Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
You know how when you go travelling, there’s almost always an ‘Irish’ Pub located in the centre of town no matter what city you’re in? It doesn’t matter if it’s a Paddy O’Reilly’s, or an Auld Limerick, or a Seamus Fitzpatrick’s – whatever the name, there’s almost certainly an Irish pub somewhere in the city decorated with green shamrocks and offering Guinness on tap.
Walking into Dublin city on our first day was like walking into a foreign city with not just one, but a million Irish pubs. While I’d always thought of an ‘Irish pub’ as a tourist trap overseas, it was remarkable to see just how many pubs there are around Dublin. Sure there’s some that are clearly geared at tourists like those in the Temple Bar area, but once you venture out of Temple Bar, there’s still nearly a pub on every second corner. There’s certainly not shortage of pints of Guinness, bowls of Irish stew, or plates of bangers and mash in Ireland!
That’s not all Ireland has to offer from a culinary perspective though! Sure, we had some Irish stew and some traditional pub meals, but there’s also a great burgeoning modern dining movement that saw us have some great meals at places like Phx Bistro. There’s a move towards casual daytime dining as well with soups and paninis on every cafe menu – Avenue in Maynooth is one example. Still you can’t go past some traditional Irish meals – fish and chips at Leo Burdock and a full breakfast at Brendan’s Coffee Shop.
It might be difficult to know where to get started in Dublin. While it’s not an exceedingly large city, there is lots to see and it was made all the more difficult by the non-stop construction that was happening at the time of our visit. To make things easier for yourself, join one of the free walking tours around Dublin to get a good overview of different parts of the city. We joined a great one that went for three hours, and was lucky enough to get a guide who was an amateur local historian who was able to make history come to life as we walked around the city.
Once you’ve done the tour, you can always go on to do more exploring by yourself. I loved walking around the beautiful old buildings of Trinity College, not to mention going into their Book of Kells exhibition and – my personal highlight of Dublin – visiting their famous Long Room. You’ve probably seen photos of it before on the ’10 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World’ lists on Buzzfeed. If I died and went to heaven, I imagine it would look a little bit like the Long Room. I’m not even embarrassed to imagine that I started tearing up with pure joy and happiness when I was in there.
We also decided to rent a car for a few days to get out of the city and see a bit more of Ireland proper. This meant that we could travel to Trim, west of Dublin, to meet K’s Irish second cousins for the first time ever. While there, we also spent a few hours at Trim Castle, the oldest surviving castle in Ireland. If you ever visit, it’s worth taking the guided one-hour tour for the paltry sum of 4 Euros per person – our guide Karlos was incredibly well-informed on Irish history, on medieval history, on castle architecture…plus as a bonus, he looked like Henry the Eighth which lent an additional historical note to our visit!
We also drove our rental car up north, over the border to Northern Ireland to visit Belfast for lunch at Avoca (scones! scones! scones!) as well as a burger at Five Guys Belfast before heading to the Antrim coast to see the wonders of the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-O-Rede rope bridge. Words can’t even begin to describe how stunning the Irish countryside and coastline really is – next time, I think we will need to rent a campervan and do a proper driving holiday around the island, stopping in all the quaint little towns along the way.
K is keen to visit Ireland again – being 1/4 Irish, I think he feels a certain affinity to the Irish people and the Irish way of life. I’ve told him that we need to bring his parents with us the next time though – his mother is half-Irish and she’s never visited Ireland (or anywhere in Europe!) before, and I think it would be great for her to meet her cousins as we did. We’ll keep trying to convince her…