Ireland is a pretty popular place for American students to study abroad. They speak the same language in most parts, which makes it an easier transition for most students. As the capital of the country, Dublin tends to be the most recognized city in the country, and because of that a lot of students decide to study abroad at one of the city’s many colleges. If you’re going to spend a few months in Dublin, here are a few things you can’t miss!
For history buffs
If you love gorgeous architecture, beautiful memorials, and other interesting locations, then you should definitely check these places out during your time in Ireland.
- Get lost in Glasnevin Cemetery: There are literally more people buried in Glasnevin Cemetery than there are living in Dublin. The necropolis is the final resting place for many of Ireland’s most famous heroes, writers, and musicians. Consider taking a stroll among the beautifully carved Celtic crosses or take a tour from the Visitor’s Center. And don’t miss a chance to stop in at Kavanagh’s, aka the Gravedigger’s Pub!
- Stop in at the GPO: Instead of running past the General Post Office on O’Connell on your way to Penney’s, stop and look around you. Take a minute to walk inside, then walk outside and note the battle scars the building holds from the Easter Rising. While you’re at it, head toward the Liffey and note the damage to the statue of the street’s namesake.
- Visit the Gaol: Speaking of the Rising, you can’t leave Dublin without stopping in at Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced: jail). There’s nothing more sobering than walking out to the yard where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed and seeing the simple yet powerful memorials left in their honor.
- See the Book: The Book of Kells, a work of art and a piece of history, is on display in Trinity College’s library. Bring another book or a good friend with you though, because there’s always a long line.
- Kiss the Blarney Stone: Okay, you don’t have to kiss the Blarney Stone for the gift of gab, but it’s worth a trip out to explore the castle. Blarney is a cool little town in County Cork, so it’s a fun trip to make. The castle also has beautiful gardens, including one dedicated entirely to poisonous plants like deadly nightshade and belladonna.
- Visit a Malahide-away: If Blarney’s a bit too far for you but you still want to see a castle, there are plenty that are closer. One is in Malahide, just a 20-minute ride to the north. It’s a bit of a walk to the castle, but they have beautiful gardens and a lovely manor house.
- Check out Trim Castle: Speaking of castles nearby, just past the Pale is Trim Castle in County Meath. It’s a small hike but definitely worth the trip for a lovely tour of the castle and a chance to see a true Irish town. Why does it look so familiar, you ask? Because it’s where they shot the movie Braveheart.
Just for fun
Of course, you shouldn't be exploring just academic locations. There's so much fun stuff to do! And your time abroad should also include immersing yourself in cultural activities and local hangouts.
- Go to the pub: Pub culture is extremely important to the Irish. It’s where locals go to take a load off at the end of the day, catch up with friends, and watch a game on Sunday. And drinking alcohol isn’t mandatory. In fact, go for a pint of black currant; it’s usually 2€ or less, so your wallet will thank you, and it’s delicious!
- Take a dip: Whether you’re around for Bloomsday or not, hop on the DART and go down to Sandycove Beach for a quick swim at the Forty Foot. There’ll be a bit of a walk, so stop at Teddy’s for a classic ’99 on the way.
- Picnic in the park: Grab some takeaway, a blanket, and a few pals and have a picnic in Phoenix Park. You can even find deer roaming around, so be aware you might have a new friend show up if you’ve got something that smells especially delicious (looking at you, garlic cheese chips).
- Play ball: What, you’re going all the way to Ireland and not seeing a game? Are you mad? See if you can catch a game of Irish football or hurling in between your studies. If you can’t, at least try to wander by Trinity’s pitch the day of a cricket match and experience some sporting events you may never get to see again.
- Lord of the Dance: Okay, so Riverdance was made up for Eurovision, and you’re certainly no Michael Flatly, but try your hand at a bit of traditional step at a ceilí (pronounced: kay-lee; Gaelic for “dance”). You can check out O’Shea’s Merchant on the edge of Temple Bar, where they have traditional Irish dance every Monday, or ask some locals where you can find a ceilí event.
- Find the one: This one only works if you’re in Ireland in September, but the largest matchmaking festival in the world is in Lisdoonvarna (pronounced: lisht-doon-varn-eh), and it’s worth the trek out there, even just as an educational experience. People from around the globe stop in to find their other half. Maybe Mr. or Mrs. Right is looking for you there!
- Attend a show: With famous playwrights like Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan hailing from Dublin, there are plenty of great shows to find in the city. You don’t even have to go see a high-end production like you would at the Gaiety or the Abbey—just check out some of the local scenes.
- Live it up: You’ll see the phrase “ceol agus craic” (pronounced: key-ole ah-gis crack) on almost every pub in Ireland. The phrase is Gaelic for “music and fun,” and you can find pretty much any live music you want in the city. Of course, you’ll have to stop in at a pub for a trad session, but try to scope out some of the current Irish music scene too. There are a lot of great bars with live music along Dame Street, and there’s always something good at Doyle’s across from Trinity.
For out-of-town trips
The beauty of traveling abroad is that you often also get the opportunity to travel within the country you're visiting. So make sure to fill up your weekends with some trips to these awesome places.
- I want Moher: Filling the role of the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride, the Cliffs of Moher are a pretty well-known place to stop in Ireland. But pictures can only do so much! To truly appreciate the beauty that is millions of years of erosion, you need to actually go to the Cliffs and see for yourself. They’re breathtaking!
- Have a Wicklow good time: If you’re in Dublin and don’t go down to Wicklow, did you even go to Dublin? Even if you just hop on the DART down to Bray and hike up to Bray Head or take the mountain walk from Bray to Greystones and go on home, you get to experience the beauty of the county. For more intense beauty, take a hike or book a camping experience through Wicklow Mountains National Park.
- Burren up: You get the shist—there are a lot of rocks in Ireland. Don’t be igneous…learn more about them and metamorph into someone who loves geology. Check out the Burren in County Clare, full of limestone, history, and granite rock puns.
- Here be giants: Speaking of cool rock formations, it’s a bit of a hike, but you should check out the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. You’ll likely have to book a tour to get all the way up there, but it’s worth it! Check out the beautiful steps of basalt left behind from many eons ago.
- Don’t jump on the bridge: If you travel to Northern Ireland, check out the Carrick-a-Rede bridge. It’s a really old rope bridge that stretches between two high-up rock walls. It’s one of the scariest experiences if you’re not a fan of heights, but you get a pretty view from that high up, so that’s a nice tradeoff.
- Winter is here: Jon Snow may know nothing, but you know that much of Game of Thrones was filmed in Northern Ireland. Can you take a tour of the filming locations? Obviously! If you and your friends are in the GOT fandom, make sure to book a tour.
- I Connemara believe it: If you think Wicklow is pretty, just wait until you see these mountains in County Galway. They’re just as beautiful but on the western side of Ireland. Check out Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey for beautiful mountain views, centuries of history, and sheep. You can also take hiking and camping trips throughout Connemara as you might in Wicklow.
- Ring around the peninsula: There are a lot of different peninsulas in Ireland. Going around any of them will give you gorgeous ocean and cliffside views, but you can’t miss out on the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula. They’re pretty close together but two vastly different experiences. If you plan to go around the Dingle Peninsula, go to Dingle (the town) and rent a bike to tour the area—you’ll want to stop a lot to take pictures along the way. If you plan to do the Ring of Kerry, go into Killarney and take a bus tour. There are a lot of narrow roads, and the last thing you want to do is end up playing chicken with a tour bus coming from the opposite direction. (You’ll lose.)
- Aran you listening to me?: If you’re going west, you may as well check out at least one of the Aran Islands. There’s Inis Oir, Inis Meáin, and Inis Mór. You can get to Inis Meáin and Inis Mór from Galway and Inis Oir from Doolin, which is right at the bottom of the Cliffs of Moher. All the islands are gorgeous, and they’re all part of the Gaeltacht, so you’ll get a good helping of old-fashioned Irish culture while you’re out there. PS: They make some really nice wool sweaters.
- The Great Western Greenway: Hop on the Irish Rail and head over to Westport in County Mayo for a nice little weekend trip. It’s a lovely town, but what’s really great is the Greenway. You can rent a bike or walk along the 26-mile, car-free Greenway and get a glimpse of heaven. And if you don’t want to ride the whole thing out and back (because it’s literally two marathons), most bike rental agencies offer shuttle services to get you back.
Ireland is an incredible and beautiful country with a lot to offer. So if you're studying abroad there, you should be sure to make the most of your time. Find a good balance between academic endeavors and doing things just for the fun of the experience. Stay safe, and happy travels on your exciting adventure!
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