Travel diary: 17 days of solo travel in Ireland & Northern Ireland

(ENG only) When I started caressing the idea of going on a solo travel, Ireland wasn’t exactly on top of my list. I knew it was an experience I wanted to do, but really couldn’t decide where to head to: somewhere warm, somewhere that would offer me a volunteering experience, somewhere I never been to, somewhere far away enough but not too far so that I had to jump on three planes to get there…. I really couldn’t make up my mind. Earlier this year though, during my yoga retreat experience in June, I became really close friend with my roommate, which was born and raised in Norther Ireland. We kept in touch and even managed to see each other when she visited Berlin in the summer, and she kept saying that her door would always be open for me. And before I even realized it, there I was, planning an a-little-over-two-weeks solo travel across Ireland and Norther Ireland for the end of October / beginning of November.

The only thing I knew about Ireland, aside from the cliched imagery of leprechauns Guinness beer and four leaf clovers, was that I have been to Cork for two days when I was 18, so my knowledge of it was blurry if not pretty much non existent. So I knew that this could turn out into a fresh, new and exciting experience. When I started planning my trip and taking into consideration the places to hit during my travel, I kept a few things in mind:

  • the aim of this travel. Relax, recharge, do what feels good, whilst still sightseeing and discovering new things, so I wanted to find a good balance between the two.
  • avoid over scheduling. I can’t do it all, so as much as I kept stumbling upon beautiful landscapes and cities that were worth the visit during my research, I had to keep things limited to a bearable amount.
  • Ireland & Northern Ireland are expensive compared to other places previously visited, so I had to plan as much as possible my stays and pre-book accommodations in order to avoid unpleasant last minute surprises.
  • spend time with my friend. I knew that I could only meet her over the weekends because of her work schedule, so I had to arrange my plan around this.
  • traveling across the Island. I didn’t want to rent a car but organize my trip making sure that I could move using buses and/or trains to move from one town to the other (when meeting my friend over the weekends, I knew she would have the car and she offered to drive me around).
  • carry on only. Despite traveling in a potentially cold time of year and to a place where weather is uncertain pretty much all year round, I was determined to travel exclusively with my carry on backpack to make things easier (you can read my minimalist packing list here).

The main stops I decided to plan were Galway & Dublin in Ireland (plus Bray & Greystones with my friend) and Belfast in Northern Ireland (plus a weekend stay in Portglenone, where my friend lives). Then I knew I could add day trips along the way if I wished And here’s how these 17 days turned out.

I left on a Tuesday afternoon right after work. Everything was already prepped, so I just needed to quickly go home to get changed and grab my stuff before heading to the airport to catch my flight to Dublin. I spent my first evening and night in a hostel in Dublin’s city center so I could be fresh and ready on the following morning to head to the first official stop of my trip: Galway. I bought myself a train ticket directly at the station (although it is better to buy them beforehand online because it can be cheaper) and hopped on the train. The train ride from Dublin to Galway is a little over 2 hours and it is worth every second. I now realize that a big component of this trip for me was the beautiful scenery, also during bus or train rides. It was so enjoyable to sit and stare out the window whilst reading a book or chatting to a stranger. Galway has a lot to offer despite being a relatively small town. I spent there two days and absolutely loved it. On the first day I wandered around getting lost in the little streets, had a walk along the Long Walk and explored the University Campus. On the second day I had my Galway Free Walking Tour booked and I experienced the most important facts and sights of the city in about 1,5 hours walking around town. I then visited the Filling Station Zero Waste Shop in the city center, wandered around the Latin Quarter, spent some time reading on The Long Walk (it was such a beautiful sunny day, it was amazing!) and finally spent a few hours in a pub called Tig Coili. I sat there for hours writing while sipping beer and listening to traditional Irish music, and it was fantastic! I didn’t do anything particularly fancy, but felt like blending in: sometimes doing the most ordinary things while visiting a new place turns us into travelers and not tourists, and this is exactly what I tried to do in Galway and throughout my whole trip.

Long Walk
Latin Quarter
a cute house in Galway

After Galway I traveled back to Dublin (this time on a bus because it was cheaper), to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening there, so I would be more conveniently located to head to my official second stop on the next day: Bray & Greystones. This was something I was particularly looking forward to, as it was a chance for me to spend some time with my wonderful friend Natasha on what we planned to be as a “Happy Pear weekend”. We both arrived to our lovely Airbnb in Bray late in the morning and as soon as we left our stuff in the room, we were ready to head out the door. The highlights of our weekend spent between Bray and Greystones were:
a) the Cliff Walk. This walk takes about 1-1,5 hours and it’s oh so worth it! The scenery is absolutely stunning and if you’re lucky as we were to have a bright sunny day, the colors around you will pop even more making the view even more breathtaking.
b) multiple meals at the Happy Pear Cafe in Greystones. It wouldn’t be a Happy Pear themed weekend if we didn’t indulge on some delicious food at the HP cafe, right? 🙂
c) the sunrise swim in Greystones. Well, to be completely honest it was a sunrise “dip” more than a proper swim (it was absolutely freezing!!!). If you’re not familiar with The Happy Pear, they were the ones who started the tradition of having a sunrise swim every single morning in Greystones, and now a small community who gathers every day at sunrise to to have a swim, chat and start their day together has been built. Unfortunately Dave and Steve weren’t there for the swim, but we were lucky enough to stumble upon Dave at the Cafe later in the day, so we definitely can’t complain!
d) the visit to the nearby Glendalough, where we took a long walk to see the old medieval monastery and the Upper Lake.

one of the many pictures taken during the Bray-Greystones Cliff Walk
one of the many pictures taken during the Bray-Greystones Cliff Walk
one of the many pictures taken during the Bray-Greystones Cliff Walk
happy Jenny at the Happy Pear Cafe
breakfast at the Happy Pear 
sunrise swim in Greystones
did it!! (smiling on the outside, crying on the inside…5°C… it was freezing!)
Glendalough
Upper Lake, Glendalough

The third official stop of my trip was Dublin, finally not just for a hit and run like previously done. I planned myself 5 days to spend in the capital city of Ireland, as I thought that this could be an excellent amount of time to fully experience it. After a completely sleepless night in a hostel in the city center a couple of days earlier, I decided to ditch my hostel booking (unfortunately haven’t read carefully the cancelation policy and lost my money…. always read carefully before canceling a booking folks!! But this is a whole other story…) and change my booking last minute to opt for an Airbnb in a quieter area: in this way I could be fully present and energized during my stay in Dublin and not have to worry about being grumpy or without energy due to the lack of sleep. I can’t exactly explain why, but Dublin tiptoed into my heart and then it literally exploded. Dublin is an absolute gem and I loved every single minute I’ve spent there. The people, the vibe, walking alongside the Liffey River, the seagulls squawking over my head at every corner, the beauty of its being gray and gloomy and somehow colorful and diverse at the same time… it was love at first sight! So, what I did during these 5 days in Dublin?
a) Free Walking Tour , which was fantastic. Our guide was very engaging, funny and informative and in about 2,5 course he showed us the main sights and shared the main facts about the city.
b) Temple Bar. Yes I know this is probably the most touristy place in town, but nonetheless I decided to pay a visit to it (I was impressed how beautiful it looked, it was fully decorated for Christmas already!). I recommend just popping in just to take a look (Guinness though is insanely overpriced!).
c) Phoenix Park. This park is massive and I took a huge stroll in it. It was so peaceful, I loved it. If you’re lucky enough you can even spot some wild deers (apparently there’s lots of them in this park as it is an important site for biodiversity in the city).
d) Trinity College (the book of Kells exhibition and the Long Room of the Old Library). A bit crowded but worth the visit.
e) Chester Beatty Museum. A beautifully curated museum that showcases lots of manuscripts, rare books and other treasures from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia (admission is completely free! Donations are welcome).
e) IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art). Also free, unless otherwise stated for certain exhibitions.
f) Books Upstairs. This was an absolutely lovely surprise! This is Dublin’s oldest independent bookshop and it is huge! It has a large sections for new books, a sales section downstairs, a second hand section and (my personal highlight) the Cafe Upstairs, which is a wifi-free/laptop free cafe. I went there two days in a row just to read, enjoy some quiet time watching Dublin’s life streaming on the streets outside and sip on tea or coffee.
g) I paid a little visit to NOMS (Natural Organic Mindful Sustainable), which offers some package free/plastic free goods as well as organic products and coffee. They didn’t have as many unpackaged products as expected, but I am always very happy to support these shops whenever I travel, plus the staff is super friendly and they offer a big variety (if you bring your own cup you get a small discount on your coffee or tea order!).
h) pubs. I went to the a pub every single day I’ve spent in Dublin, to write and just absorb the life and the vibe around me. I’ve been to Slattery’s, Piper’s Corner and The Black Sheep (this one offers craft beers). This was a nice way to finish my day after long hours walking around or exploring.
i) getting lost in the streets. For me a big part of traveling consists of walking, so oftentimes I found myself walking around Dublin with no particular place in mind to go to.
I must say, I was sad to leave.

Dublin by night
Trinity College Old Library
Oh Dublin, you cutie…. Sunset on the Liffey River
seagulls everywhere… Dublin
Free Walking Tour in Dublin
The Black Sheep, Dublin
Phoenix Park
The Spire, Dublin
the “Books Upstairs” bookstore (they are even XR supporters, yay!!)

At the end of my fifth day in Dublin I took a bus to head to Norther Ireland to meet my friend again. She would pick me up in Belfast and then we would head to Portglenone, where she lives.
This was meant to be a relaxed weekend between friends, enjoying nature, spending time with her doggies, eating delicious plant based food (duh!) and just being able to spend time together however we felt like, so we didn’t make any plans beforehand. Luckily my friend is awesome so not only she spoilt me with deliciously home cooked meals, but she even drove me to The Dark Hedges and Giant’s Causeway. This was something that was on my list anyway and I wanted to try and squeeze it in by booking a day trip, however having to follow the tour’s schedule wouldn’t have been the same! If you can, rent a car (unfortunately, as far as I know it is very difficult to get to these spots using public transportation) and visit these places on your own. They are absolutely worth the drive and they are simply breathtaking. Photos don’t do them justice! You can easily visit them in the same day as they are not far from each other. Before driving back to Portglenone, we hit the Portstewart Beach really quickly (it was starting to get freezing and the sun was almost down), but nonetheless it was beautiful. The little towns in the area are very cute and again, the scenery from the beach is wonderful.

me rocking pjs and Wellingtons while talking a short morning walk with my friend and her doggies
breakfast with a view
me and my friend Natasha at The Dark Hedges
Giant’s Causeway
Portstewart Beach

On the following day my friend drove me to Belfast. Before checking in my Airbnb, we were able to visit together the St. George’s Market , which usually takes place Fridays to Sundays and offers food (also vegan options!!), arts and crafts and live music (very nice atmosphere, definitely worth the visit!) I spent the rest of my stay trying to understand more the city and its hard history (I took a Free Walking Tour and a Political Tour … both interesting and worth the time, but I don’t recommend making both of them on the same day, I did so and I was exhausted), browsing the Botanic Garden and the Queen’s University, having an evening out in the Cathedral Quarter and simply walking around (I especially enjoyed the Botanic Avenue, which was quite close to my accommodation and had plenty of cute cafes and restaurants to offer). And of course I made sure to carve myself some time for reading or writing in a couple of cafes or pubs. Whilst in Belfast I also spontaneously decided to make a day trip to Derry/Londonderry, which is just a 2 hours train ride away (again, the view from the train is just gorgeous!). After seeing the TV series “Derry Girls”, I was determined to see this place even for a quick visit. Derry is such a cute and charming city, again with lots of history (I took a walk along the Bogside to check out the murals and the Free Derry Corner) and the friendliest people.

Big Fish, Belfast
International Peace Wall, Belfast
Queen’s University, Belfast
cute houses in Belfast
Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
Derry/Londonderry
the Derry Girls Mural
Derry/Londonderry

My flight back to Berlin was from Dublin Airport, but the bus ride Belfast-Dublin Airport is just about 2 hours and is not particularly expensive.

This is more or less what I did during my 17 days solo trip across Ireland and Northern Ireland. I tried to include useful links to make this post as informative as possible for anyone reading who is thinking about making their next trip to Ireland or Northern Ireland. This is probably the best trip I have ever made: the fact that I was mostly on my own definitely made a whole of a difference, but overall Ireland is an amazing country. It’s beautiful cities, fantastic nature and landscapes, incredibly friendly and kind people, cozy atmosphere and chilled vibe made it an experience I’ll definitely cherish forever. I have only shared a small amount of all the picture taken, but still hope this gives you an idea of why you SHOULD visit Ireland and Norther Ireland at least once!! Please let me now if you have any questions or need further info!

I’ll talk to you soon! xoxo

Jen

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