Right about now is usually the time when you've gotta choose your vacay weeks at work, so obviously your mind is set on travelling even more than usual. Once you've picked your weeks, the question becomes: Where to go? But, friends, I'm here to tell you exactly where you need to be on your 2019 vacation. A place that'll expand your mind and exceed any expectations you could possibly have.
Ireland. The land of endless rolling hills, lush greenery, and jaw-dropping landscapes isn’t only sprinkled with sheep, Guinness stew, and mythical castles. The spectacular Emerald Isle offers incredible sights and experiences that you've never even heard of. Now, I've been smitten with the Irish accent for as long as I can remember, but as I've gotten older, I've realized just how much more there is to Ireland than just its friendly inhabitants' lovely pronunciation. So, here I am, y'all, ready to spread the good word!
Check out these 13 musts to add to your Ireland bucket list and make 2019 your ultimate travel year yet!
1. Take a Dip in the Irish Sea at the Forty Foot
If you’re a thrill-seeker daring (crazy?) enough to brave the chilling temps of the Irish Sea, then pack a towel and a warm change of clothes, and venture into the historic bathing pool at the southern tip of Dublin Bay. Named one of the best places to swim in the world by The New York Times, Forty Foot is the spot where locals regularly start their day off by jumping in for an insanely refreshing wake-up call - because nothing says "GET UP" or "VACAY" like throwing yourself into 7°C water!
The rocky jump-off is located in Dún Laoghaire, only a 30-minute train ride from Dublin City Centre. The Forty Foot actually used to be a male-only nude bathing spot (can you picture it?), but it’s now open for all genders and ages to embrace (or simply peer down from, if you end up chickening out!).
2. Dig Into Super Fresh Meals
When you think of Irish cuisine, what do you think of? Hearty stews? Delicious breads? Filling potatoes? The country's culinary reputation tends to be associated with traditional, simple grub that it knows and does well. But the truth is that Ireland's culinary scene is more modern and diverse than you might think!
From Michelin-starred restaurants like Japanese Ichigo Ichie in Cork to numerous food festivals around the country, like the Galway Oyster Festival and Savour Kilkenny, Ireland's foodie scene has never been more vibrant and bustling.
Ireland is even bursting with food related activities: for example, head down to the West Coast and you can actually participate in some fresh seaweed foraging (sushi loves: seaweed does not get any fresher than this!).
3. Visit a Castle... or 10?
It’s no secret that Ireland is dotted with magnificent castles, which definitely isn’t something we see every day in Canada. So, you best believe that visiting Dublin without checking out at least some of its historic, grandiose (and often haunted!) castles would be a crime. From Dublin Castle in the historic heart of the city, Malahide Castle or Howth with their stunning coastal surroundings, to Drimnagh Castle - the only Irish castle to still be surrounded by a flooded moat - the capital has a castle to leave even the most seasoned traveller in awe.
4. Pick Up a Novel at Quirky, Iconic Bookstores
Real talk: I'm a certified literature freak, always have been. Ireland is fraught with centuries of history, so it's no surprise that Dublin's bookshops are among the capital's most unique treasures, particularly for us bibliophiles, hungry to turn pages and get lost in a story. Leaf through heaps of books and glance out at the river as you sip on a nice, piping hot cup o' tea at The Winding Stair, one of the oldest, most famous reading spots in Dublin. Sweny's Pharmacy, once visited by James Joyce and mentioned in Ulysses, is a former 19th-century pharmacy turned bookstore and craft shop. True lovers of classic Irish literature can also happily check out Oscar Wilde's birthplace a mere 100 feet down the road.
If we're really talking epic reading nooks, few rival Trinity College Dublin and Marsh's Library. The former has held the iconic, widely revered Book of Kells (written around 800 AD) on exhibit since 1661. The Old Library section where this illuminated holy Gospel manuscript is on display also houses a mindblowing 200,000 ancient books. Oh, and did we mention that it actually inspired J.K. Rowling's creation of Hogwarts? Marsh's Library (said to be haunted), on the other hand, was once-upon-a-time graced by the presence of famous Dracula author, Bram Stoker, as it was one of his preferred study spots.
5. Snap Amazing Insta Pics at Iconic Locations
Ireland is filled with unique, beautiful Insta-worthy spots. I mean, what would you expect from a country brimming with such rich history, architecture, art, and literary influence?
Cities like Dublin have some pretty incredible scenes to behold - for example, the historic Ha'Penny Bridge, built in 1816, and Merrion Square's famous, unique Oscar Wilde sculpture. But it's the countryside that holds the country's true wonders!
Peep the incredibly famous Rock of Cashel, a giant, historic tower, in County Tipperary; in County Meath, you can snap a fire pic of Newgrange, a passage tomb said to be even older than the pyramids of Giza!
6. Live Out Your Best Game of Thrones Life
Game of Thrones, peeps, where you at? Everywhere, I know, but where you should be is taking an immersive tour to some of GOT's most iconic Irish filming locations, such as Winterfell, Robb's Camp, and Giant's Causeway. An interactive tour led by knowledgeable, enthusiastic guides, heaps of fun costumes and swords, and a group of equally hyped-up GOT diehards - tell me this isn't where you belong, I dare you.
7. Trek Along the Cliffs of Moher
Strap on your comfiest pair of sneakers for a day of sightseeing and walking through the spectacular Cliffs of Moher. Whether rain or shine, you'll be dying to snap the most unreal Insta pics and catch a sunrise or sunset on these astounding cliffs, offering the most fantastic views. You'll wonder why you didn't travel to Ireland sooner. When you get back and try to explain these wondrous mountains to your fam, words won't do the experience any justice. But at least you'll have the memz.
8. Behold Magnificent Centuries-Old Architecture
Dublin isn't just known as a place with charming streets, fish n' chips, and being home to Guinness stout; it also boasts astonishing architecture at nearly every turn. The abandoned ruins of St. Kevin's Church are certainly worth a visit, as is Ireland's largest church, the impressive St. Patrick's Cathedral. There are actually three cathedrals in Dublin, the second being the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral, known for being Dublin's oldest building. It opened in 1030 and houses a must-see 12th-century crypt. For those of you who are crazy about peeping ancient architecture, Dublin's your go-to!
If you head over to nearby Dún Laoghaire, be sure to visit the Oratory of the Sacred Heart. This small chapel, built to celebrate the end of WWI, is where talented Sister Concepta Lynch spent 16 years painting her stunning Gaelic-revival masterpiece. With its colourful stained glass and kaleidoscopes of breathtaking hues, her majestic mural is a thing of true splendour, and it's well worth the trip.
9. Walk Through Ireland's Most Famous Cemetery
As strange as it might sound, I've always loved a good cemetery - truly. Nothing says a peaceful, quiet stroll like walking through the silence of pleasant resting grounds.
Surrounded by seven huge watchtowers (it used to be a popular target for bodysnatchers), Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery is a must-see if you're into reading tombstones and learning history through the dead, like myself. Tons of Irish historical figures have been laid to rest here, from political icons to well-known authors and artists such as The Dubliner's late frontman, Luke Kelly. And if you're into adding a bit more adventure into your life, you can even climb O'Connell's Tower; reopened after 45 years of being closed, this historic tower offers beautiful views of all of Dublin.
10. Catch Free Live Shows in Galway
Galway is, straight up, one of the most fun cities in Ireland. Why? Because Galway knows how to have a great time!
There's probably no music scene more electric in all of Ireland (fun fact: Ed Sheeran used to busk in the streets of Galway!). With pubs and bars playing live music all days of the year and a bustling scene full of amazing performances from talented artists, you'll be hard-pressed to find a spot better suited to feed your musical need than Galway.
Althought music is its bread and butter, Galway's got plenty of other fun things to do as well. From a vibrant art scene (the Galway International Arts Festival is nationally loved!) and foodie scene, as well as a beautiful mosaic of eclecticism, Galway is the place to be for everything and anything art!
11. Experience Ireland's Distillery Scene
Whiskey fans, rejoice. Everyone and anyone who loves themselves a sip of some good, sharp whiskey also knows that the best stuff comes from one place and one place alone: Ireland.
And trust, Ireland does not disappoint. If you're a connoisseur, then you'll be delighted to know that Ireland boasts tons of whiskey distilleries throughout the country - and to really amp up your passion, you can take legit tours of them. There's nothing like a shot of whiskey straight from the source!
12. Devour OG Fish n' Chips
Everyone and their mother knows that Ireland is renowned for its fish n' chips. But if you want to indulge in the real McCoy, hit up Burdock’s Fish & Chip shop, where they've been doing it right since 1913. With only the freshest fish and the chunkiest of chips, you can't blame them for being a staple among visitors, locals, and even famous people. Of course, if you crave something a little more coastal, Beshoff Bros is another locally famous fish and chips spot. Situated along the coast of Howth (and other spots, too), Dubliners have a little bit of a rivalry going on between the two. Which means you'll just have to try both to see which one you like best!
13. See Real-Life Mummies at St. Michan's Church
Looking for an eerie, educational activity that's super out of the ordinary? Head over to St. Michan's Church and embark on an eye-opening crypt tour of vaults dating back between the 17th and 19th centuries. Go down a small, creepy stairway to an undercroft with five vaults. Among these, you can analyze an unsettling one-handed mummy and the mysterious 800-year-old Crusader, a mummy over six feet tall. Spooky yet satisfying!
Whether you're a history buff, castle fanatic, book collector, cafe crawler, pub-goer, nature-adventurer, ghost-story lover (or literally anything in between!), Ireland's got something for you to have an unforgettable trip. You'll be looking back on your pics and wondering if your travel experiences were even real.
Great news, everyone. There's never been a better time to take the plunge and finally see all that the Emerald Isle has to offer. WestJet now offers a direct service from Calgary to Dublin - so there's no excuse for you not to book your flight ASAP!