The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
Whenever I hear someone say that they would love to travel to Europe, I always suggest Ireland as a great country to visit first. I have traveled around France (spent three months there), Spain (beautiful country), Scotland (packed full of history), and Ireland (twice!), but by far my favorite was Ireland. Let me share with you my top ten reasons why I think Ireland is an amazing first stop for new travelers, and why I have visited twice and would love to go a third time.
1. Ireland is a very welcoming country. From my experience with traveling in Europe, Ireland was definitely the most welcoming country I visited. I felt like I was able to relax in Ireland, and I felt safe there whether in the city or in the countryside. Most of the locals I interacted with were also very friendly and conversational. My husband and I still joke to this day about our storytelling taxi driver, Patrick, and say we need to go back to Ireland and visit him again!
2. Flights to Dublin are regularly less expensive than other International destinations. One of the biggest things that hold people back from traveling abroad is how much it costs, and I understand. Flights from Detroit to places like France and England can be well over $1,000 a person. However, I have seen flights to Dublin, Ireland for around $500, especially in the winter months. I usually look at Google flights to see what days have the best prices on tickets; if I am able to be flexible with my dates, I can often find really good deals for round trip airfare to Ireland.
3. There are a lot of other tourists, year-round. This could seem like a bad thing, but for a first-time traveler, you might feel a little uncomfortable being in a different country than your own. Having other travelers around helps you to feel like you aren’t sticking out so much. It also means that there are a lot of activities and conveniences (think live music, historical or just-for-fun exhibits and bus tours) going on all the time. When I visited Ireland as a newbie traveler, I found this to be very helpful. There was always something for me to do!
4. There isn't a language barrier. When I went to Spain, I didn’t know any Spanish. Although nothing particularly bad happened while I was there, the simplest things like trying to buy a bus ticket was suddenly much more difficult because all the prompts on the kiosk screens were in Spanish! Being in Ireland, on the other hand, was so much easier and less intimidating because I could usually figure out how to get around and do things on my own. Now that's not to say everyone only speaks English, there are some communities that still speak the Irish language fluently - one of the oldest languages being spoken to this day. These communities are called "Gaeltacht". However, pretty much everyone in Ireland speaks English, and I never experienced an issue with communication while visiting.
5. Ireland is easy to get around. There are a lot of options for getting around the country. The first time I went to Ireland, I mostly stayed in its capitol, Dublin. Dublin is a great city for just walking around, but they also have buses you can ride for a small fare.
During that trip I also visited a travel agency and booked a day bus trip to travel to the opposite side of the country to see the Cliffs of Moher. I don't usually do planned excursions, but it was very enjoyable! The bus driver told us historical stories and pointed out landmarks along the way, and we stopped in multiple towns that I would have missed otherwise. This is a nice option for travelers who may feel uncomfortable renting a car, but still want to see more of what the country has to offer.
The second time I visited Ireland, my travel companions and I rented a car for the trip. This opened a whole new world of possibilities and we were able to drive all over the country (it's not a huge country so you can see a lot within a few hours’ drive). It was not difficult to navigate, although be forewarned: the roads can be very narrow, and you will have to drive on the left side of the road. Also, manual cars are more common in Europe than automatic, so you may have to pay more if you don't know how to drive stick shift and want an automatic car. If you do choose to rent a manual car, don’t forget that since everything is on the opposite side, you will be shifting gears with your left hand instead of your right.
6. Ireland has something for everyone. One of the best things about Ireland - and the reason I would love to visit a third time - is because there is so much to see and do. Dublin has amazing pubs, live music, shopping, architecture, attractions and history.
Some of my favorites things to see and do in Dublin are...
- Guinness Storehouse Factory Tour – An interactive museum that shows the history and manufacturing process of Ireland's most famous beer!
- Kilmainham Gaol Museum - Tour a historic jail that was in operation from 1796-1924, along with an interesting museum.
- Trinity College - Highlights include a stunning library that looks like it's from the world of Harry Potter, and seeing the ancient, hand illuminated Book of Kells on display.
- Christ Church Cathedral - This Cathedral is stunning, and it has a crypt below that is open for touring.
- Dublin Castle - I recommend taking the guided tour of the castle, there is so much history there. One of the most interesting parts is seeing part of the River Poddle which still flows beneath the castle and hearing the creepy history that comes along with it.
- Ha'penny Bridge - This historic bridge over the River Liffy is especially pretty at night when it is lit up with colored lights.
- St. Stephan's Green - This is a public park with beautiful paths, statues, and fountains. There is also a large mall very close to the park that has the same name which is fun if you like to shop.
- The Brazen Head - There are so many pubs you can visit in Dublin, the most famous of which is Temple Bar. My favorite, however, is The Brazen Head, which was built in 1198 and is the oldest pub in Dublin. The food and the drinks are amazing, and the atmosphere is cozy.
- Museums - There are four national museums to visit in Dublin, all of which have free admission. The Archeology Museum is my favorite. It has exhibits about the history of Ireland, and its Viking past. They even have an entire Viking ship on display!
Outside of Dublin, there are so many stunning, natural sites to see and charming towns to visit. Some of the best ones I have visited are...
- The Cliffs of Moher - I saw the cliffs on my first visit to Ireland, and they may be the reason I fell in love with this country so hard and fast. They are an extremely popular destination, but for good reason, they are awe-inspiring! (They were also used as filming locations for scenes in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the chick-flick Leap Year, as well as The Princess Bride)
- The Ring of Kerry - This is a long trail that goes through multiple towns and can be driven, but there are many places to walk around, too. When we visited, we stayed mainly in Killarney and saw the gorgeous old Muckross Abbey as well as Muckross House, Gardens and Farms.
- Blarney Castle and Gardens - You have probably heard of Blarney Castle, home to the Blarney Stone which you can kiss to get the "gift of gab". Touring the castle and kissing the stone is a fun experience, but I think we enjoyed wandering the fairy gardens even more.
- Giant's Causeway - I am adding this on here, but I have a confession to make: I have never been to the Giant's Causeway! I have seen pictures, though, that are enough to make me pine to take another trip to Ireland just to visit this natural feature.
7. The food and drinks are amazing. Irish food is comfort food. Shepherd's Pie, Irish Stew... and don't get me started on their breakfasts! One of the most unique foods we tried (and by "we", I mean my husband who is much more adventurous with food than I am!) was black pudding. It may be called pudding, but it is more like a dark purple-black sausage. Little did we know, it gets its unique color from a signature ingredient... pig's blood!
8. The culture is thriving. I have always loved traditional Irish music, so I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Ireland with the number of live performers in pubs and even on the streets that still have that traditional sound. It's everywhere! Irish people really embrace their culture. From the architecture to the music to their history, there are reminders of what Ireland is and where it has been everywhere. Another example of this is in the Irish writing on their street signs. Irish is a language that was almost lost, but having it on their street signs is a conscious effort to keep it alive and within plain site every day.
9. The weather is mild. The first time I visited Ireland, I went the last week of October. The second time, I went in March around St. Patrick's Day. Both times the weather was a little chilly, and it rained or drizzled off and on, but it wasn't so cold that I felt uncomfortable walking around outside. The weather does tend to fluctuate quite a bit, though, so make sure you are prepared with a rain coat, rain boots, and warm layering pieces.
10. It is a crazy-beautiful country. Ireland has the nickname of "The Emerald Isle" for a reason: the vibrancy of the landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Sometimes the fields and meadows look like a giant patchwork quilt, all a slightly different shade of green. When I visited in March, the hills were covered in blankets of yellow wildflowers. Castle ruins on the side of the road are a common sight. The coastlines are magnificent as well, with their rocky cliffs and meandering paths. This may sound overly poetic but there really is no other way to describe all the beauty there is to see in Ireland. Are you ready to jet off to Ireland yet? If so, the library can help get you on your way towards your big adventure. Main Library and Sylvania branch are full service passport agencies, so they can take your passport photo for you, assist with paperwork, and file your passport application with the Department of State. More information about hours, cost, and passport requirements can be found on our website. Happy traveling!
Planning an international trip sometime soon? Don't forget that you can get a passport at Main Library and Sylvania Branch!