If you ever find yourself in Ireland, make sure that you take the time to get out of Dublin. As the country’s capital and largest city, Dublin will likely be your point of entry to this beautiful island. However, if you have the time and the means, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you turned down the opportunity to see the rest of this fine country. With only a few days to cram with activities, I was lucky enough to explore Northern Ireland and the West.
Back in 2019, I had the great pleasure of visiting Scotland for the first time. Although the city of Glasgow was our home base, I found myself delighting more in the capital of Edinburgh (more here) and the highland destination of Oban (more here). Scotland and Ireland are very different (linguistically, historically, etc.) but are close both in the literal sense (on a clear day from a certain vantage you can see the coastline of the other) and both have much to offer in the way of natural beauty.
In my very short time in Ireland, I managed to take not one, but two bus tours. Although you may find a 13-hour tour, departing at 7am to be a “bit much,” they really can be an effective, engaging, and easy way to see more of a country. In my last post, I wrote (somewhat in-depth-ly) about the conflict between the Irish Catholics and Protestants (more here); all of this info came straight from the tour guide’s mouth (but, naturally, I also fact-checked). In this post, I want to go over some of the highlights outside of the capital that you too can easily reach on a day trip from Dublin.
Please note that both tours that I took were with the company Wild Rover Tours (highly recommended — and nobody is paying me to say that…no one pays me to say anything tbh… shame).
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland (one of the UK’s four constituent countries along with England, Scotland, and Wales) and it is the island’s most populated city. With Wild Rover Tours one can take a taxi tour to learn about the city’s political history with a focus on “The Troubles.” Also, if one is less interested in politics, one can skip the taxi tour and head straight to the world’s largest Titanic museum (but please note, and this shouldn’t come as a shock to any of you, the real Titanic, which was constructed in Belfast is not at the museum…it’s sitting 13,000 feet under the water just like in the movie).
Located in Antrim, Northern Ireland, Dunluce Castle has served as the backdrop for the House of Greyjoy in the popular medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones. Today, Dunluce Castle is less of a “castle” and more of a collection of ruins. In the 16th century, it was home to the ruling Gaelic lords. After years of war and power transitions, Dunluce Castle was ultimately left to ruin by the mid-1650s and stones were extracted to be used in other construction. Although you can practically see all there is to see of the structure from the windows of the bus, on a nice day, you can still take pleasure in the breathtaking views from atop the cliffs.
My, was this a site to behold. How do I even describe the beauty and greatness of this location? Let’s start from the top. You exit your tour bus at run-of-the-mill parking lot and find a small tunnel open to foot traffic peaking out under a lush, green hill. You round the bend of the small tunnel and look down the grassy hill before you and follow the paved path that ostensibly will lead you to the shore. However, as you descend the hill and slowly curve around its edge, it becomes clearer and clearer that this coastline is unlike the rest. To your right the world opens to you like a natural amphitheater — the green cliffs slope back and tower like protective walls. To your left the ocean calmly laps the fine-grained basalt rocks, formed from thousands of years of volcanic activity, that interlock in hexagonal prisms like a beehive. The scene has an extraterrestrial vibe to it and it is otherworldly huge — you are but an ant in this cavernous space.
Cliffs of Moher
I may as well have been at Niagara Falls…. The Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “mow-uh”) located on Ireland’s western coast offers spectacular ocean views on a nice day. However, “nice” is not a word most people would use to describe the quality of this particular day. The sky was gray; there was rain and the winds were bloody murder. The gale-force gusts pelted bullets of watery nonsense horizontally through the air and straight into anyone who dared to enjoy their time on the cliffs. I did not last more than 10 minutes in these conditions (and my spirit low-key broke). At least (and most necessarily), there was also an indoor cliffs museum equipped with a small exhibit hall, gift shop, café, and cafeteria for one to hide out in (I mean “enjoy”).
Luckily, the rain had let up by the time that we pulled into Galway. Located on Ireland’s western coast, Galway is a small, touristy city of around 80,000 residents (…and is more recently known for Ed Sheeran’s pop hit “Galway Girl,” which was also filmed at a local pub). One can basically see “all that there is to see” in like two hours — there are water views, a few small points of interest (like the Spanish Arch, for example, small shops, and many unique eateries). I have met those who loooove Galway (these people happen to have familial ties to the city), however, as a casual passer-through, I found it to be nice (but perhaps not strictly necessary if you only have a short time in Ireland).
Now, dear Reader, I will end by saying that Dublin is also great (naturally!). There is much to do in this European capital — walking/ bus tours, a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Whiskey Distillery tour, a lively pub scene in the Temple Bar area, and all the national museums are free! So, make sure to make time for Dublin too! (Sorry for the mixed messages.)
Go dté tú slán!
(pronounced: guh jay too slahn) — fare thee well!