Colin and I just got back from our first trip to Ireland. We did a 10 day quick loop around the Emerald Isle visiting Dublin, Belfast, Galway and Cork following this itinerary more or less. We had an amazing time and would definitely go back (in better weather).
If you’re heading out on your first trip to Ireland, here’s what you need to know.
Tip 1: Dress for the weather
It’s going to be cold. Apparently it warms up slightly in July and August, but the rest of the year is just plain cold. We went to Ireland in April and were chilled wearing pants, sweaters and rain jackets. Now listen, we’re used to a lot of cold rainy days coming from Vancouver. But this was different. By comparison, I’m now wearing a tank top and shorts back home. I always assume I’m going on vacation to better weather so this was an odd change to go on vacation to worse weather.
Tip 2: Learn the difference between rain and rainy
In Vancouver, it rains. In Ireland, it’s rainy. Throughout our 10 days in Ireland, we got lots of little bursts of rain with just a few drops. There was only one day where it actually rained hard. The rest of the time, there was just a light mist with some grey clouds in the sky. Before we left, I was convinced I should pack rainboots since I’ve heard that it rains all the time. But I’m very glad I didn’t. My feet would have been so uncomfortable wearing hot and heavy rainboots all day long.
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Tip 3: Get ready for all of the pub food
Seriously, SO MUCH PUB FOOD! I know that’s Ireland’s thing, but it gets a little repetitive. Every single block will have at least one pub on it. And every pub will serve Steak and Guinness Pie, Irish Stew, all the Guinness you can drink, a burger and almost nothing resembling a vegetable. I seriously thought I might get scurvy from lack of fruits and vegetables (if only I had known about all of the vegetarian food in Ireland!). Of course, as it was our first trip to Ireland, we embraced the pub food culure. Until about halfway through our trip when I really needed a change. Cut to us wandering the streets of Galway until we found a half-decent Chinese take-away restaurant.
Tip 4: Get out of the city
While we based ourselves in cities, our best experiences were outside of the city. You can rent a car or jump on a tour and quickly get out of the city and into the countryside. From Belfast, we saw Giants Causeway, the Dark Hedges and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. From Galway, we drove around the Burren and saw the Cliffs of Moher (can’t miss!). And from Cork, we drove the Ring of Kerry and visited Blarney Castle. We just scratched the surface of awesome places to see in Ireland, and would recommend all of these for a first trip to Ireland. But there’s so much more to see!
Tip 5: Don’t want to drive? Try the trains!
Before we left for Ireland, I did a bit of research and learned that many people struggled with driving in Ireland. Not only do they drive on the other side of the road, but many of the country roads are single lane and up against a rock wall. There are countless stories of people ruining cars when they took a lane too wide or exited the wrong way out of a roundabout. I don’t drive and after hearing these stories, Colin didn’t want to. So, we took the train.
And it worked out so well! Trains, when booked ahead of time, are super affordable. They’re also fast and drop you right in the city center. Most have free wifi and comfortable seats. There are great views out the windows. And you can book flexible tickets so you can leave anytime. Of course, trains don’t go everywhere and you don’t have the luxury of getting off wherever you want. But they are a good option if you don’t want to drive.
Tip 6: Live music is the best and should accompany all of your meals
If you’re eating at a pub, odds are you’ll be eating next to some live music. And it really doesn’t get better than that. On our first night in Dublin, we stumbled into a pub and just happened to be there in time for their live show. The band was so good and we were smiling our faces off. We also caught a great acoustic guitar player in Belfast and a soulful trio in Cork. Live music is everywhere in Ireland and it is so good!
Tip 7: The Irish people really are as nice as they say
What do we know about the Irish? They like to drink and they’re the nicest people in the world. I would concur on both accounts. There’s just something so charming about coming in from the cold, grabbing a pint of Guinness, and chatting with your fellow Irishmen. We didn’t exactly chat up a bunch of locals, but everyone we did interact with was so friendly and always went out of their way to make a joke, offer us advice, or ask about our trip. We never felt unsafe at any point during our trip. And the accents aren’t that hard to understand either!
Those are my seven tips for a first trip to Ireland. I’ll save my specific itinerary recommendations for future posts about each location.
Do you have any tips for a first trip to Ireland? Let me know!
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