A few months ago, I made the venture out to Ireland during my University spring break. Ireland had always been a destination on my “must see” list, but a country that somehow kept evading my travel plans. I have had a longtime fascination with the Irish culture (pretty sure I begged my parents to take me to Michael Flatley’s ‘Lord of the Dance’ when I was about 6 or 7 years old), so I was elated to finally have the chance to explore the isle. Above all, however, I was blown away by the kindness and hospitality shown by the Irish people. Many people had told me stories of a similar sentiment, but it was truly overwhelming to meet such a friendly people who emblazoned deep pride in their culture.
I think its important to preface this by saying that I only had a mere three days to cram in as much sightseeing as I could. In an ideal world, I would have loved a full week to more thoroughly travel the countryside, but I’m pleased with how much I was able to see while there. I took the trip with a friend of mine, as well as my mother, so it was a nice balance between cultural sightseeing during the day and pub hopping at night. We flew with Aer Lingus, which recently launched a direct route from Hartford to Dublin. This made the travel experience seamless; the customs process was more manageable, there was no need to deal with the madness of JFK or Dulles, and the quick flight felt like it could have been bound for a domestic location. For accommodations, we stayed at The Merrion Hotel; a gorgeous and antiquated luxury property located across the street from the parliament buildings. They boast an outstanding collection of Irish artwork, which is displayed throughout the property and was something I geeked out over in conversation with way too many hotel employees. This was honestly one of my favorite hotels, domestic or international, that I’ve had the pleasure of staying in and it truly enhanced our trip.
In our 72 hours, we fit in as many tourists attractions as we could and also carved out a day for a private tour of Galway and Connemara. Standouts in Dublin was, of course, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Gallery of Ireland, and The Guinness Experience, where you can pull your own pint of beer. I’m personally not a beer drinker, but had an absolute blast wandering around the factory, pulling pints, and fighting off my jetlag by way of inebriation. A surprise highlight was an impromptu tour of St. Michan’s, a church that Bram Stoker would habitually visit to gain inspiration for his writing of Dracula. While the church in itself is quite cryptic, you can’t leave without touring the underground tombs. There are LITERALLY 350 year old bodies chilling out in the open, and the charismatic tour guide, who has been showing people the tombs for over 30 years, clearly loves his job more than anything in the world. Total goals. Regarding our journey out to the opposite coast of the country, Galway was a charming sea town and lovely reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. It’s definitely a great place to pick up more unique souvenirs, and I found the pub culture to be less calculated and tourist-centric. Connemara, the adjacent lush mountain range, was absolutely gorgeous, untapped nature. It was basically us and about 5,000 sheep, but I was into it.
Now, for grub. Ireland, to say the least, has been noted throughout history for having less than stellar gastronomic offerings; however, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the restaurants we visited, particularly in the city center of Dublin. The overall standout during our three days was The Winding Stair. Located right on the River Quay above a bookstore by the same name, the eclectic restaurant utilized fresh fish and traditional Irish staples better than anywhere else we visited. A can’t miss was the fresh fish chowder served with homemade brown bread. It was the perfect medicine to combat the harsh early spring climate without being overbearingly indulgent. In terms of fine dining, we opted for Chapter One on our last night, which is located in the Dublin Writer’s Museum. It featured a prix fix menu that beautifully transformed local Irish ingredients into sophisticated and innovative creations. It was definitely a splurge, but the service, quality, and atmosphere was unparalleled. For breakfast, The Merrion had a lovely, albeit pricey, offering, though I’d recommend grabbing a pastry or Irish Breakfast at any pub or bakery that looks appealing in the city center.
At this point, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to talk about alcohol. Against the advice of a myriad of friends, taxi drivers, and hotel concierge, we made the infamous venture to Temple Bar. Because as cute as a nightcap at the historic hotel whiskey bar can be, its not the same sloppy mess as an adventure elsewhere. Temple Bar can most appropriately be compared to Bourbon Street, though I doubt they would charge 11 Euros for a hard cider in New Orleans. Like the Americans we are, we journeyed on despite advisement otherwise, and it turned out to be a really great time. We did a bit of pub hopping, starting at the historic mainstay, Oliver St. John Gogarty’s. While the traditional Irish music was fun, we found it to be grossly overpacked with tourists (it was St, Patty’s week I should note) and made our way across the street to The Auld Dubliner. This was hands down one of the best experiences of my time in Ireland. There were incredible live performers, including Ray Scully, a musician with the most extraordinary inflection and grit to his voice. I stole some of his business cards and have been following him ever since- please check him out on iTunes and FB @Ray Scully Music! If you find yourself in Dublin, definitely carve out one night, head to Temple Bar, and embrace the cliche tourist you are.
If presented with the opportunity, I would implore anyone to visit the Emerald Isle. The people and culture is breathtaking, and its a much more accessible gateway to Europe than planning a trip to other countries would be. Word to the wise; pace yourself with the pints.