s Ireland, so there’s no shortage of castles, but Malahide is such a cute little village. When Irish people vacation in their own country, this is one of their top destinations.
Keep going north, and you’ll reach the pretty little town of Drogheda. It’s a great place to explore on it’s own, try the medieval town walk or use it as a starting point to explore the Boyne Valley! This is one of my favorite places in all of Ireland, it’s amazing!
I will list some of my favourite sites in this area, but I just want to mention that of course there are day-tours from Dublin that will let you visit most, if not all of these sites. If you have the money, and you enjoy group excursions, they are a good option. If you’re on a budget though, or you like to find your own way and want to see a bit more than just what’s laid out for you by a tour operator, that’s when this post will come in handy.
From Drogheda, take a bus to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor’s center at Newgrange (you can take a taxi too, it’s only about a ten minute drive while the bus takes 25 minutes, but bus is the cheapest option). The bus is run by BusEireann, here’s the timetable. Newgrange is the site of several passage tombs that are over 5000 years old. They are older than the pyramids! And you know the most impressive part of it? The roof of the main tomb has not let a SINGLE DROP OF WATER through, in all that time! In IRELAND, 5000 years ago, they made a RAINPROOF ceiling! Okay, there’s a lot of other things to be impressed with at Newgrange, but come on, that one fact alone deserves a round of applause.
This is a popular site, so make sure you get there early to avoid (most of) the crowds.
Another site in the Boyne Valley is the Louchcrew Cairns. It’s known as the Hill of the Witch, and is a lot less known than Newgrange (which means it’s also less accessible) No buses go out this way, you need a car, but if you have a chance you should definitely make the trip, it’s well worth it. There are passage tombs here that are even older than Newgrange!
Thanks to Gone With the Wind, we all know about the Hill of Tara. There are buses from both Dublin and Drogheda that will get you close-ish (25-30 minute walk from the actual site), but this is another one that’s best to visit if you have a car. And, fair warning, there’s not a whole lot to see here. It’s a site of INCREDIBLE historical significance, but to preserve it, most of the actual structures are left buried underground. So what you actually see is a large field with some mounds and the very phallic-looking Coronation Stone.
While I am talking about sites worth visiting around Dublin, I have to mention Glendalough! It’s south of Dublin, I didn’t mention it with Bray and Dun Laoghaire because it’s not accessible by Dart, BUT there is a bus service! A return ticket is €20 (or €15 from Bray), it’s 1,5 hours each way and it’s well worth it!
Glendalough is a place of incredible beauty, set in a valley with two loughs (lough is Irish for lake, pronounced lock). There are monastic ruins here from the 6th century, and a round tower, as well as an old cemetery filled with Celtic crosses. There are walking paths to the lake, suitable for any fitness level. Just make sure you calculate enough time to get back to the bus stop, it’s easy to lose track of time here and the last bus back to Dublin is 16:30 on weekdays, 17:40 on weekends and public holidays. You don’t want to be stranded here overnight, cause while it’s stunningly beautiful, I’m pretty sure it’s haunted.
I will list more of my favorite places in Ireland in another post, but I hope this has given you some inspiration! Leave your comments and questions below, and if you’ve visited any of these sites I would love to hear about it!