Dublin, Galway, Aran Islands, Bushmills, and back to Dublin. What a whirl wind. One of the biggest takeaways from this trip for me was if you can afford it both monies and time wise, go for 2 weeks. I would have loved to have a few more days, not necessarily to see more cities, but to have more quality time exploring. Alas, we had 6 days which were cut short due to flight delays and then our bags got delayed. The cliff notes version of our travel woes getting to Ireland: our original flight to Dublin from Boston was delayed and then we missed our connection in Philly, ended up spending the night in Pittsburgh, rebooked for next evening to go through London (after an 8 hour lay over in Philly), bags did not make it to Dublin for 24 hours after we did.
So #1 international travel lesson learned, pack just a carry on bag, fly as directly as you can and give yourself a few days of buffer to actually get to your destination.
I could have happily spent the whole trip here. I loved this little magically coastal city. It was vibrant, delicious and from what the locals told us, one of the most authentic Irish cities. We stayed at the Ardmor Country House B&B just outside of Galway in Spiddal and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Vera and Bartley, the owners, were simply the loveliest hosts (they’ve been doing their B&B for over 50 years!). When we arrived but our bags did not, they offered to stay up for them to be delivered. They also lent Jesse a jacket for our Aran Island excursion. Oh AND Vera’s brown bread was my favorite of the trip. I really should write her and ask for the recipe. The actual accommodations were lovely and the ocean view from the back deck was breathe taking.
Upon our arrival late Saturday afternoon, our hosts suggested we clean up a bit and head into Spiddal for an easy dinner at the local pub, Tigh Gilbin. They have live music every night after 9pm, but we were so tired we didn’t stay that late. I recommend you get yourself the fish and chips and their homemade ice cream for dessert. Jesse ordered the roasted chicken and it was also delicious. There’s also a cute little pharmacy down the street from the pub, so if you find your luck similar to ours and without your bags, you can stop in for a tooth brush and deodorant.
There is also a lovely little pier you can access from the main street in Spiddal, and it makes for a nice walk after dinner.
Before we go on, I’d like to clarify something. When people talk about Ireland, they seem to be misinformed about the food, because it is FREAKING amazing. Why don’t people talk about how hearty, flavorful and fresh the food is here? …maybe it’s their secret to keeping hoards of tourists way…oops!
Anyways, because our trip was cut a little short on the front end which was when we were planning on spending mostly in Galway, so we didn’t get to explore downtown as much as I would have liked. We ended up there for only one evening, after spending the day on the Aran Islands. That evening was my favorite night of the trip. We arrived and the colors, noise and bustle were just right for my liking. For some perspective, big cities do nothing for me (New York, Boston, even Dublin in some ways). Galway was clean, cheerful and charming. It felt big enough to have a vibrant funky culture but small enough to remain authentic and not overwhelming. I loved it.
There were some street performers and musicians lining the streets, the ruckus roars from the pubs watching the football game, pouring out into the streets. Winding cobblestone streets, cement and stone buildings, colorful flags strung between them.
We were quite hungry when we arrived in Galway, so after a quick meandering around the streets we popped blindly into a pub for dinner – King’s Head, an 800 year old pub. As we walked in, we realized the place was actually a lot bigger than just a pub serving Guinness stew and there was actually a charming little bistro in the back. Despite it seeming to be busy for the late dinner crew, we were seated right away. Jesse ordered a steak and I ordered a risotto, with the soup of the evening to start. This might just be the best meal we had in Ireland. Maybe we were just starving or maybe luck was on our side that we just stumbled upon this little gem. Either way, I would go back and get the same dish 100%. Jesse confirmed his steak was also top notch.
After dinner we crossed the street to Murphy’s artisan ice cream shop. The ice cream is made in Dingle from apparently some very special cows. I ordered the sú craobh (Raspberry Sorbet) and salann (Dingle Sea Salt) and oh man those must be some extra special cows because it was dreamy.
The next morning we drove up to Bushmills and our hosts recommend a more scenic drive than taking the highway up. Galway>Clifden>Westport>Castlebar>Sligo>Donegal>Derry>Bushmills, to be exact. It was quite the trek for a day, but the drive was mostly coastal and gorgeous. BUT FIRST, we need to talk about the day we spent on the Aran Islands.
Aran Islands – Inishmore
If you go to Ireland and don’t go the Aran Islands, you’re a fool. This was hands down my favorite part of the trip. We took the ferry out of Ros a’ Mhíl (which was a quick 15 minute drive from our B&B). The ferry takes less than 1 hour and gives you a lovely view of the mainland. I recommend purchasing ticket ahead to make sure you have a spot reserved and you save a little money buying tickets online. While we were waiting for the ferry to arrive, a large tourist group was apparently “cramping” up on the dock too much and blocking the off-loading zone, which sparked one of the crew members to politely say to their faces “please move back behind the yellow line” and then behind their backs, in an extremely heavy Irish accent say “fucking idiots” as the group moved barely an inch behind the yellow line.
Once on the island, we rented bikes (there are numerous places to do this right when you get off the ferry and a few local shops right in town) and took off to explore. If you’re cycling, take the high road out and the coastal route back, that way you get most of the uphill done first. Also, bring a backpack or rent a bike with a basket. Why do I say this? Jesse did neither, got too warm while biking and decided to wrap his jacket around his waist, which promptly fell off and got tangle up in his bike’s spokes, caused his bike to stop moving abruptly and just about sent him over the handlebars. What a hot mess that boy is.
At Dún Aonghasa, get off your bike and take the short hike up to the fort and cliffs. The views are breathtaking, the sound of the waves hitting the cliff’s bottom is sort of a magical lull that fills the ruined fort. If we had planned ahead, this would be a lovely spot for a picnic if you plan ahead.
If you didn’t think to pack some sandwiches, there’s a cafe and ice cream shop half way, at Dún Aonghasa, but I recommend having a late lunch and cold Guinness at Tí Joe Watty’s. Jesse had a burger, which he said was delicious, and I had the goat cheese and beetroot salad, which was right up there with one of the best things I ate the whole dang trip. There’s also a yellow cat that lurks around the pub, please give him a pat and a bit of your lunch.
Insider tip from our B&B hosts: the cliffs on Inishmore are way more epic, less crowded and cheaper to view than the Cliffs of Moher. Unless you’re just dying to go to the Burren and Cliff of Moher, don’t waste your time, money or sanity.
*helpful travel note: when you cross into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland, the speed limits signs change from Kph to Mph. We may have driven for an hour without realizing…
Our drive from Galway was full of sheep, rhododendron bushes, rolling green hills, and more sheep. Including a darling little hitch hiking lamb that ran along side our car for a while.
We stopped for a snack at a bakery between Westport and Sligo, and I had the most scrumptious raspberry and white chocolate scone. It put all scones state side to shame. Or maybe I was just verging on hangry. I also asked for a coffee-to-go, and was quickly reminded how “american” that is because the barista had to go into the back to dig around for some paper cups. Guys, I’ll do better next time, promise.
We arrived at our B&B (The Valley View Country House) around 6pm and thought we would head straight to dinner after checking in, but our host recommended we take advantage of the beautiful night and go see Giant’s Causeway right then because it was after hours and would be #1 free and #2 not crowded. Two things that are right up my alley. So we scarfed a granola bar and headed to the causeway. We had the place basically to ourselves and I could not be happier.
After our twilight stroll on the Causeway, we were FAMISHED and at 9:30pm, we figured our options would be pretty slim in the little town of Bushmills. We weren’t completely wrong, but finally we found a place willing to take us in, The Bushmills Inn. We were far under dressed and slightly sweaty from our hike, but the service was warm and the food was delicious. I had the fish, because well, when you’re on the coast you eat fish and when you’re back home in land-locked Colorado, you eat anything but fish. My favorite part of the dinner was the bread basket starter, which included my one of my favorite Irish specialties, brown bread.
The next morning, after having a proper breakfast at our B&B, we took off for Dunlace Castle and then the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This was the only day it rained, and of course, it’s the day we decide to cross a bridge, made of rope, dangling 30 meters above the sea. Perfectly timed if you ask me. We still had a grand time, a little wet and wind blown, but it kept the more fair weathered tourists away and I loved every minute of it. Someone who might have loved it even more than me was the little girl in front of us at the bridge who, after crossing during a downpour and high cross wind, announced to her parents “That wasn’t scary at all”. I hope she never looses her spunk.
We ended our whirlwind of a trip in Dublin, and while it was charming in the typical old-european-style city, it wasn’t my favorite part of the trip. Apart from the old Temple Bar area of downtown, it felt very much like many other older, big cities and frankly, I don’t care for big cities. They overwhelm and underwhelm me all at the same time. That being said, I drank a whole lot of Guinness and Jameson in one day and that made me extremely happy. Or tipsy. Whichever you like.
Since we were driving from Bushmills, we arrived in Dublin fairly late in the afternoon. We checked in with our B&B and then went for a stroll towards downtown to find a place to eat. This next part kills me. With all the delicious Irish food around, we chose to eat at a Hibachi place AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. We crashed a birthday party, sang along with the guitar playing chef and caught a whole lot of food in our mouths. Not your typical Irish pub evening, but heck, it was fun. Oh and the best part? They served us chips (aka fries) with our hibachi entrees. You seriously cannot have a meal without chips in Ireland.
The next morning, Jesse and I took the rail from our B&B in Rathmines to St. Stephen’s Green near downtown. It was quite simple to take and ran promptly every few minutes. We could have walked downtown, but we knew we’d be spending all day exploring downtown, so we decided to save our feet a bit. We hadn’t had breakfast at the B&B so after arriving at St. Stephens, we went in search for a breakfast spot. We landed on Taste Cafe – Jesse had french toast with a lovely caramel sauce and I opted for the porridge with all the toppings. The coffee was good, albeit served in tiny portions. Yes, I know, my american is showing again.
After breakfast, we explored Dublin Castle, Trinity College and Temple Bar. We only got turned out a few times on the winding city roads. And by that time, we decided it was late enough in the morning to head to the Guinness storehouse and start our boozy tour of Dublin. While the pint of Guinness at the storehouse’s Gravity Bar provided beautiful views, I was less than impressed with the tour which was basically shuffling visitors through a giant gift shop with videos playing throughout about how great Guinness is. I DID enjoy the tasting lesson at the end of the tour though – it definitely helped me appreciate the complexity of Guinness. Afterwards we stopped at the storehouse’s restaurant and had the Guinness Stew – this was probably the best part of the storehouse and one of the best things I ate the whole trip. I’m definitely going to attempt to recreate this stew for you…but maybe when it’s not 100° outside and in my kitchen.
After the Guinness Storehouse tour, we made our way over to the other side of the river to do the Jameson Distillery tour. While I’m not a huge whiskey fan (I know, I know…for shame) the tour was much more interesting than the Guinness tour. They actually redid the tour last fall and now you get to learn about the history of Jameson, go through the distilling process and then you do a lesson on how to taste whiskey – you get 3 glasses of different whiskeys to taste and compare. After the tour you also get a complementary whiskey or ginger whiskey.
After the Jameson tour, I was quite tired
tipsy. So we decided to find a quiet spot to relax, drink some water and eat a light snack. We landed on Woolen Mills, where I had the Heirloom Tomato and Melon salad with mint, feta and capers. It was just what I needed. Jesse had a purple broccoli soup, which was also scrumptious. If I came back to Dublin, I’d definitely stop back here for dinner.
And honestly after that little happy hour treat, we were done. My stomach was full, my heart was full and my feet were DEAD. We made the journey back to our B&B, took a short nap, swapped out our shoes and walked into our neighborhood’s little downtown area to find a late night bite. We landed on a local artisan pizza restaurant, The Revolution, which was AMAZING. I have no pictures, but trust me, if you’re staying in/around Rathmines, you have to try this place and then pop into the 108 Pub for a drink afterwards for some local charm.
And that was pretty much it. We went to bed, woke up bright and early the next morning to catch our flight back home. No delays, no lost bags and TVs on the plane worked this time. What did shock me a little bit was as we boarded our first flight in Dublin, a businessman (heading to First Class, of course), felt it was his duty to tell every Irish airline worker that it was stupid to have Gaelic on all the road signs and that they needed to just “give up the language and speak American.” I kid you not, “speak American”. God help us all.
So if someone gifts you a trip to Ireland for your Christmas present, be excited. There are so many beautiful things to see and eat in this country. But don’t expect large to-go coffees and don’t be an american asshole – all the Irish people we met and spoke with were so kind and so helpful. So return the favor, appreciate and respect their culture while you’re there.
Oh, I didn’t explain the Overtaking Lane bit of this post, did I? Well, in our adventures of driving around Ireland (on the left side), we were totally amused that the passing lane was called the Overtaking Lane and whenever we passed someone we called out “Overtaking!” or “Overtake him!”. You probably had to be there…