Welcome! Here you’ll find travel tips to nine days in the capitals of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England, including my personal backpacking experience. First of all, feel free to take a look at my post on preparing a safe and fun trip, which includes key organisational, booking, packing and safety tips: https://thinkmoveeat.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/important-travelling-tips/
Seeing the capitals of each of those nations is of course not enough to understand the culture and the people, but I would say it gave us a great overview of those islands and most importantly, a growing desire to go back and see more! I definitely recommend this trip (:
Total budget (including train/flights between each city, airbnbs, food -mostly eating out since we only cooked at home twice, drinks, everything): 95 euros per day.
Dublin is a lovely city, full of interesting people and places, and the best accent. I have been there twice, both times on the weekend; I have to say I spent a lot of time in pubs with my friends, which was super fun! Although, they open early and close early too, and the known ones get really full after like 5 pm! Our favorite pubs were: Hogans and The Long Hall (though the latter gets full really early and most of the customers are older professionals, but we felt an authentic Dubliner vibe that was pretty unique). We also liked Sweeney’s, a pub and restaurant with great special deals each night. Plus, the restaurant Elephant & Castle was really good with a fair price, though there were few veggie options. For a faster meal service, go to Boojum, a burrito/fajitas/nachos place with good food and affordable prices.
The city feels small as you can walk almost everywhere! We stayed for three nights and got to see all that we expected, but we could have definitely stayed longer. Speaking of, we stayed in an airbnb in Clongriffin, northeast of Dublin, where a train ride to the city center takes only fifteen minutes. It was great to live the suburban quiet life while being close to the center and spending our days out. Although, the public transport system can be unclear there, so research how to get where you want to go before leaving, and you can download maps and schedules on your phone.
You must visit Trinity College‘s beautiful and prestigious campus; it’s completely free to walk around the campus, stop at a students’ café, mingle with people and watch a cricket match if you’re lucky. We also visited the Book of Kells (10 euros entry) in the college’s old library, an exhibition on the important manuscript Gospel book, which also took us to the amazing Long Room, where the oldest books are stored and sculptures of famous philosophers and writers are displayed.
The Dublin Castle is also a charming place to visit, although we didn’t pay to go in nor took the guided tour. Although, the Chester Beatty Library is a free attraction right next to the castle, where you can find interesting exhibitions, a magic roof garden, as well as a lovely place to get some tea or coffee, the Silk Road Café.
We also got to visit St Patrick’s Cathedral on the outside, as well as the park next to it.
Now, back to food and drinks: Donuts seem to be a thing in Dublin! You should definitely get one at Aungier Danger or Rolling Donuts (with vegan options!), both in the center. Also, the Little Ass Burrito Bar is tiny but extremely delicious, and cheap too! In the heart of downtown, the street Temple Bar is full of pubs and shops, but it feels too touristy. Also in the center, I can highly recommend Jo’ Burger, where they serve an amazing veggie burger for 12 pounds.
In front of the lovely St-Stephen’s Green (where you can sit down, relax, enjoy the sun and the green area), you must visit The Little Museum of Dublin; it’s simply fascinating, original, extremely well presented, and totally worth the 10 euros entry. Downstairs, you can find the perfect place for a snack: Hatch and Sons. Close by, there is also a well-known and pleasant bar called Kehoe’s.
If you don’t feel like visiting the touristy Guiness Storehouse or Jameson Distillery, I highly recommend the local Teeling Distillery. Just a few steps away from the city center, it’s completely worth the price; we took the cheapest tour of 15 euros which was very interesting and included a whiskey tasting in the end!
If you wish to get out of the city and walk a lot while sightseeing, I definitely recommend visiting Howth. It’s the peninsula on the east side of Dublin, and if you get out of the Dart Howth station, you can walk around, visit the market, the pier, and much more. It’s a truly lovely place to explore!
All in all, Dublin is a lively and beautiful city where you won’t get tired of exploring; I wish to go back to study or temporarily live there sometime soon; that’s how much I love it there!
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Belfast is an amazing place with amazing people. As our Airbnb host explained to us, Northern Ireland had been in a long divisive war called “The Troubles”, which ended rather recently, hence the modern buildings and growing tourism. We got to see most of the city as well as some of the well-known attractions of Northern Ireland, which are accessible by bus from Belfast. General tips: You’re in the UK now, so everything is more expensive AND in pounds (don’t forget to exchange some money before getting there)!
To get there from Dublin, the train (Irish Rail) costs 20 euros for students and takes only two hours, but beware that the website doesn’t always work so it’s safest to buy your ticket at the counter. When you get at Belfast’s Central Station, buy the visitor pass which allows you unlimited public transport rides for as long as you need; we bought it for two days and it cost 11 £ per person.
If you’re there on the weekend (especially if it’s Sunday), you must visit St George’s Market; there’s fruits, veggies, sweets, food made then and there, live music, and lots of people! It’s simply lovely, a great way to feel the city vibes and eat for cheap!
Belfast’s city center is charming; start at St Anne’s Cathedral and the City Hall, then walk around.
Eat a typical English breakfast at S.D. Bells, Ireland’s oldest tea importers and coffee roasters, since 1887! It’s only a ten-minute bus ride from the city center, the prices are quite okay, and the food is great (healthy veggie options too)!
Belfast’s main attraction is without question Titanic Belfast, the shipbuilding quarter where the White Star Line ships were built, including the Titanic and the SS Nomadic, the latter being the only remaining White Star Line ship with an interesting 100-year life and all kinds of experiences. It cost 25 £ per person for the one-hour guided tour of the Titanic Quarter, the Titanic Experience and a visit in the SS Nomadic, but for this deal you should book your ticket in advance (their website works well!). It was completely worth it; if you do it all, it will take about 3-4 hours and it’s guaranteed that you will learn a lot and have a good time! However, if you’re on a budget, bring snacks with you, as the places close by can be expensive.
Regarding food, three main places stood out, with great prices and vegetarian options: Mulray Café, Bootleggers, and John Hewitt Bar and Restaurant.
Aside from the beautiful and engaging town, Belfast and its surroundings have a lot more to offer, specially regarding nature and sights. There are multiple tours to Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, Roap Bridge and northern forests. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you will be excited to find out that Northern Ireland is a main place where they film outdoor shots of the series, and there are many tours where you can see these places and experience some G.O.T. scenery. Beware that most of the tours are closed on Mondays and must be booked in advance online or at any Belfast tourist office. I had to pleasure to partake in the Game of Thrones tour of the North (Westeros), where you can see the Giant’s Causeway, the Roap Bridge, beautiful forests and sights, and more; which can be amazing even if you’re not a G.O.T. fan or don’t know the series, although if you don’t know the series or aren’t a fan I would mostly recommend any of the other tours which exclude specific G.O.T spots.
The tour I did lasted the whole day, included the bus and guide costs, but excluded food, and it cost 36 £ in total for students. It was amazing all around and I can recommend the company we chose and our passionate guide Robby. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so here’s just one of the breathtaking pictures I took during this beautiful day.
Overall, Belfast as the capital of Northern Ireland was such a positive surprise that I’ve visited it twice; I totally recommend the city as well as the tours of the north, so make sure to stay at least three nights there.
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Simply one of my favorite places in the world, you can spend weeks exploring its mysterious corners and streets that lead to nowhere, or sometimes, to a secret garden. As Québécois, we found interesting the national pride and people’s desire to be considered not as British but as Scottish; it’s probably what makes the nation so unique. We will be back to explore more of Scotland! We stayed two nights in the capital but would have liked to stay longer. I’d recommend three nights in Edinburgh.
We flew to Edinburgh from Belfast, a quite short and cheap flight with Easyjet. Once we got there, we bought the Airport day pass (which includes transfer from the airport and unlimited public transport in Edinburgh for the day, for 9 £ per person). The next day we bought individual tickets when tacking the bus or tram, but we should have bought a day pass (which excludes transport to the airport), then the day after we bought an individual tram ticket to the airport (5.50 £). In short, public transport works super well there!
In the old town you’ll find many places to eat, but here are our two absolute favorites: Elephant House, known to be J.K. Rolling’s writing spot before Harry Potter came out, and where you can eat a nice meal for 8 £, and Let Me Eat Too (the best one!!), an amazing place where they serve homemade soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, dumplings and coffee, all absolutely delicious and inexpensive (9 £ per person for soup, large meal and coffee) and full of vegan options.
It’s nice to walk around George’s Square, the Meadows and the University of Edinburgh. There are also many cafés and vegetarian food trucks in the area.
We visit the stunning Edinburgh Castle, which cost 16 £ and takes about 2-3 hours; there are museums inside, beautiful views and other things to do! To get there, you can walk through the Prince’s Street gardens, where the American Memorial is.
Speaking of gardens, I had read about a secret garden called Dunbar’s close, but we went to the wrong place (google maps has the wrong address!) and got to the right place when it was too late, it was closed already. But I will be back, and from the pictures, you should go too! This is the right place: https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/directory_record/164072/dunbars_close_garden .
You should walk on the commercial Prince’s Street, walk through the impressive Scott Monument and get to the surprisingly modern Scottish Parliament. It’s a beautiful place to sit down, take pictures, and let it sink in. You can also walk up the mountain at Salisbury Crags and Holyrood Park, just in front of the Parliament.
Edinburgh has become one of the places I would happily live in! Please do visit :D
London, England, UK
London is a huge city, but it stroke us how clean, organized and civilized it is. Two nights were definitely not enough, though we did get to see the main tourist attractions, but lacked deeper exploring. Its extreme diversity and cultural melting pot makes it a great travel destination, though it’s definitely the most expensive place I have been to.
We flew there from Edinburgh with Ryanair; the flight was extremely cheap but the train from the airport (Stansted, but the others are far too, except Heathrow) was very expensive (34 £ per person!), and it took us 2 hours of public transportation to get to the apartment, which can be a pain when you have so little time to discover such an immense city! When you get to the airport, buy an Oyster Card for the underground (or “the tube, as they call it there), which makes it cheaper to move around.
If, like us, you have little time to see so much of London, I advise the following trajectory: get out at the underground station Green Park and walk through attractions and other places; we didn’t visit any paid attractions, but by walking around you can appreciate it all, as well as the city vibe; beside the almost-annoying amount of tourists, it was pleasant and truly amazing. I will present the attractions in order, as if you were getting out at Green Park with us and making your way through. However, I advise you have a map or load google maps in advance; it’s a beautiful city to get lost in, but if you don’t have much time you don’t want to miss the good stuff!
Walk in the beautiful park on your way to the Buckingham Palace, and even see the change of guards if you get there in time (usually it’s around 11:30, but it depends on the day, especially in the winter). It’s a place where you’ll get to see people from all around the world, hear multiple languages, and listen to good music if you’re there for the change of guards.
Then, walk to the St-James Park, a quiet spot with a beautiful lake and charming nature. Make your way to the Trafalgar Square, where you can see Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery is right next to it.
Keep walking to get to the Leicester Square and Garden, where there are many casinos, cinemas and touristy restaurants. We kept walking to get to a recommended Indian restaurant called Chettinad, with lots of great vegetarian options; if you go there to eat lunch, a tray can cost 7 £, but for dinner you will most likely spend around 15 £. Close to it, you can visit the British Museum for free.
It’s also fun and nice to walk around Chinatown, especially in the weekend and at night; there are lots of inexpensive restaurants, bars and live music.
You must also walk around the famous Soho, through night bars and Picadilly, where you can find theaters, movies and restaurant, mostly Italian.
From there, walk or take the tube back to St-James’s Park, to make your way to Westminster, walk to the Parliament Square Garden to see the Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Big Ben and important people’s statues, notably the famous Winston Churchill statue. It’s a beautiful place with an amazing 360 view, though the number of tourists really bothered me. I just think it’s sad that such a historical place full of art and culture is not always truly appreciated; half the people who visit there just want a picture in a red telephone box and in front of the Big Ben, without even knowing why, simply because they were told that’s what people do when they’re in London. The important part is that you appreciate it for yourself and overlook the rest! From there, you can also see the impressive London Eye.
From there, you can cross the bridge and walk in the South Bank, a young a hip neighborhood where you can walk along the water and visit a cool design, food, and arts place called Creative London OXO Tower Wharf, which I really appreciated.
Then, walk to St Paul’s Cathedral (you can apparently go up and see a beautiful view, though we didn’t) and chill a bit in Paternoster Square.
Walk to the and London Bridge, then make your way to Southwark. There, you can eat and sit in the Borough Market, super fun and full on weekends. You can find cheap and really good food there, for different tastes- definitely a highlight!
From there, go through the Tower Bridge and walk to the Tower of London and see the magnificent London Wall. This would be the end of your long walking day! But it has indeed been awesome.
Obviously, there are MANY MANY more things to do in London. Here are some of them:
- Visit Hyde Park and Kesington Gardens; there are also lots of galleries and museums around the area
- Eat Kerbischer & Malt‘s famous fish and chips
- Take a break at the Café Below
- Visit 221B Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes’ famous apartment, though I heard and read that the museum inside isn’t worth it
- Visit Speedy’s, a coffee place where many scenes of the (amazing) series Sherlock were filmed
- Find Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 at the train station King’s Cross (I looked for it but couldn’t find it!)
London, I will be back!
I definitelyyyy recommend exploring Ireland and the UK, and if you already have, please leave a comment about your experience! (: