Have you ever traveled solo or thought about traveling solo? Well, Ireland is one of the best places to go! Everyone is extremely friendly, welcoming, helpful, and it is an English-speaking country, so for an American female traveling solo, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip! This was an experience of a lifetime and it taught me not only things about myself, but being ¼ Irish I learned so much about my heritage and the Irish culture and history.
I had been talking about taking another solo trip with a friend of mine, and the idea of going to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day came up in conversation. Just for fun, I entered some dates (March 12-21st ) into my Hopper app (one of THE BEST flight watching apps – download it now!). Just a few weeks later, I got a notification that a ROUND TRIP ticket from Austin to Dublin (connecting through London) was only $400! Holy shit! I couldn’t believe it! I took a day to seriously think about booking, then I pulled the trigger. By the time I booked my flight, the price had gone up a tiny bit, but only to $440. So, that’s where my journey began.
To start, here are some tips for traveling solo in Ireland:
1. Take some local currency. I found that a lot of places I visited (and even cabs) only take cash, and you’ll get ripped off if you pay in USD. Ireland proper uses Euro while North Ireland (part of the U.K.) uses Pound Sterling.
2. Plan ahead. Unless you’re a super free-spirit who is OK with just going and figuring things out when you get there, book a couple group tours (I highly recommend Paddywagon Tours).This is a great way to meet people while you’re traveling, and the tour guides will educate you on the history of the places you go.
3. Research. Respect the culture and lay of the land. For example, I was in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day. In the U.S., we celebrate by drinking green beer and Irish Car Bombs, but I found that you NEVER want to order an Irish Car Bomb in Ireland as it means something COMPLETELY different there. Also, if they say they’re “going to have some crack”, this doesn’t mean the drug. Crack is slang for fun or good times.
4. Let your bank/credit card company know you’re traveling. The last thing you want to do is be in a foreign country and then your bank shuts down your card thinking your purchases are fraud. Also, check for international fees. Some banks charge a 3% international fee on top of the exchange rate on every purchase you make. Yikes! That adds up quickly!
5. Take a power converter. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a U.S. power outlet, so you need a converter to plug in your electronics (I found mine at Target).
6. You may not want to rent a car. People drive like bats out of hell, and driving on the opposite side of the road is way too confusing. Take public transportation. It’s cheaper and very efficient.
7. Be prepared for it to rain AT ANY TIME! The rain is sporadic, and you never know when it’s going to blow in. P.S. it’s also windy as hell!
8. Since most of the towns are Catholic, a lot of shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays and some even on Mondays. In County Derry (North Ireland), if they open on Sundays, it isn’t until 1:00pm.
9. Be prepared to be surrounded by smokers! SO MANY people smoke! Gross.
10. And finally, use homestay.com or a website like it (Airbnb, HomeAway). It’s way cheaper than staying in a hotel, and you’ll have a host that can be your mini tour guide!
After a long 9 hour flight, followed by a 5 ½ hour layover at Heathrow Airport in London, then the last 1 ½ flight to Dublin, I had finally arrived. My Homestay host, Lorraine, and her beautiful 10 year-old daughter picked me up from the airport. I was jet-lagged and exhausted from traveling, so after arriving at their cozy apartment in Finglas, just northwest of city centre, I crashed. Lorraine provided breakfast food for my stay and even offered maps of the city and the bus routes! I was very fortunate to stay with someone so welcoming and accommodating for my first international solo trip.
I woke up the next morning extremely early, excited for my first guided tour. Luckily, Lorraine had given me the run-down of the busses the night before, so I knew exactly what bus to take to catch my tour. I discovered very quickly that Dublin City Centre looks a lot bigger on a map than it is in real life. The streets are short and narrow, and what looks like miles away on the map is only just a couple blocks. This made getting around town very easy! Plus, if I was ever lost, I could ask one of the extremely friendly locals to point me in the right direction.
I arrived at the meeting place for my tour to The Cliffs of Moher, and boarded the giant Paddywagon tour bus. Our whole tour group was about 40-50 people strong! As I sat waiting for the rest of the group, a woman in her late twenties asked to sit beside me. I immediately noticed that she was wearing Kendra Scott earrings (a local Austin jeweler), and I commented on them. Next thing you know we’re having the “where are you from?” conversation, and guess where she was from… AUSTIN! What are the odds of two people from Austin, Texas sitting next to each other on a bus in Dublin? Crazy, right?
As we began to venture out of the city and into the country, the scenery went from busy city streets to beautiful rolling hills with cobblestone fences outlining the farmlands in perfect squares. It was quite a scene; lush green grass cut with white cobblestone and white farm houses – gorgeous! Our tour guide taught some cool history about these fences. They are referred to as “penny walls” because the builders were paid a penny a day to build them. Some of these walls are over 400 years old!
We continued through the countryside and passed by the bogs, which contain so much history literally buried in them. About 100 almost perfectly preserved bodies have been discovered, including the famous Cashel Man who is believed to be the oldest body discovered in the bogs, dating back 4,000 years! The bogs preserve the bodies in such a way that their skin is still intact. Kinda gross, but pretty cool.
We made a couple of stops along the way, first in Kinvara to visit the Dunguaire Castle, then on to Doolin where I had the BEST Irish lamb stew at Fitzpatrick’s. One BIG tip for traveling by bus through the Irish countryside – be prepared for motion sickness. The roads wind and curve and meanwhile the bus is going about 40-50 mph… I’m not one to get motion sick easily, but both myself and Katie (the girls from Austin) were starting to get nauseous towards the end of the bus ride.
We finally made it, without puking. We arrived at the entrance to the Cliffs of Moher and climbed up the staircase to the top of the cliffs. The scenery literally took my breath away! The Cliffs of Moher are 702 feet high, making them one of the tallest cliffs in Ireland. We arrived in perfect weather. The sun was out, and we had a clear view of the cliffs.
As we walked up further along the cliffs to the highest point, my heart was racing. I’m not very afraid of heights, but the higher we went, the more narrow the trail became, and the more my heart pounded. It wasn’t only the height that was making me nervous, it was the careless tourists that were tempting fate by getting WAY too close to the edge and turning their backs to the cliff to take a selfie. I really didn’t feel like watching some idiot fall off the cliff trying to take a selfie… Luckily, I made it the whole day without witnessing a fatality.
Looking back on my pictures from this trip, if I hadn’t taken the photos myself, I would think they were photo shopped. Towards the end of our time at the cliffs, a storm started to roll in and created an amazing sight. The clouds looked as though they were rolling right off the top of the cliffs, and the fog began to set in, giving the cliffs an eerie, mysterious look. These were my favorite pictures I took of the cliffs all day.
We loaded back in the bus and headed back on the curvy, narrow, winding road to Dublin. We arrived back in city centre, and I found a cute local restaurant called Flanagans for dinner before catching the bus back north to Finglas to retire for the night. Day one in Ireland had come to an end, and again I was exhausted!