I’VE wanted to visit Ireland ever since I missed an opportunity on a 2006 backpacking trip. So when I had the chance to go – during the St. Patrick’s Day Festival no less – I was stoked is an understatement. I spent five incredible days in and around Dublin visiting some of the popular, and off the beaten path sites. Here are ten experiences which I highly recommend checking out.

[Note: Monica was a guest of Tourism Ireland.]

1

Walk around the Cliffs of Moher

Along the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s pride and joy and some of nature’s finest work: The Cliffs of Moher. With over a million visitors a year, the cliffs are Ireland’s number one natural attraction. They drop off up to 700 feet at their tallest point. Standing on top, watching the waves crash, feeling the rush of wind, is an experience unlike any other.

2

Go to St. Patrick's Cathedeal

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the National Church of Ireland and dates back to 1191. This is also where the expression “chancing your arm” (meaning to take a risk) comes from - when the Earl of Kildare cut a hole in the door and thrust his arm in to shake for a truce in the Butler-Fitzgerald Dispute of 1492. Both the tallest and largest church in Ireland, the view of this building at sunset is breathtaking.

3

Tour the Guinness Storehouse

Guinness is the world’s #1 stout and the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s biggest attraction for many reasons. The interactive tour starts at the beginning of the brewing process and continues up seven floors to finish off with a complimentary stout at Gravity Bar. Besides learning about Guinness fascinating history, you can also enjoy delicious small plates at 1837 Bar and Brasserie, take in 360 views of the city, and learn how to create your own perfect pour.

4

Explore the Wild Atlantic Way

This 1600 mile coastal route along Ireland’s west coast is unlike any other ocean drive. It begins in Northern Ireland at the Inishowen Peninsula and finishes in Kinsale, County Cork. It is one of the longest coastal routes in the world and has over 157 points of interest and over 1,000 attractions along the way. It truly encapsulates Ireland’s beauty at it’s most rugged finest. Day tours leave from Dublin and are a great way to experience the countryside.

5

Explore the city by foot

There are many ways to explore Dublin, from bus tours to public transportation to self-guided walking tours. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is going for a wander to see what I can find. Ireland, in general, has a relatively low crime rate and every corner I turned seemed to reveal something new and beautiful. And if you're anything like me and get lost, the Irish people are some of the kindest people in the world and always seemed happy to help. One young man walked with me for about a mile to make sure I made it to the restaurant I was trying to find and shared a lot of Dublin history with me along the way.

6

Visit a castle

In a country with over 30,000 castles and ruins, this is not a difficult task. From the well-known Bunratty and Blarney Castles to random tower ruins seen from the road, castles are everywhere in Ireland. I headed west to Limerick to experience another Irish city and checked out King John's Castle. This 13th century castle is located right on the river Shannon and is one of the most well-preserved castles in Europe.

7

Go to The Cobblestone for authentic Irish music

Travel tip: always ask the residents. After spending days searching for traditional Irish music I asked a local and was directed off the beaten path to The Cobblestone. It’s located in Smithfield about a 15-minute walk from downtown Dublin and was my favorite place in the city. Musicians bring their own instruments and jam with one another to create true Irish music. It's a wonderfully intimate setting with no stage or microphones.

8

Visit Portmarnock Beach

About 20 minutes northeast of Dublin is the beautiful Portmarnock Beach. With views of Lambay Island and Ireland's Eye, it’s a wonderful spot for a morning stroll. And if you enjoy golf, the course at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links is so stunning it almost made me want to give it a go.

9

Take in an Irish festival

With festivals all year round, Dublin is a great city to take in some cultural celebrations, their most popular being St. Patrick’s Day with over half a million attendees. This national holiday is celebrated in more countries worldwide than any other. Experiencing it for myself and seeing the Irish pride on full display was something I will never forget.

10

Eat at The Brazen Head

Total tourist trap, and you'll be lucky to find any Irish people in there who aren't working, but it's still worth the visit. Ireland's oldest pub dates back to 1198. The Brazen Head also features live music every night and Irish folklore and storytelling. I almost skipped this because of the hype but the fish and chips alone made it worthwhile stop.

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