From Galway city there is a bus ride and then a ferry costing 32 euro in total, return. Once on the island you can hop on a driving tour, walk, or my favorite, hire a bike to explore the island. Follow any one of the numerous signs to the ancient fort and highlight of the island, Dun Aengus. Or take any of the side routes and discover collapsed ruins or dramatic beaches. Watch seals and gulls and marvel at an island that was originally all rock, and the locals had to cultivate and create dirt before they could even start growing crops. It was the only part of Ireland to escape the potato famine because of this ‘artificial’ soil. The Aran islands make you feel like you are on the very edge of the world, their barrenness is haunting and beautiful.
Dublin – Of course Ireland’s capital was already on your list of places to go, for a lot of people they never make it outside of this small city! It is vibrant and bustling, from O’connell street with the two main icons of the city, the millennium spire and the General Post Office, a central scene in the 1916 uprisings that led to Ireland’s independence.
Other big things to do in this city are the Guinness storehouse, which even if you don’t drink Guinness (like I don’t) is still a fascinating experience. Modern displays take you through the brewing process, what makes Guinness different to other stouts, their infamous advertising campaigns and then lets you pour and taste your own pint. It is all topped off with a stunning 360 degree viewing platform at the top of the giant pint glass. This year the storehouse won best attraction in Europe, which is not an award to be sneezed at.
The book of Kells inside Trinity College is also well worth a visit, included in the ticket is ‘the long room’ a beautiful big library belonging to the college since 1732.
A stroll up pedestrian Grafton St will take care of all your shopping wants and needs and at the end of it St Stephens green is just the place to relax and forget you are in a city at all.
For nightlife, Temple Bar is a must. This area is stuffed with Irish pubs with bustling atmosphere and live music. Easy to get around if you like to pub crawl or settle yourself into a corner to enjoy the sights for the night.
Walk a mountain – Ireland can look very tame as you drive through it. On either side of the road for the most part all you will see will be neatly laid out fields stuffed with sheep and cows. However there are hundreds upon thousands of walking tracks around the island that take you through woods, across streams and up mountains. Have a google or ask a local to point you in direction of a favourite walking track. Escaping to the quiet of a mountain lake is one of the best ways I can think of spending a day.
Find a holy spring – The Irish are a religious bunch and as in any heavily religious country you will see its mark dotted across the landscape. On any drive you will pass many churches, both in ruins and in service, shrines are also common. Holy springs are also common however they are not as obvious. Again a quick google or chat with a local should take you to one where you may be pleasantly surprised. Some are beautifully laid out and are still regularly visited and others are abandoned and have been reduced to their most basic form, that of water bubbling up from the ground. Every spring is connected to a particular type of healing such as hands or headaches.
Drive the coast – The Irish coast is stunning. From white beaches with wetsuit clad surfers to steeply plunging cliffs with wreaks at their base it changes every hour of driving. Towns are dotted fairly regularly along the coast so you are never far from a pub lunch or afternoon pint and often there are stops indicating cliff walks or similar. Have a look at the Wild Atlantic Way for a taster.
Visit Belfast- Northern Ireland’s capital might have a tarnished reputation from recent years of troubles but it really is a beautiful and interesting city to visit. I have heard great reviews of black cab tours which take you around the murals that cover the housing estates. They swap between a protestant and a catholic guide to give you a balanced view of what Belfast and Northern Ireland have been through. I have also walked Shankill Rd and some of the estates of murals myself and found that in itself an interesting experience. The city center is clean and modern and on a nice day the botanic gardens is well worth a visit. If it isn’t fine, the museum within the gardens will give you a sobering lesson on what it meant to live in Belfast during the troubles. More recently than I have visited they have opened a Titanic museum for the 100 years commemoration. A reason for me to go back?
Giants Causeway- Only about 100km north of Belfast is one of Irelands most iconic landscapes. The legend goes that the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (an Irish giant) was challenged by Scottish giant to a fight. Fionn built the causeway over to Scotland to meet with him. There are several versions of the story but I like the one where Fionn disguises himself as a baby and has his wife look over him in a cradle. When the Scottish giant sees how big ‘Fionn’s baby’ is, he is fearful for how big the father must be and runs back to Scotland, destroying the causeway behind him. For now it is worth the day trip to see this strange rock formations, see if you can get included in it a trip to nearby Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.
Find a festival- There is always a festival going on somewhere in Ireland, big or small. There is James Joyce day in Dublin, Cork Jazz Festival, Dingle food festival, the Galway races and the Irish redhead convention to name a few!
Newgrange – Older than the Pyramids, Stonehenge and the Mycenaean culture of Greece, it is strange to me that so few people have heard of Newgrange. It is a short trip north of Dublin in county Meath. It, like the pyramids is a feat of engineering excellence and was built in the years 3000 to 2500 BC. It is a passage tomb that you can walk all the way inside and is the most famous monument within the Bru na Boinne complex. It is a flat dome with one single entrance and passage leading to the small burial chamber in the middle. The passage is lined up so that the sun only reaches all the way inside the tomb at the winter solstice, an important day of the year for the stone aged people who built it, from this day on they could look forward to the coming of summer.