Must-See Places in Ireland & Northern Ireland

Must-see places in Ireland, Glenariff Forest Park

Global Debauchery in Ireland & Northern Ireland

Ireland and Northern Ireland hold a special place in my heart. I’d already spent most of my childhood traveling, but this trip was among the first international ventures I embarked upon as an adult. It also marked the first of many international trips to come for me and my then-fiancé. We’ve traveled to thirty-seven countries together since, and have dubbed ourselves the #AdventurePartnersForLife. With all the traveling we’ve done, though, I still vividly remember these must-see places in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

We made the journey in January, just one month after we’d gotten engaged. Why January, you ask? Because we were both tied to a much stricter budget in those days and flights were only around $400 roundtrip that time of year. The beauty of it was that we got to see Ireland and Northern Ireland in a way that many travelers never will. Those unique images are forever etched in our minds. Keep reading as I divulge some of our favorite places and special memories in the Emerald Isle and and its friendly neighbor.


Of Course Dublin Is #1

A Dublin building facade at night

#1 on Global Debauchery’s list of must-see places in Ireland and Northern Ireland is Dublin, of course! There are so many attractions in Dublin.

We arrived in Dublin after many hours of flying, having been routed and re-routed. We almost missed flights, and somehow I ended up in Spain without legal entry. To the best of my memory, we’d been haphazardly rushed through TSA in Philadelphia and, when we arrived in Madrid, only my husband’s ticket had actually been re-routed in the airline system.

The flight attendants and TSA basically shoved me on an international flight, for which I had no legitimate ticket. By all accounts, I was supposedly already in London. Needless to say, we were relieved when we finally arrived in Dublin for a couple days. We rented a car and planned to road-trip the island.

It was Obama’s presidential inauguration and, when we got in the rental car, we found that almost every radio station was reporting on the United States’ first African-American president. We were even more surprised to find on an evening walk that Irish citizens were actively celebrating the event in the streets.

We stopped at a bar in the midst of the hooplah, where my husband attempted to order a scotch. The barkeep adamantly denied the request, insisting he drink Irish whiskey, and gave him a glass of Paddy, the cheapest whiskey to be found.

That night, the first of our quirky nights out in Dublin, we heard the cheering until we drifted to sleep. All down the length of Grafton Street and the River Liffey. The realization that our nation’s politics extended far beyond the borders of our own country was one that we’d take with us on all our future journeys.

A Snowy Glenariff Forest Park

Glenariff Forest Park in the snow

As you exit Dublin, you encounter any number of toll roads. Because we were young and broke, we made it a point to change our GPS settings to “avoid major roads.” While Glenariff Forest Park in Northern Ireland was indeed on our list of sights to see, the way we got there was very likely not the most straightforward… since we forgot to turn the GPS setting off for the remainder of the trip.

The entire island is a lush green, of course, but as you continue into Glenariff, you enter thicker woodlands than what you might otherwise find. As we drove the narrow, winding roads, the landscape gradually transformed from emerald pastures to dense forest. Eventually, it began to snow. That quiet, peaceful kind of snowfall. We pulled the car over to stretch and take in the serenity of it all. That’s when we got this shot, one of my favorite photographs we’ve ever taken.

Giant’s Causeway, A World Heritage Site

Giant's Causeway rocks in Northern Ireland

If you ever make the trek to Northern Ireland, add the Giant’s Causeway to your list. Named after a mythical battle between giants, the entire Causeway coast is a geologic wonder of hexagonal basalt columns. And a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This portion of the island’s coastline is super majestic, with staggering rock formations abound. Though visitors can take a shuttle from the Welcome Center to the Causeway itself, my husband and I didn’t have any pounds on hand, so we decided to hoof it. It’s not a particularly long walk, but the return trip is pretty steep. Consider yourself warned.

Add Connemara To Your List of Must-See Places in Ireland

Must-see places in Ireland, Connemara

Remember how we never turned the “avoid major roads” setting off on our GPS? Well, this made for an especially interesting experience in Connemara. After driving and touring most of the day, evening fell. We were running late for check-in to our B&B. Eventually, we were surrounded by a herd of sheep in our tiny rental car. On some random back road around midnight.

We mustered as much patience as we could and slowly navigated our way through the wooly bunch. And then we stood on the B&B’s stoop for thirty minutes locked out. Fortunately, the owner finally heard us and answered the door. When we explained that we thought someone’s sheep must’ve gotten out of their pen, she replied, “Oh no, that’s just part of the Connemara charm.”

We later learned the owner of the bed and breakfast was running for mayor. She sang an Irish hymn for us as we ate a “traditional” breakfast of oatmeal with kiwi. (I’m pretty sure kiwi isn’t native to Ireland.).

The following morning, we continued our journey through Connemara and decided to pull over to enjoy the scenery. The sky was a heavy gray and the yellow of the long, wispy grass contrasted beautifully against it. We stood lakeside in the light snow and suddenly realized the silence surrounding us. Not a car, not a plane, nor another human voice to be heard. Just us, and the lake water lapping against the land, earning it an official spot on our list of must-see places in Ireland.

The Breezy Cliffs of Moher

Must-see places in Ireland, Cliffs of Moher
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Moherreko Amildegiak.

The Cliffs of Moher deliver an equally astounding experience as the Giant’s Causeway. While the Causeway is rugged rock formations on the coastline, the Cliffs of Moher are just sheer cliffs dropping dramatically into the sea.

On the seaside bluffs in January, the wind blew something fierce and dispatched a particularly biting cold. My now-husband only brought a light coat and spent the entire visit shivering uncontrollably. Nevertheless, we spent our time photographing the scenery and imitating the signage of people falling over the walls.

Of course, there are a thousand must-see places in Ireland and Northern Ireland. These are just a few that provided fond memories for the #AdventurePartnersForLife. Whatever you decide to do with your time there, the Emerald Isle and its friendly neighbor are sure to find a permanent place in your heart.

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