So I said about, oh, ten weeks ago, that I was thinking about posting some of my American traveler’s observations and advice for Dublin and the Isle of Man. Well, I finally lit a fire under my own ass and compiled my thoughts and advice. Here's hoping it is helpful to someone planning their own trip...
Some general observations about Ireland and the Isle of Man:
- The people we met were very friendly. I was a little worried that people would consider us annoying ’murricans, but that didn’t happen at all. They’ll say hi to you and gladly give your totally lost tourist self directions without being annoyed. I think I’ve just lived in the northeast for too long, and since my first thought when someone approaches me on the street is that they’re going to try and scam me, I figured everyone else in the world had the same mindset. Not true.
- Restaurant service is VERY relaxed. As a former waitress who always strove to pass potential secret server tests with flying colors, this took a little bit of getting used to. It’s not that service was bad—far from it—but it was more laid back. Like they wanted you to actually relax and enjoy the meal that you were paying for at your own pace, without breathing down your neck about your happiness with the food preparation or whether you require condiments for your mushy peas. (?!?!) What a concept. It was actually quite nice, and we definitely lingered at meals longer than we normal would have. In the U.S., servers are supposed to drop the check right after dessert is declined, or if dessert is ordered, within minutes of it being served. When we were in Europe, we always had to ask for the check when we were ready to go.
- Pubs don’t always serve food. I never really thought about it, but in the U.S., it’s rare to find a bar that doesn’t serve at least your basic microwaved chicken wings and potato skins. On our trip, we found quite a few pubs that only served alcohol. This isn’t too big of a deal as long as you don’t wait until you become hungry to try and find a place to eat. Then, of course, it will seem like you can only find pubs that serve booze. Which, alternately, can work to take the edge off the hanger, but only briefly.
- Many pubs that do serve food sequester the eaters from the drinkers in separate rooms. I guess the thinking is that the drinkers can get boisterous and the eaters might want to enjoy a peaceful meal. And often times, if you’re ordering food, you don’t have a server—you have to belly up to the bar and order the food for your table there.
- This may be my strangest observation, but the public bathroom situation was pretty great. As in, they are very private, often times with walls and doors from floor to ceiling so you’re in your own enclosed room. I once read this list on Thought Catalog about things non-Americans find weird about America, and more than one bemoaned the lack of privacy in American public restrooms. I really didn’t understand what they meant when I read that, but now I do.
- Europeans are a lot more energy conscious than we are (f*cking up again, America!) Almost all of their toilets were low flow and they used hand dryers instead of paper towels in the bathrooms. All outlets have an on/off switch, so if you leave your phone charger plugged in, you can turn it off without unplugging. The strangest energy difference we encountered was in our Dublin hotel room, where the electricity in our room would not work. We almost got to the point of calling the front desk when we realized that we had to leave our key card in a slot by the door in order to activate the electricity. So if we weren’t in the room, the electricity wasn’t on, thereby wasting lots of money and energy. Smart, huh? Luckily, Ireland doesn’t get disgustingly hot like it does here.
Things that are really helpful to know about traveling to Ireland and the Isle of Man:
- If you sign up for international data and roaming, you’ll probably need to restart your phone so that it can find the local network. Since you can now leave your phone on in airplane mode during the flight, plus the fact that you’ll be jet lagged, sometimes you forget this basic IT advice. It took me several hours to figure this one out. Duh.
- On a related note, make sure you bring a real map of the city you are in. Google maps is a lifesaver, but in case your data isn’t working, a paper map is really helpful. We did not think to do this. (All of the people over age of 40 reading this are like, “Wow, you’re a moron!”)
- Make sure you have a credit or debit card that has a chip in it, along with a traditional magnetic strip card option. In Dublin, we didn’t have problems with our typical magnetic strip cards. In the Isle of Man though, they pretty much only took cards with chips in them, which have a completely different reader. We had no idea this could be an issue and just got lucky that Scott has a chip card (I didn’t). Some of our family members had issues withdrawing from the ATM too, since their cards didn’t have a chip. You definitely don’t want to be overseas without access to cash.
- Make sure you're staying someplace with WiFi. Again, this may seem a bit obvious, but some of the nicer hotels in Dublin charged a daily fee for internet access, and our cottage in the Isle of Man had NO wifi. It is nice to unplug, but let's be honest, it's also nice to upload photos to Facebook to make your friends jealous, and this will gobble up your data faster than you think.
- Don't take any nite-nite medicine on the plane. The best thing is to try and sleep on your own (you won't, but try anyway) and stay up for the entire first day of your trip, then crash hard that night. Then you'll be rested and skip most of the jet lag. Also, when you take Advil PM it makes going through customs much more stressful because you're all foggy and afraid of saying the wrong thing. It's not worth it.
What to pack for Ireland and Isle of Man (in the spring):
I can't speak for the rest of the year, but I think this would probably a pretty solid list for any point. When we were in the Isle of Man, we read somewhere that the hottest recorded temperature on the island was 84 degrees. Ha. Hahaha!
- Lots of layers. I brought several jackets with different levels of "American Touristy-ness": a wool blazer, a peacoat rain jacket, a sporty rain jacket, a fleece. I would also recommend gloves and a hat for the Isle of Man—it can be windy and cold. The weather in both places tends to be cool and damp, and it can change quickly in the Isle of Man.
- Definitely a rain hat or something with a hood and an umbrella. You never know when it will start raining, but you can bet that it will at some point.
- A dressy scarf. This worked double and triple time for me as an accessory that distracted that I'd already worn the outfit before on the trip, as a practical neck warmer, and as a sleeping mask on the airplane. OK, it was more like a bobushka than a sleeping mask. Either way, it worked.
- Really comfortable shoes. I was trying to avoid 1) packing too many pairs of shoes and 2) looking really touristy, so I packed a really comfortable pair of boots that I wouldn't mind walking in, and my most toned down pair of sneakers (ie, not my neon orange running shoes). I was really proud that I managed to bring only two pairs of shoes for the entire trip. This was an accomplishment for me.
Our Dublin Itinerary
Here's what we did in Dublin that I would highly recommend. We only had two days there, but managed to fit in a lot:
- The Book of Kells and Library at Trinity College
- Jam Art Factory in Temple Bar (print from Yellowhammer Illustration)
- Temple Bar neighborhood
- We did a historical walking tour of Dublin which was probably the most awesome part of our trip. I can't recommend it enough!
- Christ Church in Dublin
- The Jameson tour (it's not the actual factory anymore, but it's still fun. Plus, they let you drink. When in Dublin...)
- The Cobblestone was recommended to us by a few people for a great place to catch traditional Irish music. When we arrived, the musicians were on a break and it was very quiet with a few people drinking at the bar. We felt a little out of place, but I'd check it out again—I think we just went in at a weird time.
- Farrington's had really good food (not pictured, but also in Temple Bar)
Our Isle of Man Itinerary
- The Manx Museum is a good starting point. It is very thorough, so I wouldn't recommend trying to see the whole thing unless you're a die-hard museum lover.
- Pony trekking. This was amazing.
- The Liverpool Arms had realllllly good food.
- The church at Kirkmichael. I mean, if you want to see the lambie lawnmowers.
- Niarbyl, for the amazing sunsets.
- The Calf of Man, for the wildlife, hiking, and seals.
- Castle Rushen. The setups were a bit cheesy, but it was still cool to see an OUBLIETTE.
- The Boatyard Restaurant in Peel. This place had really good food and was cutesy in a fun way. The kind where the salt is in a sardine tin and your bill is served rolled up in a glass bottle.
- Peel Castle was more run down than Castle Rushen, but left a lot to the imagination and I really enjoyed it.
- The Manx Electric Railway, which we took to...
- Snaefel, the highest point on the Isle of Man.
- Checking out the night sky, but do it in the boonies if you can. We laid in the middle of the road at midnight and the sky was amazing.
- The Laxey Woolen Mills have all the tartan and sheepskin you could ever want.
- The church and crosses at Maughold were really awesome.
- Tynwald for the history.
- The Royal George in Ramsey had great food and good beer selection.
- We wanted to go to Okells, but they weren't giving tours when we were there because they were busy brewing for the TT crowd. But I bet it would be fun to visit. PS: it's pronounced "oakles," not "oh-kehls" as we learned!
- The Point of Ayre and its amazing views. Plus lots of rocks.
- Port Cornaa for the hidden beauty.