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Ireland travel experiences from a first time visitor

I had the pleasure recently of being contacted by Dorothy Bell from New England, who was making her first trip across the pond to Ireland. Dorothy had a few questions about what to expect in Ireland and I was happy to be able to help her plan a little bit of her trip, including a couple of places to see, and provide a few travel tips too.
After having a wonderful time exploring parts of Dublin and Cork, Dorothy has now returned home, and just a few days ago emailed me some Ireland travel experiences and tips of her own that would be helpful to other first time visitors to Ireland. Here’s what she had to say…

Hi Liam,

I’ve been thinking about things I would mention to others for their trip to Ireland.

Things you might want to take with you
While staying in the hotels, I noticed that they do not supply wash cloths. I purchased an inexpensive shower pouf to use, and disposed of it at the end of my trip. Although the hotels offered shampoo, lotion, a small soap and body wash, I did pack my own. It nice to have items that you are familiar with, the brands that you find abroad may be drying to your skin.

We had brought along 2 power converters. With cell phones, computers, cameras, etc, one is definitely not going to work. I would also suggest that you make sure that each item fits into those converters. I had purchased a curling iron (you can now get ones that automatically adjust wattage for going abroad) but it did not fit into one, but it did the other.

St Colmans, Cobh, Ireland travel experiences

St Colmans, Cobh

While out and about…
For adventures, carrying a backpack was the best bet. It holds a lot, with many pockets to hold all kinds of items (Tylenol, bandaids, hand sanitizer, tissues, etc.) But I didn’t forget the rain jacket and a compact umbrella…the kind that has a push button to open/close; perfect for getting on/off public transportation!

I never go anywhere without my digital camera! Using your phone, ipad, maybe great, but a camera will capture the close up, or zoom in better without blur. I also bring my laptop with me, and each night I download my pictures so I don’t 1) run out of space on my camera’s memory stick, and 2) mix up where/when I took my pictures. (We also back them up.)

Dressing in layers was the way to go. I didn’t know what to expect being in Ireland in November, but layers worked out perfect. I only had to deal with one day of rain (while at Blarney Castle), and the day was perfect while in Cobh (which was at least 15F warmer than Cork), but when I got off the train, it started to drizzle. I had packed extra shoes, but I really wished I had packed my hiking boots. Since I only did one day traipsing through a castle and gardens, it wasn’t too big of a deal. The next time I go back, and get a chance to do more sightseeing of castles, gardens, or anywhere that has a lot of mud/dirt, I will definitely bring them. I did notice some people wore shoes (not sneakers/trainers or boots), and slipped on the wet stones. Thank goodness I put on trainers for Blarney Castle. Don’t forget a pair of lightweight gloves!

Blarney Castle, Cork

Blarney Castle, Cork

As for souvenirs, I try to find local items. I did get some Irish made sweaters, scarves and hats. I also bought books at the places I visited. It’s nice to read about the history (you can’t remember everything!) and in some cases, you have pictures of the places that do not allow you take photos. I did buy Celtic jewelry (my daughter loves bracelets), some Christmas ornaments at a local shop, magnets, and some other small items that I thought were cute (i.e. Blarney Castle golf ball for my son who collects golf balls, a St. Patrick’s cross…I have a son named Patrick). I guess you get the idea! Thank goodness I didn’t over pack, and I had room in my suitcases for all the things I bought!

Getting around: take a train ride!
After my husband was done with his meetings, we took the train to Dublin. It was a great way to travel. It was very comfortable, the scenery was great, and, well, just plain relaxing. We did upgrade to first class (54 Euros), and were treated to tea, coffee or soft drinks. I think we had about 5 other people in the car with us. I thought it was very cool to see some ruins along the way. The countryside was beautiful…lots of cows and sheep (although we have lots of them here where I live, it’s still awesome.) I would take the train again, and recommend it also.

The Long Room at Trinity College

The Long Room at Trinity College

Planning things to do
Now…how we planned out what to see. Of course, your Facebook page and answers to all the questions I asked helped!! I did do a lot of web searches. We agreed on things we would like to do, and then went out and did a majority of them. We don’t plan our trips down to the last second, we just wing it. We usually have one or two “must dos” and then we go from there. I know it doesn’t sound very organized, but it really works for us, and it takes a lot of stress out of the trip. For example, when I went to Cobh, I didn’t plan on going to the Titanic Experience, but I am so glad I went in! My goal was to see St. Colmans and walk through town and shop. We knew we wanted to see Trinity College, and after researching, we wanted to see The Book of Kells (the artistry alone is mind-blowing), and The Long Room.

Titanic passenger pier, Cobh

Titanic passenger pier, Cobh

Another way we look at picking things to do/see: don’t limit yourself…look at that church from an artistic view, the architecture (it’s amazing to see something built 1000 years ago), and religious/political stand. See the castle and grounds from your inner warrior, or romanticize it. The historical values are also endless. Don’t forget to do some fun things…visit The Guinness Storehouse, or the Kilmainham Gaol.

Guinness Memorabilia

Guinness Memorabilia

More tips…
While in Cork, I went to the local market for take-aways (since my husband was working, and they had business dinners.) Now I know to carry a reusable shopping bag with me; I didn’t realize that they do not bag your groceries. On our last night there, we went to Market Lane for dinner. It was very good. My husband had been there before with one of his co-workers that used to live in Cork. When we got to Dublin, the hotel clerk recommended a restaurant within walking distance from the hotel. Another winner! It was small, but very popular. Since we eat earlier than what they do in Ireland, we did not have to wait anytime we went out. I did notice a lot of Starbucks for those who like it, but I preferred Costa. Both places have free Wi-Fi.

Also, mention to those who may not know (yes, we had friends do this over the summer on their European tour of France, Spain, Belgium) contact your bank and let them know you will be abroad, the same with the credit card companies of the cards you will be using. Check what you will need to do with your cell phone; services vary.

Dorothy Bell


  1. An update from Dorothy (money saving advice for non-EU travellers):

    As I was going through my credit receipts, I did forget to mention that when traveling back to the US, you deal with customs before you board the plane (we were assigned a designated time)…and some business offer a card called Horizon for tax free shopping. You swipe it, and receive the tax money back faster (it took a week for us) versus the 4-6 weeks for the paperwork you turn into customs. When filling out the customs sheet, you can “group” your items together…clothing, jewelry, etc. Having the receipts organized beforehand saves a lot of time before customs, especially if you are running late!

  2. I agree Dorothy about the converters, dressing in layers and the tax papers! Glad you had a great trip. The best thing to remember is just to enjoy yourself and try not to do too much because rarely can you ever squeeze it all in, which leads to the happy idea of multiple trips!