The land of 40 shades of green. A place where fairies and folklore are alive and well. A country of enchanting stories, friendly people, and hearty food. Everything you’ve heard about Ireland is true and then some. It’s a magical place that welcomes visitors with open arms, and if it’s not on your bucket list of travel destinations, it should be.
Here are 10 insider tips to make the most of your time in the Emerald Isle:
1. Dublin has a museum for just about everything
What do whiskey, leprechauns, the Easter Rising, and ancient Asian texts all have in common? There’s a museum dedicated to each of them in Dublin. Chances are that no matter what interests you have, Dublin has a museum that showcases it and provides a thorough and intriguing history of it, too. Public art is also abundant in parks, on the streets, and on the exteriors of buildings.
The Chester Beatty Library and the Carriage House are hidden gems of the city (and have free admission!), tucked away inside the grounds of Dublin Castle. With their vast collections of rare items in their standing collections and meticulously curated special exhibitions, they are well-worth a visit. And as an added bonus, you will take a stroll through beautiful Dublin Gardens to get to them.
2. Trinity College in Dublin doubles as a hotel
If you plan far enough in advance, you can stay at historic Trinity College while you’re in Dublin rather than staying in a hotel. The reservations fill up quickly because of their location and because they’re relatively well-priced. The accommodations resemble small dorm rooms (some arranged like full apartments). You’ll spend time on the grounds where iconic graduates such as Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Beckett lived and studied. Plus it’s smack in the middle of downtown and within easy walking distance to just about everything. Trinity College is home to the Book of Kells and to the famous Trinity Library Long Room, both must-sees for anyone visiting Dublin.
3. Food, Folklore, and Fairies Dinner
Even if dinner theater isn’t your thing, An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies hosted by professional Irish storytellers is one of the very best ways to spend an evening in Ireland. Housed within the Brazen Head Pub, Dublin’s oldest pub founded in the year 1198!, the food, music, stories, and crowd make you feel as if you’re an honored guest in someone’s home. It’s best to make reservations in advance because the dinners routinely sell out.
4. Mythology is part of Irish daily life
Speaking of fairies, the mythology of Ireland is very much a part of people’s daily lives. Though if you ask them, Irish people won’t necessarily tell you that they believe in fairies, they also won’t tell you that they don’t. City planners all over the country have been known to build new roads in patterns so that they don’t disturb the trees where the fairies are said to live. The history of mythology throughout the country is rich and complex as it’s been heavily influenced by the Celts, Vikings, Druids, and early Christians alike. It’s a part of nearly every tour you’ll take in Ireland.
5. Public transit is better than advertised
Though the public transit isn’t on par with countries such as France and Germany, it’s recently experienced quite a bit of investment. The public transit in Dublin is frequent and affordable, and the country’s trains and buses make day trips to the major cities very easy with a bit of planning. Another bonus is that the major cities are all easily walkable so make sure to pack comfy shoes; you’ll get a lot of use out of them!
6. Halloween has its roots in Ireland
Samhain is an ancient festival that originated around the harvest in Ireland. Much of Ireland history is rooted in agriculture; the harvest time was and remains a sacred time. When people began leaving Ireland for the New World, they took the spirit of Samhain with them and transformed it into what became the Halloween celebrations that we know today in the U.S.
7. The Irish diaspora is a source of pride
As of the year 1890, 40% of people born in Ireland lived abroad in a wide variety of countries. By the 21st century, over 80 million people around the globe claimed Irish ancestry, including over 36 million Americans who claim Irish as their primary heritage. This diaspora, and the success of many Irish descendants, is a huge source of pride for Ireland. Most famous among them, the Kennedy family is often in Ireland and deeply loved and revered by the Irish. If you tell anyone in Ireland that have any Irish heritage, they will quickly and easily greet you with “Welcome home!” And even if you don’t, they’re famous for saying, “You’re all very welcome here” rather than a simple, “Hello.” It really is one of the most welcoming countries in Europe.
8. A city of books
Dublin was declared the City of Literature by UNESCO, and in a very short time it’s easy to see why. It’s rich with bookstores large and small, there are statues of Ireland’s literary icons everywhere, and quite a few of the museums are dedicated at least partially to rare books and manuscripts. It also hosts the International Literature Festival of Dublin in May which attracts iconic authors from all over the world such as Neil Gaiman and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Other European countries have treasures of gold, gems, and architecture. In Ireland, the treasures are books.
9. Women’s rights are on the rise
In late May, Ireland held a historic referendum on abortion and an overwhelming majority of the Irish people voted to change the most restrictive abortion law in all of Europe. The social media hashtags #HometoVote and #TogetherForYes show the emotion of this event. Ireland has a long and sad history of restricting many women’s rights, including requiring women who were public servants to quit their jobs within 6 months of marriage, requiring a man’s signature to get a passport, bank account, or loan of any kind, and prohibiting women from participating in sports. These laws have all thankfully been overturned. Now with the referendum on abortion, it feels like Ireland is about to turn the corner toward wide-spread equality for women.
10. Get to the countryside
There’s no doubt that the cities of Ireland are well-worth your time and attention, though many people, tourists and the Irish alike, will tell you that the true magic of Ireland is in the rolling hills of the countryside. They’re not wrong. Bus tours are plentiful to all of the major sites around the country, and if you’re up for renting a car and driving, you can see the entire country in about a week. The bus tours are extremely affordable, run on-time, and are a great way to meet fellow travelers. However, remember that many of them are full days (12 to 14 hours) so make sure to not schedule too many in a row so that you can be well-rested and fully enjoy all of the splendor the country has to offer.
When asked what’s the best part of their trip to Ireland, most everyone will say, “the people” and that’s absolutely true. You’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier or more welcoming place to visit than Ireland. Strike up conversations in pubs, restaurants, and on tours. Ask for directions, suggestions, and information, and you’ll be sure to get a story and an experience you’ll never forget!