Top 8 places to check out during your first month in Ireland

By Carina Dozier

Hello! My name is Carina, a student from the University of California, Berkeley, and I’m currently studying at Trinity for the spring semester. I chose Trinity, and Dublin specifically, because of the “small-big city” vibe (much like my home city of Berkeley), the exceptional Trinity academics, and especially opportunities to travel all over Ireland and Europe! I have only been here a month, but already I love the history in Dublin, the endless beauty and quirkiness of the city, and the friendliness of the Irish people. I am lucky enough to have been able to travel to a different place in Ireland almost every weekend as well, so I wanted to share my experiences, to help any students uncertain about what to do while they’re here!

Ranked in no particular order:

  1. Galway City

Located on the western coast of Ireland, Galway is a small, yet lively town that boasts the traditional “Irish-ness” that the country is known for. A round-trip Bus Éireann costs just €18, and the majority of hostels are in the center of the city and are relatively cheap. While you’re there, make sure to check out Galway Cathedral, the River Corrib down by the docks, the National University of Ireland at Galway, and definitely Menlo Castle, a picturesque ruin of a 16th century castle located just outside the city. If you’re looking to have more of a “chill” day, Eyre Square and the surrounding streets have tons of shopping opportunities, where you can pick up your very own Claddagh ring – a traditional Irish ring originating in the nearby fishing village of Claddagh, given as a representation of love, loyalty, and friendship. Top off the day with a scenic walk along the harbor, and of course, a pint in one of Galway’s many pubs, where you’ll find great bar food, Irish dancing, or live music!

Galway Pic - Carina Dozier

  1. Giant’s Causeway:

So, technically, this world-famous attraction is located in Northern Ireland (an entirely different country than the Republic of Ireland), but it is still completely worth visiting. It was named the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom, and is famous for its hexagonal tops of columns that form stepping stones leading from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. According to legend, the Scottish giant Benandonner proposed a fight to Irish giant Finn, who built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. However, when Benandonner sees the size of Finn, he flees, destroying the causeway behind him. Day tours from Dublin costs around €40, but if you’re part of the International Society at Trinity (which I recommend joining, for any students), it’ll cost just €35!

  1. Cliffs of Moher:

By far the most beautiful place I’ve been to in Ireland so far. The Cliffs are located in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland, and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland, attracting around 1.5 million visitors annually. Standing at their tallest point about 214 meters (702 feet) high, on a cloudless, fogless day, views from the Cliffs offer a kind of peace and serenity unfound anywhere else in Ireland. Bus Éireann runs numerous busses round trip daily from surrounding cities like Doolin, Kinvara, and Galway, but a day trip with a bus tour company from Dublin will cost €40, and typically includes stops in nearby fishing villages, where you can admire lovely harbors, views of the Aran Islands, all while sipping on an Irish coffee to keep you warm.

  1. Trinity College:

So I may be just a little biased as a student myself, but if you’re looking for a glimpse into Dublin’s student life while also immersing yourself in a long legacy of Irish history, Trinity is the perfect place to visit. Home to 17,000 students, Trinity is the #1 university in Ireland, as well as in the world’s top 100 universities, and boasts prestigious alumni such as Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and Leo Varadkar, the current Prime Minister of Ireland. Luckily, their international population is also extremely high, so in my case, I needn’t look far to find a fellow American to discuss important news back home (and lament the lack of Tapatio hot sauce in this country!!) If you want to do a little more than just wander around campus (which still feels like Hogwarts, no matter how many times I walk through the front gate), you can check out the Old Library’s Book of Kells exhibit, a Latin Gospel manuscript widely regarded as Ireland’s “finest national treasure.” Walking just a little way outside of Trinity’s gates also leads you to Grafton Street, one of two principal shopping areas in Dublin, where you can check out the Disney store, listen to street performers, or just grab a cup of coffee after class!

  1. Guinness Storehouse:

This is a must-see for anyone wanting the true Irish experience – they love their beer! The Storehouse is a seven-story self-guided tour that takes you through all aspects of Guinness production, from the growth of “hops” in the beer to the exact pouring technique, which you can do yourself! Each floor explains a different step of the process, as well as the history of the Guinness company, all culminating with the 7th-story “Gravity Bar” that gives you a 360-panoramic view of Dublin. If you’re lucky, you can snag a table right by the window, and enjoy your hand-poured glass of Guinness in style!

  1. Walk along the River Liffey:

While not technically a single place, the River Liffey cuts Dublin into its Northern and Southern halves, and is completely worth taking a free Saturday or Sunday to walk at least part of its length. Dublin is quite a small city – it takes less than an hour to drive across the entire city, and walking from Phoenix Park (near Dublin’s edge) to Dublin Port takes around 2.5 hours – and therefore even walking a short distance yields some amazing sights. Not only will you see some historic sights, like the Brazen Head (regarded as the oldest pub in Ireland) or the Dublin Spire (look left when you pass O’Connell Street), but the colorful buildings and intricate wall art will make the walk even more enjoyable. Just grab a quick coffee from Costa and you’re on your way to feeling like a real Dubliner!

Walking tour - Carina Dozier

7. Belfast

While also in Northern Ireland, Belfast is a staple of any trip up north. Both the capital and the largest city in Northern Ireland, Belfast is a major cultural and media center of the country, which can be witnessed through the many traditional Irish bands playing throughout the city, and occasional glimpse of the Irish language being spoken (Belfast has the highest concentration of Irish speakers in Northern Ireland). For those who have been to my home state of California, the architecture and “feel” of the city is very similar to that of San Francisco, which only made me feel more at home on the other side of the ocean. If you have a day to spend, make your way by City Hall, St. Anne’s Cathedral, and the Peace Walls, but if your visit is more short-lived, just a stroll down Royal Avenue will be enough to fulfill your experience.

NI Pic 1 - Carina Dozier

  1. Dublin Walking Tour

I was lucky enough that my study abroad program provided this for our group, and even though it was raining, it was amazing to hear the history and intricacies of Dublin from an actual Dubliner, rather than a travel site. Most tours will take you through all the main city attractions, including Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick’s tower, Trinity College, and my personal favorite, Dublin Castle, a major governmental complex that historically has served as a defensive fortification, a royal residence, a military garrison, AND the “Four Courts” after the War of Independence. The Castle also hosts official State visits – among which have included Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama – as well the inauguration of the presidents of Ireland. All in all, any walking tour through the city will leave you vastly more knowledgeable than before – and definitely with a better sense of direction.

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