Our March 2012 Irish trip started in Dublin and the continued through the Northern part of the country. We opted to rent a car as we thought it would give us the freedom to see the most sites and visit all the cities we wanted to see. The GoogleMap below shows our route.
Dublin: Dubin was our first stop and we spent two nights in the city. We flew into Dublin on AerLingus and took the Airlink bus into the city center. The bus departs every 15 minutes from right outside the exit gate and is easy to find. You can buy a one-way ticket for 6€ or round-trip for 10€ from the Airlink staff waiting by the stop. The bus ride is great introduction to the city and the stops are well labeled and announced by the driver along the way. We stayed at Generator Hostel right next to the Jameson Distillery.The Airlink bus dropped us off just a couple blocks from our hostel (get off at Usher’s Quay). We had a double room with a private bathroom and paid 60€ for the two nights.
Essex Street seemed to be the “main drag” with Temple Bar and a bunch of other dinning and drinking options. We checked out Messr Maguires for dinner because we heard good things about the food and the pale ale! Unfortunately when I just looked them up now it looks like they’ve shut down:( The other establishments we visited in Dublin were The Old Strand and a pretty basic burger joint called Ricks.
As for seeing the sights in Dublin, we made it to Kilmainham Gaol, The Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery. We included links to the official websites for the attractions above, but feel free to check out our old blog post for some personal insights: The Emerald Isle.
Malinbeg: Malinbeg is a sleepy little “one sheep” town, but was probably our favorite stop of the trip. We stayed one night at the comfortable Malinbeg Hostel, booking a twin room for just 15€/person for the night. We hadn’t planned ahead and assumed that we’d be able to find somewhere to eat in the town, but alas Malinbeg has no dining options. Luckily Frank, the owner of the hostel, also runs a little shop across the road and were were able to buy some pasta, cheese and bread for dinner. Seeing Frank check us in at the hostel and then running across the street to see him behind the counter of the shop was pretty comical- we felt like were in sketch comedy skit! The highlight of Malinbeg is absolutely the access to the gorgeous Silver Strand Beach.
At night the smell of peat drifts throughout the town as the locals start their fireplaces. We cooked dinner in the hostel’s kitchen and then had a nice evening discussing Irish and US history and politics with Frank in front of the roaring fire.
One of the main reasons we chose to stay over in Malinbeg was the proximity of the town to Slieve League, some of the highest sea cliffs in Ireland. You can drive up to Slieve League and get some pretty stellar views, but there are also some stunning viewpoints if you continue to hike up the cliffs. We visited on a warm day, but as you hike up the wind is POWERFUL. Typical to Ireland the ground also had some good mud going on. Make sure to bring a hat and warm layers for the wind and if you have waterproof boots they’ll definitely come in handy.
On our way to Derry from Slieve League we stopped for some hiking and to have a picnic lunch at Glenveagh National Park. Entry to the park is free, but if you want a bus ride from the parking lot to the castle (about 2 miles) you have to pay a 3€ fee. There are also guided tours and walks you can pay to join.
Derry: Derry is a small city in the north of Northern Ireland. Derry was one of the cities that most acutely felt the brunt of “The Troubles” that plagued Ireland in the late 20th century. The city is official known as Londonderry, but nationalists and actually most in Northern Ireland refer to it simply as Derry.
We spent two night at the Derry City Independent Hostel. When we stayed guests paid what they could afford and what they felt the stay was worth at the end of their visit. I just checked the site (2 years later) and it looks like they have set rates in place now. We stayed in an 8-bed co-ed dorm room and when we visited for St. Patrick’s Day 2012 we paid 40£ for the two of us for two nights. Currently the website is advertising 63£ for the same weekend. The hostel is comfortable and the staff friendly and helpful, but I’m not a fan of shared bathrooms and that’s all they’ve got. I’d definitely recommend the hostel, but it’s not for everyone.
As I mentioned we were in Derry for Saint Patrick’s Day which means we spent most of our time in different pubs with a pint of Guinness or bowl of Irish Stew. Before we got into the spirit of the day however we did take some time to walk the old city walls and also partake in an incredibly interesting city tour given by an old IRA member, Gerry. Gerry knew Bobby Sands and other (in)famous members of the party and offered some great insight into his experience in Northern Ireland at the height of the “troubles”. The tour didn’t cover a great distance (we walked just a few blocks), but lasted about 2 hours. Similar to our touristing in Dublin, check out our Emerald Island Blog post for more information about what to see and do in Derry.
Cushendall: After Derry we had the best time driving to our next destination in Cushendall, a small village on the Northern Coast. We took the long way, winding along the coast, stopping at anything that caught our eye. The main attractions along the way are Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.Both were beautiful and deserve the attention they get, but our favorite stop was Downhill Estate and Mussenden Temple. The views of the coast from the Temple are stunning and the grounds are impressive to traverse.
If you went straight through it would take only 2 hours to take the coastal route from Derry to Cushendall, but it took us all day to make the drive and visit the locals we wanted to see. You need to pay an entrance fee to access Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede, but none of the other viewpoints or outlets required payment. Parking was easy to find along the way and usually free.
In Cushendall we stayed at Cullentra House, a B&B run by a lovely older woman named Olive. She had tea and biscuits waiting for us upon arrival and in the morning the most amazing spread. If you want a traditional Irish breakfast experience definitely let Olive cook for you! Dinner options are more limited, but the “downtown” area has a few pubs and restaurants.
We did a little hiking just out of Cushendall in Glenairiff Forest Park and from the town of Carrickfergus. Carrickfergus is a fishing village along the Antrim Coast with a trail leading up to a waterfall. We found the Walk Northern Ireland website really helpful during the planning process. The total driving time from Cushendall to Belfast is just over an hour.
Belfast: We drove into Belfast and stayed at the Ibis Hotel in the Queens Quarter of the city, right next to the university. We were able to park on the street with a pass from the hotel and it was an easy 20 minute walk into the city center.
We took a city bus tour, which was so informative and gave a bit of a different perspective of “The Trouble” than we received in Derry. The tour is broken up into two 1.5 hour sections with a quick break in the middle to grab a water or snack and runs about 12£/person. The other major tourist spot we hit was the Ulster Museum.