Things To Do in Ireland for First-Time Visitors

As you know if you follow my Instagram, I spent the first week of September in Ireland. While this was my first time, it was my parents’ third. This was great because they knew a bit more than we did about the city and what was worth doing. So in this travel guide, I’m going to break down what we did, where we ate, and other recommendations of things to do in Ireland for first-time visitors. I’m going to share as much accessibility information as possible because I know how mentally exhausting it is to plan a trip and not know exactly what to expect as a disabled person.

To be as clear as possible as I recount our trip, here are the people I traveled with: my mom; my dad; my sister, Emily; Emily’s friend Rachel; and my friend Sara. The way we did this – as everyone in our group is a full adult – is we planned one group activity a day and the rest of the day was for what we wanted to do. This enabled us to spend time together but also do what we want, especially because what I can do physically is less than everyone else.

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Boston lifestyle blogger Kate the (Almost) Great shares her Ireland travel guide in this post about things to do in Ireland for first-time visitors.

Day 1 – Sunday

Boat tour of Dublin – We arrived on Sunday morning, which was overnight Boston time. By the time we met up with my sister (who was on a different flight because she was coming from NYC), got a ride from the airport, and dropped our suitcases off at the office of the travel agency, it was mid-morning. We found a nearby cafe for some brunch and (most importantly) coffee before heading to our boat tour with Dublin Discovered. The tour went up and down the River Liffey, which “flows eastward through the city of Dublin, in which it is extensively canalized and bordered with quays. It empties into Dublin Bay, an arm of the Irish Sea, after a course of 50 miles (80 km)” (x). It was a great way to see Dublin and learn more about the city, including its Viking heritage.

As a heads up, I found this tour a great way to see the city considering I can’t walk as much as those I traveled with. However, the boat itself isn’t accessible if you are a wheelchair user or rollator user.

We then meandered along the river and made our way to that great Irish institution, Starbucks (😉). There we got more coffee and some snacks before my dad, Emily, and Rachel went back to the office to get our bags and the key for the apartment we stayed in. We went to our apartment and unpacked a little and rested. That night, everyone else went out to dinner, but I opted not to because I was feeling the trip and I wanted to be okay for our first full day.

Day 2 – Monday

Trinity College Old Library – Monday morning we did something I’ve wanted to do for years: toured Trinity College Library’s Long Room. You’ve probably seen pictures of it online, even if you didn’t realize that’s what it is. The Old Library was built in the 18th century and has walls and walls of books, along with busts of famous writers and philosophers. Trinity College says, “The main chamber of the Old Library is the Long Room; at nearly 65 metres in length, it is filled with 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books and is one of the most impressive libraries in the world. When built (between 1712 and 1732) it had a flat plaster ceiling and shelving for books was on the lower level only, with an open gallery. By the 1850s these shelves had become completely full; largely as since 1801 the Library had been given the right to claim a free copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland. In 1860 the roof was raised to allow construction of the present barrel-vaulted ceiling and upper gallery bookcases” (x).

The Long Room also has “one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic which was read outside the General Post Office on 24 April 1916 by Patrick Pearse at the start of the Easter Rising” (x). Additionally, there is a beautiful and old harp, which “is the oldest of its kind in Ireland and probably dates from the 15th century. It is made of oak and willow with 29 brass strings. It is the model for the emblem of Ireland” (x).

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Book of Kells – At Trinity College, we also saw the Book of Kells, “a 9th century manuscript that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. The Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript” (x). This is a great thing to see for anyone visiting Dublin, but if you’re a medieval nerd like me, you have to go see it. The Book “consists mainly of the four Gospels. Also found in the book are so-called canon tables, which are indexes of passages that occur in two or more of the Gospels. Added to these tables, each Gospel has a summary and a preface” (x). The Book of Kells was made at a monastery in Kells, which is where it gets its name.

After this, we wandered around the Temple Bar area of Dublin (more information below), including checking out Fallon & Byrne Food Hall and Grafton Street, a famous shopping area.

The Temple Bar – Have you really gone to Dublin if you haven’t gone to The Temple Bar? Temple Bar itself is a neighborhood in Dublin, in which is The Temple Bar. This famous neighborhood has a history going back to the 8th century, and it’s currently a popular restaurant and bar location. The Temple Bar was established in the 19th century and is teeming with whiskey, location music, Guinness, and people. Even though I don’t drink, it was still a cool place to go!

Dinner at Bank on College Green – This was such a cool place to eat at! This restaurant was once a bank, hence the name. Their website says, “In July 2nd of 1892 the Belfast Bank acquired this property from the British Mutual. The construction project that followed – a symbol of grandiose Victorian splendour – took two years to complete, costing in excess of £8,000. The exterior is Franco-Scottish in inspiration and is unique in that it is one of Dublin’s rare examples of Scottish sandstone. The interior, which was once the main banking hall, is a stunning example of merchant power and patronage displaying an extraordinary ornate setting, stained glass ceiling, mosaic tiled floors and spectacular hand carved plasterwork and cornicing. If you ramble downstairs to the nether regions you will find the vaults. Look at our Chatwood safes, now retained as a museum-type feature” (x). Because we had a group of six and the main tables only sit 4, we actually got to eat in what was once the bank’s parlor! It was fun because we were at a restaurant, but we basically got a private room that felt like eating at a house. The room had busts of some of the revolutionaries who fought in the Easter Rising.

Food note: we thought they had food I could eat, and then we got there … I was able to have the steak, but without any sauce (basically just a slab of cooked meat), and roasted potatoes, also cooked plainly. It was as fine as un-flavored food can be, but just as a heads up.

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Day 3 – Tuesday

Kilmainham Gaol tour – We almost didn’t get to do this, but I’m so glad we could! This jail held everyone from revolutionaries to ordinary people jailed during the Famine for stealing food. The website says, “Kilmainham Gaol opened in 1796 as the new County Gaol for Dublin. It closed its doors in 1924. Today the building symbolises the tradition of militant and constitutional nationalism from the rebellion of 1798 to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Leaders of the rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848,1867 and 1916 were detained and in some cases executed here. Many members of the Irish Republican movement during the Anglo-Irish War (1919-21) were also detained in Kilmainham Gaol, guarded by British troops. Names such as Henry Joy McCracken, Robert Emmet, Anne Devlin, Charles Stewart Parnell and the leaders of 1916 will always be associated with the building. It should not be forgotten however that, as a county gaol, Kilmainham held thousands of ordinary men, women and children. Their crimes ranged from petty offences such as stealing food to more serious crimes such as murder or rape. Convicts from many parts of Ireland were held here for long periods waiting to be transported to Australia” (x).

The only way to see the jail is by guided tour, which takes an average of 90 minutes. We got there early (hello, have you met me?) and sat in the courthouse waiting for the tour to start. During the tour, we sat in the chapel where two revolutionaries were married before one was executed for treason. Then we walked through the jail with our tour guide, seeing cells that held prisoners imprisoned during the Famine and those waiting to be transported to Australia. “The final years of the Irish Famine saw a massive increase in the number of prisoners entering Kilmainham Gaol,” the website says. “There was serious overcrowding, with as many as five people in cells designed for one. Most prisoners, including a large number of women and children, had been charged with begging and stealing food” (x). These cells were TINY. It was here that I learned that Ireland lost at least 1.5 million people during the Famine to death and to emigration – and the population has never recovered.

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We also saw the cells that held political prisoners over the centuries, but especially after the Easter Rising of 1916. While Ireland didn’t become an official-official republic until the next decade, the Rising is a huge part of their history. “On Easter Monday 1916, groups of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army seized strategic buildings in Dublin, and [declared] an Irish Republic. The Rising lasted a week before the rebels surrendered. Kilmainham Gaol was reopened to house hundreds of men and women arrested for their part. In May, fourteen leaders were executed in what had been the stone-breakers’ (hard labour) yard. The last of the 1916 prisoners were released in an amnesty of 1917” (x).

Accessibility note: this is NOT accessible, as it’s an 18th century jail. The floor is uneven and there are a lot of stairs.

Lunch at The Oval Bar – Unfortunately, my dad had to return to Boston on Tuesday afternoon. So after saying goodbye to him and resting for a bit, Sara, my mom, and I went to The Oval Bar for a late lunch. This is a traditional Irish Pub in the heart of Dublin. Their website says, “Housed by a beautiful Victorian building with most of its period features still intact, The Oval is the perfect place to escape from the hectic hustle and bustle of the city outside. Located on Middle Abbey Street right at the hub of commercial life in the city, The Oval Bar provides a haven of welcome and warmth for office workers on lunch, busy shoppers looking to recharge their batteries, visiting tourists looking for the ‘Craic’ and music, cinema and theatre goers looking for a bite to eat and a drink before or after their show” (x). It was a delicious lunch! Sara got a traditional Irish stew, my mom got fish and chips, and I got a delicious piece of salmon.

Dinner at Sophie’s – After lunch, I was really feeling the activity of the trip, so I went back to rest, along with my mom, who was fighting a cold. Sara went to meet Emily and Rachel, who were meandering and shopping. We all met up for dinner at Sophie’s, recommended by a friend of Sara who is from the Dublin area! Sophie’s is located on the top floor of The Dean Dublin, and it’s “a beautiful and modern glasshouse restaurant, boasting stunning 360 degree views of Dublin, from cityscape to countryside, it has an outlook like no other – Dublin’s weather is our wallpaper!” (x). It was just as beautiful as it sounds, and the food was delicious, too.

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Day 4 – Wednesday

Travel to Limerick – Wednesday was a travel day! I’m so glad that we broke up our trip like this because we got to see some really cool parts of Ireland. We took the train, which was great because it was comfortable and easy. I will say, though, that if you have an anxiety disorder and you have to switch trains, you should take your anxiety medication that day. I, uh, did not. Which according to everyone was extremely obvious. Lesson learned!

I want to use this section of this Ireland travel guide to talk about things in Dublin you could do that we didn’t do, as well as about Limerick itself.

More Things To Do in Dublin

Now onto Limerick! Limerick is a medieval city. It was first founded by the Vikings in the 9th century, and then officially incorporated in the 12th century (x). So if you are medieval nerd like I am, you have to visit Limerick! Limerick is Ireland’s 3rd largest city, and it is located on the River Shannon on the western side of the island.

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Day 5 – Thursday

Thursday was an adventure day. We had a tour guide who drove us from Limerick to the Cliffs of Moher, then to Galway, and then back to Limerick. We made this plan because they drove on the other side of the road than we do in America and no one felt comfortable enough doing that for the whole day, especially because we were on a lot of back roads, which are tiny.

Cliffs of Moher – I am so, so glad we went to the Cliffs, even though I’m afraid of heights. Their website says, “You simply cannot travel to Ireland without paying a visit to Ireland’s top tourist attraction, the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, situated in County Clare along the wild Atlantic Way. The Cliffs of Moher have majestically faced the Atlantic for over 350 million years and their beauty is incomparable – it is Ireland’s most visited tourist attraction and when you visit you will understand why” (x). The website goes on to say, “The Cliffs rise to 702 feet (214 m) at their highest point and range for 8 kms (5 miles) over the Atlantic ocean. The sheer scale and dramatic impact of the cliffs never ceases to amaze and delight in equal measure” (x).

It was absolutely gorgeous! After seeing the sights a bit, I decided to rest while my mom and Sara went to one part of the Cliffs and Emily and Rachel did some exploring on their own. Something cool about the visitors center here is that it is built into the hills to enable to Cliffs to stand on their own. If you have food allergies or intolerances, I would advise bringing your own food just in case you can’t eat anything there. I could really only eat chips.

As a heads up, you do need to buy tickets to go. I’m pretty sure this is done to control how many people are there at one time to protect the area.

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Galway – We then went on to Galway! Here’s what the city’s website has to say about it:

City originally formed from a small fishing village located in the area near the Spanish Arch called ‘The Claddagh’ where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay. Galway later became a walled town in the year 1232 after the territory was captured by the Anglo Normans lead by Richard De Burgo. The town walls, some sections of which can be seen today near the Spanish Arch, were constructed circa 1270. A charter was granted in 1396 by Richard II which transferred governing powers to 14 merchant families, known locally as the 14 tribes of Galway. See here for a more detailed history of Galway.The 14 tribes relished their independence but retained their close links to the British crown. Because of its position on the Atlantic, Galway became a thriving seaport for wine, spices, and fish, and developed a brisk trade with other European countries. The docks hummed with the arrival of ships from foreign lands, even Christopher Columbus is said to have landed at Galway en route to his historic voyage across the Atlantic in 1492. Galway’s strategic coastal location and natural harbour area resulted in a successful trade with both Portugal and Spain and the city prospered for centuries. However in 1651 with the arrival of Cromwell the region entered a long period of decline. Other prominent sea ports emerged on the east coast, namely Dublin and Waterford and trade with Spain came almost at an end. Many years would pass before Galway would again enjoy such prosperity but the legacy of the cities long and colourful history is evident in the character and style of the city.

When we were in Galway, we first stopped at the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven & St Nicholas. (What a mouthful that name is!) We learned a little about its history and walked around. It was absolutely gorgeous! And huge. I wouldn’t mind going there for Easter or Christmas mass!

We then went to Quay Street, which is really a series of pedestrian streets on which there are many restaurants and stores.

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One such store is the Aran Sweater Market to get a classic Irish sweater. As their website says, “The Aran Sweater Market has grown from being a cornerstone of the small Island community of Inis Mor, to one of the country’s leading suppliers of Authentic Aran Knitwear. With markets now in Dublin city centre, Killarney & Galway city as well as the Aran Islands, we work with only the best of Irish suppliers and designers, to bring the beauty of real authentic Aran knitwear to a global audience. […] We regard the Aran Sweater as an eternal symbol of the [Aran] Islands, its long history, unique culture and time honoured traditions. We believe the beauty of the Islands lies in its ability to remain independent from that of modern ways on the mainland.” (x).

This store is HUGE! They have so many sweaters and knitted products. I personally bought their Lightweight Traditional Aran Wool Sweater and Merino Buttoned Headband. And my mom bought the Healy Clan Aran Throw! (My name is Kathleen Brenda – obviously we’re Irish. Are you also Irish? Check out their selection of Clan throws here.)

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Day 6 – Friday

Friday was our only full day in Limerick. Emily and Rachel went on an all-day expeditiont to a national park for hiking and the sights. Sara and I went to King John’s Castle and then met my mom for lunch.

King John’s Castle – I looooooooved King John’s Castle! Again, I’m a major medieval nerd, so obviously a medieval castle was amazing for me. The website says, “The stunning exhibition at King John’s Castle brings to life over 800 years of dramatic local history. Explore the visitor centre with state of the art interpretive activities and exhibitions. 21st century touch screen technology, 3D models and discovery drawer are among the exciting techniques that will connect you to tales of siege and warfare” (x). The castle now has a museum that walks you from King John’s time in the 12th and 13th centuries to Ireland’s independence. Then you can check out the courtyard, which has medieval re-enactors sharing medieval life, before climbing the castle. I wasn’t physically able to do more than halfway (and even that was difficult) but even that gave great views.

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Lunch at Hook & Ladder – We then met my mom for lunch at Hook & Ladder! This was a really cute cafe, which also has a cooking school. Their website says, “Hook & Ladder provides an excellent artisan food service for all taste buds, catering for breakfast through to evening meals. We offer a scrumptious section of home baked cakes from our in store bakery, as well as a wide selection of premium coffees, speciality teas and assortment of fine wines. In addition there is unrestricted Wi-Fi, books and daily newspapers available to customers. At Hook & Ladder we are dedicated to sourcing the very best of Irish produce and are committed to supporting local suppliers” (x).

I was basically done after lunch, so I went back to the hotel to rest and pack. And the next day we flew back to the US!

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More Things To Do in Limerick, Ireland

Have you been to Ireland? What was your favorite part?

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