Known for its rolling hills and vales of green (at least forty shades), it's no wonder the term "The Emerald Isle" is synonymous with Ireland. A short drive outside of Dublin, one instantly notices that most of the Irish countryside is dotted with farms and national parks, where the landscape in almost every county is domnated by some of the greenest hills anywhere in the world. Picturesque doesn't begin to describe what a beauty these lands are. (please note: some photos are mobile edits from my partner's phone).
Over the course of four days, I trekked across the island via Dublin, Glendalough, Kilkenny, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Galway. Here'a quick overview of my experience and suggestions for planning your own Irish getaway.
Day 1: Dublin
I took an overnight flight from JFK to Dublin that arrived around 8 a.m. Thereafter, I took the express bus from the airport to Wellington Quay where I had a quick brunch at Panem Cafe. I highly recommend the custard filled croissant for dessert! With some time to spare before checking into the Airbnb, I headed to Grogan's Pub for a pint (or two) of Guinness. A local pub in the heart of the city, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere created by the locals and tourists alike. And yes, Guinness really does taste best in Ireland! Why? The Guinness factory is right down the road and therefore the freshest you can possibly get. However, be patient when ordering a pint as the pouring and "settling" of the stout will take 2-3 minutes. I cannot tell you how many times I felt the bartender had forgotten my order because it took a while before my pint appeared, only to realize that the stout needed to "settle." Read here about the science behind pouring the perfect pint of Guinness.
After noon, I checked into my Airbnb. I opted for a spot a few blocks from the city center so everything would be easily accessible. Old Dublin is located south of the River Liffey and most attractions are within 15-30 minutes walk from the river. I took a shower and headed out for quick bite before a walking tour I had scheduled for 5 p.m. I opted for fish & chips at Jaf's on the north side of the river. Since I was a few blocks from the famous O'Connell Street, I headed over to Maadigan's for another pint of Guinness. This was a traditional Irish pub where many locals dined and where you could find some grandpas at the bar who were probably on their second or third pint of Guinness by three in the afternoon. That said, everyone was very friendly, often inquiring to know if I was visiting and how was I liking Dublin.
Afterwards, I headed to the Dark Side Dublin tour via Sandemans, which was a 2.5 hour walking tour across the city that explored some stories of serial killers, cannibals and the notorious Hellfire Club. Funny enough, I found the stories to be more "fails" than anything remotely horrific or gruesome. However, it was a good way to visit some church graveyards and back alleys of the city that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. By this time, I was pretty tired. On my walk back to the Airbnb, I stopped by the Pilsner's Pub for dinner. I highly recommend the goulash with dumplings!
Day 2: Dublin
Even though this was my second day in Dublin, it was going to be my last to explore the city since I had tours booked for countryside over the next two days. As a result, I had a lot planned for this day. I had an early breakfast at Taste Food Company, which consisted of eggs benedict and two rounds of cappuccino. Thereafter, I went on a three hour walking with New Europe Tours that included the sites of Dublin Castle, City Hall, Trinity College, Leinster House (home of the Irish parliament), Christ Church Cathedral and of course the famous Temple Bar area. As it was raining on and off, I didn't snap photos with my DSLR. Instead, I opted for clicks via my phone.
The river Liffey above (south facing) and Temple Bar below.
The tour ended near Trinity College, so I headed for a quick lunch at O'Neill's Pub & Kitchen. I highly recommend their cottage pie! A few blocks over is the Irish Whiskey Museumm which our tour guide recommended. I secured tickets and truly enjoyed the hour long tour learning the history and the process of distilling whiskey. The tour ended with a sampler of five whiskeys. Luckily I had eaten before the tour, so the whiskey had something to work itself off.
After the museum, I strolled along some shops in search of souvenirs and gifts. Before heading to dinner, I stopped by Mulligan's to rest my feet and have a pint of Guinness. Another gem recommended by our tour guide, Mulligan's is an 18th century no-nonsense pub filled with locals and a splash of tourists. It was such a great atmosphere, I treated myself to a second pint. Thereafter, I headed north of the river for dinner at TP Smith's. Unfortunately, during my walk across the bridge, my phone was pickpocketed amidst the crowds. I know this is when it happened, because right after crossing the bridge, the crowds dissipated and I was one block away from the restaurant. When I got to the restaurant, I discovered the phone was gone. This threw a huge wrench in my psyche over the remaining days of vacation. I was most upset that all my vacation information and my amazing Pixel 7 camera was now gone! Luckily, I was not traveling alone and had shared everything with my partner via Google drive. I also had the help of my sister back in NY to help me retrieve necessary info from my home PC. I cannot begin to imagine the mess I would've been in had I been alone! Truly a horrible way to end the day on the second day of vacation. On the brighter side, I was not harmed and still could continue with vacation as planned (sans my phone). After all this, I lost my appetite, took my dinner home and stuck it in the fridge.
Day 3: Glendalough & Kilkenny
Suffice it to say, I didn't sleep well the previous night. I took the necessary steps to secure my stolen phone and tried to ensure I would make it in time for the bus tour that was scheduled to leave at 7:30 a.m. Luckily, our tour guide, Pat from Collins Day Tours, was an absolute gem throughout the day. His personality and wonderful story-telling as we drove to Glendalough and Kilkenny helped to restore my faith in the good of humanity and not dwell on the violation I felt the night before.
We arrived at Glendalough around 10 a.m. and were left to explore for another two hours. Gleann Da Loch - means "valley of two lakes" in Irish. Hidden amongst the luscious greenery of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, this picturesque site is one of the crown jewels of Ireland's Ancient East. This glacial valley is renowned for an early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. Currently, the site is mostly ruins of the former settlement. The monuments in the Lower Glen include the Gateway, the Round Tower, the Cathedral and the graveyard.
A short walk along the trail, there are gorgeous views of the higer lake. However, we had mushroom rain around this time. So photo snaps were not the best.
After lunch, we continued on to Kilkenny. Located in the south-east region and in the province of Leinster, Kilkenny is nestled between the banks of the River Nore. Now a modern Irish city with a Medieval and Celtin skin, Kilkenny was once the ancient capital of the kingdom of Ossory. The town was established, then a city in 1609 by royal charter via King James I of England. The city boasts the famous Kilkenny Castle which has been extensively restored and is now open to visitors. Upon disembarking the bus, we headed to lunch at Rafter's Gastro Pub. We had fish & chips, a delicious seafood soup and the local beer: Smithwick's. The owner also treated to us to a special sample of the Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale.
Immediately after, we headed to explore Kilkenny Castle. A true medieval gem, the castle exteriors have been wonderfully restored. However, the furnishings on the inside were a bit scant and the gallery room was a bit odd (no name displays to discern who we were looking at).
Day 4: Cliffs of Moher & Galway
I was most excited for this day for a few years now. In the morning, my excitement was a bit tempered as I was still missing my phone. However, by the time we arrived at the Cliffs, I was happy that the weather was in our favor and the Cliffs were there for us to take in all their glory. Needing no introduction, but a brief spiel, the Cliffs of Moher are the legendary sea cliffs located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region that most trek to Ireland to experience. Spreading 11 km (9 miles) and rising to a maximum height of 214 m (702 ft), the Cliffs and the Burren are part of the UNESCO Global Geopark.
We walked along the Burren Way trail that runs along the edges of the cliffs offering fantastic views of Moher, the nearby farmland and the Aran Islands. No puffins spotted, but we did see many crows and seagulls. (Including a seagull who was stomping the ground to encourage worms to surface, thereby ensuring an endless worm buffet).
View from the southern viewpoint looking at O'Brien's Tower and the sea stack and sea stump.
View from the midpoint looking towards the southern viewpoint walkway.
After almost 2.5 hours of exploring, we had a hot chocolate at the Puffin's cafe before boarding the bus for quick stop at The Burren. Boirinn means "rocky district" in Irish. This region encompasses a karst landscape that measures approximately 530 sq. km (200 sq. mi). This cool grey rock etched with crevices and cracks tumbles down to the Atlantic Ocean that is also known as the Wild Atlantic Causeway.
Finally, it was time for a late lunch in Galway. A balmy, bohemian city with a love of traditional music, Galway is home to lots of mellow old pubs and many shops selling Aran sweaters. The fourth most populous city in Ireland, Galway was named the European Region of Gastronomy in 2018. With two hours to venture by ourselves, we tried to get as much done within the main square. The weather wasn't the best by this time, so I didn't get too many snaps. We had a tasty Irish beef stew and delicious clam chowder at Finnegans. Thereafter, we headed to the Christmas market at Eyre Square. Unfortunately, there weren't too many holiday foods to sample. With a few moments to spare, we popped into O'Connell's where we had the local Galway Hooker Ale. As we drank our beef, we had a short, but lovely conversation with a grandpa at the bar. Now retired, he moved from Dublin to Galway when he was 25. He explained that he had grown up in Dublin and spent a few years in London. However, he didn't like the hustle & bustle of a big city and moved to Galway when his friend offered him a job. Since then, he preferred the laid back lifestyle of Galway where he had a reasonable work/life balance and a few pints at the end of each day with his fellow mates.
We said goodbye to our bar-mate and headed for the bus. After three hours, we were finally back in Dublin. We had the leftovers from TP Smith's for dinner at the Airbnb and packed our bags for our flight the next day to London. Stay tuned for that blog!