The Wicklow Mountains, the harbour at Howth, Malahide Castle, the Irish countryside, and a grave with flowers in boots.
This is Ireland.
Beautiful and wild. Full of mystic symbols, pubs, and friendly people. These are things I saw on a quick solo trip to Dublin over the Thanksgiving holiday.
As usual, I tried to cram in as much as possible—I travel always thinking I’ll never pass this way again and I need to absorb my surroundings to carry them with me always.
Just because you are traveling solo doesn’t mean you don’t have friends. Before leaving Chicago, I contacted several Dubliners through Couchsurfing to see if anyone would be around and would like to have a drink. I connected with a couchsurfer named Marcia, a Brazilian living in Dublin who was close to my age. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes. Don’t get me wrong: I would have a good time regardless, but having a local show you around and making a new friend makes it a special experience.
Here’s the lowdown. I picked Dublin because it was on my list (you know you have one), I got a good deal on a plane ticket, and it was the closest place in Europe I could fly to given the short time I had.
I stayed in a bed and breakfast off of O’Connell Street. I didn’t want to be in the Temple Bar area because of the noise. Dublin is a compact city; it’s easy to walk most places.
I hit the ground running and took the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour. It’s a great way to acclimate yourself to the city. I visited The Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin Castle, St. Stephens Green, Merrion Square and of course the Guinness Brewery!
I didn’t want to rent a car and drive on the wrong side of the road while figuring out where I was going, so I booked two tours. The first was to Malahide Castle and the Wicklow mountains. There were only eight people on the tour, which is the way I like it. A quick stop at Howth Harbour, then on to the castle. The castle was smaller than I thought, but many of the rooms are closed to the public. Also I did not see any ghosts. The Wicklow Mountains are spectacular—just what I always thought Ireland would look like. Then on to Glendalough and the ancient cemetery with celtic crosses. Made it back to Dublin in time to shower and go pubbing with Marcia.
Next day Newgrange and Bru’na Boinne. The 5,000-year-old burial mound is a sacred spot where on the day of the winter solstice the ray of sunlight creeps down into the center of the tomb. We went on to Monasterboice, a cemetery filled with high crosses and cackling crows making it slightly foreboding, especially with the mist rising.
Finally the Hill of Tara where St. Patrick won the right to preach Christianity in Ireland. There is a cool tree there called the Fairy Tree that people hang objects on to make wishes. Back to Dublin again for—you guessed it—more pubbing!
Stop at the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin. It’s been a pub since the 1100s, but for real Irish flavor head across the street to Shea’s Merchant.
Sunday was devoted to shopping on Grafton Street, finding the No Name Bar, not easy, meeting Marcia at Bewley’s for lunch, then on to O’Neills for Irish music. I was having so much fun I kept giving myself five more minutes until it was 11:00 pm.
Morning flight home, back in Chicago by 5:30 pm.
I had a fabulous time—you should go!
Have you traveled to Dublin? How was your experience?
Originally published by Cathy, December 2012.