Traveling and experiencing another culture is a great way to expand your perspective and fall more in love with the place you call home. Recently, we traveled to Ireland and fell head-over-heels-in-love with the people, the culture, and the scenery - and it's not hard to see why.
Here are 12 reasons to use your vacation days to go to Ireland.
1. Renting a car is an adventure & the perfect way to travel this country
Ireland is one of the few countries that drive on the opposite side of the road and inside the car, the steering wheel is in passenger seat. But, if you mentally prepare and give yourself a few hours to adapt, you'll be a pro in no time and hear yourself saying "tight left, wide right" when it comes time to make a turn. With the freedom of a car you'll be able to travel as you please, at your own pace, and stop whenever you want. This is great since Ireland is roughly the size of Indiana and you can drive from the west to the east in about 3 hours.
Just be ready for the 2-way, one-lane roads in rural areas. Whoever reaches a place to pull off to the side first should do so and allow the other to pass. We never had any problems and drivers were very courteous and never in a hurry.
2. There are castles on the side of the road, everywhere
With the freedom of the car, when you drive by a castle (in pretty much every city and town, by the way) you can pull over and explore. And that's exactly what we did many times, like driving through Kinvara when we came across Dunguaire Castle and Ballycarbery Castle in Cahersiveen (below).
3. You'll feel right at home with... french fries
We were ready for meat and potatoes, good Irish stews and bangers and mash. What we found was chips (french fries) on every menu, even the Indian restaurant we dined at. Wings & chips, wraps & chips, fish & chips, ribs & chips, steak & chips, almost every entree came with a side of chips and a salad. We never thought we'd be so happy to be home and eating vegetables.
4. There's history like ROC has never seen
Some of Rochester's oldest buildings were built in the 1800's. The first version of Bunratty Castle was built of wood in 1250, the first stone castle in 1275 and what you see today was built in 1450. Surrounding Bunratty Castle was a Folk Park that was a lot like the Genesee Country Village & Museum...
...it was a re-creation of a town of farm houses, cottages and businesses that showed what life would have been like in 19th century Ireland.
Some castles and forts in Ireland date back to the early hundreds, there are even ruins of forts that we came across built between 400-500 BC, like the Cahergall Stone Fort (above). Rochester... is not that old.
5. There are talented musicians everywhere
Small cities and big cities alike, we found musicians - from the streets of Galway and Dublin, to pubs in Drogheda and Kilkenny. And, there were a lot of pedestrian only streets, it didn't seem like any of these businesses cared about not having street parking or their own dedicated parking lot. We'd love to see this here in our city.
6. You'll want to sit and enjoy the scenery all the time
From the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher...
... to the top of Blarney Castle, we were constantly in awe of the country. We often found ourselves just starring at the scenery and our surroundings trying to take it all in.
7. There are Downton Abbey-like Castles across the country
The increasing popularity of the show Downton Abbey sent people flocking to Highclere Castle in the UK, but fear not, it's not the only country with Castles. Take for instance Kilkenny Castle (pictured), we were amazing at it's size, architecture, and beautifully restored interior, we felt like we were on the set for the TV series.
Can you imaging dining here?
8. English is widely spoken
Navigating the country, ordering off the menu and making purchases was never difficult. English is spoken most strongly in the bigger cities and in the younger generations, but we never came across anyone we couldn't converse with or a menu we couldn't read. From the hosts at the B&B's we stayed at to the people we met in our travels, it seemed like the culture and people were very accepting of Americans and often ready to share their love of their country in conversations.
9. Ordering Coffee is not hard
When we arrived in Italy last year, we weren't exactly sure how to order coffee, let alone "American Coffee". We were quite pleased to see the coffee culture in Ireland is growing. We had no problems ordering espresso's, filter coffee (typical American brewed coffee), lattes, and americano's. We even found pumpkin spice lattes on menus - apparently we're not the only pumpkin spice infused culture.
10. Euros are the currency in the Republic of Ireland
If you've traveled in Europe previously then you're probably familiar with the euro. Right now the dollar and euro are extremely close so it's a great time to travel. If you weren't aware, Northern Ireland is actually a part of the UK, where as the majority of Ireland (The Republic of Ireland) is its own country. If you travel between the two, be prepared to have your passports ready and exchange currency, as Northern Ireland does not use euros, but the sterling pound.
11. Staying at a B&B brings the culture even closer
The best way to meet and interact with locals is to stay at a Bed & Breakfast, and believe us, they are not in short supply - it seemed like there were hundreds of B&B's, way more than there were hotels in Ireland.
If you want to "live like a local" while on vacation, B&B's give you extremely close access to people who live in the area and a great Irish Breakfast every morning. Every host gave us fantastic suggestions on where to go, what to see, and what restaurants to dine at.
12. The best afternoons are spent NOT paying admission fees
The "tourist" areas are wonderful! Go to Kilkenny Castle, Blarney Castle, tour the Cliffs of Moher and even the Waterford Crystal Factory. But leave some time open in your travels for exploring, for hopping stone walls and taking the foot worn paths to the remains of castles, forts, cliffs and coastlines - they are most likely to become the favorite parts of your trip.
Have you been to Ireland? What did you fall in love with?
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Stefanie is Co-Founder of the Rochesteriat. She loves to travel! Since they've already traveled to Italy and Ireland, she and hubby are wondering if Iceland should be next. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.