Ireland, a land of green hills and more sheep than citizens, boasts a deep history and beautiful landscape. On this quick trip, we split our time equally exploring the historic offerings of the capital of Dublin and exploring the western coast and countryside.
Dates: September 23–25, 2017
Time on the Ground: 52 hours
Overall Rating: 4/5 – Overall, Dublin is a great place to visit for both quick and extended trips. The amount of history, culture, and outdoor sites to explore make Dublin and, more broadly Ireland a great trip for anyone.
Pizza Rating: 4/8 – We grabbed a bite of pizza in Galway at Trattoria Magnetti. Although the pizza was decent, we highly recommend the Irish affogato.
Walkability: 4.5/5 – Dublin is a very walkable city. We found that most of the major sites we wanted to visit were within a 20-minute walk of City Hall, although there were a couple a bit farther than that. Additionally, there is a great system of busses that are pretty easy to navigate for longer-distance trips.
Airport Rating: 4/5 – DUB is one of the nicer airports we have used in Europe. Although it is not as expansive as FRA, it is newer and comes with the added bonus of being a U.S. CBP Preclearance city, meaning that when you land from your flight back to the US, you won’t have to immediately go stand in line in Customs.
Airplane: Airbus A330-200
Free Walking Tour: 5/5 – Again, Dublin hit high marks for the walking tour. Not only does it check the boxes for history and cool sites, but our tour guide was phenomenal. Stephen from SANDEMANs was an actor by training, which certainly helped, but he was also very passionate about his country. He shared many real-life experiences that put modern Irish history into context.
Lay of the Land
Ireland is located to the west of mainland United Kingdom and is a member of the European Union. Although the country has a troubled history with England and the United Kingdom, the majority of the Irish island is an independent country, the Republic of Ireland. The northern six counties make up Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. This agreement came about after an extended period of fighting and national terrorism during the 20th century known as The Troubles. You can find many instances of how centuries of conflict with the English and between Protestants and Catholics has shaped the country into what it is today.
The city of Dublin is the capital of the country and the largest city. It is located on the eastern side of the country and makes up about 20 percent of the country's population of 5 million people. The city is split down the middle, north and south, by the River Liffey. The majority of the historical and cultural sites are on the south side of the river, so we elected to stay there near Trinity College at O’Neils Victorian Tavern & Townhouse. Although the building had character and history, the fact that the hotel only had eight beds and was run by the owner of both of B&B and the Pub next door made things like checking in more difficult than we anticipated. We would probably stay in this area of the city again because it was very central to where we wanted to go, but we would probably skip O’Neills. From our hotel, we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to, although we took a bus back from Phoenix Park after a long day of walking. We also took the 747 express bus to and from the airport for 12 euro each round trip, which was about half what a cab would have cost. Even on the bus it only takes 20–30 minutes to get into the city, depending on traffic and where you are going. Additionally, the busses have cameras on the luggage racks on the lower level that turn on when the bus stops, so you can feel comfortable leaving your luggage below and climbing up top for better views heading into the city.
After dropping our luggage and and grabbing a bite to eat, we found our way to the meeting place for a free walking tour. We were done with breakfast around 9:30 a.m., but the tour did not start until 11:00, so we found a nearby cafe to pass the time in. We ended up at a little Argentinian cafe next to the river called Dwarf Jar Coffee. The abundance of unique cafes is one of our favorite things about Europe and why we always try to go to a local cafe rather than a Starbucks or Costa Coffee. We took the walking tour from SANDEMANs Tours, a company we are familiar with from Prague. As usual, they did not disappoint—they are one of the most organized walking tour groups out there in our opinion. They had a crowd of over 100 people split into three groups with pictures taken (for social media, of course), and on their way in less than 5 minutes.
The tour starts at Dublin Castle, a few blocks from City Hall, where the tour group gathers. The castle is really not much of a castle, but it is still a great historical site to see. Some important pieces of Ireland’s history took place right in the courtyard where we stood, including where the British handed control of the country back to the Irish in 1922. One common theme throughout the tour and Ireland’s history was the country’s bad luck, bad timing, missed opportunity, or some combination of all three that led to over 700 years of British rule. Every time the Irish tried to push the British out of the country, something would go awry, dashing all hopes of independence. This history is the foundation for the proud, but sometimes self-deprecating, culture that you find throughout Dublin and Ireland as a whole. The Irish are very proud of their country and glad they are Irish, but they are not above making fun of themselves either.
From the castle, you head to the Dubh Linn Gardens, where the Vikings originally founded the city back in 800 A.D. The Viking settlement was known as Dyflin, or “Black Pool,” which referred to the color of the water where the River Poddle met the River Liffey, creating a dark tidal pool. Although the River Liffey is the better known of the two rivers, the River Poddle actually runs under much of the old city and is still under the Gardens, the original site of the Viking Settlement. Then the tour takes you through Trinity College, historic streets of the old city, the famous Temple Bar area of the city, and eventually wraps up after three hours at the monument commemorating Oscar Wilde. As always, the tour is a great way to see a good number of the city sites with valuable historical context while also getting the lay of the land before deciding what other areas of the city to see. Additionally, our tour guide Stephen did an exceptional job bringing the history of the city to life through his commentary and even a dash of acting!
The park is the largest enclosed park in any capital city in Europe and home to many monuments and sites, including the Dublin Zoo. After officially checking into the hotel and grabbing some food, we set off on foot to the entrance of the park, where you can rent bikes for 1 hour, 3 hours, or a full day. The walk took about 40 minutes but was flat and enjoyable along the river for most of the way. We highly recommend making the trip out of the city. Phoenix Park is a landmark of the city and you can easily spending hours exploring, on foot or on bike. The park provides a completely different view of the city and its people.
Western Ireland Day Trip
The second day we opted to do the Cliffs of Moher day trip with Extreme Ireland. We booked the trip through Viator and it included the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and a lot of Irish countryside! In hindsight, we are glad we did it, but we definitely could have spent the whole trip in the city itself without running out of things to do.
The tour started first thing in the morning with a 6:50 a.m. departure near Trinity College. Although it was painfully early, we found out later that there was a method to that madness! Throughout the day, we always seemed to arrived 20–40 minutes ahead of the major rush of tourists at each location, which was completely by design. Extreme Ireland intentionally plans to be out of Dublin before any other tour company to minimize crowds and lines and maximize the tour experience. Trust us, you will be glad for the early start when your bus is the first of a dozen to pull into a small coastal town with only a handful of restaurants for lunch.
The tour itself was well worth the money. (We paid approximately $65 USD per person.) Throughout the 13 hours, our tour guide Gerard contributed amusing commentary about his country’s history, culture, and the areas that we were passing through. He was a wealth of information, imparting the fun fact that the 5 million citizens of Ireland produce enough food each year for 10 times their population! (Clearly, they learned to over prepare after the Irish Potato Famine.)
The cliffs themselves were breathtaking and certainly worth the trip. It was like staring off the edge of the world 700+ feet down to the ocean crashing on the rocks below. Be sure to wear shoes that are good in slippery conditions and clothes that can get dirty when you visit, especially if you want to explore beyond the small area maintained by the visitor center. Passing beyond that threshold provides different perspectives on the cliffs, but take your time and we would advise against taking pets or children as you can walk directly up to the ledge without any barrier. Additionally, we would suggest saving your 2 euro a person to climb up the old observation tower. Although the extra 30 feet sounds like it would make for good for viewing, the walls of the tower are extremely high and it is placed far enough back from the edge that the view is not very spectacular. From the cliffs, you make a quick stop for lunch in a nearby town and then continue on stopping at a couple locations for pictures and breaks. Finally, the last big stop was an hour or so in the city of Galway, another great place to do some exploring, eating, and shopping. Overall, it is an extremely long day, but we feel like we got to see so much more of the country than if we had just stayed in Dublin for the weekend.
Overall, we were enchanted by our trip to Ireland. The Irish people have an amazing culture and they are extremely welcoming, friendly, and relatively carefree! The country as a whole is extremely proud of their heritage and willing to help you explore it. Within minutes of getting off the bus, we found ourselves lost inside Trinity College (we thought cutting through the college would provide a scenic shortcut). Within seconds of stopping with the now iconic “yep, we are lost” look on our faces, a local showed up and started leading us out of the college and pointed us in the direction of our B&B. They are also a fast-paced culture, especially compared to other European countries we have visited—they like to talk, walk, and drive fast!
We would put Ireland high on our list of places to visit twice! Both Dublin and Ireland have so much to offer that you could easily spend weeks in the country and not run out of things to do and see. Dublin has a great combination of historical sites, free museums, and cultural activities to meet any traveler's interests. The country as a whole has a rich culture from thousands of years of history and it doesn’t hurt that the backdrop to all of this is comprised of luscious green rolling hills peppered with livestock and old cottages.