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March Madness in Ireland: Festivals, pub crawls, and off-season rates

SmarterTravel

It’s March and that means spring break, March Madness, and perhaps the most fantastic holiday known to mankind. It doesn’t require any gift-giving or long gatherings with the extended family, just pints and pints of delicious Guinness with friends. That’s right, I’m talking about St. Patrick’s Day. If you’ve been thinking about a trip to Ireland, now is the time to go. Even if you don’t make it there for the actual holiday, you’ll still enjoy low airfare, cheap accommodations, and of course, the friendly Irish people.

Getting there

It’s currently low season in the Emerald Isle, so budget travelers can take full advantage of the cheap airfare from both coasts. Right now, Travel CUTS has Dublin fares starting at $333 round-trip plus taxes from the East Coast, and StudentUniverse has Dublin fares from $525 round-trip plus taxes from Los Angeles. If you want to save even more money, fly into London and grab a connecting flight on Ryanair, a low-cost carrier known for its insanely low prices. For example, you can fly one-way from London Stansted to Dublin for $6 plus taxes.

Cheap accommodations

You can find cheap hostels, guest houses, and budget hotels in Dublin (and other towns all over Ireland) through the hostel booking site HostelWorld.com. This month, hostel rates in Dublin start at $13 per night. Be sure to book early if you hope to snag a bed around St. Patrick’s Day (or any weekend between May and September), and don’t forget to bring a Hostelling International membership card to receive discounted rates.

Things to do

If you’re in Dublin, you have to take a tour of the Guinness Brewery. Learn how this “black gold” is made (well, they don’t give away all the secrets) and get a free pint at the end of the tour. You’ll get answers to questions like “How long does it take to pour the perfect pint?” and “Why does Guinness have a reddish color when you hold it up to the light?” Admission costs $13 for students with an ID and $19 for adults. Check out the Guinness Brewery website for more details.

Shopaholics will want to head to Grafton Street, Dublin’s most popular shopping area. Here you’ll find designer shops, bars, and the famous Bewley’s Cafe, a multi-level teahouse perfect for a relaxing afternoon of people-watching over pastries and tea.

Nearby Trinity College should appeal to history buffs. The oldest university in Ireland is home to the Book of Kells, a illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament. An admission pass costing $9 for students and $10 for adults allows you to see the Book of Kells, an exhibition on illumination, and Trinity’s historic Old Library.

Ireland is the birthplace to many legendary writers, such as James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. English majors and literary fiends can get their fix by going on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, costing $11 for students and $15 for adults. Or, visit the Writers’ Museum in Parnell Square for $9.

For those of you who’d rather soak up the Irish culture with a few pints, you won’t have to look hard to find a pub. Georges Street is packed with pubs and restaurants, such as Long Hall, Hogan’s, and Dublin’s main gay bar, The George. If you want a truly authentic experience, head to O’Donoghue’s, a place my Irish friends refer to as the “old man’s pub.” You can hear traditional Irish music and have a chat with some of the regulars who look as though they’re part of the original architecture.

To find out about other things to do in and around Dublin, go to VisitDublin.com.

St. Patrick’s Day planning

Traditionally, “St. Paddy’s Day” is a holiday when everyone claims to be at least “a little bit” Irish. In the past, Ireland’s celebrations were quite tame compared with the parties taking place in other “Irish” cities around the world (such as New York, Boston, and the like). This has changed in recent years and now Dublin devotes five days to the celebration with its St. Patrick’s Day Festival, held this year from March 16 to 20. There’s live music, markets, art shows, and a huge parade not to be missed on the big day. For information on festivities elsewhere in Ireland check out St-Patricks-Day.com.

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