My first stop was Dublin for the simple reason that it's where most international flights arrive. There are some international flights in and out of Shannon on the west coast (Dublin is on the east coast). Belfast, in Northern Ireland, is north of Dublin and I learned that travel there from the U.S. goes through England - either Heathrow (which I understand is a madhouse) or Manchester.
Tips on Dublin
Here are a few tips when traveling to Dublin:
1. Get your money exchanged at the airport. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro. You can search around Dublin for banks to exchange your dollars, but why waste the time and effort when you'll want to be experiencing Ireland?
2. Take the bus. If you are staying in Dublin, try to choose a hotel that has a free shuttle service to and from the airport. If you don't, I suggest taking the bus. (http://www.dublinsightseeing.ie/airlink/index.aspx) It cost us 6 Euro one-way, which is much cheaper than the taxi's 40 Euro.
Irish terminology: when taking the bus, you'll need to state whether you want a single (one-way ticket) or a double (round-trip ticket).
3. Stay in Dublin's City Centre if you can. You'll be within walking distance of scores of museums, restaurants, pubs, shopping and much more. I used http://www.hotels.com/ and searched on City Centre Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
4. Note the time you're arriving. Our plane landed at 5:00 AM. By the time we reached the hotel, we were completely exhausted and jet-lagged. But once we arrived, we discovered check-in wasn't until 3:00 PM. We ended up sleeping in the lobby until a room became available. You can remedy this by booking the room for the previous night and making sure there is a notation regarding your arrival time the next morning. You'll definitely want to get at least 2-3 hours' sleep.
5. Learn about Ireland in Dublin. You'll learn the history of Ireland while you're in Dublin; many museums are free and others are a nominal charge. Plan on spending 2 days in Dublin, not counting your day of arrival.
6. But discover Ireland outside of the city. I was surprised to discover that hearing an Irish accent in downtown Dublin was quite difficult. It has become an international city and you'll hear languages from around the globe. So once you've learned about Irish history, get out of the city to a small village (coming up in another blog next week) and that's when you'll discover the real, mystical and magical Ireland.
Things to See and Do in Dublin
1. Make the Hop On, Hop Off Bus your first activity. It's fabulous, and you ride at your own schedule. You can get on at any stop, get off at any stop, and spend as much time as you'd like anywhere. A tour host narrates as you ride so you get a sense of the history and where to go and what to do. It's a two-day ticket for 18 Euro, and well worth it: http://www.dublinsightseeing.ie/citytour.aspx
Below is an example of the tour. I was sitting in the front row on the second level of the double-decker:
2. Tour the Dublin Castle. Take the narrated tour with the guide, and you'll learn a lot of history about the Vikings' rule over Dublin, Ireland's history and the Easter Rising, which led to Ireland's independence from Britain: http://www.dublincastle.ie/visitorfacilities/
3. Kilmainham Gaol. This is where the political prisoners were executed from the Easter Rising. The uprising might have been considered a failure except when Britain executed all the main organizers, their executions led to world pressure and the independence of Ireland: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/kilmainhamgaol/
4. The Post Office. This was one of the buildings where the Easter Rising took place, and there are still bullet holes in the side of the building from the event. Mounted on the wall are permanent pictures of the organizers of the uprising; these men were the ones executed at the gaol.
5. Writers Museum. If you enjoy reading, you'll enjoy Ireland's authors. I learned a great deal about their backgrounds and became quite fascinated by Oscar Wilde's ordeals: http://www.virtualvisittours.com/dublin-writers-museum/
6. St Stevens Green (http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/dublin/ststephensgreen/) is a public park right in the middle of the City Centre.
7. Shopping. St Stevens Green is directly across the street from the mall and Grafton Street, which is the main shopping district in downtown Dublin. There are restaurants, pubs and shops for several blocks: http://graftonstreet.ie/
8. The National Museum of Ireland. It is closed on Mondays, but it's free and well worth touring: http://www.museum.ie/en/homepage.aspx
9. The Guinness Museum is not just for beer lovers. You'll definitely want to stop in their pub overlooking the city: http://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/Index.aspx
If you have traveled to Dublin and you don't see a site posted here that you enjoyed visiting, leave a comment below and let me know what it is and why you liked it.
Next week: Finding Ireland's soul in a small village. Coming up later: why Northern Ireland broke away from the Republic of Ireland.
And for 13 Things Not to Do in Ireland, this is a great read:
Visit my website at www.pmterrell.com for a list of my books set in Ireland, including my latest, A Thin Slice of Heaven, set in a castle in Northern Ireland.