It was 7am when I arrived in Dublin, Ireland after a 12-hour flight from San Francisco, California. Almost as soon as we exited the plane, my travel buddy and I were whisked away by our host on a walk up Killiney Hill, the mountainous area that surrounds Dublin Bay.
A gap year in Ireland isn’t high on many bucket lists, and we were starting to see why. We had told it would be chilly, but the thick fog that envelopes San Francisco 85% of the time had convinced us it wouldn’t be a problem. Within five minutes we’d realized the gravity of our mistake; we couldn’t feel our toes.
But at the top of Killiney Hill, as the green and beautiful Irish landscape stretched around us, we were reminded that backpacking in Ireland had been a good decision after all.
The following week was spent in and around the city of Dublin. If you decide to go (and you totally should), here are some Dublin attractions you shouldn’t miss.
Knowth and Newgrange
Located in the Boyne Valley in Meath, Knowth and Newgrange are two unique historical sites. You have to go with a guided tour in order to see them, but the Brú na Bóinne Visitors Centre offers tours of both sites fairly cheaply (I brought my student ID and saw both of them for a total of six euro with the student discount).
Knowth is a passage grave (a narrow passage with multiple burial chambers) that was built during the Neolithic period, in roughly 2000 B.C. The site consists of one large grassy mound of land and several smaller ones, which my travel buddy said reminded her of the houses in the TV show “Teletubbies” (anyone remember that show? No? Okay, cool). Site visitors can enter the imposing mound by walking through either of the two entrances and passing through the hallway in the middle.
Newgrange dates back to around 3000 B.C., making the site about 5,000 years old. It’s a massive mound with a passage through it that visitors can enter to experience the cloying darkness inside. Apparently it was built so it only lights up one day a year, from natural sunlight, on the first day of the Winter Solstice.
Aside from being breathtakingly beautiful, the glacial valley of Glendalough is full of history. Situated in Wicklow Mountains National Park in County Wicklow, Glendalough is a former monastic settlement from the early 6th century.
The site is dotted with historical monuments, such as the Round Tower, which served as a bell tower in medieval times, and several historic churches. If you’re going to Ireland to see postcard-worthy bright green forests and creeks, this is the ideal place to check out.
The Guinness Storehouse
Okay, this is a little different from the previous two attractions. But it’s really cool, I promise.
Located in Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse was named the Best Tourist Attraction in Europe by the World Travel Awards earlier this month. If you visit Dublin, you’ll probably be drinking a lot of Guinness anyway, so you might as well drop by here to see how it’s made. (Guinness, by the way, tastes way different in Ireland than in anywhere else. It’s like a really rich, filling, alcoholic milkshake.)
The storehouse costs between 13-20 euro to enter and takes about 2-3 hours to get through. Upon entering, you’re given a map and can walk through the factory at your leisure, without a guide.
There are plaques and videos at every station to tell you about what you’re looking at. The storehouse features several interactive exhibits, an entire room dedicated to the history of Guinness advertisements, and a station where you get to pour your own Guinness (there’s a process, believe it or not). You can then drink it in the storehouse’s “Gravity Bar,” which offers views over the whole city.
Set on the north side of Dublin Bay, Howth is a seaside village that was used as a trading port in the 14th century. Howth is a good place to visit if you want to see the rugged Irish coastline. It’s also home to Howth Castle, one of the oldest buildings in the country.
One of the aspects of Ireland that tripped me out the most was that, in-keeping with the stereotype, there are castles everywhere; definitely not a thing in California. Roughly an hour after we first got to Ireland, we drove by Enya’s house. Which is also a castle.
Okay, I almost didn’t put this on here because it’s probably the most touristy spot in Dublin. Well, aside from the Storehouse. Which is also on here. Oops.
A large part of the culture in Dublin is drinking, so if you’re staying in Dublin, this is a good place to go to do just that.
Temple Bar is a street filled with, well, bars, which are in turn filled with people from many different countries, including Ireland itself. So it’s a great place to meet people. One thing we noticed was that people in Ireland have pretty much the same drinking habits as people in California—drink a lot, dance around the bar, make best friends with strangers who you’ll never see again. Simple.
Temple Bar features many different kinds of bars, including those with traditional Irish live music and food, for people who want to experience some of the native culture.
Oh yeah, and pro tip, don’t do what I did and only bring one light cotton jacket. Ireland is cold, and not San Francisco cold, like COLD cold. Layer up and enjoy!