As 2021 came to an end, my father came to visit me in France. I have been blessed to see him every year since I moved to Europe with him making the annual trip to come to this side of the Atlantic. Apart from 2020, because France had closed their borders to United States citizens, this year was more optimistic since the borders opened back up in the summer. Plans were made and my dad came to visit me to spend Christmas and the start of the New Year together.
Every time he visits, I like to take a small trip to a country neither of us has been to. Unfortunately, this year we were not successful in touring a new country. We opted to stay local as the Omicron coronavirus variant started running rampant with each country making it more difficult and risky to travel additionally with varying degrees of paperwork and testing.
So instead of recapping the relatively calm recent couple of weeks we had together, I wanted to re-visit our last trip from October 2019 when we were able to take a couple of days to fly over to Dublin, Ireland, and take a bus tour to Northern Ireland. Having previously visited Ireland with university friends right after graduation, I had seen only a little of what the luck of the Irish had to offer. This time around, I was determined to knock another country off my bucket list by reserving a spot on a bus tour to see a Unesco World Heritage Site while also catching majestic coastal views from Northern Ireland locations where some scenes of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones was shot.
Flying out from Luxembourg, we arrived in Dublin in the evening and made our way over to our Airbnb. With a late arrival, we were pretty hungry so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a burger and arcade game joint called Token that was close to where we were staying. It was a fun but loud atmosphere busy with university students. The burgers sufficed and with our bellies full it was off to bed for our early morning bus trip to Northern Ireland.
The private coach bus was a tour organized by RyanAir Events. With about 16 of us in total, the luxury coach bus picked us up at the centrally located Molly Malone Statue. Fun Fact: Molly Malone, aka Cockles and Mussels, is a folklore song of a fair maiden and is the unofficial anthem for several Dublin sports teams. With the tourists in tow on a new and extremely clean coach bus with comfortable reclining seats that each had individual power outlets and USB ports, lighting, and climate control, we were off before the sun rose for our 14 hour day adventure.
The driver, who was also a storyteller, divulged with us a few bits of information on Dublin before letting us have a couple of hours of sleep. Making a pit stop at a gas station and for a bathroom break, most of us were finally awake as we made our way to the Northern Ireland border.
Our driver discussed briefly Ireland, the United Kingdom (UK), and Northern Ireland’s lengthy and sometimes violent history which dated back to the 16th century. With the independence of Ireland in the 1920s, the northern part of Ireland wanted to remain within the United Kingdom and this was due to the differing religious majorities in the North (Protestants) and the South (Catholics). The fighting turned more political in the 1960s, known as the troubles, and this turmoil continued well into the late 1990s. Since 1998, Northern Ireland has been in a peace process and is ultimately acknowledged as part of the UK but also strongly associated with Ireland.
Our first stop was to the northernmost coast to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. First erected by the local fisherman in 1755, this small suspension rope bridge crosses a part of the Atlantic Ocean connecting to the Carrick-a-Rede Island. This is part of the National Trust and is conserved for tourists. From the parking lot, you may enter the hiking path with the purchase of an entry ticket (included in the tour). You must walk along the coast for a ways and sometimes take some narrow steps to make your way to the bridge. Unfortunately, on our tour day, the winds were too strong for us to end up crossing the bridge so we could only take photos from a distance. That is an issue with this attraction, the bridge is open seasonally and is subject to environmental conditions.
While we didn’t get to cross the bridge, we were able to tour the surrounding grounds of Larrybane Quarry where in season 2 of Game of Thrones we meet Brienne of Tarth when she fights Sir Loras Tyrell. Being a huge fan, I was almost more excited to step foot onto this location than at having the chance to cross the bridge.
Following our first stop at the rope bridge, we were driven to a local eatery called The Red Door Tea Room for comfort food of Shepard’s pie and Irish coffee with sweet desserts. Nothing hit the spot better on a cold fall day.
With our blood sugars improved, we were ready for the 15-minute drive to the highlight of the trip at Giant’s Causeway, a Unesco World Heritage site in Bushmills, Northern Ireland. Scientists have pondered the existence of 40,000 hexagonal-shaped rocks. The curious landscape appears to mimic a great staircase rising out of the ocean to meet the cliffs. Artists and storytellers have been inspired by the myths of the grand formation. It is awe-inspiring, to say the least.
The final leg of our tour brought us to the City Hall at Donegall Square in Belfast. With only an hour’s stop, my dad and I decided to hit up the famous 19th century bar in Belfast known for its decor, The Crown. After quenching our thirst with a beer, or two, we finished the tour getting driven back to our final destination in Dublin by early evening. Just in time for dinner, we ate at O’Neills Pub & Kitchen, a large traditional Old Irish pub known for its live entertainment and large food variety, before ultimately catching some Zzzs.
The next day, I went for an early run and had a stellar cappuccino at an adorable coffee shop called Copper & Straw. We then had a half-day in Dublin before our flight back to see a couple of monumental sites.
It wouldn’t be a stop in Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse. If you want to experience all the iconic building has to offer without maneuvering through thousands of other tourists during the weekend, I highly suggest reserving the first morning tickets at 10:00 AM. Going through the history and brewing process of Ireland’s famous Guinness Stout Beer, you have the opportunity to learn how to make the perfect draft pour for yourself. While you do finish the tour in the Gravity Bar with a pint included that you can enjoy taking in the 360 panoramic views of Dublin, we opted for an additional pint called the Stoutie. This unique experience allows you to drink a Guinness pint with a picture of yourself on the foam! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I recommend not passing on.
While walking in a buzzed state through Dublin en route to the bus to take us back to the airport, we also passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, and the Spire of Dublin. Lucky us!
Have you visited Dublin or Northern Ireland? Did we miss any other big attractions that you would recommend?