Everyone has that one destination they’ve been fantasising about for years. For a traveling panda, I have quite a few but Ireland has always been at the top of my list. Why you may ask? It’s just a tiny island known for potatoes and rain right? No no. You are so wrong my friend. Ireland is about so much more than Guiness and good craic.
Ireland- isn’t that part of the United Kingdom you may ask? Well… not quite! That means its time for a PPG- Panda Progressive Geography lesson!
Ireland is called Éire in Irish and is also known as the Republic of Ireland. Ireland covers five-sixths of the island of the same name, the remaining one-sixth of the island is Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Irish, or Gaelic, is the country’s first official language, however the second official language- English- is more commonly spoken. Throughout much of its history, Ireland fought against rule by Great Britain. Most of the island gained independence in the 1920s. However, Britain continues to control Northern Ireland. In the 1990s the independent republic of Ireland became a successful member of the European Union hence why they use the Euro as their currency!
So why should Ireland be your next holiday destination? Let’s investigate a few reasons why:
1. It’s so easy to get around
Panda and Penguin rented a car (for €9 a day, it seemed a shame not to), and driving in Ireland was incredibly easy. From the fantastic signage to the well developed roads, it was well worth driving around. However, there are plenty of buses linking the major cities, tour buses to the major attractions and of course an efficient public transportation cities within cities and towns.
Driving through Ireland is the perfect way to explore, based on my experience. The roads are simply wonderful… There are some major highways, but for the most part I drove along country roads and winding paths cut through farms and along the shear cliffs of its wild and ragged coastline. I have to admit that while driving may be the best way to experience the country, once you hop in the car, be prepared to stop and stop often. I remember one day of driving where the scenery around every corner was so beautiful that I just had to make the decision not to stop anymore, otherwise I would never have reached my final destination for the day. That’s a hard decision for someone traveling and exploring to make, but it’s one that all of us traveling to Ireland have to mentally compromise on.
The benefits of driving however (if you can), mean that you have the opportunity to stop on side of the road to capture castles:
Within Dublin and Galway its super easy to walk everywhere or use the tram or bus system.
2. Lush landscapes:
Even in the depths of winter, Ireland was green and verdant all through the countryside… I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would be in spring or summer. People complain about the rain in Ireland but if its the abundance of rain that keeps the country looking this lush then I don’t see a point in complaining!
We drove up to Northern Ireland one day to take in Giant’s Causeway (too bad we only got there after sunset although this did mean that we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee):
Another landscape highlight was of course, the Cliffs of Moher:
People advised me against going to Ireland saying that there would be nothing to see due to the cold but as you can see from my photos… Ireland was a visual feast for the eyes- winter or not!
3. Impressive Architecture:
The problem with me is that I am a sucker for old things. Vintage cars, retro frocks and victorian architecture definitely feature on my list of loves. So when I get the opportunity to be around gorgeous old buildings with intricate designs that have endured centuries of rain, years of famine and decades of colonial rule, I get excited!
A few of my favourites included Kylemore Abbey:
Ashford Castle was another place we stopped at for hot chocolate and scones even though you aren’t allowed inside unless you are a hotel guest:
And although Dublin gets it own mention in the next heading, its worth mentioning Trinity College where the architecture literally took my breath away:
4. Dazzling Dublin:
Cities often get a bad rap for being cold, heartless destinations, but not Dublin. Ireland’s capital is bursting with personality and a youthful buzz. It is a bustling metropolis alive with entertaining cultural pursuits and even if you can only manage to visit the capital during your trip to Ireland, it is 100% worth it!
Check out Dublin Castle:
The Long Library:
An abundance of traditional pubs:
And cute coffee shops:
Plus, the Irish men and their delectable accent get me every time!
The truth is…
As I stepped out of the car, to my right was a bright yellow bush, and to the left a beautiful lake with the sun shining down across its waters. All I needed was a leprechaun to round out the moment of perfect Irish-ness and that’s when I realized that Ireland lives up to its own hype.
Ireland actually looks far better the tourist brochures and in a day when most people over-exaggerate to make a few extra Euros, Ireland is a like a comforting hug. When people think of Ireland they think of kind people, delicious food and natural scenery that will take their breath away. Well all of that is there in spades, and so much more. You will honestly be hard pressed to find a more affable and hospitable group of people than the Irish anywhere in the world. Hundreds of years of struggle and hard living have created a general culture that is surprisingly fun, outgoing and welcoming.
Despite having never traveled there before, when I landed in Ireland I felt like I was home. The moment you set foot on Irish soil an overwhelming sense of calm and peace overcomes you. In this age of rushing we often forget to stop and enjoy the beauty of this world but Ireland offers this and so much more.
Go to enjoy the clean air and towns; simplicity at it’s finest; warm pubs to talk with new lifelong friends; true quietness when you want it; the bustle of a city when you need it; stunning landscapes to gaze upon; history, music, art, architecture, and something to do every day.
-Ireland is the only country in Western Europe that does not require a visa from South African passport holders. You will be stamped into the country with a 90 day stay- as long as you can show your outbound ticket and proof of accommodation.
-Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and as such, necessitates a valid U.K. visa. However, at this point in time, there is NO border control whatsoever. Post Brexit, this situation may change. Use this information as you see fit!