Top ten things to do while studying abroad in... Ireland
calendar_month 01 Mar 2011, 00:00
Think Finn McCool and Cchulainn; James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and W.B Yeats; Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Loyalists; hurling, gaelic football and rugby; Guinness, and Bush Mills whiskey; soda bread, potatoes and Irish stew; George Best and Brian O'Driscoll; U2, Thin Lizzy and Boyzone; leprechauns, pots of gold and four leaf clovers. Ireland is a small country whose culture and history has travelled far and wide.

As an undergraduate studying abroad in Ireland you will have plenty of opportunity to experience all aspects of this famous island - and while there are many places and things to see, the highlight of your trip may well be the people you meet and the famous 'craic'. But just to get you started, Top Universities has come up with the top ten things any undergraduate student should do to get the most out of your time studying abroad in Ireland.

1. Experience Dublin

Nearest universities: Trinity College Dublin; University College DUBLIN; DUBLIN City University; DUBLIN Institute of Technology; GRIFFITH College, Dublin

It's edgy, sophisticated, urban and dynamic but most of all, Ireland's capital city is fun! Its colourful doorways welcome any visitor and student studying abroad, while it's nightlife lives up to its reputation. From the Guinness Store House to Dublin Zoo, the city's castle to the Dublin Museum of Writers, not to mention Ireland's National Gallery, Botanical Gardens, oh and did we mention the National Leprechaun Museum? There's a reason Dublin has one of the fastest growing populations of any of Europe's capital cities choose to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland and it won't take you long to work out why.

2. Delve into Trinity College and the Book of Kells

Nearest universities: Trinity College Dublin; University College DUBLIN; DUBLIN City University; DUBLIN Institute of Technology; GRIFFITH College, Dublin

Placed at number 43 in the 2009 QS World University Rankings, and with famous alumni including Jonathon Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, Trinity College Dublin is Ireland's top-performing university. It also places in the top 100 of Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Life Sciences and Biomedicine, as well as in the top 150 for Engineering and IT. But it's not just the quality of its undergraduate degrees that attracts so many people to its campus. Trinity College Dublin is also home to the Book of Kells. Written around the year 800AD, the Book of Kells is both an immaculately preserved ancient Celtic relic and a beautifully illustrated manuscript of the world, and it's showcased here in Trinity College's Old Library.

3. Photograph Belfast's murals

It may be the capital city of Northern Ireland and therefore technically in another country, but Belfast is just a short drive over the border and definitely worth a visit during your time studying abroad in Ireland. Belfast has a history of political instability, and this history is beautifully illustrated in murals around West Belfast. Known as "The Writing on the Walls" they depict politics, freedom and loyalty as well as pay homage to sports stars, Northern Ireland achievements (the Titanic) and, of course, football. Be sure to take in the rest of this relatively young city though - (it was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1888) - a lot has happened in its short lifetime.

4. Bestride the Giant's Causeway

While you're in Northern Ireland, head to the northeast coast to explore the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Nature Reserve, the Giant's Causeway is a sightseer's paradise. Walk on, over and around this basalt wonderland of (mainly) hexagonal columns, watch the waves crash against the rocks, or marvel at the sheer size of the cliffs. Explore The Honeycomb, The Wishing Chair, The Giant's Granny, Lord Antrim's Parlour, The King and his Nobles, The Keystone, The Chimney Pots, The Fan, The Punchbowl - these natural stepping stones are Northern Ireland's most popular tourist destination.

5. Surf the west coast

It may not have the warmest climate but don't let that stop you from hitting the waves off Ireland's west coast - there's some great surf up that way and in fact, the world surf championships were held in Donegal a number of years ago. It's all to do with the funnel-shape of Donegal Bay which increases the size of the swell for surfers, that's good news!

Even if you're not into surfing, with its rolling sand dunes, secluded coves and shallow bays, the Donegal coast is home to some of the most picturesque sandy beaches you'll find anywhere - though it can't quite lay claim to the tropical weather of the Caribbean! With lush countryside, nature reserves, golf courses and friendly locals, County Donegal is a favourite destination for many a tourist, so take time out from your studies and get some west coast sea air into you.

Did you know? Though it's geographically in Northern Ireland and part of the province of Ulster, Donegal is officially part of the Republic of Ireland.

6. Participate in the revel that is St Patrick's Day

It's celebrated almost everywhere in the world but do we really know why once a year in March we start talking in bad Irish accents, dress up in green and consume pints of Guinness? St Patrick's Day, on the 17th of March, is a public holiday for the Irish, all in commemoration and celebration of Saint Patrick himself, the principal champion of Irish Christianity. Nowadays Ireland boasts a week-long festival in honour of St Patrick, which also allows the country to showcase its culture, sense of fun and tourist attractions to the world. Whether or not you can handle a week of Irish festivities they certainly know how to party join in the celebrations, attempt an Irish jig, and experience St Patrick's Day as it should be spent... in Ireland!

Did you know? The colour originally associated with St Patrick was blue but over the years it has changed to green.

7. Head south and explore Cork

Nearest universities: University College CORK

Tripe, a dish made from various animal stomachs, is one of Cork's traditional foods, but we're pretty sure that if you choose to visit Ireland's second largest city, you'll be able to get a feel for the place without having to consume any of that! However, if you're game why not? Those with a weaker constitution, or perhaps just good taste, may wish to spend their time in Cork visiting the Red Abbey, walking down St Patrick's Street, photographing the city's Georgian architecture, listening to music in the Cork Opera House, or getting some retail therapy in at the English market. It's the perfect place for a weekend getaway.

8. Get off the mainland and experience the Aran Islands

If you haven't already realised, "Top o' the morning to ya" isn't actually Irish. The original Irish language is Gaelic, and it's very different indeed. If you want to say "Good morning", try getting your tongue round "Maidin mhaith", or "Dia dhuit ar maidin". If you want to hear what Gaelic really sounds like, get off the mainland and head to the Aran Islands. These islands are known for their cultural and linguistic heritage all native Aran Islanders are bilingual in English and Gaelic. Catch the ferry, hire a bike and begin exploring the outdoor museums, cliff climbing, castles, lighthouses, surfing, beaches and craft villages - you'll forget those assignment deadlines as soon as you arrive.

Did you know? The three Aran Islands are called Inis Mor Island (the big island), Inis Meain Island (the middle island), and Inis Oirr Island (the east island).

9. Enjoy a summer of festivals in Galway

Nearest universities: National University of Ireland, GALWAY

It calls itself the festival capital of Ireland, and with a calendar of events that celebrates everything from oysters to jazz music, horse racing to literature, it's probably quite true. Ireland's third largest and fastest growing city, situated on the west coast of the country, is home to The Galway Oyster Festival held each year in September, which in 2000 the Sunday Times described as "one of the 12 greatest shows on earth".

Two months earlier is the Galway Arts Festival, which attracts over 100,000 people every year, and then there's the Cuirt Literature Festival, the Baboro International Arts Festival for Children, the Connemara Marathon and the famous Galway Races. They all take place in the summer, and are all brilliant!

10. Experience the winter solstice at Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb

Nearest universities: ATHLONE Institute of Technology; National University of Ireland MAYNOOTH; Trinity College Dublin; University College DUBLIN; DUBLIN City University; DUBLIN Institute of Technology; GRIFFITH College, Dublin

Older than the Giza Pyramids of Egypt, older still than Stonehenge, the Newgrange Megalithic Passage Tomb is one of the world's most famous pre-historic sites. Made up of a series of passage tombs, Newgrange is perhaps best known for the shaft of sunlight that reaches the chamber floor on the shortest day of the year. Experiencing the winter solstice is chosen by lottery but visit the Newgrange site and your guided tour will include a re-enactment of the sun appearing in the chamber at sunrise that first took place some 5,000 years ago. Now that's a history lesson worth writing home about!

Once you've finished those

1. Kiss the Blarney Stone. 2. Walk over the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. 3. Listen to some traditional Irish music in Johnnie Fox's, Ireland's highest pub. 4. Sip the world's finest pint of the 'black stuff' at the original Guinness Brewery in Dublin. 5. Give coasteering a go, although be aware, it's not for the faint hearted.

Ireland's top universities

ATHLONE Institute of Technology University College CORK DUBLIN City University DUBLIN Institute of Technology University College DUBLIN Trinity College Dublin National University of Ireland, GALWAY GRIFFITH College, Dublin University of LIMERICK National University of Ireland MAYNOOTH WATERFORD Institute of Technology