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Advice, Tips and Itinierary for Traveling to Dublin & the Isle of Man

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...


Advice, Tips and Itinierary for Traveling to Dublin & the Isle of Man

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):

Some tips on what to pack for a trip to Ireland and the Isle of Man

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

What to do in Dublin when you only have two days!

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:

  1. The Book of Kells and Library at Trinity College
  2. Jam Art Factory in Temple Bar (print from Yellowhammer Illustration)
  3. Temple Bar neighborhood  
  4. We did a historical walking tour of Dublin which was probably the most awesome part of our trip. I can't recommend it enough!
  5. Christ Church in Dublin
  6. The Jameson tour (it's not the actual factory anymore, but it's still fun. Plus, they let you drink. When in Dublin...)
  7. 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.
  8. Farrington's had really good food (not pictured, but also in Temple Bar)

Our Isle of Man Itinerary

What to do in the Isle of Man: our favorites.

  1. 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.
  2. Pony trekking. This was amazing
  3. The Liverpool Arms had realllllly good food. 
  4. The church at Kirkmichael. I mean, if you want to see the lambie lawnmowers
  5. Niarbyl, for the amazing sunsets.
  6. The Calf of Man, for the wildlife, hiking, and seals.
  7. Castle Rushen. The setups were a bit cheesy, but it was still cool to see an OUBLIETTE.
  8. 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.
  9. Peel Castle was more run down than Castle Rushen, but left a lot to the imagination and I really enjoyed it
  10. The Manx Electric Railway, which we took to...
  11.  Snaefel, the highest point on the Isle of Man.
  12. 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.
  13. The Laxey Woolen Mills have all the tartan and sheepskin you could ever want
  14. The church and crosses at Maughold were really awesome.
  15. Tynwald for the history.
  16. The Royal George in Ramsey had great food and good beer selection.
  17. 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!
  18. The Point of Ayre and its amazing views. Plus lots of rocks.
  19. Port Cornaa for the hidden beauty.

Adventures in the Motherland(s): Isle of Man, Days 6 & 7

With only two days left of our overseas vacation, it was time to see everything else we wanted to see on the Isle of Man before having to get back on the plane and head home. Luckily, it's a small island and we'd done a whole lot of sightseeing in the days prior. Saturday morning, we went to the Laxey Woolen Mills, where they weave Manx tartan: blue for the sea, green for the hills, yellow for the gorse (a flower that grows all over the island), purple for the heather and white for the cottages. We didn't buy any Manx tartan, but I did try on this bunny hat, because why not:

More hand-painted sign goodness.

We were way too cozy at the woolen mills, so we decided to head to Port Cornaa—a hidden gem of a beach that the owner of our cottage recommended we check out. I'd love to see this place when it's sunny and warm! It was beautiful, of course, but the wind was kicking and it was cold. 

Scott examines the unique geological structures.

Everything was so GREEN. I liked how these rocks sort of looked like miniature mountains:

And for reference, this is what I looked like taking the above picture. I'm not kidding when I said it was cold. It was cold enough for me to wear a hood and mess my hair up all day. First world female problems.

Once we had each collected a few pounds more of rocks and driftwood for our budding rock collections, we decided to go to Maughold to see the church and collection of ancient Celtic crosses. Maughold was once the site of a Celtic monastery (around 600 AD) and now houses a collection of ancient crosses from the Island. I had high hopes for this visit: I carried a bunch of art supplied across the ocean with me so that I could make charcoal rubbings of these crosses and potentially turn it into really awesome (free) artwork.

Ancient Celtic cross from Maughold.

Ancient Celtic cross from Maughold.

Ancient Celtic cross from Maughold.

Ancient Celtic cross from Maughold.

So unfortunately, the charcoal rubbings...didn't quite work as I had planned. What with the crosses being, you know, thousands of years old and on less-than-even surfaces, my rubbings mostly looked like they were of a driveway in suburbia. I also gave the rubbings a shot with some colored pencils, which worked slightly better, but only slightly. Someday I'll scan them and see if I can clean them up in Photoshop, but for now, these pictures are pretty cool. The whole scene was really beautiful. 

Not to mention quaint. Gents!

Yep, I'm the American who took a picture of the bathroom signage.

By this time it was raining and my gloveless, charcoal-covered hands were half frozen, not to mention there was a wedding party gathering at the church, so we decided it was time to go get lunch. We headed back to Ramsey and ate fish and chips (OF COURSE, I had to at least once) at the Royal George. We also had cider that was really strong, but didn't taste like it. In other words, the best kind of cider. 


"Well, I mean..." our official motto of gluttony.

"Mushy peas" were a side dish often served in the Isle of Man. Though they look disgusting, they weren't actually bad. Just odd. It was peas served in a pea puree. There's a reason why the UK isn't known for its food. Side note: does anyone else remember that song "Fish and chips and vinegar, vinegar, vinegar" from their childhood? I thought it was from Looney Tunes, but apparently it's a scout song. Huh. Anyway, this was stuck in my head for several days of our trip.

After our boozy lunch, we drove (ok, most of us boozy-napped and one person drove) to the northernmost part of the Island, the Point of Ayre. Continuing on with the theme of the day: cold, windy, pretty. Not necessarily in that order.

The beach was never-ending and full of perfectly smooth rocks. We searched for sea glass, to no avail. 

But we did find this rock with a cracked-out face on it:

After several excursions to chilly beaches (I'm still trying to imagine people on holiday in the Isle of Man, trying to get comfortable on a beach blanket thrown over some rocks) it was time to head into town to reverse the effects of our drinking lunch with a quick stop for coffee and wifi. Scott's mom caught the electric railway home, so we decided to get a ride in the car to her stop and walk with her the rest of the way to the cottage—about a mile or so. A few minutes in to walking, I began feeling like I really wanted to run. Insert pangs of urgency to cross off running bucket list ideas like "take a run in every country you visit" here. Nevermind I wasn't properly attired to run (*cough* *no sports bra* *cough*). I decided it would be like my own Runner's World Rave Run photoshoot and I'd just go for it. The views were worth it, and I was hardly winded (amazing, given my recent lack of running).

View from my run in the Isle of Man.

View from my run in the Isle of Man.

After that I refueled with wine and crisps. AKA potato chips. What? It's vacation. 

The following day was our last in the Isle of Man (sad panda). It was sort of a weird day, because we had to be out of our cottage rental and return the car by a specific time. Not to be hurried, we had an early lunch in Douglas where we desperately tried to spend the rest of our Manx money. I may have mentioned this before, but the Isle of Man has its own currency, and it's pretty difficult to get it exchanged to dollars back in the United States—not to mention it was a bank holiday in the Isle of Man, so we couldn't exchange it there, either. After lunch, we took one last stop to Tynwald.

What would the Manx equivalent to "Dolla dolla billz, yall" be? "Poundy poundy poundz, mate"?

Tynwald is where (supposedly) the ancient parliament of the Isle of Man would meet. It's said to include dirt from all 17 of the island's parishes and has been around since the late 1300s, where several Lords of Mann were inaugurated. Apparently, the ceremony of "making public proclamations from mounds" is a Norse practice (thank you, Wikipedia). These days, parliament meets there once a year, on July 5th, for Tynwald Day. This is a long introduction to some pictures of sculpted earth!

Tynwald Hill on the Isle of Man.

Insert joke here about Scott legislating from the hill.

And that, friends, concludes our tour of the Isle of Man. Thanks for sticking with the blog recaps as they spread out over, uh, six weeks. I may write one more post for advice on traveling to Ireland and the Isle of Man and also on what the hell to pack, as I would have found suggestions for that very helpful (and Google failed me as I pondered my empty suitcase). 

But before I go, one last photo. Sad selfie on the plane, with Scott's mom photobombing. I had to force myself to stop laughing and make a sad face.