I didn't take this picture in Ireland, but that's beside the point!

Apologies for the lateness of this article! I just got back from a fabulous week of hosteling, hiking, and culture-seeking in Ireland with my sister. This isn’t my first trip to Ireland, nor will it be my last- but it was the first one we’d done without our parents, and the start of a tradition that we hope to make annual. As part of the Irish diaspora, the country has a very special place in my heart and you can rest assured that there will be many articles about the country forthcoming. Of course, this means that I also want to encourage as many people as possible to experience the beauty of Ireland! To beginI’ve got a list of dos (no don’ts- otherwise I feel like I’m scolding you) to get you on your way to your own spectacular adventure!

When heading to Ireland, especially for the first time:

  • Do be sure to give yourself time to explore the full Republic, not just Dublin. Going to Dublin and saying you’ve been to Ireland is a lot like going to NYC and saying you’ve been to the USA- it’s just one of many unique microcultures to experience!
  • Along the same lines, do remember that Ireland and Northern Ireland are different countries- and for reasons that are still very sensitive to a lot of people.
  • Do give yourself a larger budget than you would for other trips. Even in the grips of this economic recession, the cost of living in Ireland is significantly higher than that of many other parts of Western Europe- including Paris.
  • Do look into staying in some of the hostels in Ireland’s hostel network. Kinlay House– my hostel of choice- operates hostels in several major cities, and tends to have great facilities at a low price. Of course, this comes with the caveat that not all hostels are created equally- especially in Dublin. Be sure that the hostels you’re considering are part of national and international hostel networks!
  • Do remember that, even though it’s a largely rural country, Ireland has an extensive bus network that operates inter-city AND intra-city, and for a relatively low cost. My sister and I “flew by the seat of our pants,” as it were, and never had to pay more than €18 for a given trip- and our stretches included a jaunt from Dublin to Cork. The line we rode with was Bus Éireann, and it goes everywhere. Think Greyhound on miracle crack.
  • If you’re part of the diaspora, do check out some of the heritage centers in and around the country’s major ports of call. The more you know about your Irish ancestors, the easier it is to find information about their lives in Ireland. I highly recommend these as ways to learn more about your roots!
  • Do remember that, while Ireland brews some phenomenal beer and distills spectacular whiskey, the country’s basic culture isn’t leprechauns, alcoholism, and shamrocks. There are great museums all over the country that detail Ireland’s rich history and cultural phenomena, but some that I recommend in particular are Dublinia, a museum on Dublin’s medieval history; the Galway City Museum, which explores some of the cultural history of Galway; and the Cork Public Museum. Also, do Google searches on some of the country’s old castles and exhibits, such as the Rock of Cashel. Remember that most of Ireland’s history is intertwined with Catholicism- and that St. Patrick is beloved to Ireland for religious reasons! Be prepared for the heavy infusion of religion with the sites you see.
  • Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore some of the drinks that have put Ireland on many peoples’ maps. Do take the time to do so! The Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Brewery are both open for tours, and both include samples at their conclusions. In the evenings, visit the pubs in the towns you’re staying in for some live ceol (music), damhsa (dance), and craic (fun- pronounced like “crack”). Traditional Irish music goes well with a pint and can last well into the evening. If you’re lucky, you might catch some seanos (traditional bare-voice singing) as well!
  • Finally, do make sure not to over-schedule yourself. While Dublin, like many major cities, seems to abide by a speedy city time, most of the country is still laid-back and comfortable. The more time you leave for yourself, the more opportunities you have to see the countryside between destinations or to engage in conversation with the people you’ll be meeting.

So there you have it- the basic tips you need to start planning your Irish vacation. I hope it’s every bit as wonderful as mine have been!