You’re still here? Nothing to do at 6 pm on a Monday?
Same here. And all the better for me; this means that I have an audience for this extremely long blog post.
To start: for Ireland and the UK, here’s what I brought, what I should have brought, and what should have been left at home:
WHAT I BROUGHT:
2 pairs of jeans
1 skirt (that went down to just above my knees)
1 pair of shorts
1 dress (for a night out)
1 pair of sunglasses
1 pair of actual glasses
1 neck warmer (it turns into a headband or face mask, as well)
1 pair of leggings (for layering)
1 pair of gloves
2 hats (a black cap and a purple beanie)
1 pair of wedges (because I hate normal heels)
2 pairs of tennis/walking shoes (I swear by Merrell and Ecco)
2 long-sleeve shirts (grey/black, because tourists stick out when they wear bright colors)
1 sleeping shirt + shorts
1 waterproof jacket (this one, from Eddie Bauer — I’ve had it for years)
A week’s worth of socks and underwear
Flip flops (for the hostel showers)
Two weeks worth of contacts (yaaay poor vision)
Shampoo and body wash
Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
Sunscreen (I don’t care that it’s cloudy, I ain’t gettin’ no skin cancer)
Three varieties of lipstick (because I’m classy like that)
Lipliner, eyeliner, and mascara
Earplugs (VERY IMPORTANT FOR HOSTELS, I PROMISE YOU)
Glasses cleaner (I use the wipes over the spray bottle type)
Ipod + earbuds
Chargers for previously mentioned items
Adapter plug appropriate for UK-style outlets (the three-pin one; Ireland uses the same one as Scotland and England, so that one type will suffice for all three)
Portable charger (this one)
And of course:
Passport, ID, credit card, debit card, and enough EUR/pounds to get started
Book (I brought Good Omens)
My small backpack (Patagonia sling pack, similar to this)
My large backpack (to store everything; I got it from Cabela’s a few years ago)
Money belt (to hide valuables on your person)
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT:
For all categories:
Tweezers (hello there, eyebrows)
Nail clippers (because good GOD)
Small towel (instead of renting one from the various hostels)
Several more pairs of underwear and socks (you cannot have enough of either)
A different sort of large backpack (I have a top-loading, camping-style one; a front-loading, travel one would have been better)
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT AT HOME:
I never used the leggings, the beanie, or the skirt. In Florence I had needed the skirt to enter churches (because of the legs-covered rule), but here that was not the case. And thanks to my jacket and long-sleeved shirts, it never got cold enough to warrant the hat or the leggings.
It could be argued that I could have gotten away with one pair of jeans, but the crotch of one pair gave out on me after only two days (thanks, thick thighs), so it was a relief to have the backup pair.
It could also be argued that I didn’t need so many t-shirts, especially because I bought a couple of shirts as souvenirs along the way.
I inexplicably brought two containers of sunscreen with me.
I could’ve rented a hair dryer from the hostel(s), but I didn’t wanna.
Also, most of the items in this section are up for debate in the travel community, because it’s argued that you can buy all of this stuff once you arrive at the location. And that’s true. (Next time I might do that, actually.)
And that’s enough talk about packing. What about NAVIGATING?
Let’s talk the walk and walk the talk.
To get from the airport to city centre, take the bus. And feel free to ask random bus drivers for help with determining which bus is the right one to take (which may or may not be exactly what I and Lauren, my traveling companion, had to do).
Dublin is an extremely walkable city. Even places like Kilmainham Gaol are only about a 40-minute walk from the center of the city (let’s say the Molly Malone statue). But for those that get tired of that, Dublin’s also full of those hop-on, hop-off buses, so you’re good to go on that front.
There is north of the river, and there is south of the river. I was told by locals that each side heavily judges the other. For tourists, south side has everything you’ll want to see and everything you’ll need. For hostel users, I’d recommend picking a hostel north of the river (do NOT stay in the Temple Bar area, because good god) and then walking across to the south side each morning to explore.
For major tourist landmarks, Dublin has street signs marking where you need to go, and how long of a walk it will be. You can’t miss them. (And they’re written in both English and Gaelic, which is pretty neat.)
If you’re like me, you’ll fly into an airport that isn’t Heathrow (Love Actually failed to mention how damn expensive it is to fly into that particular airport). I went to Gatwick, which is about 30 miles south of London. If you pick this option, go get a train ticket after you step off the plane. (Lauren and I picked the ticket that took us to St. Pancras, which is right next to King’s Cross, which is right next to the hostel we had chosen.) From there, it was an easy walk to our living accommodations.
London is obviously much bigger than Dublin, which necessitates the need for the Underground. I actually loved the subway system; it’s more efficient, more communicative, and arguably more affordable than New York’s MTA (more on that in a separate post, I should think). So go get an Oyster card and get on the tube. As a tourist, you’ll only need an Oyster card that covers travel throughout Zone 1, but feel free to ask an attendant for clarification on that, too. (Another point goes to London because, unlike New York, there are subway attendants positioned right near the electronic ticket booths, and their entire job is to answer tourist questions and show them what to do. 10/10, London.)
Like Dublin, London has tourist landmark signs that show you where to go and how far of a walk it will be, so even the twisty, turn-y nature of London’s streets ends up working out fine. (And if not, you can always use something like CityMaps2Go!)
Edinburgh is another walking city. It’s even easy to walk up to Arthur’s Seat (just be sure to take a few breaks while hiking up the hill.)
Really, Edinburgh is the most walkable of the three. Most of the major attractions rest in Old Town, along the Royal Mile (just go check out a map and you’ll see what I mean).
One note I should mention is that, if you’re like me, in that you like to navigate via cardinal directions, Edinburgh is a bit of a puzzle. The streets all curve a bit down toward the southwest so you’re never facing true north even if you turn to face that particular direction. And it’s always cloudy, of course, so goodbye sun.
Also, The Elephant House (where J.K. Rowling wrote HP) is on TOP of the bridge, not under it. The streets get tricky in that particular area…
But all that walking is worth it in the end, because what you don’t spend on taxis or buses gets to go to other, more fun things. Because money can be exchanged for goods and services!
CURRENCY. What’s up with the currency?
#Brexit threw a lot of things into turmoil, but for the moment, this is still how it works:
Dublin uses Euros. Northern Ireland (think Belfast), Scotland, and England all use pounds.
The UK also uses coins much more than we do, and there is no “$1.99” crap to be seen. Everything is rounded up. I was given only one 1-pence coin the whole time I was over there, because English people do not use a complicated monetary system.
A note on tipping:
I was told that Ireland’s tipping culture isn’t as high as ours. They tend to hover around 10% tip, and only in restaurants. (Probably because, unlike America, they pay staff members actual wages.)
England will sometimes include the tip in restaurant bills by adding a “service charge,” which you’ll be able to see on your receipt.
In Scotland, tipping didn’t seem to be much of a thing at pubs, especially if you were only ordering drinks. (Although musicians would come request a tip from patrons when they were performing in the chosen bar.)
At all three places, I tipped tour guides based on how I felt at the moment (and how many coins I had in my wallet at the time). People online seem conflicted on the etiquette revolving around tour guides. Based on my own unique circumstances, I tried to tip at least 5 pounds/EUR.
And on that note, DAY TOURS. Here’s how day tours work:
I tend to schedule day tours through Viator, but you can of course look up tours through other means. (Hostels tend to have numerous tour flyers available in their lobbies, for example.)
I’m going to use my Wild Wicklow Tour as an example. About a month before the trip, I booked two seats on the coach bus. The morning of the tour, we met the coach bus at the Molly Malone statue in Dublin’s city centre (at about 9 a.m., which was a relief — our Cliffs of Moher tour started at 6:50 a.m.) Being a bus, there was room on the tour for about 40-50 people.
Most day tours in the UK/Ireland feature a tour guide that drives the bus and talks to the passengers AT THE SAME TIME. And our Wicklow man was no exception. At one point he was explaining a type of English wall called a “ha-ha” while also driving the bus through an archway so small that the remaining space wouldn’t have accepted the world’s best credit card.
Day tours are DAY. TOURS. Which means there are regular breaks built into the day, so there are opportunities for coffee, bathroom visits, etc. On the Wicklow tour, we first stopped at the cafe at Avoca Handweavers, and then later on in the day, we had dinner at a traditional Irish pub in a town near Glendalough.
And on that note, day tours rarely provide food/drink as part of the experience, so be sure to have cash on you for those types of expenses.
Overall, day tours are a fun way to see far-off parts of the country you’re visiting, and it’s a treat to meet fellow travelers and locals along the way. I highly recommend them.
Speaking of RECOMMENDATIONS, I have several!
We stayed at Isaacs Hostel, a little north of the river.
Pros: Best hostel desk workers I’ve ever encountered, breakfast included, location, big lockers in the basement.
Cons: No wifi or lockers in the bedrooms.
Overall, I’d recommend it. Bring earplugs for the train (with those in, I didn’t notice it at all).
Queen of Tarts (I ate here several times — great tea, great scones, great everything)
O’Sheas Hotel on Talbot street (Great pub environment, live music at night)
Dwarf Jar Coffee (I just had a really great coffee here, okay)
Things to do:
Book of Kells was one of my favorite parts just because it’s so compelling (English major here, hi, how are ya). St. Stephen’s Green is really pretty. St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedral are neat to see, at least from the outside (it costs money to go in, of course). The tour at Guinness Storehouse is very entertaining. Kilmainham Gaol has an absolutely fascinating tour that I really recommend. We also did a self-tour in Dublin Castle. AND:
We stayed at Generator, up by King’s Cross.
Pros: Location, very clean, lockers in the rooms themselves, fun hostel mates.
Cons: Front desk service is extremely slow, and there aren’t nearly enough showers.
Overall, I’d recommend it.
The Boot (Very homely atmosphere, not a “touristy” kind of place)
The Athenaeum (Very swanky hotel; go here for high tea some afternoon)
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (Historic pub, good food, and you can’t beat that name)
Pret A Manger (sandwich shop chain; this is my go-to place in New York, as well)
Things to do:
Go see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Parliament — all the big things! It was fun to see a show at The Globe. Kyoto Gardens is quiet and pretty and kind of nice because it gets you out of Zone 1, just barely. The whole area around Trafalgar Square is hoppin’ and bustling with people. There’s a fun photo opportunity at Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross, because of course there is. AND:
We stayed at Castle Rock. It’s right by the castle. Castle by the castle.
Pros: Well-organized, rooms are pretty adorable, lockers in the rooms, several common areas with different personalities.
Cons: Our room had a sloped roof which meant we bumped our heads on the ceiling a lot.
Things to do:
You have to climb Arthur’s Seat one morning — the views are spectacular. Explore ALL of the Royal Mile area (including the Royal Mile Market, at the corner of High Street and South Bridge).
At this point, I was also going to discuss the pros/cons of traveling with companions, and start telling some proper stories, but I think dinner is in order first. More to come!
Thanks for reading,