Dublin (and the rest of Ireland) love their festivals and September is the best month for them, the Dublin festival season officially starts in less than two weeks
It’s hard to walk down the road without finding a few festivals, especially around the Temple Bar area. In fact this weekend I wandered through a rockabilly fest, a folk fest, a BBQ + craft beer festival and a general music fest. There’s loads more to come as well, keep your ear to the ground and an eye on the posters, you’ll be sure to bump into a few on a night out!
But to make things a little easier, here’s a quick run down of our most anticipated festivals in the next month or so:
Live on the edge of convention with this simply strange festival showing off the more unusual and interesting of Irelands talents. There’s a big range of things to see and plenty ways to get involved as well, so have some fun with it!
A single night dedicated to all things Ireland – instead of taking a day (and giving us a day off!) they’ve grabbed an entire evening and taken over half of the city. Head into any of the hundreds of participating venues and experience something truly Irish. No pop covers here, we’re talking 100% Orange, white and Green traditional authentic Irish.
Here’s one for the girls (and the more fashion conscious boys) The fashion fest will be strutting its stuff in the city centre, so those of you missing the highlife in Paris or Milan can check it out and pretend you’re in a slightly warmer country!
Celebrating the best of the non-alcoholic beverages. The festival includes sample sessions of some of the weird and wonderful tea varieties, barista cappuccino art competitions, exhibitions on the journey that these brews have taken to become the drinks that we know and love. Plus a chance to sample the infamous Kopi Luwak coffee from Malaysia.
That’s our recommendations, enjoy Dublin Festival Season!
At the base of the Wicklow mountains, the setting is stunning. The house itself is grand, and has some excellent facilities, including the Avoca clothing and food ranges and a couple delightful cafes, but the real treat are the Powerscourt gardens.
The main lawn sprawls down the hill, with perfectly landscaped slopes and lawns down to a very impressive fountain. Ornate statues decorate the area adding further interest. Huge trees frame the gardens and divide each area from the next.
The Japanese garden transports you to a different country on the other side of the world. Delicately carved structures add a centre while the seemingly ancient arches create tiny paths that weave through the outskirts.
The Pepperpot Tower allows for excellent views over the rest of the Powerscourt gardens. If flowers are your thing then the bedded garden area impresses with a large range of roses and other bright flowering blooms. There’s also plenty of woodland walks between that allow you to escape the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet.
The Waterfall is a little further along, and is well known as a summer picnic spot. The impressive waterfall has a wonderful walk around and is great for a family day-out along with the Estate.
For those on a budget the Dublinsightseeing.ie south coast tour visits the Estate along with Glendalough (no waterfall stop) Or the DART will take you to Bray, from where you can get a bus to Powerscourt.
Dublin Zoo provides entertainment for all, and makes a great break from big old stone buildings and pints of Guinness.
Using the mini-card discounts available in the hostel reception, the entry price is very reasonable, and getting there is easier enough. Once inside, the layout excellently guides you through and past the animal enclosures, giving you an opportunity to see Tigers, Wolves, Snow Leopards and Orang Utans on one side, with lemurs and other monkeys jumping around on the lakes small islands on the other.
The African Safari area is very impressive with a great viewing pathway along the edge of a large plain. Giraffes and Zebra impress with their diversity, while the Rhinos dose near the far wall. It sucessfully recreates that African feel, but one better, all the animals are right in front of you. The Hippo is another good spot, although getting a photo is tricky as he surfaces for only a few seconds at a time as he circles his shady pool.
The Gorillas and Chimpanzees are great fun to watch, climbing and swinging around their enclosures, hunting out food and grooming while the younger apes play fight and chase each other about. There’s also some aquatic animals to check out in Dublin Zoo, sealions and penguins both pulling in crowds as they cruise happily around their pools. Catching a feeding is highly recommended as you’ll get to see them more active.
Finally, the highlight of the tour is the new born Elephant. Bigger than you might expect for less than a month old this baby is still very young and doesn’t do too much. If you’re lucky you’ll see him testing out his legs and taking a little stroll. Imagine new born Bambi, but much heavier!
While the park is very family orientated there is still plenty for those that are young at heart to enjoy. The animals at Dublin Zoo are spectacular regardless of age, although heading over on a week day will help reduce the crowds and give a better view for the feedings.
Dublin is famous for its history, it’s bars and it’s music, but what about the more sedate side of life? Where is the Dublin Culture?
There is a huge range of galleries and museums often overlooked by tourists who are distracted by the bigger atractions. But if you’ve got a little extra time, or you’re running low on funds, these cultural stops are an amazing way to enrich your trip.
A wonderful collection of modern art, including photography, installations and much more, there is something here for everyone from the critic to the novice. The Gardens offer a chance to enjoy the sunshine, while the main gallery can shelter you from the rain – perfect for the bi-polar Irish weather.
This collection of classical artwork includes some of the most prodigous artists from the Emerald Isle. It’s not the largest gallery, but it means it doesn’t drag on for those that are fresh to the subject. By keeping it short and sweet it showcases only the best works, keeping attention close and telling a rich story of Dublin culture through each exhibit.
It would be possible to spend days exploring this museum if you wish, with exhibitions on natural history, the Viking invasions, science and loads more. Easy to find from the museum LUAS if spend anymore than a few days in Dublin it would be crazy to miss this.
Finally this collection of books and scripture donated by the library’s namesake is a wonderful little stop. Its eclectic collection of writing and a few other odd bits makes for a gallery of particular interest to those curious about religious texts and scripture.
The following is an edited version of an email guide I emailed to a couple of friends who I met in Thailand. I have improved the language and added a couple little points, but left it essentially the same. This is not a formal review, but it gives you an idea of what I was doing while working in Australia.
Things to do:
Great Barrier Reef – this is the big one, have to do it. Currently a special with Ocean Free that’ll do you a dive for $20 and it’s a sweet boat. Bungy Jumping here, only place in Aus. Don’t bother with Cape Tribulation (Cape Trib) it’s a bit shit, but the Atherton Tablelands tour is good. Uncle Brians is the best tour, but Captain Matty’s is good too (and a bit cheaper) White Water Rafting, this is great, but a bit of a drive away from Cairns, you can use this to transfer down to Mission Beach though, which is a nice spot, and it’ll knock about 2 hours off the journey down to your next stop
Places to see:
The lagoon, lots of girls, sometimes topless. There’s another one at Gilligans which is smaller, but less kids/old people so better for the ladies.
Where to go out:
Gilligans is king here, it’s got a massive nightclub in the complex, during the week it’s quiet and they do some stupid backpacker things, including wet tee-shirt comps and other stupid stuff. At the weekends it packs out with Aussie locals, the atmosphere take a bit of a dive, but altogether it’s still good, and it’s a good time to meet some aussie chicks too. The Woolshed has a similar vibe, and allows people to dance on the tables, which people like. It seems to be the main competitor of Gilligans, nowhere near as big, but still a good party, and cheaper than gillis. Worth a night. Everywhere else… not a clue!
Cairns – Mission Beach = 2 hours
White Water Rafting – same as above. Sky Diving [EDIT: It’s possible to skydive up and down the East Coast with these guys, and if a jump is cancelled due to weather, they will transfer your booking to another day and location]- a great place to skydive onto the beach. This place is really small and chilled out, a nice rest from Cairns, and some really friendly people in the hostels, but you’ll get bored after a day or so, not much going on here at all.
Mission Beach – Townsville = 3 hours
Townsville is an Aussie tourist hotspot, but very few backpackers here, it’s only used as the port to get over to Maggie Island. This is a place that wants to be Thailand! They have a full moon party, but people have said it’s a bit tame, so don’t bother with that, but you can check it out for a day or two. Seems to be highly recommended by the Irish, so maybe head over and check it out. You can get deals that include your ferry ticket, accom and some meals at the Base hostel if you go to Peterpans. Again, it’s small and chilled, but I’ve been told it’s really good so up to you guys!
Townsville – Airlie Beach = 10 hours (overnight)
The Whitsunday islands are beautiful, and you’ll want to be on the Clipper to have the best time, it’s the biggest boat, it’s got the best vibe and the biggest party atmosphere. Slide, diving board and hot tub on board, it’s for getting loose and having fun. But you’ll still get plenty of time to see Whitehaven beach and do plenty of snorkeling and see the fish! Just don’t get too drunk and a hangover on a boat is no fun. [EDIT: Having been on the Clipper since writing this I would recommend New Horizon, the sister boat. I found the games and attitude on board a little too childish for me, so if you’re over 25 stay away. However if you’re happy to dress up, and run around like a fool, this is the boat for you]
Airlie: Stay somewhere cheap, that’s not nasty (Beaches is nasty, everywhere else is pretty ok [EDIT: Nomads has nice rooms, good facilities and a great atmosphere] Party anywhere you want, there’s one road in Airlie, and it’s pretty short. You can wander up and down fine and you’ll see where is busy and where’s not. Beaches is pretty good and Mambos in the middle is pretty cool. Mama Africa is the only club and stays open pretty late. Just keep it easy, and when you meet a chick who’s game, take her home quick!
Airlie – Agnes Water/1770= 10 hours
This place has two names, it’s confusing. This is a good place to stop for a night or two, they really want to bring more people in here, so you can usually get a free surf trip or something while you’re there. Most of the hostels have free wifi, so make sure you get one of those. The best thing here is that it breaks up your journey to Rainbow beach, saves a long stop over at a bus stop in Hervey Bay, which you don’t want!
Agnes – Rainbow Beach = 8 hours
RAINBOW BEACH/FRASER ISLAND
Rainbow is a cool little town, good place to chill, but with enough backpackers coming through to keep it fun. Most people just rush through though, so it might not be a great place to spend too much time. The best thing here is the DINGOS tour of Fraser Island. This is rad, driving a 4×4 around on the beach and down sand/dirt roads, then jumping out to see some cool shit, or go for a swim in some really nice lakes. It’s the best things I did in Oz, so do it! it’s 3-day 2-nights, camping next to the beach, and pretty high chances of a lay.
Rainbow Beach – Noosa – 2 hours
This place is cool, and crawling with Canadian chicks, definitely worth a stop over, and possibly a good place to stop for a while, work for accommodation get into things a bit more. A good place for surfing as well, so give it a shot. Don’t stay in Dolphins! The town is also near Australia Zoo, which is the biggest and best, so hit that up on your way down to Brisbane
Noosa – Brisbane – 2 hours
Boring. Good botanical gardens, great modern art museum, not much else. Some people love it, I was bored.
Brisbane – Surfers = 2 hours
Not my cup of tea at all! But, very good night life, a little more dressy than other places (no flip-flops or vests) and lots of Aussies on the pull. A good place to meet Aussie chicks though, especially if you get out of the backpacker bars. Has Wet n Wild and Dreamworld, the biggest theme parks in Aus, so give them a blast, but not in the school holidays.
Surfers – Byron = 2 hours
There’s three places to stay in Byron 1) Backpackers Inn – the cheapest place, about 10 mins from the town, not great though 2) Nomads – right in the middle, big party hostel, but one of the most expensive 3) Arts Factory – funky place, lots of people love it, but it’s about 20mins from the town Very cool place, very hippy, loads of people love it, and it’s rad. Great for surfing, and even free board hire if you find the right place, but the boards are made of rocks, [RDIT: it’s worth hiring a decent one if you’re actually serious about giving it a go]. The town is EXPENSIVE though, it’s popular, and expensive to match. You have to go to Nimbin, it’s fun and cool.
It’s a surf camp, nothing else there! Just surf, chill, flirt, and eat. All food provided, and it’s good food!
Spot x – Sydny – 8 hours
SYDNEY…. I’ll finish this later…”
I didn’t ever finish it for my friends, but there is a very brief guide on the Aussie East Coast. It’s good for those only planning a short trip, as it covers all the best bits and basics, so if you want to go for anywhere between 3 and 6 weeks, this will work out well for you.
Johannesburg has a bad reputation as far as capitals go, but if you’re willing to put some effort in, there’s some gems dotted around.
The hostel situation isn’t great, there’s quite a few, but most seem to be pretty quiet, and lacking in actual travelers – although I guess it was nice to some friendly Africans so early in my trip. And after the long journey I had getting there, I was happy to be able to chill out and watch movies in the TV room.
It doesn’t feel any more dangerous than any other capital city, sure there are areas that you’ll want to avoid, but on the whole you’re at very little risk, that said, you might want to keep your fancy camera and tourist map a little discreet.
As far as tourist attractions, the Apartheid museum is the highlight. It is both somber and sincere while uplifting and positive. It tells the story of the country through the oppressive government that segregated it’s citizens and committed some horrific atrocities. The museum focuses on the strength of the black community, who triumphed despite so many problems. This is the most important stop in Johannesburg, and also on the City Sightseeing Open Top Tour Bus
The Bus covers all the important sections of the city, leading you through potentially dangerous suburbs to those that have more cultural and historical significance. It is the easiest way to see what Johannesburg has to offer while providing insightful commentary. The city centre itself is not very pretty, and the bus tour through is enough time to experience it, without hopping off.
Elsewhere in the city, SoWeTo is another must see. The largest and most developed township, as well as the home of both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela it has huge cultural significance to the whole of South Africa. It has a huge diversity in its neighborhoods, from large custom built houses worth over 1 million Rand ($100,000) to slums built of tin and brick, with no windows to keep out the weather. The electric network is sprawl of cables seemingly from every shack to every other. Like the wiring in South East Asia there’s no way of knowing what is connected or how safe the whole lot is. On the street with Mandela’s old home, a small stretch of trendy bars and restaurants have popped up to cater for the more affluent locals and take advantage of the tourists. It is lively, with a carnival atmosphere, the local kids singing and dancing to earn some tips from the tourists. Again, keep an eye on your gear, crime is frequent although the place makes you feel very relaxed.
For the adrenalin junkies out there, the Orlando cooling towers are a must. Bungy or swing from the top of these incredibly grafitti’d stacks. With the exchange rate very favourable for most European and north American countries it’s a bargain as well. Finally is the more family friendly Gold Reef City theme park complex. Providing high quality rides and again a very reasonable price it’s worth a stop if you’re in town for more than a few days.
Of course I would be foolish not to mention the huge safari parks that are a few hours drive away, but having not been yet, I’ll let you guys decide whether to go or not.
I traveled over to SA on my ‘long way home’ trip, after my Chinese Visa was declined (one day, when I’ve written all these blogs up I’ll put links in!) I had a good friend over there, and now I have a few more. It’s not exactly en-route between Hanoi and London, but I wanted to go, and I didn’t want to go home, which is how I ended up in Johannesburg at all.
The whole country is very good value, it’s cheap compared to Europe and North Africa, and it’s really cheap compared to Australia or NZ. I’d say it was about on par with most SE Asian countries. But the main difference is, it feels more like a western country. The mix of African and European roots is wonderful, with the cities feeling more civilized than it does in Asia. It’s all a bit better put together and much better organised.
it means that when I did adventures like the Bloukrans Bridge bungee, or the highest commercial abseil off Table Mountain I didn’t feel I was taking my life in my hands. The set up is secure and tested, accidents are incredibly rare, I felt as comfortable there as I did in NZ or Australia doing similar activities. The best bit is the price, I paid less than 1000R for my bungy with photos and video, that’s less than 100USD, while the Nevis bungy in Queenstown (the previous highest bungy I’d done) is 340NZD, almost three times as expensive and not as high!
Transport is still a bit of an issue, it’s fine if you have a car, but for lonely travelers rentals are expensive. The only other options are the greyhound, which can be very expensive, misses a lot of the tourist spots and is not very backpacker friendly and the BazBus. The Bazbus is the option I chose, and it’s good in many ways. It drives the full route between Cape Town – Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth – Durban and Durban – Johannesburg both directions about every other day. This includes plenty of stops along the way, allowing you to jump off stay a night or two and jump back on. Being aimed at Backpackers this is cheaper and much more friendly than the Greyhound. The most awkward thing about it is; making friends on board that aren’t going to the same stop. Plenty of times I met some cool folks on board only to wave goodbye minutes later. Also, a lot of the towns, and a lot of the attractions are in different places, leaving you with no way (other than taxis) to get from your hostel to the thing you actually came to see. Overall though it was a very enjoyable experience, and it is the best option for solo travelers.
So if you want the manufactured thrills of adrenalin sports, the natural thrills of stunning landscapes and an easy way to get to it all, while sticking to a budget too low for an Aus/NZ trip – South Africa is the place. Tourism is on the way up there, and I have a few ideas myself, so get in while it’s still cheap and relatively quiet and enjoy. I really think it will be the next hot destination once Thailand has been completely sucked dry.
Lets start with some honesty – I love Cape Town! So this might be a little biased.
The city centre is all nestled nicely under the watchful cliffs of Table mountain, in fact the centre is pretty much surrounded with Signal Hill and the Lions Head boxing it in against the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a wonderful place to look at no matter where you are, the views from one landmark show off the best of the others. Long St in the city is a haven of funky coffee shops interesting clothing stores and real cultural highlights, it’s a great place to soak up the sun (and it’s always sunny) and get the feel of what metropolitan life is like in South Africa.
The city has some interesting areas, and a few great attractions, museums and galleries especially, but really nothing competes with Table Mountain for sheer dominance. From the beachside to the sprawling suburbs, the hills to the adventures – this is a city that really has a lot to offer.
The most obvious is of course a climb up Table Mountain. There are a few routes up, the cableway for the less capable or the more lazy, the stairs, and ‘around the back’ each of the routes offer some incredible views from the top and on the way up. Just be sure to take a big bottle of water with you! Once you’re at the top, you can abseil back down (well, part way) which has the longest commercial abseil in the world, But don’t forget the impressive Lions Head climb as well – while it doesn’t have an easy way up the climb is manageable to most with a decent level of fitness. Again, take some water! and the best thing – the views from here are 360 degrees, including an excellent view down the cape to the beaches and back across the city shadowed by the Table.
The cape is well worth exploring, although you’ll need a car – the open top buses don’t go to the very point. Cycling is possible, but only to those that are very keen, the hills, distance and heat make it quite a challenge. There’s penguins down there, and a couple of spectacular points, but don’t be fooled, you’re not at the southern tip.
One big draw to the city is the chance to do a Great White Shark Cage Dive, while this is not in the city itself, there are plenty of operators that offer transfers. Most of the prices are in the same ballpark, so just go with anyone you feel comfortable with – remember those sharks are hungry, so don’t go with the cheapest. It’s a full day activity and well worth it, seeing those beasts right up against the cage, only inches from your face is just mind blowing.
If you’re keen to get out of the Long St party atmosphere, then Observatory is a great little backpacker district, and the local bus runs from a short walk away, making it easy to get in and out of town. Just be a little wary at night. That said, there’s some awesome bars there, with a good student/traveler vibe so a late night in the city is unnecessary.
Overall there’s plenty to see and do here, although you won’t find the traditional African experience, or any of the Big 5, there’s plenty of modern SA to get into. Try to see some live music, and taste some of the local food. Most of all take in the views!
A trip out to the Wicklow mountains is an absolute must if you’re in Dublin for more than a few days – stunning views, lakes, mountains, quaint villages, castles and churches galore. This is a chance to see what real rural Ireland is all about.
The Sunday tour is the reverse of the usual Wild Rover Tours route, but all the stops are the same. So we started with Glendalough a wonderful valley with a couple majestic lakes, wonderful for the photo ops. You’re given the choice between a guided tour of the monastic city or to let off the lease to explore at your own pace. The tour provides you with bucket loads of information on the history of the area, while going free allows you to see as little or as much as you like.
The next stop is the terrifically exposed to elements Wicklow pass, the highest road through the mountains offering spectacular views in all directions – just be prepared for the wind and the rain.
On down the road is the small city of Kilkenny, overwhelmed with ancient churches and castles this is a very picturesque town. Again you have a choice, a tour of the nearby caves of Dunmore (price included) or longer to spend in Kilkenny itself. We opted to fully explore the city and were rewarded with a climb to the highest structure, which doubles as the oldest building. The views from the top are magnificent 360 degrees over the city, and only 3Euro. The Black Abbey was another highlight of our improvised tour, which features hugely impressive stained-glass windows and some medieval coffins for those with a historical/archaeological streak.
Finally the castle is an obvious stop, especially as it’s the bus drop-off point. A tidy and well maintained example of an Irish castle, this one looks and feels a little more like a manor house than a castle, but is still a good photo spot and site to explore.
From there it’s a short ride home (perfect for a nap) and you’re back in Dublin city centre.
Yeah yeah, there’s no right or wrong way to travel…
But there is.
Being an intolerable hippy, complaining constantly that it’s too touristy, you’re doing it wrong. Go hide yourself in a the Brazilian jungle until your dreads reaches the forest floor from your tree house (and then complain that there’s no wi-fi)
Being a hopeless wuss and not being brave enough to try anything remotely adventurous unless there’s 20 safety ropes and a health and safety officer on stand-by, you’re doing it wrong, Go back home to your lovely safe middle class life, where crossing the road is the biggest risk of your day.
Being a lazy ignorant slob, spending all night in the bar and all day hungover on the beach, you’re doing it wrong. Just go to Ibiza next time, we don’t need to see your tiny outfits (girls and boys) and sunburn.
As I’ve traveled, I found the way I like to do things, and that is to see and experience as much as possible. Sometimes that’s an unguided moped tour along dirt roads in Laos, sometimes that means hitting a big commercial theme park in Vietnam, sometimes it’s deserted beach parties, and others it’s the infamous Koh Phangan Fullmoon party. But to experience is to live – it allows you to understand more about yourself, in that you know what you like, and what you don’t. So to complain about the tourists, or that the waiter is too slow with mojito number 7, or being too lazy/nervous to actually do anything means, in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong.
Traveling is about getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, meeting new people and seeing new things. It’s not about cheap alcohol, tanning, and forgetting the name of that person from last night – you can get all of that on every high street in every western country in the world.
Next time save yourself the hours on the plane and just stay home.