Tag: "Ireland"

What to Expect from This Giant’s Causeway Tour

A visit to Northern Ireland would not be complete without a trip to the Unesco World Heritage Site, The Giant’s Causeway. Flanked by a rugged coastline and stretching out into a tumultuous Atlantic Ocean, the causeway is an awe inspiring site. Formed by 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, it is over 62 million years old. Science tells us that it was formed during a volcanic eruption, but those of a more romantic nature prefer to believe the mythical tale that the causeway was laid by the Giant, Finn McCool.

If you choose to take the award winning Giant’s Causeway Tour, organised by Allen’s Tours, here is a little of what you can expect from your day. The tour begins at 9:30 am in Belfast. You can choose to depart from one of the convenient pick-up points dotted around the city. Alternatively, it is possible to pre book a complimentary shuttle pick-up from your hotel or guest house.

Once on board your bus, sit back and relax knowing that you’re safe in the hands of your knowledgeable driver and tour guide. As you make your way out of the city of Belfast, prepare to enter another realm as you experience some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

“I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
Where the castle looks out to the sea.”

The lyrics of this famous Irish folk song couldn’t be more appropriate as you make the first stop on your journey. The gateway to the beautiful Causeway Coast, Carrickfergus is home to a stunning Norman castle that you are free to explore. Take the opportunity to step back in time and stroll around the castle walls or climb the winding stairwells and take in the magnificent views across the harbour.

Back on board and it is time to head north. Look to your right and the Irish Sea stretches eastwards to Scotland. Look to the left and the Nine Glens of Antrim are laid out in all their emerald beauty. As you travel along the winding coastline the gorgeous views change constantly, quaint villages, historic castles, seascapes, waterfalls, bridges and stunning glens take the breath away.

Moving along the coast you may feel the scenery becomes more familiar. This could well be the case if you watch the TV serial Game of Thrones. Used as a backdrop for some of its scenes, the tiny village of Ballintoy is famous for another reason too. Stopping in the village, you will be given the opportunity to cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The infamous rope bridge spans the gap between the mainland at Ballintoy and the tiny island of Carrickarede. Not for the faint hearted, it requires some daring to make the trip across this bridge. For those who would prefer to keep their feet on terra firma, there is the opportunity to take in the lovely views and fresh sea air.

A short drive down the road and it is time for lunch at “The Giant’s Causeway Cafe”. Lunch is not included in the price of the tour and with only 30 minutes to stop and grab a bite, it may be worth considering taking a picnic to eat at a more leisurely pace.

With one more stop before your destination, those who enjoy a tipple will appreciate the next part of the excursion. Established in 1608 The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery is the oldest working distillery in Ireland. Priding itself on its local roots, generations of families have worked here producing fine Irish whiskey. As well as the opportunity to tour the distillery, there is the chance to sample the wares in the tasting room before buying your very own drop of Ireland in a bottle.

The afternoon is spent at the outdoor museum, The Giant’s Causeway. Once there you can choose to pick up a hand held audio guide and explore at your own pace. Alternatively, you can take a tour with one of the rangers who will explain the history of the causeway. The indoor Visitors’ Centre allows you to discover more about the mythology and science of the area through interactive displays. Other facilities include a gift shop, toilets and a coffee shop.

Whichever way you choose to explore, there really is something for everyone. An area of outstanding natural beauty, you can investigate the basalt polygons that rise from the ground, follow the coastal paths in search of flora and fauna or spot the many varieties of birds and wildlife. For the true believers search instead for Finn McCool’s Cave, the Giant’s Boot or the Wishing Chair.

The end of the day and time to climb on board the bus for the return trip to Belfast. But just when you thought Allen’s Belfast Bus Tours had shown you all there was to see, they have one more surprise stop.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle perch precariously on the cliffs of Antrim overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Joined to the mainland by an arched walkway and built above a secret cave, it is hauntingly beautiful. Woven into its long history are tales of mermaids, smugglers and piracy. A fairy tale castle, it provides the perfect backdrop for those keen to catch a romantic image of Irish history.

While the sun sets on what is hoped was a perfect day, it is time to head homeward to Belfast. As night falls you just have time for a nap before reaching your destination. Perhaps if you are really lucky you will dream of castles, mermaids and returning to The Giant’s Causeway, one day very soon.

Some photos that make Ireland look like a fun place to be

This collection of photos was compiled by someone who lives in Ireland and then a friend of mine who lives in Ireland shared with me. However, I think that visitors could appreciate the quirk and charm on display in these photos just as well as a resident.

I’m guessing that you have to get away from Dublin and Belfast and into some of the smaller towns to see some of this awesome stuff, and the photos aren’t well-labeled so I don’t know where these things are most likely to happen. If anyone does have some suggestions to see the ‘real’ Ireland on display in these photos, please do leave a comment.

I wonder if we could add a small town to this travel plan for the solo traveler in Dublin. These are thumbnails so click on a picture for the larger image.

Swimming in a pothole in Ireland

Swimming in a pothole in Ireland


St. Patrick’s Day Ireland vacation sweepstakes from Ancestry.com & Great Value Vacations

The contest is open to U.S. residents 21 and older and can be entered by visiting Ancestry.com’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Ancestry.com until March 21, 2013.

I’ll be entering because Ireland has always been pretty high on my list. I even have some Irish ancestry. And naturally, we’ve talked about Ireland on this site since we’re all about dreaming up possible vacations here:
Solo travel plan for Ireland
, movie tourism in Ireland, and Dublin travel plan to list a few.

So here are the details for the contest: Great Value Vacations, in partnership with Ancestry.com, offers an Ireland Coast to Castle Sweepstakes. One lucky winner will receive an unforgettable Irish vacation for two, as well as a custom suite of Ancestry.com products and services including a 1-year Global Explorer membership, Ancestry DNA kit, Family Tree Maker 2013, and research with Ancestry.com’s ProGenealogists.

2013 marks the year of The Gathering, a year-long celebration of all things Irish during which Ireland and its people are welcoming the Irish diaspora, as well as anyone with a love of Ireland to visit. Great Value Vacations is making it possible for one lucky winner and a companion to take part in what has been dubbed “the people’s party.” In addition to the vacation, the winner (whether of Irish descent or not) will have the opportunity to research their roots using a variety of products and services donated by Ancestry.com.
The Ireland Coast to Castle Vacation includes:

Round-trip economy class air
1 night at the 4-star Croke Park Hotel, Dublin
4 nights at winner’s choice of more than 1,000 Bed & Breakfasts located throughout Ireland
1 night at the 5-star Adare Manor, Limerick
Automatic rental car for the duration
House of Waterford Crystal Tour
Full Irish breakfast daily

According to Great Value Vacations’ Brand Manager, Laura DeMaio, “The Irish people have always held their ancestry in high regard, so in addition to a luxury Irish vacation that provides travelers with the flexibility to visit the regions they most want to see, we’re delighted to include a variety of Ancestry.com products that will enable the winner to research their roots prior to the vacation, and then based on those results, select Bed & Breakfast accommodations located in the region(s) they’re most interested in visiting. Of course, the sweepstakes is open to all U.S. residents, not just those of Irish descent.”

Brief visit to Ireland advice

Reader question: I’m making a brief visit to Ireland next week, flying into Dublin because I found some cheap Air Canada tickets online, driving to Belfast for dinner and staying the night there, and then potentially free the next day and evening before flying out of Dublin again late the next morning. I have not been to Ireland before. Looking for advice. Should I spend my free evening in Dublin? (which would seem to make the most sense since I’ll be flying from there the next day). If so, where? Or is there someplace between Belfast and Dublin compelling enough to stay the night there instead? And any advice on not to miss (given my very brief stay). Thanks!

My answer (or rather a friend’s answer since I have never been to Ireland). If anyone can add something useful, please comment below.

Dublin is great, especially Grafton Street. Temple Bar district in Dublin is very cool. There are better places than Dublin in Ireland BUT it is still a great city. I worked as a journalist in Belfast back in the ’80s, but Dublin is where I would go for a great weekend night out. It’s hard to top. My favorite Dublin night spot is The Brazen Head, which may very well be the oldest pub in the world (12th century). It’s a great place for a good pint and live music.

Belfast is a great, great town. The city center has come a long way. It’s a small city but one where you can have a lot of fun. Take a Black Taxi Tour in Belfast. Driver takes you out to all the former hotspot areas in the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Very knowledgeable guides, fascinating tour. I’ve been to Belfast a half-dozen times and would go back in a heartbeat. A bit of a drive from Belfast but the Giants Causeway is really close to the Bushmills distillery.

In the end, if I was flying out the next day I would want to stay in or near where I was leaving from. One, that is a lot of traveling in one day between the car and flight. Two, who wants to drive hung over? Get on that plane and sleep. So a plan might be, and this is what i would do on the free day, the Black Taxi tour around Belfast, then drive down to Dublin, and walk around Temple Bar shooting photos and pub crawling till I can’t drink anymore (with an if found return to The Morgan Hotel stamp on my forehead). But stay sober enough to make sure I got to the brazen head at some point.

If you had the time, Book of Kells at Trinity College. James Joyce Tower. Pilgrimage to St James Gate (Guinness Brewery) or O’Connell Street.

Traveling Alone – Travel Plan Idea to Dublin, Ireland

Day 1 – Arrive at Dublin airport and take the bus from Terminal 1 to the updated Generator Hostel, opened in 2011 and awarded a Certificate of Excellence in 2012 by Trip Advisor. Buses and trams are also available from the ferry port and the two main train stations, Heuston and Connolly. Bus – $7.70, Taxi – $25.

Check in before 2pm to a private room comfortably equipped with your own bathroom, clothes locker, and fresh bed linen and towels. Spend time in the afternoon familiarizing yourself with the Hostel’s facilities, including a laundry, 24-hour wi-fi access, a casual lounge open 24 hours to hang out with friends, and a travel shop stocking all the travel essentials you forgot and souvenirs. The Generator bar is where all the action is. You might want to have a pint of Guinness and go back later this evening for more party time entertainment. It is a lively action filled place to socialize and enjoy some of the many fun-filled events such as nightly pool competitions with a small $2.50 entry fee, DJ music, or a big screen sporting event. Hours: from 3pm, Mon-Fri, 12Noon, Sat & Sun.
Private Room Rate: $77

First evening in Dublin – Centrally located in Smithfield Square, the Generator is near several popular restaurants. Across from your hostel is the Bel Cibo Italian restaurant offering delicious pizzas, antipasto, calamari, pastas, steak, burgers, and desserts. Quality food, entrees from $12 to $19.
Hours: Mon-Thu, 10am-10pm, Fri & Sat, 10am-10.30pm, Sun, 11am-10pm.
Head on back to the Generator after dinner to relax or maybe check out what’s happening in the bar.

Day 2 – Sightseeing (Bus and tram service is readily available for visiting sites beyond walking distance from the Generator.)

After a quick breakfast at the Hostel, be sure and pick up the Generator Voucher book which offers discounts and vouchers to many of the main attractions in Dublin.
Your first stop near the Generator might be the Old Jameson Distillery where you’ll learn how this famous Irish whiskey is carefully produced from malting and mashing to fermenting and distilling. Although born in Scotland in 1740, John Jameson is legendary in Ireland for creating the finest triple distilled Irish whiskey in the land. Enjoy a guided tour through the distillery, have a Jameson Irish whiskey at JJ’s bar, and stay for lunch at the Third Still restaurant. Choose from the a-la-carte menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches – $6-$9. Main courses include seafood platters, lamb kebabs, and Irish chili beef – $15. Hours: 9am-4pm.
Distillery Open 9am-6pm. Tour prices: Adults – $16. Tours can be reserved online
Gift shop onsite.

Tonight you might want to visit the Cobblestone pub, one of Ireland’s finest, with a rustic Irish atmosphere, a wide selection of beers, and free traditional music sessions in the front bar. Special musician gigs in the back bar feature bluegrass, country, pop, and folk. Cobblestone Hours: Mon-Thu, 10am-11:30pm, Fri & Sat, 10am-12:30pm, Sun, 10am-11pm.

Day 3 – A full day – so much more to see

Dublin Castle on the south side of the River Liffey is an interesting attraction on the way to the Christchurch Cathedral. Established in 1204, visitors can explore the conference center, the Garda and the Revenue Museums, the Chester Beatty Library of manuscripts and art, and the Chapel Royal on the grounds – free admission. Gift shop and cafes onsite. Guided tours: $6.
Chapel Royal – Mon-Sat, 10am-4:45. Sun, 12Noon-4:45.
Garda Museum – in the Castle tower, last one remaining from medieval times in Dublin. Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm. Open 2nd and 4th weekends each month.
Revenue Museum – in the Crypt of the Chapel, collection of taxes, smuggling operations, and stamp duties.

While you’re in the area, have lunch at the highly-rated Queen of Tarts across from the Castle. This quaint, cozy establishment features a delightful menu of tasty sandwiches, tarts, scones, salads, and desserts. Prices: From $8 to $10, desserts $5.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 7:30am-6pm.

After lunch, take a stroll down Nassau to Kildare Street, explore the National Museum, and continue your journey to St Stephen’s Green. This beautiful city park, made famous in James Joyce’s Ulysses, reflects Ireland’s past through statues and displays of flowers. Tour guide – Jun-Aug, $7.

No doubt you’ve worked up an appetite and Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street is a popular place, with four floors, beautiful stained glass windows, and exotic Oriental and Egyptian decor. Over one million customers come here each year including the renowned James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Sinead O’Connor, and numerous other literary and artistic visitors. Bewley’s can accommodate 400 people, the largest in capacity and space in Ireland. The menu has a wide selection of appetizers, salads, pizzas, pastas, salmon, desserts, and excellent specialty teas and espresso. Cocktails, beer, and wine also available.
Menu Prices: $11-$17. A special 3-course meal can be ordered every evening at 6pm, $19.
Hours: Mon-Wed, 8am-10pm, Thu-Sat, 8am-11pm, Sun, 4pm-10pm. Reservations.

(If you happen to go on the last Monday of the month, there’s free music beginning at 8pm by the Lazy Band in the Café Theatre upstairs.)

Day 4 – Bring the camera

Re-visit the Queen of Tarts for breakfast and go on to Phoenix Park, established in 1662, to see the fabulous residences of the Irish President, the U.S. Ambassador, and many others. You can get some great photos of the wildlife that live in the park, stop at the Visitor Center for an audio-visual presentation, and explore the exhibits. Have lunch in the outdoor courtyard of the Victorian Tea café.
Hours: 24/7, year round. Free admission.

One of the highlights of any trip to Dublin would be a visit to the Guinness Brewery/Storehouse. Explore all seven floors to learn the history of Guinness from its beginning at St James Gate to worldwide recognition. Begin your journey from the bottom of the Atrium, which forms the largest pint glass in the world, an awesome experience. Be sure and check out all the merchandise in the store while you’re here. On the 4th floor, learn how to pour the perfect pint, enjoy the specialty foods prepared with Guinness, and relax at the Gravity Bar at the top while enjoying the full panoramic view. This will undoubtedly be a great way to end the day and return to the Hostel for the evening.
Hours: 9:30am-5pm. Adults: $19.00. Tours available.

Day 5 – Shopping pleasures

This will be a leisurely day, shopping, and following no set schedule. Recommended are Cleo for Irish tweeds, Monaghan’s for cashmere, the Kilkenny shop, the Doll Store, and Past Times. There are, of course, several outdoor markets. Look through your Generator Voucher book for more ideas. There’s always the hop-on, hop-off bus, where you can see some of the things you missed, easy and convenient. The commentary is entertaining and great fun, with about 24 attractions along the way. Suggest the Green Bus route. 2-day ticket – $23.

Last night in Dublin – Join a few friends in the Generator Bar, then off to bed.

Day 6 – Saying goodbye to Dublin. Leaving on the ferry at 14:30, arriving Holyhead in the UK at 16:30 (Liverpool is about two hours away), $50 one-way.

Sharon L Slayton

See also:

Movie Tourism – County Cork, Ireland
Ireland true or false FAQ
Peter King on Ireland B&B