Obviously Scotland is top of many backpackers’ lists (well, you’re here aren’t you?), but most of you won’t be able to resist a wee trip across the water to Ireland. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump away after all. Here’s our travellers guide to the best of the Emerald Isle.
The is apparently the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland, so you’d look like a bit of a wally if you forgot to visit it. Located on the northeast coast, on the outskirts of a little town called Bushmills, Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage site consisting of 40,000 interlocking basalt stone columns, formed by volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago. The tallest column is an almighty 36 feet high, towering above you like some kind of giant’s lair - hence the name Giant’s Causeway. You can’t get much more steeped in Irish history than this.
Five miles north of Cork is the village of Blarney. It is home to Blarney Castle, which in turn houses the famous Blarney Stone - found at the top of the Castle’s tower. More than 300,000 people come to kiss the Blarney Stone each year, as it is said to bestow the kisser with the ‘gift of the gab’ and ensure that they are never lost for words. To kiss it, one must precariously dangle off the side while someone holds their upper body in place. The reasoning behind the tradition is somewhat hazy, but that hasn’t stopped Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger and Billy Connolly all flocking here. So pucker up - but no tongues, please.
Cliffs of Moher
Another of Ireland’s stunning areas of natural beauty is The Cliffs of Moher, located in County Clare near the Burren Area. These spectacular seaside cliffs reach a height of over 70-feet and stretch for five miles of coastline. Standing a-top the cliffs and looking out to sea you’ll feel like the king of the world and they make for a lovely walk on a clear day, offering views across to the Aran Islands in Galway Bay and the valleys of Connemara. You can also play a game of ‘spot the birdie’, as the cliffs are home to colonies of guillemots, razorbills and stripy-nosed puffins.
Dublin Guinness Storehouse
You didn’t think we were going to give your our guide to Ireland without telling you where you could worship at the alter of Guinness, did you? Well for all you lovers of the frothy black stuff, Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse is a must-visit. Built in 1904, this was the hub of Guinness production until 1988 - when it became a five-floor visitor centre/shrine. Each floor has something different in store, from a ‘Tasting Laboratory’ to a pint-pouring master class. And when you reach the fifth floor you get rewarded with a free pint. Cheers!
Galway live music
Galway is renowned for its live music scene, with various bars offering many different types of live music. But for pure authenticity we’d suggest trying to catch one of the more traditional Irish folk bands. Rather than taking to a stage, these bands often just sit in amongst the pub punters and a lot of them will try and get everyone involved in a good old Irish sing-song. They might even let you have a shot on their fiddle. So if you want a taste of real live Irish music, you’d be a daft not to head to Galway. It’s pints of Guinness, fiddle playing and rousing sing-a-longs all the way. All together now, ‘Oh Danny boy... ’
Dingle Harbour and Fungi the Dolphin
The Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast of County Kerry is a particularly magical spot and one little dolphin seems to agree. In 1984 the Dingle Harbour lighthouse keeper noticed a lone wild dolphin escorting fishing boats to the port. Later that year the local Ministry of Marines logged the dolphin as an official Harbour resident and ever since ‘Fungi’ has been entertaining local seamen and acting as self-appointed king of the fleet. And he now has no less than four Facebook fan groups dedicated just to him - little media tart that he is.
Logistically, Ireland is just a simple ferry/plane ride away. There are ferries direct from the east coast of Scotland to the North of Ireland and flights from all major Scottish airports. You can be there in a matter of hours.
Stenaline (www.stenaline.co.uk )runs ferries from Stranraer to Belfast and P&O (www.poirishsea.com) runs ferries from Cairnryan to Larne. These are two of the most efficient services. A one-way direct ferry fare, for foot passengers, will usually cost around £20-£25.
Regular plane flights go direct to Dublin, for more information try Aer Lingus www.aerlingus.com and Aer Arran (www.aerarran.com). Also try major flight operators like British Airways and Ryanair.
Where to stay:
Ireland has an abundance of nice hostels perfect for the weary traveller to rest up for the night, sans backpack. This is undoubtedly the best option for travellers on a budget. You can easily book a hostel via major booking websites, like Hostel World (www.hostelworld.com) or Hostel Bookers (www.hostelbookers.com).
Alternatively, we’d recommend checking out these Irish hostelling organisations: Hostels International Northern Ireland (www.hini.org.uk), Independent Holiday Hostels of Ireland (www.hostels-ireland.com/) and Hostels Ireland (www.anoige.ie/).
If you’d rather tour Ireland the easy way, you can book a ready-made backpackers tour - which will include all transport and accommodation, plus a personal guide and a ready-made set of travelling chums. There are many different tour companies to choose from offering anything from a one-day tour to 12 day extravaganzas. The tours take in varying spots of Ireland, so do some research and pick the one that’s right for you.
We suggest trying these major companies for an idea of what’s on offer: Over The Top Tours (www.overthetoptours.com), Shamrocker (www.shamrockeradventures.com) and Paddywagon Tours (www.paddywagontours.com). You can also take a tour directly from Edinburgh with Celtic Adventures (www.celticadventures.com).
Ireland is a fairly easy country to navigate, with a good transport system running through most central areas. The Irish Government advocates maximum usage of public transport. For help and advice on getting around, the CIE Group website is a good place to start, (www.cie.ie). For additional information and help with journeys visit Irish Rail (www.irishrail.ie/), Bus Eirann (www.buseirann.ie/), Dublin Bus (www.dublinbus.i.e/) and Traslink (www.translink.co.uk).
Alternatively, for fun-days out why not book a special one-day bus tour with one of the companies mentioned above or try one of the famous Belfast Black Taxi Tours, www.belfasttours.com
Top tips and useful websites:
Remember Ireland uses the Euro, so you’ll need to change your Scottish bank notes for the journey. Local Post Offices will do this on-the-spot and free of charge. Always carry an acceptable form of photographic identification when travelling between the UK and Ireland. Pick up a good travel guide before you get there and try and plan in advance the places you’d like to see - that way you can make the most of your time there. Dublin and Belfast are the key Irish cities, try www.visitdublin.com and www.gotobelfast.com. For good general information visit www.discoverireland.com