Living in Dublin for a year back in 2003 is one of our favorite travel memories. Being able to spend so long in Dublin gave us a great chance to get to know it and learn about the things to do through the eyes of a local.
It’s no secret the Irish are known for their hospitality and the love of a pint of the black stuff, Guinness. Many nights we spent in a cozy traditional Irish pub built of character, and filled with live music whilst digging into a hearty meal.
Whilst Ireland is famous for having one of the best pub scenes in the world, that’s not all it’s got going for it.
It also has spectacular coastal and countryside scenery, charming towns, historic castles, friendly people, and lots of interesting history.
The best way to see Ireland, and the way we did it, is to self-drive. It’s not a big country, and navigating the roads and towns is relatively easy, although signage is not the best in the world by anyone’s standards.
1. Spend Time in Dublin
Most visitors arrive and exit out of Dublin, and we recommend you spend a few days walking around and getting to now this city. It’s not a big city by world standards, but it’s big on energy, history, and atmosphere.
Click here to see all our insider tips on things to do in Dublin. These were our favorite experiences had during our time living in Dublin.
Our Dublin Favorites include:
- The Guinness Storehouse
- St Stephens Green
- Trinity College
- Dublin Castle
- Phoenix Park
- Guinness Lake and Wicklow Mountains
- Endless great pubs!
- Temple Bar District
There are SO many pubs in Dublin, but our list showcasing 10 of the best Dublin pubs and bars is a good place to start. One pub we forgot to mention on that list which is a locals favorite is The Stag’s Head.
Dublin is also a very walkable city – another reason we loved it so much.
2. Visit the outer Suburbs of Dublin
Dublin has many great outer suburbs that are worth visiting for a taste of local living. Our favorite was of course our student village, Rathmines, that was full of great bars and Irish pubs.
Donnybrook and Ballbridge are two of the more affluent suburbs in the South of Dublin, and are worth a leisurely stroll to see some of Ireland’s finest Victorian architecture. Shrewsbury Road in Ballsbridge is the 6th most expensive road in the world.
Dalkey and Killiney is where you may run in to celebrities such as Bono and Enya, who have homes in these upmarket neighborhood’s by the sea. You can reach these towns by the DART, the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (train service).
And Howth is a small fishing village popular for the climbing of the 171m high hill on Howth head, is located an easy train ride to the south of Dublin.
3. Road Trip Northern Ireland
Belfast was a city we loved to return to. Click here for full in-depth tips on a Northern Ireland road trip
Head north and visit Belfast and do a black cab tour. It will give you an up close and very personal look at the history of Ireland’s struggles and the incredible painted murals. Belfast is much less touristy than Dublin and has a nice Botanical Garden.
And take a tour of the impressive City Hall.
Check out the Giants Causeway and the rugged Antrim Coast which has views all the way to Scotland on a clear day, before heading south-west to Donegal.
4. Places to visit on an Ireland Road Trip
One of our favorite towns on the west coast was Doolin, a small town with charm and a great live music scene in some of the coziest of Irish pubs. And close by are the famous Cliffs of Moher.
Galway and Connemara
Galway is a fun town with a great vibe and being a university town has a great student atmosphere. It’s a a slower pace than Dublin but big enough to keep you entertained for a day or two.
It’s also very walkable and has a nice central square and provides for easy access to the Connemara.
A highlight of our road trip was The Connemara Loop which had incredible rugged scenery and is not to be missed.
Other scenic highlights for a road trip is the Ring of Kerry and The Dingle Peninsula. We actually preferred the Dingle Peninsula over it’s more famous counterpart, but if you have the time drive both.
And the town of Dingle is wonderful set right by the ocean with cozy pubs and great food.
The West Cork region and Mizen Head also provided for more of Ireland’s spectacular famous scenery. And the city of Cork is also worth a day or two as an alternative experience to Dublin and Galway.
Kinsale and Kilkenny
Heading back up the east coast we found Kinsale a charming little fishing town by the sea with classic Irish pubs and eating options to die for.
Further up the town of Kilkenny is worth a visit. Go check out the well known Kilkenny Castle and enjoy a pint of Kilkenny, our favorite of all the Irish beers and one of our top three in the world.
NOTE: If you don’t want to self-drive in Ireland, check out this 8-day tour of Ireland Craig recently did with Globus, a leader in group travel.
5. Visit a Castle in Ireland
Ireland is almost as well known for it’s castles as it is for it’s pub culture.
Some of our favorite’s were Kylemore Abbey on the west coast, Dublin Castle, Malahide Castle, and of course the famous Blarney Castle.
6. Drink in a Pub and Enjoy Irish Music
No trip to Ireland is complete and you won’t get a better understanding of the Irish culture unless you spend some time in their pubs. Going to Ireland and not drinking a pint in a pub is like going to Sydney and not seeing the Opera House.
Ireland has a pub on almost every street corner and one in between.
Back in Dublin see our post on 10 of the best Dublin pubs and bars for some ideas, or just find a pub in whatever street or town you are in and enjoy the craic.
7. See a Hurling or Gaelic Football Match
One of the best live sporting matches I have ever seen was the semi-final of the All Ireland Gaelic Football match between Donegal and Armagh in Croke Park, Dublin
The stadium was a sea of brightly colored orange and green jerseys, and the team flags madly waving in the crowd were incredible. The atmosphere was electric with fans screaming and cheering with every play of the ball.
It was a great cultural sporting experience and highly recommended if you get the opportunity.
8. Eat Irish Style
When we lived in Dublin we were meat eaters. Not too sure how we’d go now being vegetarians, but Irish food is delicious and hearty.
Some of our favorites were potato and leek soup, bacon and cabbage, Guinness or Irish stew, and of course potato.
Each dish you order will come with three varieties – mashed, baked, and boiled. The Irish don’t want you forgetting about those famine years.
Facebook Fan Suggestions for Ireland
- The most obvious thing is go to the Guinness Brewery and have a pint, overlooking the city.
- Definitely the Cliffs of Moher, the Blarney Castle, and Killarney Lake.
- Yeh the Guinness brewery is awesome, I did a sham rocker tour of southern Ireland, loved everything I saw and did. I would say you must talk to as many locals as possible, they rock! Don’t kiss the Blarney stone, people pee on it! Definitely go to the west coast and see the cliffs of Mohr.
- Bunratty Castle for a feast and a show.
- I wouldn’t normally advocate hitchhiking, but my sister and I did this all around south and West Ireland and met so many wonderful people. Especially loved walking through the Gap of Dunloe, near Killarney. With the soft golden light, tumbling stone ruins and green fields, it really felt like a leprechaun could jump out at any moment.
- Wicklow Mountains! And the library at Trinity College, one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve seen…
- Before you have the pint at the Guinness factory, make sure you buy the dark Guinness Chocolate bar in the gift store. Then go up, have your pint and eat the chocolate – most amazing flavors ever.
- My Suggestions (in no order): Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Stone, Giant’s Causeway, Murals in Derry and Belfast, Guinness Brewery, and hit up a pub in each and every city you stop in along the way for music and conversation.
- Cliffs of Moher and the Burren
- All of the above, plus: Rock of Cashel, Newgrange, Mizen Head (Cork coast), Connemara, stay in a farmhouse at least a couple of nights, & don’t spend too much time in Dublin — get out into the rest of the country.
More Posts About Ireland
- 10 of the best Dublin pubs & bars
- Things to Do in Northern Ireland
- 10 Places to Visit in Ireland with Kids
Plan Your Trip to Ireland
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