Somehow, despite all of the times I have visited Europe, I have always managed to bypass Ireland. I’ve admired it from above, as so many flights crossed over the lush, green hills en route to Heathrow. But it never made the short list of places to visit.
Compared to so many of the cities and countries we have journeyed to see, Ireland is an easy trip from the USA’s east coast. They speak English there. It’s approachable. We weren’t in a rush; we would get there when we get there.
Having just returned from five quick days in the Emerald Isle, I’m sorry it ever took us so long to visit. It was about five hours into our self-guided tour of Dublin- after four rain showers, our first Irish beer, and stops at several historic parts—that we mutually admitted we had barely done any research on how to spend our time in Ireland. “I knew I was going to love it when we booked the trip,” Adam shrugged as the skies opened up yet again and he pulled his hat lower over his ears. “And I do,” he said with a smile.
And so did I.
So how did we spend a couple of days in Dublin? Without a single misstep, here’s how you can immerse yourself in the city—whether the skies are blue or gray.
WHAT TO SEE (AND DO)
► ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Ireland—and one of the oldest. Dedicated on March 17, 1191, the church is one of the last remaining connections to medieval Dublin.
Guided tours are available, but after a long flight we were happy to arrive as a rain shower gave way to bright blue skies, which meant we could spend some time outside admiring one of the oldest buildings we had ever seen. There is a beautiful garden in front of the cathedral that makes a great spot to take photos or just relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
More Information: StPatricksCathedral.ie
► GUINNESS STOREHOUSE
It’s probably not legal to visit Dublin without the requisite visit to the Guinness Storehouse. Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it’s a bit on the pricey side, but you still shouldn’t miss it.
There are 7 floors of Guinness history that house exhibits with elaborate displays, iconic items (like the famous Guinness harp from 1790), and interactive activities (including a lesson on how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Academy stop).
The Guinness Storehouse walks you through not only the beer brewing process but how Guinness specifically is woven into the culture and identify of the Irish people. Better still is that each admission ticket includes a complimentary Guinness tasting as well as a “pint of plain” to enjoy at the Gravity Bar. You’ll get a small sample to try during the tasting, which is where staff will teach you about the aromas and flavors you’ll enjoy as you take your first sip. The magic really happens at the Gravity Bar, where you’ll watch as bartenders serve you a perfect pour. It takes about two full minutes to pour a proper pint. After filling the glass, the beer sits for about 112 seconds while the foam dissipates and becomes completely black. Then, the beer is topped off, which creates the creamy foam at the top.
One more fun fact: the recipe for Guinness is different in Ireland than the recipe exported to countries like the US, so if you don’t enjoy Guinness you should still give it a try when you visit. While I have always thought Guinness was a bit bitter for my taste, I found it to be creamy with strong vanilla notes in Dublin. This also explains why I had a Guinness with almost every meal for the rest of my stay.
More Information: Guinness-Storehouse.com
► TAKE A FOOD TOUR
Delicious Dublin Tours gave us an incredible look into modern Irish cuisine. While we were very excited to try the Irish classics (like stews and fish and chips), there’s a lot more to Dublin’s food scene than the dishes you would expect to find. Tours are led by Ketty, a French foodie who made her way to Ireland more than a decade ago and has immersed herself in what’s new and important in Irish food. Ketty guided us through Dublin’s streets in search of restaurants we would never have uncovered on our own. We sampled everything from coffee to whiskey, from classic brunch foods to Irish cheese to chocolate, and yes—even fish and chips with mushy peas. When our tour was finished, we felt really confident about making the most of our time (and money!) during the remainder of our trip; in fact, we returned to one stop on our last day because we had learned where we could get a great breakfast before leaving the city for the airport.
Learning about local cuisine from a local guide was a major highlight for us—as fans of using food as a vehicle to explore a country, this tour shouldn’t be missed!
More Information: DeliciousDublinTours.com
► TRINITY COLLEGE & THE BOOK OF KELLS
A favorite stop for us was Trinity College, home of the famed Book of Kells. The Book of Kells was written around 800 A.D., and it is based on the four gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. If the age of the books isn’t impressive enough, the manuscript itself will be—each gospel is presented in its own volume, which are complete with embellished calligraphy and detailed drawings to bring the script to life.
When you’re done lingering over the ornate pages, head toward the Long Room Library, which houses 200,000 of the College’s oldest books. We spent a long time there as we took in shelf after shelf; we also admired the several dozen marble busts of great thinkers and philosophers that punctate each section of the library.
More Information: TCD.ie
► OLD JAMESON DISTILLERY
You can’t leave Dublin without trying some Irish whiskey, so a few hours at the Jameson Distillery is a must. We learned a lot about the process of distilling whiskey; while most of it is made in southern Ireland these days, the Bow Street distillery continues to annually produce small batches of whiskey.
The building is located at the site of the original Jameson Distillery which dates back to 1810. The tour takes you through the various sections of the distillery, including a stop to see a 200-year-old stone that was used to mill barley. Many believe it is good luck if you tap it 3 times.
The tour is a lot of fun (especially with a great guide!), as is the tasting included at the end; we tried Jameson as well as comparable spirits Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels (our guide described the American whiskey as having notes of regret from college). The tour ends with a complimentary drink; you can choose between Jameson served neat, on the rocks, or served as a cocktail with ginger ale and lime.
More Information: JamesonWhiskey.com
WHERE (AND WHAT) TO EAT
► THE BRAZEN HEAD
The Brazen Head Pub caught our eye just as we realized we had been awake for well over 24 hours—and as the rain started to fall again. While we were just looking for a meal and a place to hide from the passing storm, we were also treated to a bit of a history lesson. Brazen Head is the oldest pub in Ireland (dating all the way back to 1198!) and has fed such famed Dubliners as James Joyce, Daniel O’Connell, and Jonathan Swift.
We ordered a couple of beers and a very hearty lunch- bangers and mash for Adam and Irish stew for me. The bangers and mash were great- high quality Irish sausages covered in savory onion gravy. The Irish stew was even better; the succulent chunks of lamb with root veggies made it really easy for me to imagine centuries of patrons sitting in the same seat I had chosen, waiting for the rain to move along, as they discussed hundreds of years of challenges and opportunities that faced the country. By the time our meals were finished and our beers were drained, blue skies had returned to Dublin; it was the perfect lunch stop.
More Information: BrazenHead.com
If you’re looking for bakeries, look no further than Camerino. We were introduced to this little gem during our Delicious Dublin tour, where they served us freshly made scones. Adam hates scones as a rule (too dry and not enough flavor for him), but he loved his and had his eye on mine as I savored each bite. Camerino’s scones are moist, almost biscuit-like in their consistency; with some fresh Irish butter and sweet raspberry preserves they couldn’t have been more delicious.
On our final morning in Dublin we walked over for a couple of scones for breakfast, and for just €4 we had the perfect breakfast before starting the journey home. If you’ve had breakfast, stop in for treats like cookies, brownies, and gourmet cakes.
More Information: Camerino.ie
► MURPHY’S ICE CREAM
Murphy’s Ice Cream serves some of the best ice cream we have ever tried—I don’t know what they feed the cows in Ireland, but the rest of us could use some of their secrets! You’ll find classic flavors there, but don’t let them distract you from some of the local varieties you won’t find elsewhere. We tried three flavors: Dingle sea salt, caramelized brown bread, and Dingle gin. Sea salt was light and tasty, brown bread was surprisingly sweet—almost like gingerbread—but the gin ice cream was our favorite. It had all of the taste you would expect from a sip of gin but none of the burn you experience when you drink it. I could have eaten there every night!
More Information: MurphysIceCream.ie
► BROTHER HUBBARD
Just a few doors down from Camerlino sits Brother Hubbard, a lovely little café where we enjoyed some Irish ingredients that combined to create a not so Irish tasting breakfast. Heavily influenced by the owners’ travels through the Middle East, we tried Turkish eggs menemen. I’m not really a fan of eggs, and Adam isn’t really a fan of red peppers or Middle Eastern spices, so we were both surprised when we devoured the combination of all of those ingredients served on a crispy piece of sourdough toast.
Brother Hubbard serves an entire menu that combines fresh, local ingredients to create somewhat complex flavor profiles; a clear hit with the locals, we loved it, too.
More Information: BrotherHubbard.ie
► THE CHURCH
If you read our Destination Guide to Pittsburgh you might remember that we loved visiting a church-turned-brewery during our visit—so when we discovered The Church on a walk from our hotel to O’Connell Street we were pretty thrilled.
The Church is everything we expected- beautiful alter, repurposed church artifacts—and the menu is fantastic. We tried beef and Guinness stew (for me) and a burger (for Adam), and both were great. Better still were the drinks. Each table has a copy of The Church Bible, a menu which includes beverages from the Old Testament (like an old fashioned, or a mojito), the New Testament (like an espresso martini called “Grounds for Divorce”), and plenty of wine, beer, and spirits. I tried the Orange of Eden, a chocolate and orange whiskey-based beverage that looked beautiful and tasted even nicer.
The prices were reasonable, the service was very good, and we’re happy to now know two lovely churches we can drink in around the world.
More Information: TheChurch.ie
► THE PORTERHOUSE
The Porterhouse in Temple Bar is a great place to catch up with friends and have a drink; that’s how we spent our night there when we met up with a coworker of mine after a long day of touring the city. They had a great list of beers (the oyster stout was great!), a nice collection of whiskeys, and the food was very good—I especially liked the lamb shank. The bar was lively and noisy as locals gathered around to watch a soccer match. When we finally left around 11 PM it seemed the party was just starting!
More Information: ThePorterhouse.ie
WHERE TO STAY► MALDRON HOTEL SMITHFIELD
We picked the Maldron Hotel Smithfield on a whim, and it was a perfect home base for our trip. Location-wise it’s a bit removed from central Dublin; you won’t hear the Temple Bar crowds here, which was ideal for us because it meant we had lots of quiet and slept very soundly. That being said, it was still within an easy walking distance from everything we wanted to see.
We had a corner room with a tiny balcony and tons of windows. The bed was comfortable, the pillows were fluffy, and the bathroom was clean with lots of counter space. The staff were incredible- they accommodated our early arrival and were very friendly as we said hello each morning as we left. When we return to Dublin, we will look forward to another stay there!
More Information: MaldronHotelSmithfield.com
WHERE TO GET AWAY
► CLIFFS OF MOHER
Visit the Cliffs of Moher in western Ireland for a trip to the gorgeous coastline. Tour companies offer long but easy day trips, and having a few hours to hike among such stunning scenery will without question be a highlight of your trip.
More Information: Check out our blog post “Day Trip to the Cliffs of Moher”
► GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Giant’s Causeway is in Northern Ireland—which is part of the U.K.—and is another long but manageable day trip from Dublin. Most trips will include stops at spots like the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges (made famous in Game of Thrones), and you’ll likely get a chance to explore a bit of Belfast as well.
More Information: Check out our blog post “Exploring Giant’s Causeway and Northern Ireland”
WHAT TO KNOW
► SKIP THE CAB LINE
Buy tickets for the Airlink bus online or at the airport. For just €10 for a round trip ticket you might not be dropped off right in front of your destination, but you won’t be a long walk from it, either. Cabs can be on the expensive side, so consider this affordable option—you can spend the money you save on a few extra pints!
Really, it seemed like the weather changed almost constantly while we were in Dublin. Rain falls frequently, sometimes quite heavily, but usually it’s no more than a minor inconvenience. It’s not long before the rain moves out of the way and ushers in blue skies and sunshine, so if you’re waiting for the perfect picture take cover and take heart—you’ll have your chance in just a few minutes. Oh, and skip the umbrella- with sudden gusts of wind we saw lots of people toss them aside as they blew inside out and were rendered useless.
One great thing about the constant shifts from rain to sun is you most likely will see an amazing rainbow at some point- we saw ours stretched over the city as we sipped our Guinness at the Gravity Bar.
► DRESS IN LAYERS
We visited in the summer, and we had plenty of moments where a t-shirt and jeans were perfect, but we also had plenty of moments when sweaters and coats were more appropriate. Pack a waterproof windbreaker, a sweater, and a few t-shirts for your trip. We were happy we had some versatile outfits to keep us comfortable while we explored Dublin, and having the flexibility to add layers or remove them kept us from darting back to the hotel every time the weather shifted.