Ireland was never one of those places I traveled to in my preteen day-dreams. I instead had my heart set on one day making my way to other far-off places like Australia and Greece, or more tropical destinations like Fiji and the Caribbean. This disposition likely had something to do with the fact that when I was a kid, I had an irrational fear of leprechauns (among hundreds of other things), and the negative associations with their native country remained even after my fears subsided.
However, as my age crept up past twenty and my appreciation for gloomier days grew, the UK seemed like a worthy place to spend my time and money.
When we first got on the phone in May to chat about our end-of-August trip, Corinne and I decided that ten days (including weekends) was a good amount of time to spend abroad — half of it spent adventuring around the wild terrain of Iceland (read those posts here and here), and the other half spent exploring castles and palaces and relaxing on beaches in Portugal. Both were destinations at the top of Corinne’s list of places to go. And because she had already covered most of the places that were near the top of mine, I said “why not?” since I had to start somewhere with my international travels.
What also went into consideration when deciding how much time we should take off for this trip was the amount of PTO I had saved up in my “bank” at work. What I originally thought was eight was actually well over eleven full days. So with this exciting news, I suggested we make one extra stop during our trip to the UK or Ireland. This area of the globe was the perfect halfway point between Iceland and Portugal, and the overcast weather would be a nice alternative to the chilly conditions we were leaving behind and the warmer, more humid temperature that awaited down south.
Based off of recommendations from friends and family, we decided to steer off course for a few days in Ireland. People had nothing but the greatest things to say about Irish culture and people, so it wasn’t a hard flight to book.
[I’ve also got to admit that films like Luck of the Irish (Disney Channel Original Movies anyone!?) and P.S. I Love You (umm hell-oooo Gerard Butler) may have had a little (or a big) say in our choice, too . . . it’s hard for pop culture not to have some type of hand on the decision making!]
So without further introduction, here’s some insight to how we spent three days in the land of whiskey, dark beer and corned beef hash? Yeah, I don’t know . . .
Day One: Our First Guinness and Getting Our Lay of the Land
Our spirits were quite high when we landed in Ireland. Our last night in Iceland was a little rough, with our hostel suite mates having absolutely no respect for the few of us trying to get a good night’s sleep (please don’t be that person when you’re staying in a communal room . . . it’s not cool). So suffice to say, we were very ready to be in this new environment.
Right off the plane, people were so helpful and hospitable. The three-day trip definitely started off on the right foot. We hopped on a bus at the airport and made our way deeper into Dublin, where we were scheduled to meet with our Airbnb host, Adrian. Our place was a charming one-bedroom apartment only a short fifteen minutes by foot from the hub of the city, which was a huge plus given the fact that we weren’t renting a car and didn’t want to depend heavily on public transportation.
Once we showered and settled in a bit, we headed out for our first night on the town. By this time, it was early evening and had been quite a while since we’d eaten. We were on the hunt for a good, hearty Irish meal, and that’s exactly what we got. After walking down Gafton for a short distance, we decided on a restaurant called Bruxelles. Corinne had a Shepherd’s Pie while I opted for some Fish & Chips, and we both ordered a light beer, not yet feeling daring enough to order a dark one.
After finishing up our dinners, we took to the streets once again. We were only in town for a short few days, so we tried to get in as much site seeing as we could. We strolled past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, walked around Trinity College’s campus, then stopped by the Dublin Castle before heading to Temple Bar.
The Temple Bar area was quintessential Ireland, or at least what I was expecting to be quintessential Ireland. Cobble stone streets, pubs one after the other, live music drumming from every door we passed — an area that was brimming with life.
We eagerly popped into a bar called Quays when we recognized a Mumford and Sons song the band was playing and finally ordered our first Guinness. We propped up at a table and watched the tipsy patrons sing and dance along, and in that moment it was impossible not to feel immensely happy and enamored with this spirited city.
After hopping over to another bar and throwing down one more Guinness, we decided it’d be best for us to get a good night’s rest. We were heading to the Cliffs of Moher the following day, and the trip was supposed to be well over twelve hours. We headed back to our Airbnb, watched some Netflix, and fell asleep with smiles on our faces, eager for the rest of our Irish adventure.
Day Two: The Cliffs of Moher and Galway
I’m certain I’m not the only one who pictures rolling green hills and four-leaf clovers whenever Ireland comes up in a conversation. And I’m sure that the dramatic cliffs along the western coast that also come to mind aren’t exclusive only to me. I can report back that these “visions” — though usually materialized from movies, television, or books — are essentially error-free.
We woke up early Friday, catching coffee and breakfast at a convenience store on our quick walk to city center, where we were to hop on a 7 o’clock bus to the Cliffs of Moher. The trip was supposed to be around three hours there and three hours back, with a handful of stops along the way (including one in Galway).
We were in and out of sleep on the first leg of the trip, cruising through green pastures and narrow, winding roads. On the rare moments I was awake, I caught glimpses of charming, colorful towns, romantic castle ruins, and a ridiculous amount of pubs. Even in the towns that had four, maybe five buildings, you’d notice that at least one of them was a pub.
When we first pulled up to the entrance of the Cliffs, I must admit I was a little disappointed at the scale of it all from where I stood. Though that feeling didn’t last long. There was a Lord-of-the-Rings-esque café carved into a grassy hill, and beyond it a paved pathway that lead to the cliffs.
Corinne and I (though a little hungry and in dire need of coffee) skipped right past the café, excited to see this natural wonder. And I’ve got to say, pictures just don’t do it justice.
These cliffs are massive. They’re over 700 feet high . . . a fact alone that can induce anxiety in someone with even a slight fear of heights (someone like Corinne). She made it perfectly clear that I would need to flag down a stranger to take a picture of me if we got too close to the edge. But everywhere we walked, there was a chest-high stone barrier that prevented you from doing just that. Since I was dead set on getting a picture as close as possible to the ledge, I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t get a photo without this dang wall.
When we headed up the opposite direction, the crowd started to thin out, and we soon found out why. The paved path ended with a stone sign that doubled as both a memorial and a warning. It read, “In memory of those who have lost their lives at the Cliffs of Moher.” *shivers* Beyond it was a muddy route that got crazily close to the edge. It was clear this was an “enter at your own risk” area. I cautiously went ahead (had to get those pics), but Corinne decided to stay behind.
After snapping a couple of pictures and watching a few kids get too close for comfort to slipping off into oblivion, I doubled back and found Corinne. We headed back to the café and grabbed our much-needed coffee, sitting and watching all the tourists from all over the world take in this incredible place.
Soon it was time to get back onto the bus and continue on our merry way. We made a couple more stops on our drive to Galway, and I’m disappointed in myself that I can’t remember what they were called. They were some beautiful sights to see.
I’m also disappointed that I didn’t snap any pictures of Galway itself. It was so lively and colorful, similar to my first impression of the Temple Bar area in Dublin. We were told by many (locals and tourists) that Galway was a place we should most definitely return to and stay in for a couple of nights. We only had time for a quick lunch, where we both ordered a Guinness and some corned beef hash sandwiches (so good), but definitely took the suggestion of a prolonged stay in Galway and stored it in the back of our minds for a future Ireland trip.
After lunch, we hopped back onto the bus for our final leg of the excursion back to Dublin. Once home, Corinne and I showered quickly, got ourselves all prettied up, and headed back to Temple Bar for a night on the town. That was quickly becoming our go-to spot. It’s notorious for being tourist-y, but it was also nice to run into and meet other Americans and English-speakers while we were out and about. I personally have nothing but great things to say about the area.
After some dancing and singing along to more live bands, we grabbed some late-night takeout and headed back to our Airbnb. We had a full day of drinking ahead at Jameson and Guinness, and didn’t want to be late (or start off the day hungover)!
Day Three: Jameson Distillery, Guinness Storehouse, and a British Bachelor Party
Waking up on our final full day in Ireland was definitely bittersweet — bitter, since it was our last day there; sweet, because we were spending the whole day drinking!
Our first tour of the day was at Jameson Distillery. It included a short history on John Jameson and the founding of his whiskey distillery, then a lesson on the distilling process followed by a tasting comparison. The tour concluded with a complimentary whiskey drink of your choice (Corinne and I opted for a Whiskey Ginger).
After a quick lunch at Brazen Head, we headed over to the Guinness Storehouse. This place was huge! It was a more immersive experience than at Jameson, with seven floors dedicated to all things Guinness — from the origins of the wheat and the brewing process to their marketing techniques and commercial success.
At the beginning of the tour, you are handed a drink ticket that you can redeem at any of the many bars scattered throughout the storehouse. Many visitors wait until they reach the seventh floor Gravity Bar to get their free Guinness, where they can enjoy a 360-degree view of Dublin. Corinne and I got a little eager, stopping one floor short to enjoy a beer and some live music. It was at this stop that we were lucky enough to meet a vivacious bachelor party from Britain.
While Corinne and I waited to be seated, we stood a little off to the side, clutching our complimentary beers and enjoying the two-person band that played familiar hits like “American Girl” and “American Pie” off in the corner. It was nearly impossible not to notice the ten-man party gallivant in, clearly a little tipsy, the bachelor in a patent-leather police getup. They were a decent-looking group of guys, even if they were a bit rowdy, and Corinne and I took note. We’d talk to them eventually.
After being seated and enjoying another Guinness and a few more songs, we finally got around to getting to know these guys. Right off the bat, they were fun, kittenish, and overly friendly. We had planned on staying in that night since we had to be at the airport at 4:00 AM, but we couldn’t turn down their invitation to meet up with them later that night. We exchanged information with them, then parted with plans to see them in the near future.
Corinne and I had one more stop before we left the Guinness Storehouse, and that was the Gravity Bar on the seventh floor. Since the bartenders were busy and likely assumed we had waited to use our drink ticket there, the beers ended up being free for us. Score! We shuffled off to a bar-height table and took in the ariel view of Dublin.
I won’t lie when I say that after four dark beers, Corinne and I were a bit toasted. We were in high spirits when we left Guinness, excited about meeting up with the Englishmen later that evening. We stopped at a pizza shop for dinner, made small talk with the owner, and ended up scoring some free drinks there as well.
After quickly eating and freshening up, we headed back to Temple Bar (where else would we have gone at this point?), where we met up with the British Bachelor Party for our final evening in Ireland. To say that it was close to being something out of a movie wouldn’t be lying. Dancing to live music, throwing back Whiskey Gingers bought for us by handsome men from another country — it was pretty darn close to a perfect last night.
But as soon as it all started (and started to get good), it sadly came to an end. Ireland is definitely a place I would love to venture back to . . . and the sooner the better! Luckily, we had six more days of adventure left, with grand palaces and sun-soaked beaches to explore.
Up next on A Thousand Candid Words, our time in the metro city of Lisbon, and the quaint beach town of Lagos in Portugal.