My husband and I recently had the great luck of exploring the Emerald Isle for two weeks with my in-laws. Yes, that means two weeks of double dates, close quarters, and scary cliffside drives with the couple who raised my husband and has lived halfway across the country for the decade we’ve been together. This sort of scenario could easily be considered hell for many loving couples, but in our case, it was “not too bad.” In fact, it was pretty great.
We learned a lot about Ireland and it’s people over our two week adventure. First off, we learned that everything on the tiny big island is “not too bad.” Of all of the Irelandisms we picked up on, which my father-in-law gleefully took note of and quoted on repeat, this was the most common and therefore our favorite. It’s the response to every greeting you hear, and what a good one it is. Because, damnit, coming from a people who’ve endured as much as the Irish have, it’s good to remember that nothing is too bad, and you have a lot to be thankful for. Perhaps the luck of the Irish isn’t what happens to the Irish, but how they perceive and appreciate it.
Perception is everything, and it’s what I loved most about being with my husband and in-laws for these two weeks.
Traveling is rewarding, but it’s also hard work. You’ve got to plan well, expect the unexpected, and make light of heavy situations. It’s all about attitude. And what I loved most about Ireland, above everything, was the people and attitudes who wowed us along the way.
Ireland is a land where everyone is a friend – simply because you exist. The Irish take friendliness to the next level. It’s always genuine, always expected, and never comes with strings attached. If you make the trip to Ireland, whether you’re sticking to the cities or exploring deep into the thousand shades of green that make up their beautiful countrysides, you’ll be welcomed wherever you go. No need to explain that you’re a tourist, because your accent is a dead giveaway. No need to explain that you’re here to discover your family’s past. They frankly don’t give a damn. Ireland is a land of great emigration due to their history of hard times. They’ve heard that story before. The Irish just want to have a genuine conversation. About music, family, where you’ve been, and what you’ve done. They want to sing, and they want to dance. They want to talk shit, and they want to buy you the next round. They’ll stay as long as you’ll stay, because there’s nowhere better to be than right there having a conversation with a stranger. And they’ll stay all night, too. Because in Ireland, there’s no last call. Instead, the bartenders simply hide once their patrons have hit the hundredth sing along of the evening, hoping you’ll forget about the whiskey and the dark stuff and start finding your happy way home.
I have more fond memories about the people of Ireland that I can account for here, but I’ll tell a Dublin story that brings a smile to my face. We were at Teeling Distillery when I was looking around for someone to help answer a question, and a kind gentleman offered to help me. Of all the people, it was Mr. Teeling himself! I explained that my family and I were looking for the closest bus stop. Mr. Teeling excitedly took it upon himself to take me over to the sprawling window where he could point out the stop, explain how to buy tickets, offer additional sightseeing information, and have a friendly conversation about Texas. I was blown away. In America, successful business owners and CEOs don’t tend to take time with their customers. Especially the tourists. And yet, to Mr. Teeling, our conversation was just as important as any other he could be having. What a guy, and what a great example of the beautiful and consistent brand of hospitality we experienced throughout our time in Ireland.
We decided to make the following plans for our first two week journey to the motherland. We were pretty enamored with our experiences and feel that we had a well rounded adventure. But there’s a lot more to explore. So, needless to say, we’ll be back.
Our itinerary included 3 nights in Dublin, 2 nights in Cork, 1 night in Waterville, 1 night in Killarney, 2 nights in Galway, 1 night in Sligo, and 2 additional nights in Dublin. Plus dozens of incredible stops along the way.
Because the countryside blew my mind considerably more than the cities, I’m going to break this up into three posts. Today, I’ll focus on Dublin, which is incredible in of itself. Please check back for “Kildare to Kerry” followed by “Limerick to Donegal” for the beautiful stories and experiences that made up the bulk of our journey.
I highly recommend the Hop On Hop Off bus as a great intro to any Dublin experience. Kevin and I had never considered a HOHO in any of our previous travels because, frankly, I had always categorized it to be too touristy. But I’m really glad I gave this a chance because I learned a lot, and we got to give our barking feet a break for an afternoon. There are three types of sightseeing busses to choose from in Dublin; a green one, a red one, and an extremely touristy version of the Austin Duck Adventures busses called Viking Splash Tours. Avoid all other options, and take the green bus. It’s run by DoDublin, and your proceeds go toward providing the elderly with free city bus transportation. The drivers are your guides, and they’re full of interesting tidbits that help you understand what you’re seeing while you follow along with your complimentary map. The bus runs through 32 top sightseeing destinations, including all of the big ones. You won’t be disappointed.
Dublin Experiences We Loved
- Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity College. The Book of Kells was created by four monks around 800 AD, and is on display next to the equally impressive Long Room, which was built in 1732 and houses over 200,000 of the oldest and rarest books in Europe – as well as a rare original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and the original 15th century wooden harp that the Ireland symbol was modeled after. Fun fact: Ireland is the only country that uses a musical instrument as their national emblem.
- Guinness Storehouse. You just can’t miss it. Guinness is synonymous with Ireland. While some of the experiences of the tour are a bit touristy, there are other educational parts that more than make up for it. Plus, you can’t get a better view of the city than you can from the Zero Gravity bar, where you’ll grab your free pint at the end of the tour. The location is St. John’s Gate, the same location where Arthur Guinness boldly signed the brewery’s 9,000 year lease back in 1759. Since then, Guinness has continued to be a huge part of daily life across the country and continues to be one of the top exported beers worldwide. The 260 year journey is full of great stories that are all worth hearing. Over a pint of the dark stuff, of course. Fun fact: Ireland took their 40-year slogan, “Guinness is good for you,” to heart when hospitals would serve Guinness to new mothers to help with their iron levels during recovery.
- Jameson. The original location is now a museum and barrel aging facility in Dublin. The current active distillery is a few hours away in Cork.
- Ned O’Shea’s and The Brazen Head. I’m categorizing these two old azz bars as experiences. They both have delicious food at reasonable prices, and they’re right across from each other by the River Liffey. They were two of the first places we went to when we arrived in Dublin at the beginning of our trip, and remained mainstays for us throughout the rest of our time there. Ned O’Shea’s offers traditional sessions with dancing, while The Brazen Head offers traditional sessions with storytelling. The Brazen Head is also officially Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to 1198. They both have great indoor/outdoor spaces.
- Whelan’s. This is one of the best indie live music venues in Dublin. We saw the most talented band here opening up for a well known local act. The group was a bunch of kids, but we were impressed. We asked for their name, and they didn’t even have one yet. All of this to say, if a bunch of 20 somethings make it big with a song called “Jigsaw Piece” in the next few years, we heard them at Whelan’s first.
- Last Bookshop. This is everything you’d want a bookstore to be. It’s a great place to search for well curated vintage gems, many of which will quench your thirst for rich and obscure Irish history. The prices are right on point too. After you spend an hour here, take a load off at the delicious Cake Cafe through the back. It’s a lovely open courtyard where they’ll serve you plates of assorted slices of their cakes du jour along with coffee and a mimosa. Want more? Their sammies are amazing too and all served on their homemade bread.
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We caught a truncated modernized live performance of Much Ado About Nothing in their gardens! This gave us the opportunity to pick up a picnic and chill real hard on a weekday afternoon. What a treat.
- St. Stephen’s Green. Great place for a walk.
- The Grand Canal. Another chill place for a walk.
- Siopaella. This is pretty much the only shopping we did in Dublin, but it was amazing. We were pumped to find so many unique second hand finds from designer brands. Bonus is that all three locations were owned by our darling Airbnb hosts.
- Ha’Penny Bridge. Just a cute old cast iron pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey that’s free to cross today, but cost a half penny for the first century it was in operation starting in 1816. It was built to replace the ferries, which were not in good shape at the time. Since the toll was charged per pair of feed crossing, it was common for men to carry women across on their backs to get ‘two for one’ on the cost of the toll. That’s what I call ballin’ on a budget!
- Creative Quarter. There’s an area south of Temple Bar, hugging Drury Street, which locals call the Creative Quarter. I came across this part of town when I was in search of a fresh healthy lunch at Blazing Salads. I came back as soon as I could. It’s a great place to window shop, people watch, and get a snack.
Dublin Food & Drink We Loved
- Teeling Distillery. So much love for this place and their incredible whiskey.
- JW Sweetman Brewery. Good beer, great service, beautiful multi storied building.
- O’Donoghue’s. Home of The Dubliners, and great multi-room outdoor/indoor drinking spaces. Step in, and you’ll feel like you’ve time traveled through multiple centuries.
- Bernard Shaw and Eat Yard. Great multifaceted neighborhood mainstay that feels like Austin. It’s very unassuming from the store front, but trust me on this. Try the pizza from the bus in the back, and be sure to get the smoked gouda. I was excited to try the vegan Vish Shop food trailer after watching my family eat fish and chips for two weeks, but I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be. Other items on the menu looked great though, and I’m pumped to go back one day.
- Sova Vegan Butcher. The best meal of the entire trip. Hands down.
- McGuinness Take Away. Search this place out if you’re “starvin!” in the Portobello neighborhood late at night. They’ll take care of you with all of the incredible drunk food you’ll ever need, and an entire menu of equally trashy vegan offerings.
- The Rolling Donut. Came for the vegan donuts. Stayed for the deliciously dairy red velvet donut and incredible deal where they’ll add any fancy azz coffee your heart desires for just 5 euros total.
- The Barge. Just a damn beautiful bar on the Grand Canal in the Portobello neighborhood. There are several levels and the top floor ceiling looks like the inside of a ship. It’s gorgeous. They had a huge lovely food menu too, but we didn’t try any.
- Headliners. The closest bar to where we rested our head. It had a fantastic craft beer selection and definitely didn’t suck.
- Dublin is a big city, and there’s lots to do. Remember to book a place you love so that you’re inspired to spend some downtime at “home.” One of our best nights was lounging around our fabulous Airbnb drinking wine and listening to Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, and Desmond Decker.
- Dr. Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium is an easy place to use the bathroom if you find yourself repeatedly on O’Connell Street for some reason.
- Dublin is a very walkable city. Bring good shoes and a poncho just in case. We got no rain the entire time we were there, but we hear it happens a lot. As they say, “there’s no bad weather in Ireland, just bad clothing choices.”
Where to Stay
We can’t say enough amazing things about our two Dublin Airbnbs. Both were in the Portobello neighborhood and very walkable to everything.
- The Ballin’ on a Budget option:https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/20349531
- The Fuckin’ Fabulous option: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/plus/25647867
Dublin Experiences For Next Time
- Ghostbus tour by DoDublin. Buy tickets ahead of time, because it will sell out. Important to note that they require you print your tickets or pick them up during opening hours at the office.
- Jeanie Johnston. This is a replica of the original three masted ship that made 16 emigrant journeys to North America between 1847 and 1855, carrying over 2,500 people with (incredibly) no lives lost. It’s now a museum and tribute to the great Irish famine. The conditions of this ship were a night and day contrast to the coffin ships that took the vast majority of famine emigrants off the island during those troubling years.
Thanks for reading this first entry of my three part travel series on our first trip to Ireland. This is an enchanting place that everyone should visit if possible. I’ll cover more on the enchantment part throughout my next two posts, which will take us out of the city and into the wild west of the Emerald Isle. More historical facts, increasingly beautiful pictures, and travel tips to come!