In August of 2016 I took a solo journey to Ireland. What follows is by no means a comprehensive travel guide or even a “best of” but more of a reflection on what sites and experiences really stood out from a vacation packed with memorable moments.
Traveling alone has its ups and downs. I am, by nature, a person who is comfortable alone and able to entertain myself for long periods of time. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to set my own schedule and rely on my own resourcefulness to get around. That said, there were many moments when I felt in need of familiar companionship and at a loss as to how to find it. There is nothing like being thousands of miles from home, on your own, to bring out feelings of vulnerability. On a positive note, I think this lead me to be chattier with random strangers and I ended up meeting many interesting people. My advice to others traveling alone would be to not let feelings of loneliness or vulnerability get you down or make you feel like you have failed as a solo adventurer. I think it is part of the process for many. Despite these feelings (or because of them?) I look back on this trip as a grand adventure. Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I look forward to returning, as I feel I only got a small taste of what this country has to offer.
I started my trip with a day in Dublin, which is an intriguing city with tons of history but also a modern, artistic edge. Aesthetically, I loved the bright and graphic signage mixed in with older architecture. Dublin is a very walkable city and I took a relaxed approach to exploration. I made a few touristy stops in Dublin including the Oscar Wilde memorial sculpture (super cool!), St. Stephen’s Green (lovely ramble), the Book of Kells at Trinity College (fascinating) and the Old Jameson factory (meh). I also loved browsing through indie shops in the Grafton Street part of the city and stopping at antique shops and vendor fairs I came across, one of which was at the Generator Hostel pictured below.
Ballycarberry Castle and the Ring of Kerry
From Dublin I made my way to Killarney to explore the Ring of Kerry. I had read that Killarney was a tourist trap, which is accurate, but it is still fun to visit the many shops and pubs (sampling whiskey all the way :)) and meeting fellow travelers.
I debated renting a car to drive around the ring. As a city resident with a fear of heights, who drives approximately once a year, the idea of driving on the left hand side of winding coastal roads sounded borderline suicidal. I imagined hordes of honking, angry drivers trailing behind me as a crawled along the highway at 5 miles an hour. The idea of taking a tour bus was even less appealing. So for this part of the trip, I splurged on a private taxi tour of the Ring of Kerry. It felt ridiculously decadent, but ended up to be well worth it. The driver took me to places that were not on regular tour bus routes and would stop in any place that I wanted. One of our stops was Ballycarberry Castle, a tumble-down structure surrounded by coastal plains. It may be controversial in terms of historical preservation, but the best part of this experience for me was that you could climb all over and into the ruins. It really made me feel connected to the place and to history. The sweeping green landscape around it wasn’t too bad either. The scenery on the Ring of Kerry was more breathtaking and green than I could have imagined, and wandering briefly in the foggy, mysterious forests of Killarney National Park made had me making plans to come back for an extend hiking trip.
Coffee facing the ocean in Waterville
Along the ring of Kerry is the coastal town of Waterville. Spending a relaxing hour here drinking coffee facing the ocean and watching kids on the beach having an ecology lesson was mind altering. It had me wondering how feasible it would be to relocate all of my friends and family to this tranquil spot.
Lisdoonvarna is the site of a famous matchmaking festival which draws hopefuls from all around Ireland and even the world. At other times of the year it is a quiet place. Without a lot of research, I had decided to use Lisdoonvarna as a jumping off place to visit the Aran Islands, rather than Doolin which is more popular among travelers. I arrived a week before the Matchmaking festival and it was fun to watch the town prepare for the coming crowd. There was definitely a sense of anticipation in the air. The Rathbaun Hotel is small and charming and has well-known live music nights, which I enjoyed both nights I stayed there. One thing I will note is that—as of August 2016— there were no ATMs in Doolin or Lisdoonvarna. I mention this because it took me by surprise and caused a little stress. Some establishments offer cash for credit at a fee, which saved me, but I would recommend getting the cash you need before you get to town.
Riding bike through stone walls of Inis Oírr
Inis Oírr (pronounced “sheer”) is the smallest and southernmost Aran Island. I took the ferry from Doolin and rented a bike to explore the island. August is the height of tourist season in Ireland and yet I found myself alone riding between the island’s famous, interlacing stone walls. Inis Oírr is small and you can see most of the highlights in a day including a magnificent, rusty ship wreck, cool coastal rock formations dotted with tide pools, an interesting wind-swept grave yard and the ruins of a castle on the uppermost point of the island.
Fish chowder and brown bread at Café an Chaisleán, Inis Oírr
This was my favorite meal in Ireland. It was delicious, lite and simple. The adorable, chatty waiter made me feel like I was eating in a friend’s house.
Dolphins dancing in front of boat by Cliffs of Moher
On the ferry ride back from Inis Oirr the boat made a special trip to view the Cliffs of Moher. At first it was rainy and the cliffs were covered in haze but then the sun broke through and highlighted these spectacular formations. A school of dolphins rode the waves at the bow of the ship heading back into the dock. I have never been so close to a dolphin and it was a memorable experience.
The bus ride from Lisdoonvarna to Galway
For the most part, I traveled by public transport through Ireland. I love doing this when traveling. The act of having to negotiate a foreign transit system has the instant effect of making me feel engaged in the daily rhythm of the place I am visiting. The bus route I took hugs the burren coast from Lisdoonvarna to Galway. It was an unexpected opportunity to see more of the countryside and to get inspired for future travels further up the western coast of Ireland.
From Galway I made my way to Dublin by bus and caught a flight to Nice. Stay tuned for highlights from my Nice adventure.