Travel plans: Ireland

In December my family is going to Ireland. This is a big trip for us; it’ll be our first international vacation together.

Joining me will be my mom, dad, brother, and husband. Five people in a group is an awkward combination for travel, especially when they’re all adults. Take, for example, a hotel reservation. Should we book two doubles and a single room? Or a double and a triple? Does anyone mind sleeping on the couch? So this has been an interesting trip to plan already, to say the least, and I think it’ll continue to be tricky.

Dublin, Ireland

They key word is “flexibility.” We have plenty of places to explore, so if we get sick of each other, we can split up and enjoy some quiet time. If places are closed for the holidays, we’ll just have to find something else to do. We’re renting a car for some of the journey, so we’re not limited by public transportation. Our plans, other than our accommodation, are fluid.

This will be my second time to Ireland; I was in Dublin for a weekend trip in December 2012 and had a wonderful time, despite severe jet lag. Why do I keep picking cold, rainy European destinations for my journeys? Well, in this instance, it was a place we could all agree on, and the price was right. Flights to Ireland are consistently low from RDU compared to other European airports.

We have roughly eight days to spend in Ireland and are dividing our time between cities and more remote areas. For accommodation, I chose a combination of hotels and Airbnb rentals. (I would’ve loved to stay in a warm, cozy Irish bed and breakfast, but it was just not in the cards around Christmas time.)

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin

There’s so much to see in the capital city, but we only have about a day there. We’ll be getting in early, so we will easily be able to visit a few attractions, unless jet lag sets in. Having been there before, my top sights will probably differ from everyone else’s:

  • Kilmainham Gaol for some insight on the political and penal background of Ireland
  • Trinity College Library to see the Book of Kells, which I skipped last time
  • Dublin Writers Museum, a place I didn’t know existed until I did some research on things to do in Dublin. I’ll have to brush up on my Irish writers beforehand, of course.

And of course, a nice hearty meal, good beer, and a chilly stroll through the streets will be fantastic.

County Wexford

Around Christmas we’ll be staying in a cottage in a small village. Most things in the area will be closed, so I think we’ll just be having family time here. If it’s open, I would like to see Hook Head Lighthouse, one of the world’s oldest lighthouses. I’d also like to do some walking while we’re there…it seems like such an Irish thing to do! Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

County Clare

Jumping over to the other side of the country, we’ll be staying in a cottage fairly close to the town of Ennis. Besides exploring the town, I hope to view the Cliffs of Moher and see the Burren National Park.

Galway

Our last stop is Galway. Other than checking out Galway City Museum and Galway Cathedral, I’m looking forward to wandering around the city. I’ve heard so many good things about Galway!

Do you have any suggestions on things to do during Christmas in Ireland? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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A man and his Pillow Pet in Dublin

I can hardly think of a place more festive than the city of Dublin, Ireland, before Christmas. Music and laughter fills the air as people shop on Grafton Street. Pubs fill with merry revelers. The city glows with light from holiday decorations and exuberant holiday jumpers.

My friend and I drifted into a pub that night, bought a pint each, and found a cozy corner to watch the crowd. A joyful and noisy band was playing on the opposite side of the bar, and everyone sand along. It was a boisterous, tinsel-strewn party.

And then we saw him – belly up to the bar, next to a man wearing a homemade Santa beard. While waiting for his beer, he was loudly singing, hands raised above his head, bobbing a penguin Pillow Pet to the beat. He was also wearing a red onesie.

My friend and I couldn’t help but laugh. He was the most ridiculous thing we had seen in Ireland. We forgot about the man as we started talking again, but several minutes later, he walked toward us on the way to the bathroom. I guess he saw us laughing earlier, because he stopped in front of us, tapped my friend on the nose with his Pillow Pet’s plush beak, and said “Boop!” before walking away.

Nothing is more mysterious than a man with a Pillow Pet. Any other time, it would have been bizarre and awkward, but in a Dublin pub before Christmas, it fit.

Dublin: Guinness and good times

Even though I was exhausted from a combination of jet lag and dozing on buses and trains, Dublin was energizing and lively. Settled on the River Liffey close to the Irish Sea, the streets were filled with the sound of seagulls, dancing street performers and wheezing double-decker buses. A fairly rainy climate makes the city’s parks lush and bright green, a perfect place to walk when a weak winter sun warms up Dublin.

Dublin, Ireland

My friend and I discovered a company that offers free two-hour walking tours of the city, so we spent a pleasant Saturday morning strolling through the cobblestone streets. We saw the remains of Dublin Castle, which are still used as meeting rooms for important international visitors, Dublin City Hall, and the last remaining vestiges of an old Viking house that was discovered years ago.

The Irish were certainly in the Christmas spirit: all of the restaurants and pubs had lighted wreaths and garlands hung up, and many streets were decorated with holiday lights. At night (or, when the sun goes down, which in Dublin was about 4 p.m.) the streets were beautiful and packed with Dubliners doing their Christmas shopping.

Dublin, Ireland

Not so packed in this photo, which I think was taken on Sunday night.

The “12 Pubs of Christmas” tradition was in full swing on Saturday night. What looked like a city-wide ugly Christmas sweater party was actually alcohol-fueled holiday festivities. Someone at a bar explained it to me. All you have to do is go to 12 bars in one night, have a drink in each bar, and spend at least 30 minutes in each bar, all while wearing your best Christmas outfit (most of which involved sweaters with built-in lights, homemade tinsel jewelry and makeshift Santa beards, although we did see one guy wearing a reindeer onesie, complete with antlers and a tail). Sounds pretty easy, right?

A visit to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without going to the Guinness Storehouse and paying homage to Ireland’s liquid gold. After learning about how Guinness is made, looking at old Guinness advertisements and commercials, learning the proper way to pour a Guinness (it should take no less than 119.5 seconds) and learning the right way to taste a Guinness, I was craving a Guinness. At the top of the storehouse is the Gravity Bar, offering a 360-degree view of Dublin. It was the perfect place to end the day and enjoy a pint.

Dublin, Ireland

Most of our weekend was otherwise spent wandering around and hoping it wouldn’t rain (no such luck on Monday, though). However, the city more than made up for the cold and sometimes gloomy weather. The locals were friendly, the food was hearty and the city was inviting. I foresee another trip to Ireland in my future, but next time I definitely hope to see the countryside as well.


I originally wrote this post for a local news website in Raleigh while I was traveling and blogging in Europe for 10 days in December 2012. 

I’m thrilled to be heading back to Ireland in December 2015 for a Christmas vacation with my family! My mom has deemed me the “travel expert” of the family and has delegated all tasks to me…so I hope my family is ready for an “Irish Christmas by Caitlin.”

Any suggestions on what to do and where to go in Ireland over the holidays?