I just got back from spending a wonderful week with friends in Ireland so I thought I'd document it here! I had a really amazing time and saw lots of cool stuff as well as my favourite people and for the most past the weather was pretty decent which I was extremely grateful for.
First I flew from Brussels to Dublin where I stayed with one of my best friends in her little flat which she has as she lives there for uni. Although I've flown with just friends before this was the first time I had flown alone so I was slightly on edge to begin with, but I soon got into my zen travelling mode and just went with the flow. Unfortunately my plane was delayed by over an hour which wasn't ideal, especially as it was about 35 degrees that day! When I arrived my friend met me at the airport (thankfully) and we took the bus into the city centre. Since it was already evening by then there wasn't much of the day left so we just got pizza and watched some movies before heading to bed.
My first full day in Ireland! This was the Busiest Day as we basically saw most of Dublin and completely wore ourselves out in the process. We met our other best friend in the morning (as she was staying with family outside Dublin) and then wandered around Trinity, the main shopping street, a really beautiful shopping centre and a lovely park - surprisingly it was actually pretty warm! In the afternoon we had a guided tour of Dublin Castle, which was really interesting and great value at €3 and I learned a lot about the history of the city. Afterwards we looked around the Chester Beatty Library, which wasn't actually a library as I'd hoped but instead was a sort of museum which explained the history of the world's major religions through old books and other artefacts, but it was still pretty cool and had a lovely rooftop garden. Then we finished off the day at the National Gallery which made us feel super duper cultural and had v pleasing aesthetics, and finally went out for dinner.
This day was also pretty busy in terms of how much time we spent out and about, but the stuff we went to see was a bit further out of the city so there was quite a bit of travelling involved. In the morning we went to the botanical gardens which were huge and absolutely stunning - there were brightly coloured flowers, a river, a rockery and beautiful hot and steamy Victorian greenhouses full of exotic-looking plants. Basically endless photo opportunities! Then we got the bus back into the city for lunch and headed out again to Kilmainham Gaol, which is an ex-prison that was pretty instrumental in shaping Ireland's history at various points. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me because I love history and old buildings which was basically what this was, especially as we had a guided tour (for €4, barginous!) that was SO GOOD and really well delivered by the guide. We saw various parts of the gaol including the older cells and the newer parts of the building, as well as the courtyard where people were executed after the Easter Rising. Honestly I can't express how good the tour was, it was just the right amount of information and it didn't seem as if it was being recited from memory, it was really really well done. After the tour we spent ages in the gaol's museum part which was also displayed really nicely and had lots of interesting letters and artefacts. Finally we took a quick look around the Irish Museum of Modern Art which was kind of disappointing as I realised I am not a fan of modern art, and also it was difficult to know where to go - basically there was a lack of information so we left pretty quickly.
This was more of a lazy day as we only got up around midday to go for pancakes, but in fairness we took a trip to the seaside in the afternoon so there was plenty of walking and fresh sea air. It wasn't the sunniest of days but it stayed dry and it was calming to be by the sea after a couple of busy days in Dublin. We got the obligatory ice cream (flake '99) on the pier and wandered around until dinnertime, before taking the train back to the city and collapsing on the sofa in front of a couple more movies.
This was my last day in the Republic of Ireland as I packed my suitcase and headed up to Northern Ireland on the train, where I stayed with a friend from uni. This part of my trip was very different from being in Dublin as the town was quite small and I was staying in my friend's family home rather than a student flat, but it was very charming and homely nonetheless. We basically drove everywhere (oh the advantages of having friends who can drive!) but I arrived late in the afternoon so all we did that day was meet up with my friend's friends for coffee in the evening. They were all super lovely and definitely my sort of people, although the evening did end with us being kicked out of a park by a really rude and aggressive security man for no apparent reason which was a bit unsettling but made for an interesting anecdote.
Belfast day! We got up horrifically early (by which I mean 8:30 am) and caught the train to Belfast for a day of sightseeing and shopping. Priority number one was the Titanic museum, which was absolutely AMAZING like honestly I would recommend it to anyone who happens to be in Belfast because it was just so good! We vastly underestimated the time it took to go round all the exhibitions and spent ages in the first one (which wasn't even about the Titanic, it was mostly about the history of Belfast) and ended up rushing through the last couple. But in between it was well worth stopping to absorb it all because it was so well thought out and put together, I was in awe. There was just the right amount of information to skim read some sections and more detail for those who were interested, plus lots of interactive bits and audio and video sections which would be great for keeping kids interested. Halfway through there was also a ride of sorts where you sat in a pod/car thing and went around 'the dockyards' listening to voiceovers of the workers explaining what the work involved. The part I found most interesting was the exhibition on the interior, which explained all about the decor and the different areas for the different classes and had replicas of each type of cabin. There was also a section about the sinking which had the voices of survivors playing overhead and the final messages the ship sent out on the walls - it was super eerie but really made you think about what the passengers and crew went through that night. It was a really great experience which really brought home the magnitude of the tragedy and made it feel much more real. In total we spent over 3 hours there (and to be honest I could have spent longer if I hadn't been so hungry) which was well worth the £12.50 we paid for a student ticket. Next we got the train to the stop near Queens University and had a nose around there before heading to the botanic gardens - these weren't half as impressive as Dublin's but they were still really nice and would have been beautiful in the sunshine. Unfortunately the Ulster Museum where we had planned to go turned out to be closed on Mondays so we walked into the city centre instead to do some shopping. I was incredibly restrained and only bought a couple of things in Primark on account of having to fit everything into my cabin baggage-sized suitcase: a plastic container thing for holding cotton wool pads (this is honestly revolutionary, it's the best idea ever) and a bodysuit with the NASA logo). We finished off the day by watching the Titanic movie and crying buckets.
Thankfully we had a much later start on this day as all we had planned was meeting up with a mutual uni friend for lunch. She picked us up in her car and we drove to a lovely café in a not-so-nearby town which meant I saw a lot of the Northern Irish countryside on the way. When we got back mid-afternoon we crashed and napped for a couple of hours before waking up in time to go for dinner with my friend's family in an also not-so-nearby seaside town. The food was lovely despite the lack of vegetarian options but unfortunately the rain meant the prospect of going for a walk was out the window so instead we went for a long drive along the coast to take in the misty views.
This was honestly one of my favourite days of the whole trip because we drove to the north coast with a couple of my friend's closest friends. First we went to the seaside town of Portstewart for a walk on the beach, lunch and an icecream before driving to the Giant's Causeway where we thankfully avoided having to pay £9 per person (!!!) to park by waiting until 6pm when the man checking the tickets had gone - top tip for you there. The stones themselves were pretty impressive and I was amazed - given the UK's obsession with health and safety - that you can still climb all over them as it was more than a little hazardous in places. We took lots of photos and sat for ages taking in the views and beautiful scenery before finally driving back. All in all it was a really nice day, especially as I got to spend time with my friend's friends who are really lovely.
My last day! My flight was mid-afternoon so there wasn't all that much time to do anything but in the morning we went out for breakfast/brunch with my friend's grandma which was so delicious, I had the best pancakes ever. The café was actually in a shop which sold all sorts of beautiful homeware and trinkety things so we spent ages admiring the vintage tea sets and teapots and trying to decide which ones we liked best. Then it was time to go to the airport and leave (Northern) Ireland behind as I headed home with an overstuffed suitcase and a stackful of new memories to treasure.
This little trip to Ireland is going to be my only proper holiday this summer so I was determined to make the most of it which I definitely did. I feel like I saw so much even by just spending a few short days in each place but I know there's a lot more to see so I'd love to go back again someday - which I'm sure will happen given that all my best friends are Irish or Northern Irish! I think I just attract them to be honest. So here's to many more trips in the future!