Tips on visiting Ireland

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Posted by Catherine Mack at 10:54 on Wednesday 17 March 2010

(Photo: Horseriding in Rathmullan, Co.Donegal)If you haven't travelled to Ireland yet, I hope that as an Irish writer and co-editor of the website, I can do my little bit towards enticing you to the truly Emerald Isle.

We have many stunning Irish accommodations listed on greentraveller, as well as a detailed guide to How to travel to Ireland without flying. I also have some top personal tips for greentravellers heading to the island to help you get the most out of your trip:

  1. Get out of Dublin. The majority of visitors to Ireland only go to Dublin. Although a great city, you will see more of Ireland's breathtaking landscape if you head out of it For example, take the ferry from Swansea to Cork, and work your way up the west coast, twisting in and out of Counties' Cork, Kerry, Galway and Mayo. Stunning, stunning and more stunning. (Photo: Horseriding in Rathmullan, Co.Donegal)

  2. Discover Donegal. County Donegal is one of Ireland's best kept secrets, with many Irish people even admitting they have never been that far north. Coming from Belfast, we headed to this magnificent wild coastline every summer, and it has hardly changed since then. And just to give my own book a bit of a plug, you can read about a few of my favourite places to stay in ecoescape: Ireland.

  3. The famous Pint . When you have your first pint of Guinness in Ireland, don't make the mistake of thinking the barman has forgotten to top up the glass. A proper pint is filled just short of the top, left to settle, and then topped up a few minutes later. So you have to wait just a bit longer in Ireland for the good stuff. Also, if you want a pint, just ask for 'A Guinness please', they will know what you mean. A half pint is just called 'A glass of Guinness'.                                                                   

  4. Ireland's favourite weed. Only the Irish could discover a weed that is legal, good for you and cheap. Seaweed bath houses can be found in Counties Sligo, Mayo and Down, and are the cheapest, most natural and heavenly of spas. At Voya in Strandhill, County Sligo, for example, you can soak in a bath of sustainably harvested seaweed (from across the road) which will ease every aching muscle in your body quicker than any other weed, allegedly. The therapeutic properties of wild seaweed have long been known along the Irish coast. At the beginning of the 20th century there were an estimated 300 seaweed bath houses in Ireland. Don't leave Ireland without trying one. .. Other bath houses can be found in Newcastle, County Down , Enniscrone, County Sligo and you can also sample seaweed baths at Delphi Mountain Resort, listed on greentraveller.

  5. Cycling loops. You can discover many of the off-guidebook areas of Ireland, by taking on the country's first long-distance cycle route, The Kingfisher Cycle Trail. Kingfisher is an appropriate name for it – this elusive little bird is associated with lakelands, and the 370kms trail twists in an out of the extraordinarily endless lakes of Cavan, Fermanagh, Leitrim and Monaghan, giving the Kingfisher (and us) a superb choice of shores to rest upon. The Trail is designed as a figure of eight, divided into two loops. The northern loop circles Lower Lough Erne, then moves alongside Loughs Melvin and Macnean, stretching out as far as Ballyshannon in Co..Donegal. The lower loop is bordered on two sides by Upper Lough Erne and Lough Allen. A good starting point for the southern loop is Carrick-on-Shannon, from where you can travel east, along backroads through the patchwork quilt-like landscape of tiny lakes. On this route, an ideal picnic stop is at Newtownbutler where, if travelling anti-clockwise, you have to phone the ferryman to help you back on your journey across the lake to Crom in Co. Fermanagh. Kingfisher Trail’s map is excellent (€6, www.cycletoursireland.com).

  6. Ireland's islands. There are hundreds of them. Too many to take in on one visit, but try to visit at least one while you are there, as they are brimming with natural and cultural heritage. There is a breakdown of each island on the excellent website, Ireland's Islands. I love the wide open spaces of Achill in County Mayo, the literary history of the Aran Islands(the setting for JM Synge's famous plays), and the bird watching haven of Rathlin in Northern Ireland. Check out the wonders of weaving on Clare Island's Ballytoughey Loom, and the yurts on Cape Clear . But always be careful with transport, because if the weather is severe, the boats won't travel, so make sure you give yourself time to get back again. Try to stay overnight on the islands, as tourism income is very important to many of the inhabitants.                                                 

  7. Can you canoe? County Fermanagh is the lakeland of Ulster, and also boasts the Lough Erne Canoe Trail. County Fermanagh is an ideal destination for canoeing enthusiasts with the magnificent lakes of Upper and Lower Lough Erne, linked by the River Erne, providing a trail of up to 50 km. There is something for all paddlers, with vast expanses of open water for those who like taking on the waves, as well as sheltered mazes of bays, channels and tiny islands. Find out all the places to hire canoes, stay and camp at Canoe Northern Ireland. (Right: photo: Canoeing in County Fermanagh)

  8.  Food is a must in Ireland, and it is no longer just famous for the liquid kind. Award winning chefs started being drawn to the fishing port of Kinsale years ago, and their good food message has spread throughout Ireland. There is now a plethora of produce to cater for the chefs' growing demands, all on display at the many farmers' markets dotted around the country. These are thriving centres of rural life in Ireland, and you can find out more about them at Slow Food Irelandand Bord Bia, the National Food Board

  9. Cross the border. Northern Ireland's tourism suffered badly during the years of violence, however there was one tiny silver lining. Many areas remained unspoilt, and mountain regions such as The Mournes in County Down, which rise up dramatically from the sea, are still empty compared to similar beauty spots in England, Scotland or Wales. The border may still create political divide, but the coastlines, mountain ranges, lakes and rivers don't stop being awesomely beautiful because of a line on a map. You can find out all of Northern Ireland's array of low carbon activities at Outdoor NI. (Left: photo: Bog cotton in Mourne Mountains, County Down)    
      10. Ireland's history. Read up a little about Ireland's history before you go. It may be just another city break to some, or feel like a quick jaunt across the Irish Sea, but the culture, politics and often the language are very different to what people expect. I have heard a few tourists' faux pas in my time, such as referring to England as the 'mainland'. It is rarely done on purpose but most find it offensive for obvious reasons. And nobody says 'top of the morning' so don't even try it! What they do say is 'Slainte' (pronounced slawn-shuuh) meaning 'cheers', or good health, and raise a glass with a smile and a genuine welcome.

    See our detailed guide to How to travel to and from Ireland without flying.

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