Ireland: Free Hugs and Rolling Green Hills

Whipping around Ireland with waving red hair and adorned in a tan trench coat, I felt a bit like something out of a bad romantic comedy about an American girl on the Emerald Isle.

Photo © iStock/Rainbow79

Old men would wave at me, as I would drive over rolling green hills, past prehistoric forts and through villages so colorful, you would think they weren’t real.

I was exploring Ireland the only way I knew how. And on that exploration, I found a country with an undeniable spirit, one many explore without any sense of direction.

Before you head off for those greener than green pastures of Ireland, here are few tips to make the most of your trip.

Rent A Car

While most places in Europe can be easily navigated without needing a car, Ireland is a destination you will regret not having your own set of wheels. It is in the tiny villages down lanes buses don’t travel where chatty pub owners lurk, just waiting to tell their story. While traveling around Ireland for a month, I was able to reach destinations I couldn’t by public transportation such as Slieve League, supposedly the highest sea cliffs in Europe.  

Even if you might be afraid to drive down roads the size of sidewalks, Ireland fills with emerald hills speckled with towns and attractions you wouldn’t be able to see from a bus or train. If cost is an issue, consider just renting a car for a day or two or asking new friends at the hostel to go in on a car for a few days. 

Purchase a Heritage Card

With each and every attraction or historic site in Ireland, a price usually follows. While a few Euros here and there might not seem like much for these entrance tickets, they will add up if you plan on visiting at least three to four sites. Many admission fees in Ireland are covered under the Heritage Card. For a flat price, the card covers admission into many heritage sites around the country for one year.

The Heritage Card is priced at €21 for an adult, €16 for a senior, €8 for students and children and €55 for families. Sites included under the card’s blanket include Dublin Castle Kilmainham Gaol, Brúna Bóinne Visitor Center, Kilkenny Castle and the Rock of Cashel. 

Take Part in the City of A Thousand Welcomes Program in Dublin

I first heard about this initiative on the radio while driving around Ireland. The idea was just in its opening stages at that point, but now the City of a Thousand Welcomes program is up and running smoothly. Dublin is often the first stop for travelers to Ireland. If you are going it solo, the city can seem overwhelming.

To help those first timers to Dublin, the city launched its City of a Thousand Welcomes program, a civic initiative to promote Dublin as a good place for tourists and hospitality. The program connects you with proud, pre-approved Dubliners. Both parties enjoy a free drink and conversation. It is a nice way to actually meet a proud Dubliner and perhaps pick up some secrets on the city for your visit. 

Budget Double What You Think For Food And Drink

Ireland is not friendly to any wallet when it comes to food and drink. While food and drink prices have come down a bit over the years, they are descending slowly from a mighty mountain. For my trip to Ireland, I budgeted a set amount for food each day. Many told me to triple that amount before I left, but I didn’t take their advice. I reasoned that I wouldn’t be hitting pubs left and right as some might in Ireland.

However, I should have listened. Restaurant costs can seem astronomical, even at the small town pub. Travelers looking to save can take advantage of early bird specials. These specials are popular in Ireland, where entrées with be half at 5PM than what they would be at 7PM. If you don’t want to eat with the elderly, you can avoid the sticker shock of food and drink prices in Ireland when you start budgeting for your trip. Even if you aren’t a big eater or drinker, double whatever you planned on originally setting aside for a food budget. 

Attend Traditional Music Sessions Nightly

Those looking to save after seeing some of the prices on restaurant menus in Ireland might feel a little bit less jilted once they realise they can hear live music every night in Ireland, no matter where you are, all for the price of a single pint.

From Kilkenny to Clifden, traditional music sessions are an honored tradition in Ireland. Many times anyone who can play an instrument will show up at the local pub from 9PM to 12AM for a jam session. It is the cheapest and most rewarding entertainment you will come by in Ireland. 

Find Your Distant Relatives or Friend’s Relatives

If you are of Irish descendent as many are in the world, do a bit of climbing on the family to tree to see if there are any third and fourth cousins still roaming around the old country. If you don’t have Irish heritage, chances are you know someone who does and their relatives would be happy to meet you.

The Irish carry a sense of spirit you must experience in scenarios with a fourth or fifth cousin. While in Ireland, I knocked on the door of my third cousin. He quickly dropped what he was doing and showed me around County Donegal. I wasn’t expecting such kindness and yet I was. We are family after all. Tell your circle of friends you are headed to Ireland and see if they have any Irish relatives. These exchanges are what make for the truest of Irish experiences.

About the Author

Suzy Guese began travelling at three months old with a flight to Orlando to experience the magical world of Disney from a newborn’s perspective. Don’t ask her if she remembers every family car trip across the United States or every French village she has visited. Ask her if she remembers the act of travel, the night before excitement, the wonder of seeing something she had only imagined. She remembers travel. Suzy blogs about her travel experiences at

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