I’m one of those North Americans who takes serious pride in my 1/4 Irish heritage … like a 1/4 is enough to say Kiss Me I’m Irish on St. Patrick’s day. I was initially planning to visit Ireland with my family but when the trip got postponed I decided I couldn’t wait any longer, this girl’s got to get to Ireland already! Let me tell you, this country did not disappoint!
I stayed at Isaacs Hostel, which was convenient, but probably not a place I’d recommend. There are no lockers, which is quite rare when it comes to hostels, so keep your valuables with the front desk if you have any. Also, the WiFi is only in the common area. On the bright side, this means the common area is always full of people … who are catching up on their phones and computers (aka not so approachable). I got to visit some new friends at the Barnacles Hostel in Temple Bar, and I would probably recommend that hostel instead! It’s a great location, seems more social, and appeared to have better amenities.
One of the nice benefits of Isaacs, is that it’s part of a slew of hostels that participate in The Original Backpacker’s Pub Crawl. I had yet to meet people so I bought a ticket and walked into the city towards the pub crawl’s meeting point. The pub crawl was great. You pay 12€ once and then you can go as many nights as you please (with the wristband they give you). You also get a free Guinness at the meeting bar and some free shots at each bar you go to.
The highlight of the pub crawl is going to the P.S. I Love You bar called Whelan’s. I went on this pub crawl two nights in a row; the first was chill, everyone drinking around the bar chatting, and the second night Whelan’s hosted a silent disco! I’d never been to one before and I have to say it was absolutely hilarious walking into a room of people dancing to silence. Once you put on your headphones you couldn’t care less about how silly you look; everyone’s dancing! There are two channels of music, so you can dance to what your friends are dancing to or change it to something you like better. And if you need a breather, just take the headphones off! I wish silent discos were more popular.
For my next full day in Dublin I participated in two free walking tours. The first was a general Free Walking Tour of Dublin. Just as I always say, it’s a great way to get acquainted with a city and to meet new people. A group of us from the tour ended up chatting quite a bit and agreed to go to the Free Brew Legacy Tour that was starting an hour after the first ended. This one was quite similar in terms of locations: starting at the Dubhlinn Gardens, then past some churches, including St. Patrick’s, and through Temple Bar (which is an area, not just that one red bar that you see pictures of).
That being said, what we learned was much different. We thought it’d be a beer tasting tour but it ended up being a tour about the history of beer and pub culture in Ireland. There were so many great stories, including origins of folklore. This one is only an hour and it ends at a pub where you can sample three beers for free! Again, the tour is free so if you have the time, might as well do it!
You will probably find yourself wandering O’Connell Street at some point, and if you are like me, always craving a good bowl of Pho, you need to stop by Pho Viet. It was delicious and, more importantly, affordable.
Another restaurant that I loved was Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar. I went here with my friend for a final meal in Dublin. Warning: you need reservations. I was only able to get a table for an hour after I walked in, but since the restaurant is in Temple Bar, you can wander into any nearby bar for a pint or two while you wait. When you finally sit down, order whatever you like but make sure to try their chicken wings. I was told this before going but what’s so special about chicken wings? Then as we waited for our meals, we saw every single table getting these special chicken wings. So my friend and I asked the server to bring us some to split. Oh my God … who knew chicken wings could be so tasty!
And finally, how could you visit Dublin without checking out Grafton Street. It’s the famous shopping street of the city and is always bustling with talented buskers (anyone seen Once?) At the end of the Grafton Street is a lovely park called St. Stephen’s Green that is worth wandering through as well.
Giants Causeway Day Tour
I’ve heard quite a few recommendations in the blogging community to take a Paddywagon Tour in Ireland. It’s a tour company where the bus driver provides great humour and entertainment during the drive to inform you about the sites and then drops you off and each stop. The office is right next to Isaacs Hostel so I walked in and decided to book the Giants Causeway day tour of Northern Ireland for 60€.
First stop was the Dark Hedges or King’s Road for all you fellow Game of Thrones fans. Unfortunately due to weather, the road doesn’t look as eerie or dark as Game of Thrones leads you to believe (a lot of the trees have fallen).
Carrick A Rede was surprisingly my favourite part of the tour. The main attraction is crossing a rope bridge to reach a beautiful island. As someone who is afraid of heights, I was initially thinking I wouldn’t pay the extra 7€ to cross (it’s an extra fee since it’s part of the National Trust), but I suckered up the courage and thank God I did. I still can’t get over how stunning the views were from across the bridge. For those of you who are also afraid of heights, it’s actually not scary if you look forward as you walk.
The Giants Causeway is the main highlight of the tour. Whether you believe this odd hexagonal rock formation was made by a giant or volcanic activity, it’s still equally bizarre to see in person.
We passed by a few nice stops on the way back before making a final hour-long stop in Belfast. I just ended up sitting in the grass outside of the City Hall and people-watched. I’ll get back to Belfast with my family; it’s where my last name comes from.
Next Up: Galway
As soon as I walked into the Galway City Hostel, I knew I made a great choice. It’s in a great location, it’s clean and modern, offers social outings, and has a free breakfast. I couldn’t have been luckier with my room either; as soon as I walked into my room I was greeted by two other solo travellers, Hilary and Jessica, and the three of us instantly became great friends.
In the city, the best area to visit is Quay Street/High Street. It’s colourful, loud, and perfect for people watching. It’s where the city comes to life. There are a lot of great restaurants and bars along the street, so you’ll probably spend most of your time here!
We participated in the hostel’s pub crawl. The first few stops were classic pubs, some even had live music (you can bet we requested Galway Girl). It was a fun night out, but the highlight was definitely The Skeff Bar. This is where all the crazy dancing began. I even challenged a drunk Irish boy to a dance off when Total Eclipse of the Heart came on … all was going well until a dance circle had formed around us and he expected me to do the Dirty Dancing Lift … hell no.
If you are not into dancing and more into witnessing great live music, make sure to check out the Quays Bar.
The Cliffs of Moher was clearly a highlight for visiting Galway. We decided to join the organized trip by Galway Tour Company, which visits a few extra stops on the way. For a whole day of touring, it only cost 20€! It was really enjoyable, but I strongly recommend not being hungover … it’s a long day on a bus.
The cliffs are even more magical in person. When you arrive on site you have to walk up a hill, anxiously awaiting to see the view. Then it hits you and HOLY SHIT will fly right out of your mouth, even though there are kids around (I apologized shortly after and then swore again). My camera was terrible at capturing how tall these cliffs are, but I tried okay? I could have stayed there all day, so I intend on going back again.
Once we found a cool spot to chill, it was photo-op time. The night before we couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of being hungover on the Cliffs of Moher, so we made sure to get the perfect picture to represent the reality of it all (seen below).
The next day we had a choice between another bus tour to Connemara or to tour Aran Islands on our own. Both are huge tourist attractions around Galway, but with only one full day left, we decided to choose the freestyle option, Aran Islands.
Unfortunately, we slept in and couldn’t catch the ferry until the afternoon so we only had a couple hours to explore. Do not make this same mistake – wake up early and catch that 10am ferry! As soon as we arrived at Inis Mor, the larger island, we rented some bikes and went towards the coastal route to see some sites. First stop? A restaurant for some fresh seafood. In hindsight, we wasted the majority of our time sitting outside eating food, but we were hungry! After lunch it was back on the trail. The scenery on the road was stunning and I’m always happy cycling around, so it was the perfect way to spend the day. We didn’t end up reaching any of the main sites but we got enough of a sneak peak to know the island is worth coming back to!
Ireland marked the end of my month long trip traveling solo, and all I can say is, I can’t wait to do it again! I hope all these trip recaps proved that it’s not scary to travel on your own, and that sometimes, it’s so much better!